Letters Home

Lull in the fighting for Co. F, 151st Pa. allows Warren County men the time to write home

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton One of the places the service of the 151st is commeorated on the fields at Gettysburg is on the Pennsylvania Memorial. Completed in 1914, the memorial includes bronze panels around the base that commemorate the 34,530 soldiers who fought in the battle from the Commonwealth. The largest of the state memorials on the field, an observation platform just below the dome remains open to the public and provides a sweeping panorama of the field where the 151st and the rest of the Union army repulsed the assault known as Pickett’s Charge. Funfact – the sculpture at the top, Goddess of Victory and Peace – is made of melted Civil War cannon barrels.

The 151st, or what was left of it, spent a quiet morning on July 2 on the backside of Cemetery Hill in the area of the Evergreen Cemetery.

It provided time to write.

And it is quite likely that these letters home would be the first notification to the homefront about who the battle claimed.

In Company F, Lt. William Blodget reported in a letter home written from Cemetery Ridge on July 2 that he led 52 men went into the fight on July 1.

He reported just 13 with him the next day.

The letter appears to have been sent to his wife as well as the Warren Mail.

The letter details the action, the men who were killed but also gives us an incredible look into the heart and mind of a man who had dealt with loss previously but was confronted with violence and death on an unimaginable scale.

The letter has not been edited and is here in its entirety.

“This is indeed the saddest moment of my life. We were fighting all day yesterday and of 52 men I took into the fight but 13 are left!

At least 30 and perhaps 35 are killed and wounded. Of the 39 missing, I knew of but 4 that came off the field unhurt. Most of the wounded are within our lines but some are in the hands of the enemy. Kimball, Jaquay Green and perhaps others, were killed.

Judge Lott, Frank, Cotton, Carr, Norris, Tuttle and others are wounded, Cotton Carr and Tuttle I fear mortally. Judge Lott was wounded in the shoulder. Frank was wounded in the leg near the knee. Morrison, I don’t know where. I saw him hobbling off the field.

Loveland, Sweetland and Sweet (who is wounded) and Chandler and McIntyre are missing. One of the Hazeltines, Mattison, Bartlett, McKelvey, Wheelock, Bates, Cooper, Brooks and 3 or 4 others are still with me.

Cole, one of the Hazeltines, the Millers and Barlow were not in the fight and are safe.

Col McFarland was wounded. All is still confusion. This is all I can say right now of individuals. I am untouched, a fact I can hardly believe. I hope they have got all they want of Co. F. – but there is tomorrow yet to face. Every man stood up to the work and fought like a tiger without a single exception. Our poor boys fell around me like ripe apples in a storm. God bless them! They were heroes – every one of them. Only thing – putting it at 30 killed and wounded out of 52! We were not taken prisoners. Our loss is all in killed and wounded. Several were wounded but continued to fight until they were hit the second time. Judge Lott was perfectly cool and found on after being wounded.

It seems that our Division of less than 5,000 men were pitted against the whole Rebel force for a time. The 1st Division has been in before us, and our Corps, the 1st, with 2 Brigades of the 11th Corps were all that took part in the battle.

Our Brigade, the 1st of the 3rd. Div. suffered most of any I think. Two thirds of the whole were killed, wounded or are missing.

At some other time I will give you the incidents of the battle. This is just a hastly report to the people of Warren County at the close of this 2nd day of fighting. We were beaten back a mile or two yesterday – beat them back first – and then were forced to give up the ground we had taken. We fell back at last through Gettysburg to the hills in the hear where we are now all preparing – it looks as if the Rebels will find all they want then the fight continued.

Gen. Reynolds was killed yesterday. Col. Roy Stone was wounded, probably mortally and taken prisoner. But for our boys – the tears start at the thoughts of them and blot the page. Most of them said not a word, using only some exclamation when hit. I heard hardly a groan. Kimball fell within 3 feet of me. I spoke to him but he never even groaned. He was shot through the heart. Marcus Jaquay was shot through the temple. Frank was hit right by my side. I did not see Jaquay hit or Lott hit, nor did I know that Lott was hit until after the battle. He fought on, though how he did I don’t know.

Our Regt. had 440 men before the engagement, we now have less than 150. It will never muster 250 even when the stragglers have been gathered again with us.

I just wanted you to know.

yours truly

W.O. Blodget

Nathan Cooper also wrote home to his wife.

And while the prose isn’t as poetic, the same emotions come through.

From Dreese: “The Army of the Potomac is all here now… the rebs are pretty sh(o)t today. I think we can hold them flat now. I hope to God there wont be one of them get out of Pa.

“I think our men must of been deceived in the strength of the rebs or they would have waited till the other corps came. It was awful to put us in the way they did. I don’t see how any of us escaped.

“Mary, you have been praying ever since I left that I might be shielded from danger on the battlefield. Your prayers have surely been answered. I didn’t receive a scratch. It don’t seem possible for a man to be in such a shower of bullets to long and not get hit. I felt as if I had been protected by some kind hand and my life spared for some purpose. We lost a knapsacks and everything. We haven’t a thing, only what we have on. Tents, ponchoes and all is gone. The other soldiers that came up gave us some paper or we couldn’t have written.”

But their role in the battle wasn’t over.

Robert E. Lee vowed to keep up the attack on July 2.

And he did just that.

Fierce fighting in the late afternoon and evening on both ends of the Union line

Now under the command of Captain Walter Owens of Company D, the 151st “took position in support of a battery in the rear of the cemetery, where it remained until five o’clock on the second,” according to Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers.

As Confederate assaults on the southern edge of the field raged, the 151st was part of a brigade sent to assist.

They didn’t make it where they were going.

“In marching down the Taneytown Road, and when approaching Round Top, the line of the brigade was broken by troops moving in a diagonal direction across its path, and the One Hundred and Fifty-first with the Twentieth New York State Militia, became separated from the rest of the brigade, and amidst the confusion consequent, failed to retain its position.

“Finding themselves thus separated, Colonel Gates and Captain Owens decided to act as an independent command, and moved up upon the front line, taking position on the left of the Second Corps, where it remained during the night.”

Dreese notes that it was a stream of retreating troops that broke up the lines, sending the two regiments off on their own.

The two regiments were going to try to find the brigade but an II Corps division commander, John Gibbon, ordered them to the left of the corps line.

The men got to work reinforcing the position.

As the sun fell on July 2, the men of the 151st couldn’t have known that some of their most important work was yet to come.

They would meet Pickett’s men the following afternoon.