Repulsing the Charge

Remnants of Co. F, 151st Pennsylvania participate in repulsing Pickett’s infamous ‘glorious’ assault

American Battlefield Trust map A modified American Battlefield Trust map showing the locations of the 151st Pennsylvania throughout the day on July 3. They started in line on the left edge of the Union position before moving to a threatened sector during Pickett’s assault. The regiment then retired to the location of the Leister House, used during the battle as Union commanding General George G. Meade’s headquarters, for the night of July 3-4. They rejoined their brigade the next day.

July 2 Confederate assaults on Culps Hill to the north and Little Round Top to the south had been repulsed.

Attacks in immortal places such as the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den and the Valley of Death had seen Union forces stand stout in their defense and defy the assaulting Confederates.

The Napoleonic tactics that guided the commanding generals – Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade – in their deliberations aren’t complicated.

Though the uncoordinated assaults on both Union flanks had not achieved hoped for success, Lee believed that Meade would pull men from the center of his line to reinforce his flanks, making him vulnerable in the center.

Meade also correctly predicted Lee’s next move, knowing that his flanks had held against voracious assaults that had killed and maimed thousands.

Photo from the Library of Congress A print by Thure de Thulstrup, who during a career working for Harper’s Weekly, became known for illustrated military scenes. This image intends to show Union Gen. Winfield S. Hancock riding along the line prior to the Confederate assault on July 3. The 151st would have been on the left end of this line.

So the center of the Union line wasn’t as weak at Lee may have anticipated.

And assaulting the position would require the advancing Confederates to march about a mile over open, largely uphill, ground.

At first, the men would face long-range Union artillery.

That would be followed by short-range ordinance and thousands of blue-clad troops, each armed with rifled muskets.

Lt. William Blodget and the survivors of Co. F of the 151st were part of that line.

The II Corps was positioned in essentially the center of the Union line.

The 151st was in position when the Confederate attack began.

It commenced with a cannonade – over 100 artillery pieces all aiming their spewing death on the II Corps line.

While many of the shells (for a variety of reasons) landed long, the cannonade was a terrifying prospect for the Union defenders.

But for some, it wasn’t as bad as where they had already been.

According to Dreese, Blodget wrote a letter on July 23: “Men generally tell that it requires more nerve to stand shelling cooly than musketry but I was in the whole of that of Friday – the concentrated force of near 100 guns – so said – and would rather stand it a month than the musketry fire we were under on Wednesday for half an hour.”

Bottom line? The cannonade didn’t break the Union army.

And when 15,000 Confederates emerged from the woods, the Union army was ready for them.

Pickett’s Charge (or more accurately known as the Pickett-Pettigrew assault or the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault or the Longstreet assault…) was on.

Dreese cites both Blodget and Cooper and their reactions to repulsing Pickett’s Charge.

“I fired fifty rounds on the gray figures & I never leveled a gun more deliberately on a squirrel than I did on them,” Cooper wrote.

“My company, however, did not lose a man in this fight, though the ‘Old Thirteen’ left of the first day all fought like tigers… It was certainly a miracle,” Blodget wrote. “Our regiment was again in the very hottest of it. (Minutes seemed) to contain many times 60 seconds.”

While Confederates never really threatened their position, the Union line was briefly pierced in the center by Virginians under the command of General Lewis Armistead, who was killed in the assault.

The 80th NY and 151st Pa., continuing to work in tandem, moved toward that breach.

From Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers: “When, on the afternoon of the 3d, the enemy made his grand charge, these two regiments hastened to the right to the support of the troops at the menaced front, loading and firing as they went. Reaching a knoll where a battery of the Second Corps was posted, and in front of which the enemy was advancing they made a stand, and for a short time maintained a sharp fire, driving the enemy from a slashing in which he had taken refuge from a flank attack of Stanndard’s (Vermont) Brigade.

“The enemy finally driven at all points, many throwing down their arms and surrendering, and the dear-bought victory was won.”

Bates notes that the adjutant of the regiment (essentially the regimental commander’s administrative assistant), a Warren County man named Samuel T. Allen was “severely wounded” in the repulse.

“After the fighting was over, these regiments moved back near General Meade’s headquarter, and on the morning of the 4th, rejoined the brigade.”

Blodget wrote later in the day, cited in Dreese.

“The ground was covered so think with the dead and dying of both parties that I could almost step from one body to another,” he wrote.

Cooper agreed.

From Dreese: He wrote on the 4th that the dead from Pickett’s assault were “lying on the ground as thick as sheaves of wheat… You cannot conceive the horrors of such a battlefield… the stench after the battle was like that of a vast slaughterhouse

… I saw this morning over 100 dead Rebels on ten square rods of ground (about 2,700 square feet) – our men buried 500 in one grave – very many are not buried yet.”

Blodget was slightly wounded apparently toward the end of the assault.

From Dreese: “Lieutenant Blodget was leaning on his elbow after the charge watching the scattered Rebels, when a projectile struck him in the hand scraping within two inches of his knee, covering him with dirt and debris. The lieutenant described his battlefield momento to his brother, ‘I have the honor of getting a rake across my knuckles knocking the skin off two of them and bruising my thumb so I will lose the nail.”

On July 4, it rained.

Dreese notes that Blodget called the post-battle storm “but the cooling of a dove.”

“Lt. Blodget, commanding the company (Co. F) in the absence of Capt. Mitchell is reported by all to have behaved with much coolness and courage and demonstrated great ability to lead,” the Mail reported on July 25. “He, and the courageous men left with him, fought again the 3rd day but all escaped without a wound except Blodget who fell with a slight would from which he is recovering nicely.”

When the news of the successful siege of Vicksburg reached the men in the east, Cooper wrote home, “If we hadn’t lost so many of our boys, we would be the best feeling set of fellows you ever saw. We would forget sore feet & how we had lain in the mud & rain without any shelter… I thought I was most used up, my feet were badly bruised and so swollen. I was most discouraged trying to keep up,” per Dreese.

An article from the Berks History Center indicates that the regiment left Gettysburg on July 6 at 6 a.m. in pursuit of the rebel army.

They were removed from duty on the 19th and sent to Harrisburg and were mustered out of the service on July 27.

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