Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

July 1, 2013

War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld

July 1. — General Reynolds came in and woke us up this morning, as he has frequently had to do, but we little thought that it would be the last time that he would do so, or that he had passed his last night on this earth. We moved off at 8 A.M., the weather still being muggy and disagreeable, and making the roads very bad in some places. When we reached the outskirts of Gettysburg, a man told us that the rebels were driving in our cavalry pickets, and immediately General Reynolds went into the town on a fast gallop, through it, and a mile out on the other side, where he found General Buford and the cavalry engaging the enemy, who were advancing in strong force. He immediately sent me to General Meade, 13 or 14 miles off, to say that the enemy were coming on in strong force, and that he was afraid they would get the heights on the other side of the town before he could; that he would fight them all through the town, however, and keep them back as long as possible.

I delivered the message to General Meade at 11.20, having been an hour and twenty minutes on my way. He seemed quite anxious about the matter, and said, “Good God! if the enemy get Gettysburg, I am lost.”

I started on my way back, and when half-way met an orderly, who told me that General Reynolds was shot. I did not believe him, but of course felt very anxious, and rode on as fast as possible to ascertain the truth of the matter. When near the town I met Captain Mitchell with an ambulance, and General Reynolds’s body. I felt very badly indeed about his death, as he had always treated me very kindly, and because he was the best general we had in our army. Brave, kind-hearted, modest, somewhat rough and wanting polish, he was a type of the true soldier. I cannot realize that he is dead. The last time I saw him he was alive and well, and now to think of him as dead seems an impossibility. He had just been putting the Wisconsin brigade in position when the enemy opened a volley and the general was struck in the back of the neck, killing him almost instantly.

I offered my services to General Howard, and was sent by him down to General Schurz, and also to find what regiment it was that was advancing into the town. I found General S. and troops retreating through the streets, and the bullets whistling around them and through the fence alongside of the street. The general said he was flanked on both sides, and I found out that the regiment was a rebel one, to my perfect satisfaction. A few minutes after I came back, our men came along the street that runs by the cemetery, in great disorder. We tried to rally them, turning the First Corps into a field on the left of the road, and the Eleventh to the right. Steinwehr’s men, who were not in action, were placed behind a stone wall in front of the cemetery, and soon drove the rebel skirmishers back. General Doubleday sent me to get some intrenching tools, and as I was coming back with them, I met General Hancock, who told me to send them back. Just then I met Riddle on his way to join the general’s body, and I went with him, as he seemed to think it proper. I tried to find General Doubleday, but could not. We rode on to Taneytown, meeting General Meade on the way to Gettysburg. At Taneytown we found that the general’s body had gone to Westminster, and as soon as we got leave, we started for that place, riding all night. Rode 70 miles. Gave my horse to a lieutenant of the 84th Pennsylvania, to return to our headquarters.

[My journal for the first day of July ends here. A great many things that are not stated in the journal it is perhaps just as well for me to write down now, while my memory is still active and before old age overtakes me.

In the first place, I have been asked a great many times as to the time that we arrived at Gettysburg. My diary says we started at eight o’clock, and we could not have taken more than two hours, I should think, getting to Gettysburg. From there we rode out and saw the Confederates’ batteries going into position on Seminary Hill, the lines of battle forming and skirmishers being thrown out. Opposed to them were our cavalry skirmishers, spread out like the fingers of the hand, falling back and firing, and, as I remember it, occasionally firing from a field-battery. After seeing this, General Reynolds rode back to the town, went into a field on the right of the road and talked two or three minutes with General Buford, and then called all his staff around him. He looked us all over, and said, “Weld, I am going to pick you out to go to General Meade with a message” (the message as given in the diary). He told me where the road started for Taneytown, where General Meade was, and told me to ride with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse; if I did, to take the orderly’s.

I naturally felt quite complimented at being chosen, the youngest of the staff, to carry such an important message, and so I did my utmost. As nearly as I could make out, I went about 15 or 16 miles in about an hour and a quarter. That ought to have got me to General Meade’s somewhere about quarter past eleven, as I assume that it must have been at least two hours from the time we started in the morning before I set off with my message. General Meade was very much disturbed indeed at the receipt of the news. He said, “Good God! if the enemy get Gettysburg, we are lost!” Then he — to speak in plain English — roundly damned the Chief of Staff, whom he had inherited from his predecessor, for his slowness in getting out orders. He said that two or three days before, he had arranged for a plan of battle, and it had taken so long to get the orders out that now it was all useless. From what I have heard since I suppose this referred to the proposed plan of battle at Pipe’s Creek. At all events, after this tirade against the Chief of Staff of the Army, he summoned all his aides out to hurry up Hancock and all the other commands. From what General Reynolds said to me, it was evident that he appreciated the importance of holding Gettysburg and the heights. General Reynolds also told me to tell General Meade that he would barricade the street at Gettysburg and hold the enemy back as long as he could. General Meade said, “Good! that is just like Reynolds.”

These are unimportant details but perhaps may be interesting reading for future generations. The other staff officers, who were with Reynolds at the time he fell, told me he was not one hundred yards from the Confederates when he was shot through the neck and instantly killed. The corps captured one or two brigades of the enemy early in the day. When I reported to General Howard, General Hancock had not arrived. We were standing in the cemetery with a battery of guns pointing westerly, or northwesterly, I cannot say exactly which, when a line of battle came out of the woods about, I should say, 500 yards off. I said to the general, “General, those are the rebs, why don’t you fire at them?” He said, “No, I think they are our men.” I said, “They are not, sir, they are the rebs” ; and they were. They were soon followed by another line. Then it was he sent me down into the town to see what those troops were. There was a board fence all along the road I was riding on, and the bullets were zipping through the boards at a lively rate. There was no question in my mind, and I soon found out they were the rebs. On my way back I saw a lady riding in, through all those bullets, on a horse with a side-saddle, who turned out to be Mrs. General Barlow. She had heard of her husband’s[1] dreadful wounds and came in to nurse him. She came in safely, as I afterwards heard, and undoubtedly saved her husband’s life.]

[1] Gen. Francis C. Barlow, Harvard 1855.

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