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Monday, July 3, 2017

July 3 1863- Grand Carnival of Mars

New Kent County's two infantry companies in the Confederate Army, the Pamunkey Rifles and the Barhamsville Greys, were elements of the 53rd Virginia Infantry Regiment. The 53rd Virginia was part of Armistead's brigade of Pickett's division and as such was one of the lead elements in Pickett's Charge on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Below, part of a much longer piece about his experiences during the war, are the recollections of Benjamin Lyons Farinholt (Pamunkey Rifles) about the battle.




Finally the supreme trial came, when, after having lost thousands at Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, and, as Gen. Lee aptly said, "lost our right arm" in the death of that great and inimitable Christian soldier, Stonewall Jackson, and after many other small battles — small only in comparison with larger engagements — we crossed once more the Potomac and took up our line of march for the fat pastures of Pennsylvania.


Our especial command, Pickett's Division, was engaged in the destruction of a railroad near Chambersburg by piling up the wooden ties and kindling them into huge fires, on which the iron rails were heated and bent, when, on the 2d of July, we received orders to prepare three days' rations, and in a few hours thereafter were on the road for Gettysburg, where we arrived about daybreak, after a hard march of twenty- eight miles, and took our place in line on the verge of the battle-field on the morning of that memorable 3d of July, 1863.

These two mighty armies, after rapidly concentrating their forces during the heavy fighting which had lasted for two days with thundering cannon, charge of infantry, and onset of cavalry, with varying fortune for advantage and position, and so far without any decisive result, now plumed their banners, reformed their lines, and confronted each other on this arena for the greatest battle of modern times — Lee with sixty-five thousand, Meade with one hundred and seventeen thousand, trained and tried veterans of two years' hard service. Thus, on this lovely midsummer day, when all nature in her luxuriant garb seemed wooing peace, was fought the battle which made the whole world stand aghast. Absolute chaos seemed to reign — the resounding boom of three hundred pieces of cannon, the incessant whir of bombs, the deafening explosion of whole caissons of ammunition, the whiz of canister and shrapnel, followed by the at first sharp crack and then steady roar of musketry, as regiments, brigades, and divisions would come to close quarters, forgetful of everything but this grand carnival of Mars.

Some idea may be gained of the concentration and intensity of the artillery fire when, within thirty minutes after the opening guns announced the battle commenced, the stretcher and ambulance corps had to be doubled to take off the wounded and dying. As the heavy artillery fire, kept up for hours, gradually ceased, it proved only a prelude to the general advance of our infantry all along the line. When, after advancing about a thousand yards under a withering fire from both infantry and artillery in front and a galling fire from several batteries stationed on Little Round Top Mountain, on our right flank, with unbroken ranks, save to close the gaps as men fell to the right and left, our decimated ranks pressed forward, delivering their fire in the very faces of the brave Federals, who defended their guns with great coolness and sheer desperation, but could not withstand our impetuous charge with the bayonet. Over we went into the Federal rifle-pits and over the re-enforced stone fence (called now the Bloody Angle), behind which the foe was entrenched. There, in a hand-to-hand engagement, where bayonet and pistol and butt of musket were liberally used, we captured all who wen killed or had not tied, virtually conquering and holding for a time the strongest position of the Federal line of battle on Cemetery Ridge, the very center and key of the Federal defense. Gen. Armistead claimed the day as ours, and, standing by one of the captured pieces of artillery, where the brave Federal Capt. Gushing had fallen, with his dead men and horses almost covering the ground, called on us to load and use the captured cannon on the fleeing foe.

Just then Hancock's command came forward with full ranks and fresh for the struggle, attacking us with great impetuosity and delivering against our much decimated ranks at close range at least fifty bullets to our five. Gen. Armistead was laid low by three wounds at their first fire: Gen. Kemper had also fallen in the charge, desperately wounded: Garnett had been killed, and three-fourths of our field and company officers were either killed or wounded. The writer was shot through the thigh, and Col. Martin, our gallant regimental leader, received a shot through the hip which almost proved fatal. Pandemonium complete, and for a time no quarter was asked nor given, and many on each side lost their lives. Many shots were fired at such close rang afterward to burn the clothes or flesh of the victims with powder. From sheer exhaustion and overpowering numbers, the remnant of Pickett's Division, the flower of Virginia's contribution to the Confederacy, yielded themselves captives, being literally surrounded and beaten into submission. Heth's Division, on our left, having given away, the enemy had advanced their columns so as to overwhelm us.

While we were receiving and returning as best we could the fire of Hancock's fresh regiments, at the extreme climax of this fight the writer saw a grandson of President Tyler, Robert Tyler Jones, himself already bleeding profusely from a serious wound, wave his pistol and threaten to shoot the first man who offered to surrender.

What must have been the feelings of the handsome and brave Picket as he saw the greater portion of his division, of which he was justly so proud, killed, wounded, or captured, and only about six hundred return from the bloody charge

The writer was taken from the field with other wounded who were captured, and we were guarded for the night with a cordon of infantry and cavalry. In being taken to the rear we could see the terrible loss we had inflicted upon the Federal army, for every nook in the fence, every little stream of water to which they could crawl, every barn and shed, every yard and shade-tree were literally burdened with their dead, wounded, and dying. The writer remarked to a fellow officer, who was terribly disconsolate over our loss, that, while our division was nearly annihilated, it must have been the dearest victory ever purchased by any commander, and a few such, while crippling the Confederacy, would almost destroy the enemy.

The next day we were taken to Westminster, Md., under a heavy guard, but not before Gen. Meade had ascertained that Gen. Lee would not again give battle, for really Meade was in no hurry to keep up the fight after so heavy a loss as his army sustained. Lee presented with his depleted ranks, after three days of this conflict, such a front as kept the Federal commander in doubt as to what he would do.


-Confederate Veteran Magazine, September 1897



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