The 141st at Gettysburg
Local gallantry at Gettysburg
The story of the 141st
Note: The following article was provided by local historian Henry Farley.
The people of Bradford County are justly proud of their military record, and among the many brave men who helped to make that record none stand higher than the 141st Regiment. The list of battles in which this regiment was engaged is a long one, extending from Fredericksburg to Appomattox. Its history has been very fully written by Rev. David Craft, and in this article we design to briefly sketch the part which this famous regiment took in the battle of Gettysburg.
On the morning of July 2, 1863, the 141st regiment took position in line of battle along the east side of the "peach orchard," which marked the salient angle of the 3rd Corps, and which was the scene of such a terrible conflict in the afternoon. This position they occupied from morning until about four p.m., during which time the rebels concentrating large bodies of infantry and artillery on the ridge west of the Emmitsburg road, preparatory to crushing the 3rd Corps and turning the left wing of the Union Army. About 4 p.m. the signal gun was fired and a long line of rebel batteries opened upon Sickles' corps, concentrating their fire especially upon the angle at the peach orchard, that being the key to that part of the field. When the batteries opened the 141st was ordered to form in the cross road on the north side of the peach orchard and at right angles to the Emmitsburg road. While in this position they were sheltered by the banks on each side of the road, and through subjected to a terrible cross fire from the rebel artillery suffered no casualties, except that Captain Horton was injured by the concussion of as shell bursting above him.
After the artillery fire had continued some time the rebel infantry advanced in overwhelming numbers, outnumbering the Union forces by more than two to one. The left of the Union line was quickly driven back, leaving McGilvery's batteries south of the peach orchard entirely unsupported, and a strong body of Confederate infantry immediately charged upon the guns. Captain Hart, who commanded one of these batteries, seeing the rebels upon him, hastened across the peach orchard and with tears in his eyes begged several officers to come to his support and help him save his battery. Each one refused, feeling it to be a desperate and hopeless undertaking. Finally he came to Colonel Madill, commanding the 141st, who no sooner learned the situation than placing himself at the head of a portion of his regiment he advanced across the peach orchard, which was being swept by grape and canister, to support the guns. When they came in sight of the batteries the rebels were already among the guns. First pouring a traceably destructive volley into the rebel ranks the brave men of the 141st charged upon the advancing column with fixed bayonets. So sudden and impetuous was this charge that the whole rebel column was repulsed and the guns brought off by hand and placed in a safe position at the rear.
By this time Barksdale's Mississippi brigade had reached the west side of the Emmittsburg road and was about to cross. The 141st immediately formed in their front, east of the road and north of the peach orchard, to resist their advance. Again and again did the rebels advance to the road, and again and again did this gallant regiment hurl them back by its deadly and well directed volleys. In the meantime, the Union line both to the right and left had been forced back, the rebels had advanced far to the rear on both flanks, and the 141st stood alone, assailed in front by many times their number, and with the rebel line rapidly closing upon their rear. Seeing the situation, Captain Clark anxiously inquired of Colonel Madill, "Had we not better get out of this?" The Colonel replied, "I have no orders to get out." A moment afterwards Lieutenant Atkinson, pointing to the rear, said, "Colonel, I'm afraid we are being surrounded; hadn't we better fall back?" "Fall back, hell no!" replied Colonel Madill. "I was ordered to hold this position."
In the meantime, the rebel batteries were pouring grape and canister into the ranks of this devoted regiment, and Barksdale's men in front were pouring volley after volley of musketry. Men were falling on every side and great gaps were being torn in their ranks, until at length only a handful remained, and this handful was borne backward by the overwhelming force of the advancing column of rebels like pieces of driftwood on the crest of an advancing wave. Enfiladed by a terrible artillery fire, attacked by overwhelming numbers of infantry in front and on both flanks, they did not retreat but were simply swept from the field. Their losses were terrible, but they had materially delayed the advance of the rebel line and had given time for the 5th Corps to come up and form a new line in the rear, by which the advance of the enemy was permanently checked. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the desperate resistance made by the 141st at this point. But for the delay caused by this resistance, it is quite possible the rebels would have gotten possession of Little Round Top, which was the key to the whole field. Had the rebels reached its summit five minutes earlier or the federals five minutes later, it is probable that the whole tide of battle would have been turned.
The losses of the 141st at Gettysburg, in killed, wounded and missing were between 75 and 80 percent, or considerably greater than the loss of the famous "Light Brigade" at Balaklava, and many times greater than the average loss of either army. It is asserted by those who claim to know, that the percentage of loss was greater than that of any other regiment in this or any other battle of the war.
Mr. Craft in his history says: "An examination of the losses of the several companies will show that the three on the left of the regiment B, G and K, suffered the most, as they were in closest contact with the enemy when retiring from the Peach Orchard. Company B had 28 men when they went into the engagement and lost 23, Charles McCumber alone following the colors from the field. (Another authority says that every man in the company was wounded and all disabled but one). Company G went into the action with one commissioned officer and twenty-eight guns, its losses were 20 enlisted men and its lieutenant wounded. Joel Molyneux, of Co. K, who was private orderly to the Adjutant-General on General Graham's staff, says: 'About midnight of July 2, I came to our regiment as they lay upon the field'; Colonel Horton says, 'I have only 16 men left'. Upon inquiring for Company K, Charles Webster raised upon his elbow and said 'here is Company K', and sure enough, he was the only one left of it. He, poor fellow, was afterwards mortally wounded in one of the battles of the wilderness'."
In speaking of the hottest place that he was ever in during the war, Daniel Hiney, of Co. E, 141st P.V., who was in 32 battles and engagements, says: "At the battle of Gettysburg as we were fighting on the second day, Comrade Robert Claflin, who stood on my left, was struck by two mini balls, one passing through the lung and the other hitting him in the head, killing him instantly. Andrew Huff, who stood next to me on my right, two or three minutes later was also struck in the head by a Minnie ball and fell to the ground dead. Just then a terrible feeling came over me. My companions on both sides of me had been killed and the thought came to me that it would be my turn next. I stood spellbound and did nothing until the order was given to fall back. It was a day never to be forgotten. That night there were only two left in Co. E to draw rations-myself and Alexander Lane of Burlington.