Image by jwolf312 via FlickrI am posting an excerpt from a manuscript written by John Wagner, of the 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Company A, during the Civil War. These are Sgt. Wagner's words. I have changed the spelling for clarity, as John was born in Germany, and many of his words reflect that (i.e. did is spelled dit, and many is menny, and so forth). This is the first time these words have ever been published.
(Monument to the 16th Michigan-this was their position on Little Round Top)
Editors note: On the second day of the Battle of Gettyburg the 16th Michigan was near the top of Little Round Top, overlooking an area of huge boulders referred to as "Devils Den. The Confederate soldiers made repeated charges up Little Round Top in an effort to drive the Union soldiers off.
Now quoting Sgt. John Wagner: I reported to Company F, the next company in line. I witnessed three more desperate charges that later part of the afternoon. One charge had been repulsed, the second was just starting for us when I fell in with "F". They came on in grand style, 12 men deep. or six lines of battle deep, with six colors in in the center of them.
Our battery was now commanded by their first Sergeant, as the officers were killed and wounded. He would have his pieces double shotted, and then fire by volley. This would at every volley sweep all their colors to the ground, and tear a big gap in their lines, but they would raise their colors every time, and close their gaps in the ranks, and push up to where we were. Then butt and bayonet were in order, but we had a good footing, and they had almost a steep roof, or shelf to climb. We managed to pitch them down as fast as they could attempt to crawl up.
Thus, we, or our little brigade of less than 1500 strong maintained their position against a body of well disciplined troops of nearly 11,000 strong that threatened to crush us. Besides this, were their sharpshooters, who inflicted the most damage in our officers and men, as they were hid in a place called the Devils Den, almost a natural fortress.
Well, this afternoon's work cost our little brigade 50 per cent in killed and wounded, but we stuck to Little Round Top. After the fourth charge on us the rebels gave it up, and formed a strong line of pickets on the foot of Little Round Top, and kept up a severe firing on us.
Now, it was most dusk, and I left Company F, and hunted up Company A. I found them now on the flank of Little Round Top, all in a strong picket line. They had about 15 prisoners with them, Texas men. Our men of A Company wanted water so bad, and I had noticed a spring in the rear of Little Round Top that had good cool water. I gathered all the canteens from my company, and went to the spring, and got the canteens filled. In coming back to the company I found a wounded Rebel officer lying with the small of his back over a sharp boulder. There he was helpless, and severely wounded on several places on his body. He begged me so pitifully to help him for "God's sake".
I explained to him that his friends were watching me, and would kill me if I should attempt to help him. Well, I could not resist, or refuse the man. He was a man, after all, but at the other side death stared me in the face. The enemy was within talking distance only from us, and it was light enough to see me, and my movements.
I hesitated, and then laid my canteens down, and bent over him, and raised him partly up, and "whiss" a bullet passes just through my vest and shirt, cross by breast, and leaves a red streak, burning like fire. The officer gave a scream, and I let go of him. Well, I felt like going over there to the Jonny, and give him a sound thrashing, but did not go. But, I hollowed to him, and called him all sorts of names, but not good ones. I explained to him the situation that his comrade was in. I wanted to help him, if he only would stop shooting till I got through with him. Then I would let him know, and he could have the privilege to fire then as much as he liked.
He talked back to me, and said to go on and help him. We were thinking you were robbing him, and I bent over the man a second time, and lifted him up, and propped him up with the blankets, and knapsacks of his dead comrades. I found many of the dead Rebel soldiers had their canteens full of whiskey, instead of water, and I gave him a drink of whiskey, and a drink of water, and placed both canteens so he could reach them. Then I got two canteens full of whiskey off some the dead Rebels, and a couple of haversacks. They had plenty of meat in them, and bread, just what we wanted. Then I bade my wounded Rebel goodbye, and he said, "God bless you."
I picked up my whiskey and water, and the haversacks, and hollered over to the Jonny picket that I was ready, and he could fire at pleasure. He waved his hand, and said he did not want to fire at me anymore, and so I got away to the company without getting hurt.
I went down our company line, and gave each boy a good drink of whiskey, and a bite to eat, and gave them a full canteen of water. They seemed to be pleased. The rest we gave to our prisoners, but they were better supplied with rations than we were. They had a lot of cooked beef, and soft bread, which they divided with us generously, and we felt quite comfortable. Soon after dark, we were relieved from our position by part of the 11th and 12th Corp troops that had been so heavily engaged on the first day.