Der Gemeinnützige, Anzeigen und Unterhaltungs Blatt für den Obergerichtsbezirk Barel. No. 60, Mittwoch, den 29. Juli 1863 (Judicial District of Barel, Oldenburg, Germany)
(Translated by Joseph R. Reinhart)
The Battle of Chancellorsville
We share the following description of the Battle of Chancellorsville with our readers, which has even more interest to us, because it is from a letter from a reliable Oldenburger, who serves as an officer in the army of the North American Free States, and with whom many readers were earlier acquainted.
May 4, 1863
Since my last letter in April we have experienced an episode of the war that truly can be called the most horrible and tremendous of this war. The battles fought at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville are the bloodiest and most stubbornly tenacious that have occurred in modern history, and if we did not have the success, which was expected, the consequences will be far-reaching.
Our corps marched off on April 27 and crossed over the Rappahannock during the night of the 28th about 20 miles above our old position; then marched southeast, crossed over the Rapidan during the night of April 29th, and on the 20th [30th] occupied the main road [far] in the rear of the enemy entrenchments at Fredericksburg and near Chancellorsville.
May 1 began for us with taking and shifting positions, while fighting was taking place elsewhere. On May 2 we changed our position again and thus our brigade and, of course, our regiment were on the extreme right wing of the position. Our numbers were too weak for the expanse of ground assigned to us, and so we stood in a single line, because an attack on the right wing was not expected. During the afternoon of May 2 all indications were that we were in danger and despite all reports, we did not receive any reinforcements and our position was changed only slightly. Then suddenly at 5:30 our wing, 1,000 to 2,000-men strong, was attacked by Jackson’s powerful force, about 40,000 men, in the front, flank and rear. We advanced in thick columns and a terrible musket and artillery fire hit us. In the beginning we offered determined resistance; however, when we were attacked strongly in our rear, we had to give way, otherwise all would have been lost. There was only one way open to us toward the left and we retreated rapidly in a rather disorderly manner. One-fifth of the regiment remained on the field and a third of the officers. Both my horses were lost at the beginning. My saber was shot out of my hand. However, I was spared from the bullets, which is almost a miracle. Almost the whole 11th Corps was thus rolled up, and also the 12th Corps was in disorder.
Meanwhile the enemy’s advance was brought to a fast halt, when 2 additional corps came to help. Now began the bitterest battle, which only can be imagined. Both armies now directed their destructive missiles at one another, and the terrible fire lasted until about 11 o’clock at night. The enemy columns were broken and had to end the battle for the night.
On Sunday May 3, around 6 o’clock in the morning, after both armies received significant reinforcements, the battle began. No man’s pen can actually describe this. Unceasing cannon thunder, with no pause, the explosions of bombs, the whistle of the grapeshot and the lead beans [bullets], the crackling of the rifle fire, the howl of the drawn cannon, and lastly the screams of rage and the pain inflicted on the ears and confusion [illegible word] —The dire straights were even more horribly apparent when one sees bodies torn to shreds by bombshells, when one sees heads torn completely off the bodies, or arms or legs shattered, and everywhere one sees men fall down without an external mark, until after a moment red blood seeps through their uniforms, the work of rifles and muskets. The slightly wounded leave the battlefield bleeding. The severely wounded and the dead cover the field in heaps, in rows, in large masses. So the battle raged until 11:30 in the morning, when both armies were exhausted, and 20–25,000 men have in this short time of 5 1/2 hours soaked the field in blood. Thus the art of war contributes to the fertility of the fields. The Rebels have paid dearly in this tremendous attack and perhaps lost twice as many men through the superiority of our artillery and the bravery of our infantry. On some occasions brave men used their rifle butts and struck down everyone. Two entire enemy regiments were captured during the battle, which together numbered no more than 200 men. I have never believed that such formidable doggedness in battle was possible and both armies fought like the devil. In order to make the battle completely dreadful, our shells set the woods on the enemy side ablaze and many wounded suffered a horrible death.
On May 4 the enemy attacked our breastworks once again, which were erected behind the battlefields for protection. The enemy was intentionally drawn in, where he then was mowed down by our batteries, whose guns were filled to the muzzle with grapeshot, so that in 5 minutes some 2,000 Rebels lay inside our breastworks. The rest fled in a mad rush.—On May 5 rainy weather began and we thereby were in danger of our line of communication being cut off. We had no more provisions and the bridges were in great danger because the river was rising tremendously. Therefore, the retreat over the Rappahannock began during the night and we moved into our camp that we reached during the evening of May 6.
Our cavalry, which was operating in the rear of the enemy during the battle, destroyed railroad connections, all bridges, all enemy trains and magazines, and actually were inside Richmond’s fortifications and could have easily captured or destroyed it. We have captured more than 5,000 prisoners, 5 cannon and a large number of flags, and it is too bad that General Hooker has withdrawn his army.
The Rebels’ greatest loss is that their famous general Jackson, was severely wounded and died soon after.
[Written by the Adjutant August Rudolph Basson of the 45th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry. Immigrated to U. S. in 1860. Born in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Translated by Joseph R. Reinhart.]
The following translated letter was written by Adjutant August Rudolph Basson of the 45th New York Regiment Volunteer Infantry and sent to a newspaper in Germany shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. The 45th New York was in the same brigade as the 82nd illinois Infantry.
Der Gemeinnützige, Anzeigen und Unterhaltungs Blatt für den Obergerichtsbezirk Barel. No. 60, Mittwoch, den 29. Juli 1863 (Judicial district of Barel, Oldenburg, Germany)
(Translated by Joseph R. Reinhart)
The Battle at Gettysburg
We share with you part of a letter from the same young Oldenberger who described the Battle of Chancellorsville.
On June 12 we struck our tents at Brooke’s Station, Va., because the enemy was making a rapid march down the Shenandoah Valley toward Maryland and Pennsylvania. We were awakened by drums each morning at 2:00 a. m. and made a continuous and strenuous march in oppressive heat each day from 3:30 a. m. until late in the evening, with only hard zwieback and bacon to eat. We advanced over 200 miles through northern Virginia from the southeast to northwest, across Maryland into Pennsylvania and finally reached the enemy by Gettysburg, Pa.
Our 11th Corps arrived at Gettysburg after a strenuous march, the last mile covered in the double-quick, and advanced into the battle in the double-quick, in order to come to the aid of the 1st Corps, which had engaged the enemy early and by itself. Right away the pressure was eased and with our first charge our regiment captured over 200 prisoners, the remainder of the regiment opposing us. However the enemy continuously received reinforcements, while out two corps only formed the vanguard of our army. Nevertheless, we held our position until about 5:00 p.m. when we had to give way because the 1st Corps on our left retreated and our left flank was exposed. We withdrew slowly and in the best order under the most severe artillery and musket fire.
When we reached the city our small brigade had to cover the retreat of both corps through the city. Four small regiments now had to resist the whole Southern army. Our regiment was nearly cut off. Our regiment was almost wiped out. My horse was shot 3 times; however, I remained unharmed. A narrow path remained open for the remainder of the troops, but enemy bullets even dominated that.
Rather than becoming prisoners, we moved out and reached our corps at the opposite end of the city where we took a position at the cemetery. As adjutant I positioned my regiment in line and counted the men; I found only 9 officers and 108 men remaining; the sad remainder of this once so fine regiment! —During the night General Meade arrived with the rest of Army of the Potomac and assigned our troops an excellent position; the cemetery where our 11th Corps lay, formed the key and the center. This position controlled all the main roads in all directions and lay opposite Lee’s Rebel army whose numbers were significantly larger than ours.
The forenoon of July 2nd passed with preparation for the battle. Our line was in the shape of a triangle (a very peculiar formation) and it provided a large advantage because the most distant wings could support each other in the shortest time. Our regiment was in the middle of the leftmost part of the triangle. We lay in the cemetery among the stone tombs, over the corpses of the dead, and we felt and knew many of us would join them. We would not need to be carried far.
The battle started suddenly at 4:00 p. m., then the artillery fire concentrated on us and on the cemetery; we lay in a crossfire coming from three directions; but we held steadfast! At 5 o’clock the enemy stormed our left wing but were repulsed with enormous casualties, and we took 2,000 prisoners. After sunset they stormed our right wing. The skeleton of our regiment and brigade was sent to help the 12th Corps. We rushed through the woods in the pitch-dark night and right into the fire there. We could not see anything, only the flashes of powder, and we fought until midnight. The enemy was completely repulsed. The next morning 1,000 of the enemy’s dead lay on the hotly contested field. Several batteries the enemy had previously assaulted were retaken with the bayonet and they were thrown back everywhere.
The battle resumed along the whole line at 3:45 in the morning and lasted until after noon. It suddenly became quiet after the enemy was repulsed at all points. An eerie stillness prevailed, and we knew that the enemy would still make a last large and desperate attack. But where? We would soon have the answer because the enemy is assembling and setting up his artillery in front of out center. At 2 o’clock the hell-fire of 160 guns opened up on our position with bombs, shells and thunder! In two hours, 200 of our guns silenced this raging fury. Then came the infantry attack! The enemy’s immense lines rushed our center left, broke into our line and a battle of life and death began! The right wing hurried to help and together we ejected the enemy and they retreated over the field back to their original position. Around 5 o’clock the enemy was completely defeated and he began retreating during the night. The Independence Day of the American people—the 4th of July—brought us victory over the Rebels. The enemy lost over 35,000 men in 3 days: we lost about 20,000 men. We captured over 11,000 prisoners.
We began the pursuit of the enemy the next day, though not directly, but rather marched eastward from the mountains, in order to prevent the Rebels from crossing the Potomac. We were successful in destroying the bridges and took a position opposite the enemies entrenched lines. The enemy however had not been idle. He moved quickly to cross over the river. He built two bridges using a large part of his trains [no, torn down buildings] and as we advanced toward the tail of his army on the morning of July 14 we only had his rearguard in front of us. During the night he had managed to cross the river, although he lost a large part of his wagons [not true]. Thus the tremendous march of the last 14 days had been in vain. On several days we marched thirty-four miles in terrible rain. We moved immediately in order to cut off, to destroy, the enemy if possible, while he was still in Virginia; however he had gained too large a lead. Our commanding general Meade has now occupied all passes in the [B]lue [R]idge (blauen berge), and it is still possible that Lee will get caught with his army. Our corps moved sideways and camped this evening at the same place where we lay 10 months ago when we opened the campaign.
Warrenton Junction, Va., 25th July 1863
Headquarter 45th Regt., New York Vol. Inf.
[Written by the Adjutant August Rudolph Basson of the 45th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry.]