On the third of July after repeated charges by the enemy upon our regiment, the ground in our immediate front was strewn with the dead and wounded. We noticed one wounded man sat up and reached for a gun. The supposition was that he intended to shoot someone of our officers. A few shots were fired at him, but none struck him and I think they were only fired to scare him. He loaded his gun, placed a cap on the tube, then placed the butt of the gun between his feet, placed the ramrod upon the trigger with one hand and held the muzzle under his chin with the other. He looked down to see that all was right, when he pushed the ramrod against the trigger and another poor soul was ushered into eternity. After the retreat of the rebels a number of the company went out to see this man and found he had been shot thru both hips, the ball having gone clear thru. Many rebel dead were buried on the afternoon of the fourth.
On Sunday morning, July 5th, Samuel Jarrett, James W. Smith, and the writer were detailed to help bury the dead. Sergeant Wallace was permanently detailed on pioneer duty and he helped to dig the trenches. Jarrett, Smith and myself helped to gather up the dead and bring them to the trenches. We four, as my memory serves me, were the only ones of Company G who helped in this work. The woods were full of dead men and horses, some of whom had been killed on the evening of the second.
On the night of the third, and on July fourth, very hot with heavy thunderstorms, and Sunday morning, the fifth, the sun came out bright and hot, and the stench from these dead was something fearful.
While the trenches were being dug we gathered the corpses and the stench was so great that we were ordered not to carry any more until the pioneers had finished their work. Some of the pioneers got sick and had to quit. The trenches were dug about six and a half feet wide and about two and a half feet deep. We placed 42 in one trench and 31 in another. The trenches were dug in the woods. A tree separated the two trenches.
We gathered these dead, who lay in every conceivable position, from a very small portion of the field.
In their last resting place they were placed side by side and two deep. Three men generally brought in a corpse, one at each arm or a stick was placed under their shoulders, and carried to the trenches. The third one would grasp the legs just above the ankle. In this manner we lifted the corpse, when the head would drop back almost dragging on the ground, while the blood oozed from mouth ears and nose. Nearly all the dead had turned black. It was said that whiskey had been given the rebel soldiers before going into battle and that was the cause of their turning black. Oh! the horrible sight! Can you imagine it? These poor fellows, middle‑aged, young men, and boys, fine looking, and to sacrifice their lives for so unworthy a cause and one which they thought was right. As I write these lines it makes my heart feel sad to think of war’s destruction. Would you believe it, every one of these unfortunates as they lay there dead, had been visited by the battlefield thieves and every one was searched and their pockets rifled. We helped carry a very large man. He had been killed and lay in a pool of water when we placed the sticks under him and started for the trench. In stepping over a mud puddle the stick broke and he fell into the water and such a time as we had in getting him out.
A captain of the pioneer corps cut the bark off the tree and then asked, “how many are in the trenches?” The answer was 73. Just then a member of the Fifth Ohio regiment of our brigade, came in with a bare foot (the leg of some Confederated had been shot off just above the ankle.) A sharpened stick had been stuck into the foot and he carried it on his shoulder in this way to the trenches. He said to the captain, how many in this trench? The captain replied 73. The other said make it 73 and one foot. This story, (as well as the one about the rebel shooting himself) are still told by the battlefield guides.
People from all sections of the country came on horseback, afoot and in carriages to visit the battlefield. Hundreds had gathered and while they were watching the burial of the dead a number of the army boys gathered up guns, loaded them and then fired a volley, at the same time yelling that the rebels were coming, and in a very few minutes the place was entirely cleared of citizens. These dead men were far away from their homes and loved ones and were buried like brutes without any religious services of any kind. After the war these bodies were disinterred and taken to Richmond, Va., and buried in the Confederate cemetery.
Here are some representative pictures of Gettysburg in 1863. Click to enlarge:
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