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15th MVI at 160th Gettysburg

This narrative of our experience at the 160th Gettysburg reenactment is written in the style of an after action report similar, albeit longer, to the style you would have seen in 1863. I hope you enjoy the report and accompanying picture's.

To Colonel George C. Joslin, Commanding 15th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers

Brigadier General William Harrow, 1st Brigade

Brigadier General John Gibbon, 2nd Division

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, 2nd Corps

Report of Captain Thomas Connell, CO B 15th Regiment Mass Volunteers

July 4, 1863.


Camp near Gettysburg, July 4, 1863

I humbly present my account of the valorous deeds undertaken by the 15th Massachusetts Volunteers, in conjunction with elements of the 28th Massachusetts, who had unfortunately become separated from their regiment. Together, they encountered the rebel forces on the field of battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and exhibited an exemplary display of honor and courage. The regiment, instrumental in expelling General Lee's men from Union Territory and forcing their retreat into Virginia, continued to demonstrate unwavering mettle and fortitude in the eyes of God and man.

With due haste, I relay the events preceding and following the three days of relentless combat, as I personally witnessed them while commanding Company B. We arrived in the vicinity of Gettysburg late in the afternoon of the first day, following an arduous and wearisome march. I confess that these protracted journeys grow increasingly demanding with each passing instance. To my astonishment, we were among the first to arrive, apart from a handful of esteemed officers at the Corps level. Consequently, I found myself in the discomfiting position of establishing the inaugural company street, not solely within our battalion but across the entire encampment.

Guided by some rudimentary sketches on a map, I resolved to commence our street at the far right of the area assigned to our battalion, thus conveniently concealing any

potential errors in my layout. Alas, just as I set my men to this task, I received news that we were to occupy the position of the fourth company, precisely at the center of the formation. Engaging in frequent and, I confess, somewhat frantic correspondence via a nearby telegraph, I endeavored to attain a firm understanding of my instructions.

Together with my men, I toiled diligently to initiate the construction of the street.

First, we erected the line officers' tents, followed by those of the company officers, the commissary tent and fly, the fire pit, and the commencement of a lengthy row of A tents culminating in dog tents and adorned with our regimental and national colors. It was a stirring sight to behold such a magnificent thoroughfare. I take immense pleasure in reporting that we were the largest company within the battalion.

Fortuitously, the timely erection of the commissary fly shielded us from the onset of a succession of rainstorms. Our determination to establish a dry sanctuary, where our comrades positioned in our rear could find respite and safeguard their belongings, was met with success. Our concerted efforts yielded fruitful outcomes, for which we are duly grateful.

The remaining hours of the evening were devoted to procuring water and firewood, both essential for the preparation of coffee and the warming of salt pork and hardtack come morning. A vigilant guard was posted, and it was then that I revealed to my men a carefully concealed and hoarded bottle of whiskey, which served to invigorate our weary countenances.

On the following day, the remaining members of the company arrived, with the exception of First Sergeant Flannigan, who was accompanying the supply train and expected to reach us just after daybreak on the morrow. Meanwhile, troops from other brigades inundated the area, resulting in a landscape dominated by the expanse of white canvas. Rumors circulated regarding General Lee's movement in our direction, as he purportedly altered his course from Harrisburg to consolidate his forces. Cavalry from the 1st Vermont reported the presence of massed rebel formations in close proximity, their numbers surpassing our own. I harbor concerns that the forthcoming days will test our endurance profoundly, yet I possess unwavering confidence in our ultimate triumph.

My anxieties regarding any potential errors in our street layout were allayed by the Quartermaster Sergeant, who expressed himself in a commendatory manner. In the manner befitting a seasoned non-commissioned officer, he retorted that anyone disapproving of our arrangement was free to disregard it entirely. Thus reassured, as the sun began its descent, and our organization reached an admirable state, I directed all the men to remain near the street, satiate their hunger as best they could, and seek rest. True to the nature of men, they also managed to acquire or liberate a measure of spirits, the presence of which I am willing to overlook as long as they refrain from shooting the cat.

The weariness and longing for home and hearth that pervaded the ranks were momentarily assuaged as the men gathered beneath the protective shelter of the commissary tent. Led by Private Mulvaney, whose angelic voice is renowned among us all, they engaged in heartfelt singing. The means by which Mulvaney procured a guitar remains a mystery, but its presence was appreciated by all within earshot, spanning the breadth of our encampment.

On the morn of the third day, First Sergeant Flannigan, accompanied by a small detachment, arrived with the supply train, enabling the final unpacking of our provisions. The sighting of a Confederate infantry brigade from General A. P. Hill's corps, advancing toward Gettysburg in the late hours of yesterday, has cast a tense atmosphere upon us. The distant sounds of sporadic gunfire have resonated throughout the morning, unsettling our spirits. I have repeatedly sounded the officers' call on the bugle, yet each gathering has yielded conflicting information, reinforcing my apprehensions that events may not unfold as anticipated.

As the mid-afternoon hours approached, the intensity of the firing escalated, accompanied by the resounding echoes of artillery.

I have received word that Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry has engaged General Heath at McPherson Ridge. Additionally, I find it rather striking that General Buford bears a striking resemblance to Captain David Gus Gallagher, formerly of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.

Shortly after the commencement of the artillery fire emanating from McPherson's Ridge, the Assembly, and First Call were sounded, and word was passed that we were to march alongside General Reynolds in support of the engaged cavalry. The men assembled with admirable precision, appearing sharp and proud. Regrettably, I led them prematurely to the battalion formation, adhering to our customary practices, only to discover that circumstances had changed, compelling me to march them back to the company street and reassemble them while awaiting the bugle call.

To exacerbate matters, when the call eventually came, we exited the street in columns of four, necessitating some men to march through the smoldering embers left by a few of the lads from the 28th. Despite the discomfort caused by the scorching ground, we made our way back to the battalion formation in an orderly fashion on the second attempt, subsequently joining the remainder of the brigade.

As is customary in military affairs, there was an abundance of hurry and wait. It took us an hour or more, marching in a large circle before all five battalions formed a column. Astonishingly, our closest tent was less than a quarter mile away. Upon the command to rest, one of the lads, Private Mattox, a young and inexperienced soldier, foolishly conceived the idea of dashing back to camp to retrieve some jerky. At my request, the First Sergeant harshly admonished him, and I doubt he will repeat such an error in the future.

Following the stacking of arms and a period of frustrated idleness, enduring the sweltering heat and suffocating humidity, we were finally summoned back into our lines. The command to take arms resounded, and in a short span, the musicians played a spirited marching tune, setting us in motion toward the source of the gunfire. Initially,

I entertained concerns that, being the rearmost battalion in the extended column comprising the brigade, we would witness minimal action. However, those fears were swiftly allayed. We sprang into action, forming company lines as the colonel endeavored to position us in support of the leading battalions of the Iron Brigade, who had already engaged General Heath's division. The exchange of fire was ferocious.

No company formed their line with greater speed and precision than the brave lads of the fourth company, and their volleys resounded like singular thunderclaps. Only the boys from Massachusetts possess such exceptional soldierly qualities! We pressed the rebels vigorously, forcing them to retreat through the wooded terrain and across a small bridge, with our battalion in hot pursuit. At this juncture, we had incurred significant casualties. Some of the older veterans were simply exhausted. Their spirits were willing, but their bodies failed them. I must confess, even with the exhilaration coursing through my veins, I found it arduous to maintain the pace myself. We reformed into files to cross the bridge, only to find ourselves targeted by enemy fire from a hill on the opposite side. It resembled the accounts of Burnsides Bridge at Antietam, yet our resolve did not falter.

Almost immediately upon clearing the bridge, we re-established our company line and charged up the hill. In my mind, the Almighty may have considered fashioning these hills on a smaller scale, but in His divine wisdom, He chose otherwise. Nevertheless, we persevered and ascended the summit, driving the rebels back and away. Once atop the hill, I yearned to take a moment's respite and a sip of water, but my intentions were shattered by the rising chorus of those infernal rebel yells emanating from a distance. Glancing to my right, it appeared as if Major General Rodes' 2nd Corps descended upon us from Oak Hill.

To my rear, the colonel demanded an orderly withdrawal down the hill and across the bridge. Although the orders stipulated an orderly withdrawal, our execution of said orders left much to be desired. Upon safely crossing the bridge, we made five futile attempts to reestablish our line and retaliate against the pursuing rebels. Casualties mounted. We endeavored to form a final defensive line on Seminary Ridge and Oak Ridge, but our efforts proved fruitless. Outnumbered, disarrayed, and fatigued, we commenced a retreat through Gettysburg, ultimately regaining our positions along Cemetery Hill. Despite our diminished numbers, we maintained our composure as we marched back to camp.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, all those whom we presumed lost gradually returned to camp, and by nightfall, our ranks had been replenished to full strength. Our Mess Sergeant, a lawyer hailing from Oxford town, executed his duties with utmost excellence, transforming meager rations into a feast surpassing the finest Sunday dinner prepared by our beloved wives and sweethearts. Presently, we face a shortage of water, and I keep a vigilant eye out for the anticipated arrival of barrels containing this precious liquid. The men assigned to the latrine detail have performed a meticulous job, creating latrines of unparalleled quality, considering the vast number of troops present. Fatigued to the core, I eventually succumbed to exhaustion within my tent. If even General Longstreet himself were to venture onto our street, I doubt I would have awakened from my slumber.

Upon the customary dawn of the following day, I arose promptly, finding only a sparse number of guards and a few early-morning stragglers making their way to the lavatories. It is quite conceivable that some unfortunate fellows are afflicted with the malady known as the Green-apple Quickstep. Personally, I felt as if I had endured a grueling ordeal, requiring some time to stoke the fires and set the coffee ablaze. I greatly savor this serene period, with naught but myself, the crackling fire, and my pipe. May I not run out of tobacco, I hope, as I left the remnants in the bowl while packing a fresh batch and kindling it with a matchstick, instead of venturing to ignite it with coal. With the water in the coffee pots now at a scalding temperature, I proceeded to steep the ground beans in the manner recently instructed to me by Private Flannigan, that strapping young lad from Webster who perpetually accompanies the First Sergeant. The other soldiers often refer to this duo as the formidable Flannigan brothers. Not only can they fight with great prowess, but I must admit that young Neil brews an exceptionally splendid coffee. He has also managed to capture the heart of a charming Irish lass. I pray that he survives this conflict and is reunited with her, for it has been rumored that she carries his child.

Soon enough, the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the company's thoroughfare, beckoning Private Mello and Private Hermans to emerge. Private Mello grumbled about yet another night spent sleeping on the grass rather than beneath it, while Private Hermans extended his customary offer to enrich the coffee pot with his personal supply of beans, ensuring its potency to the extent that a man could easily succumb to the darkness with minimal effort. Those little devils depart hastily after a cup of such strength. Private Hermans possesses an uncanny knack for procuring delectable pastries and frequently shares a slice with his comrades.

Following the reveille call, the mess sergeant, Doucette assisted by Private Frost, soon had bacon sizzling in the pan, accompanied by eggs that the lads had acquired from a neighboring farm—when and how, I prefer not to inquire. After the officer's call, I engaged in a conversation with the young Lieutenant from the 28th Regiment, who remains in our company, suggesting that he test his mettle by assuming command when we enter the field—a moment that I fully anticipate transpiring imminently. As is customary with eager and youthful officers, he accepted the challenge with enthusiasm, yet a sense of solemn responsibility pervaded his countenance. I duly informed the colonel of my decision to appoint the Lieutenant as temporary commander, an endorsement he wholeheartedly supported.

Soon after breakfast had concluded, the assembly call resounded. We hastily prepared simple rations for later consumption if the afternoon afforded us such luxury. Having learned from my prior mistakes the previous day, the Lieutenant successfully mustered the men for a dress parade without incident, while I assumed my position as a file closer, not that any man from Massachusetts required prodding into battle. No hearts are sturdier than ours, no will more indomitable, no complaints more vociferous during our drills. Even amongst such a disciplined group, it is astonishing how many privates secretly regard themselves as Captains or even Colonels, if only under their breath. Well, if this is the price to be paid for such an exemplary regiment, so be it. The drill proceeded with admirable precision, and I, for one, found the exercise invigorating for both mind and body. Fully convinced that we would imminently engage the enemy, I ordered the men to rest following the drill. Most of them heeded my command, while some volunteered for foraging expeditions. Corporal Bryan Szwarckop, however, conceived the notion of locating one of those war photographers purportedly present with a camera. He must possess a cherished sweetheart at home to willingly roam about in full uniform, seeking a man who may or may not capture his likeness. I feared that he would pay a heavy toll for this endeavor. In the end, my concerns proved warranted.

The assembly call sounded once more, its bugle strains carrying a sense of urgency. Word swiftly spread that General James Longstreet had maneuvered his army overnight, menacing the Union left flank. Confederate regiments hailing from Texas and Alabama had overrun Union skirmishers on Big Round Top and were now advancing towards Little Round Top. Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren astutely observed the defenseless state of Little Round Top and dispatched a plea for reinforcements. Colonel Strong Vincent promptly bolstered the hill's defenses just in the nick of time. Rumor has it that Chamberlain's Maine boys are covering the left flank. Our battalions, intermingled with General Caldwell's Division, find ourselves adjacent to the colors of the 64th New York Regiment.

The 64th, under the command of Nelson Miles, whom my family is acquainted with back in Westminster, evokes a sense of nostalgia within me. Once again, an interminable amount of time elapses as we organize the brigade. As we march forth, traversing the undulating hills, I notice Corporal Szwarckop succumbing to heat exhaustion. Another fine man felled by this interminable weather. With the Lieutenant leading the company, I am able to fall back, reassured by the corporal's promise to catch up, although I harbor doubts.

Third Corps, deployed to our left, abruptly advances towards the Emmitsburg Road. Seizing the opportune moment, General Longstreet launches an immediate assault upon the enemy. We are dispatched, along with General Caldwell's division, to reinforce General Birney, one of General Sickles' division commanders. Alas, events rapidly spiral into disarray—or perhaps into success, depending on one's perspective. We find ourselves entering the battlefield in inverted order, a possibility foreseen by the colonel. What divine providence granted him the prescience to foresee such an outcome, I shall never comprehend. Nevertheless, we did practice maneuvering the battalion in an inverted formation during this very morning's drill. Thus, with our battalion arranged in a reversed line, we prepared to advance as soon as the artillery barrage subsided. The Lieutenant and I swiftly devised a plan to divide and maneuver the fourth company around the field piece directly ahead of us, and we both felt confident in our strategy. Naturally, chaos promptly ensued as we set forth. A battalion to our front inexplicably about-faced and began marching rearward in the Battalion line, just as we commenced our forward movement. Neither battalion had conformed into a column of companies nor proceeded by company in an orderly manner to facilitate passage through each other's ranks. Acting swiftly, the colonel promptly right-faced our battalion and, amidst the ensuing confusion, maneuvered us past the retreating battalion ahead.

Meanwhile, the men unleashed a flurry of curses that caused the chaplain's countenance to shift through various hues of red and gray. Their vexation at the inverted and rapidly shifting maneuvers befuddled them, rendering it exceedingly difficult to maintain proper alignment as they contended with frequent alterations in their facing direction, resulting in men being pushed to the rear due to the absence of adequate space. Let it be known that at least half of our experienced and stalwart men, driven by an unyielding sense of duty, felt compelled to "assist" with issuing commands. This only heightened the frustration, particularly for those young lads who recently joined us from the 28th Regiment. Nevertheless, despite these tribulations, our men, in their entirety, displayed remarkable composure and moved with remarkable precision. I was overcome with pride in witnessing their unwavering determination.

We forged ahead with great haste, amidst the deafening tumult of battle, where words of command were drowned by a cacophony of noise—flames, smoke, and the writhing masses of men. It is at this point in my report that I must bestow the highest praise upon Lieutenant Wilkens of the 28th Massachusetts Regiment. There came a moment during the battle when our battalion confronted a similar number of Confederate troops. Both lines, fatigued and bewildered, momentarily seemed disinclined to continue the fight as they gazed upon each other from a mere 40 or 50 yards apart. The line officers appeared momentarily paralyzed, devoid of action. At this critical juncture, Lieutenant Wilkens, after casting his gaze upon the enemy and delivering an impassioned invective that shall not be recounted within the confines of this report, commanded the fourth company to fire by file and subsequently unleash a volley. The company complied with fervor. Inspired by his audacity, the companies to our left and right, with the Fourth Company positioned in the center, commenced firing upon the enemy under the directives of their respective officers.

Dispelled from their temporary stupor, the wing commanders and other line officers swiftly restored order, prompting our battalion to once again fight in unison. The battle seemed interminable as we relentlessly pressed forward, only to be struck by relentless counterattacks, outnumbered and assailed from the flanks. We were compelled to withdraw, retreating almost to our encampment.

After a brief respite, I retired to our street alongside some of the men, while the rest of our forces, particularly the younger among us, reassembled and launched one final offensive. At this juncture, I can only recount what was relayed to me late in the evening by Mr. Wilkens, as well as Privates Matt Connell, Brenton Mattox, and Neil Flannigan, whose youth and enthusiasm rendered their excitement palpable. They fervently asserted that this battle had been the most exhilarating experience of their lives! Even Private Gary Landers, himself exhibiting signs of advanced age, was swept up in a euphoric state following the battle. Time and again, the Wheatfield changed hands and bore witness to frenzied bouts of hand-to-hand combat, a rarity on the battlefield. Ultimately, the Confederates failed to exploit their fleeting successes, and Union forces triumphed on the field. As evening fell, a chorus of voices emanated from beneath the commissary fly, accompanied by the gentle strains of a fiddle played by Private Filo. Bellies were sated, thanks once again to the tireless efforts of our talented mess sergeant, complemented ably by the culinary skills of Private Filo and Private Frost.

The dawn of the day unfolded much like its predecessors throughout this campaign. The sun rose, casting its unyielding rays upon our weary bodies, foretelling the sweltering heat and suffocating humidity that lay ahead. We prepared ourselves for the day's toil, deviating from our routine by allowing our esteemed mess sergeant a few precious moments of additional repose. This decision was motivated by a desire to provide our men with sustenance and afford them the opportunity to attend a Sunday morning church service within our camp. Such activities were deemed fitting for the noble soldiers of the 15th Regiment on this sacred day. Anticipating the customary alteration in the timing of our orders, I sought to gain an advantage by ensuring our troops were both physically nourished and spiritually prepared.

Fortuitously, we received a visit from a contingent of local Massachusetts men who had been engaged in dismounted cavalry skirmishes throughout the campaign. These familiar faces, former Captain Sellers and his companion, delighted in partaking of the genuine sustenance procured by our skilled foraging parties, which have garnered a reputation of excellence within the 15th Regiment.

Within my heart, I harbored a premonition that today would witness the culmination of our trials, at least for a time. The resonating call of assembly reverberated through the air, summoned by the bugler whose actions continue to evoke within me conflicting sentiments of commendation and exasperation. The jury is still out on which sentiment shall prevail. Assembling our men with commendable order, we joined the ranks forming for what unquestionably appeared to be the final engagement of this protracted struggle. Today, the rebels would come to us, of this I was resolute.

Our march traversed familiar roads, accompanied by the steady influx of reinforcements converging towards the center of our position. General Meade, prescient in his prediction, envisioned an assault by General Lee squarely aimed at the heart of our defensive lines, ensconced upon the low but formidable Cemetery Ridge. Occupying the far right flank of the Union lines, a sense of unease weighed upon me, and my gaze repeatedly veered towards the copse of trees on our left. Before long, the enemy's guns thundered to life, initiating a resounding bombardment. Our own cannons answered in kind.

Emerging from the smokescreen generated by the artillery barrage, a seemingly endless procession of gray-clad soldiers advanced steadily toward our position on Cemetery Ridge. Our artillery, unwavering in their duty, inflicted havoc upon the Rebel ranks, rending gaps in their formations. The Confederate advance, impeded by the terrain and fences, proved to be an arduous and grueling march. Meanwhile, our valiant comrades, safely entrenched behind sturdy stone walls, unleashed a relentless volley of musket fire upon the enemy. The field soon became enveloped in a dense cloud of smoke and dust, amidst which the disarrayed remnants of rebel arms, heads, blankets, guns, and knapsacks were violently hurled into the air. The Rebel war cries were swiftly replaced by anguished moans emanating from the battlefield, faintly audible amidst the cacophony of warfare.

Regrettably, the main action unfolded precisely where my gaze had been drawn—towards the focal point near the Copse of Trees. Although our position at the front afforded us an advantageous vantage point, we found ourselves situated on the right wing, the far reaches of the Union flank. Consequently, we discharged a mere five or six volleys in total throughout the charge. To compound matters, a rogue Union regiment deviated from its intended path, infiltrating our firing line and necessitating our adjustment to a left oblique angle in order to engage the enemy. Nonetheless, we departed the field as victors, firmly believing that the resounding defeat inflicted upon General Lee's army would serve to abbreviate the remainder of this harrowing conflict.

Upon our return to the encampment, many of our comrades busied themselves with preparations for the arduous march that awaited us, as they were released from their obligations upon the expiration of their enlistments. Rumors abound that over three thousand valiant souls will be bidding farewell to this beleaguered battlefield. General Lee, it is rumored, has hastily retreated to Virginia through the territory of Maryland. General Meade, exercising prudence, has elected not to pursue the retreating enemy. Even within the ranks of my own command, a notable contingent has embarked upon their departure.

I entered upon the command of the Company conscious of my inability, with the limited means at my command, to meet the demands and expectations of the country. I can only express my consciousness of having at least honestly and faithfully labored for the good of the service and the common good of the men over whom I exercised a command.

Although I was the first to arrive on this field, I shall take my repose alongside my sons, Kris, Zach, and Matt, accompanied by the youthful Private Mattox.

On Monday, as the bugle sounds the call to assembly once more, we shall be the last to dismantle our canvas abode and commence the arduous journey back to our beloved Massachusetts. Until that fateful moment, we remain ever vigilant, ready to heed the bugle's clarion call.

In conclusion, I would refer to the valuable assistance rendered to me by my Company officers and NCOs; Lieutenant Wilkens (28th), First Sergeant Flannigan, Sergeant Carroll, Corporal Szwarckop, Corporal McFadden. These officers and NCO’s displayed zeal, energy, ability, and, what I have found rare, humility and honesty.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.W. Connell

Captain, 15th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers

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Neil Flanigan
Neil Flanigan

Pvt. Flanigan

15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

It was a pleasure fighting under your command, Captain!

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