Captain James Hall’s Report On the Action of the 2nd Maine Battery At Gettysburg
One of the first Union artillery units in action at Gettysburg on July 1st, 1863 was the six gun Battery B of the 2nd Maine Light Artillery, under the command of Captain James A. Hall. This unit was part of the Artillery Brigade of the 1st Corps, and arrived on the scene as Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry was fighting its delaying action against Major General Henry Heth’s Confederate division on the northwest edge of town. Hall was ordered to relieve Lieutenant John H. Calef’s Battery A of the 2nd U.S. Light Artillery, part of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps and the only artillery that Buford had.
Hall placed in guns in position between the Chambersburg Pike and an unfinished railroad cut. Five Infantry regiments of Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s 2nd Brigade of the 1st Corps’ 1st Division, were deployed on Hall’s left (two regiments) and right (three regiments). The 2nd Maine went into action against Major William Pegram’s battalion of artillery, part of Major General Richard Anderson’s Division of Lieutenant A.P. Hill’s Corps.
As the three regiments on the right went into position to the north of Hall’s artillery, three infantry regiments of Brigadier General Joseph Davis’ Brigade of Heth’s Division attacked the Federal infantry. The Union right flank was exposed as Davis’ regiments attacked from both the north and west, inflicting heavy casualties. Major General James Wadsworth, the 1st Division commander, ordered the three infantry regiments to withdraw.
With the Union infantry pulling out, Davis’ Confederates closed to within 50 yards of Hall’s front and right and opened fire. Hall swung some guns around and replied with double canister, momentarily stopping the Rebels, but his position was untenable and he withdrew to prevent from being overrun. Hall began by attempting to withdraw in sections, with one set of guns pulling back a distance and then stopping to fire on the enemy while the next set of guns retired. The onrushing Confederates put an end to that plan for a phased and covered retreat and men, horses, and guns escaped as quickly as they could.
The 2nd Maine Battery retired to Cemetery Hill and was positioned on the far left of the extensive Union artillery line on that hill, and was again in action on July 2nd. It was sent to the rear and did not see action on July 3rd.
Here’s Hall’s official report of the 2nd Maine Battery’s action at Gettysburg.
Near BERLIN, MD.,
July 16, 1863.
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following as my report of the part taken by my battery at the battle of Gettysburg, on July 1, 2, and 3:
We were in camp on the morning of July 1. at Marsh Creek, 4 miles from Gettysburg. At 9 a.m. marched, following the advance brigade of the First Division, First Army Corps, to the battle-field, about a half mile south andwest of town, where we were ordered into position by General Reynolds on the right of the Cashtown road, some 400 yards beyond Seminary Hill. The enemy had previously opened a battery of six guns directly in our front at 1,300 yards distance, which they concentrated upon me as 1 went into position, but with very little effect.
We opened upon this battery with shot and shell at 10.45 a.m., our first six shots causing the enemy to change the position of two of his guns and place them raider cover behind a barn. In twenty-five minutes from the time we opened fire, a column of the enemy’s infantry charged up a ravine on our right flank within 60 yards of my right piece, when they commenced shooting down my horses and wounding my men. I ordered the right and center sections to open upon this column with canister, and kept the left firing upon the enemy’s artillery. This canister fire was very effective, and broke the charge of the enemy, when, just at this moment, to my surprise I saw my support falling back without any order having been given me to retire. Feeling that if the position was too advanced for infantry it was equally so for artillery, I ordered the battery to retire by sections, although having no order to do so. The support falling back rapidly, the right section of the battery, which I ordered to take position some 75 yards to the rear, to cover the retiring of the other four pieces, was charged upon by the enemy’s skirmishers and 4 of the horses from one of the guns shot. The men of the section dragged this gun off by hand.
As the last piece of the battery was coming away, all its horses were shot, and I was about to return for it myself, when General Wadsworth gave me a peremptory order to lose no time, but get my battery in position near the town, on the heights, to cover the retiring of the troops.
I sent a sergeant with 5 men after the piece, all of whom were wounded or taken prisoners. I had got near to the position I had been ordered to take, when I received another order from General Wadsworth to bring my guns immediately back; the officer bringing the order saying he would show me the road to take, which was the railroad grading leading out from town, which was swept at the time by two of the enemy’s guns from the hills beyond, through the excavations at Seminary Hill.
Having gotten on to this road, from its construction I could not turn from it on either side, and was obliged to advance 1,200 yards under this raking fire. Arriving at Seminary Hill, I found no one to show me the position Iwas to occupy, and placed my battery in park under cover of the hill, and went forward to see where to take position, when I again met an aide of General Wadsworth, who ordered me to go to the right along the woods, passover the crest and over a ravine, and there take position.
Obeying this order, I moved toward the right until met by an orderly, who informed me I was going directly into the enemy’s lines, which were advancing from this direction. I halted my command, and rode forward, but before reaching the described position was fired upon by the enemy’s skirmishers. I then countermarched my battery, and moved to near the seminary, and was going forward to ascertain, if possible, where to go, when I met Colonel Wainwright, who informed me my abandoned gun was still on the field, and that he had refused to put the battery into the position desired by General Wadsworth. I then took a limber, and went back upon the field with I sergeant, and recovered the abandoned gun with parts of all the harness, and immediately moved back through the town, putting my only three guns which were not disabled in position, by order of General Howard, on the left of the cemetery.
On the 2d, we opened fire in reply to the enemy’s guns at 4.15 p.m., and continued in action until the enemy’s artillery ceased for the day, during which time another gun was disabled by its axle breaking by the recoil, when I was relieved by a battery from the Reserve Artillery, and, by order of General Newton, went to the rear to repair damages, and the battery took no further part in the engagement.
Casualties first day, 18 men wounded and 4 taken prisoners; 28 horses killed and 6 wounded; one gun-carriage rendered useless; two axles broken. Second day, one axle broken. Fired during engagement, 635 rounds of ammunition.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES A. HALL,
Captain, Commanding Second Maine Battery.
Col. C. S. WAINWRIGHT,
Comdg. Artillery Brigade, First Army Corps.
Capt. James A. Hall report, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XXVII, Part 1.
Pictured below: Col. James A. Hall and staff.
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