June 30-July 1, 1863
The following is an account of the 8th Illinois' action at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, primarily after the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. General Reynolds, written by Major William Medill shortly before his death.
Many thanks to Georgiann Baldino for sharing this account:
"Westminster, Md., July 4, Evening. Since my last letter to you which was written the day after our big cavalry fight near Upperville, June 23d. our brigade (composed of the 8th and 12th Illinois, 3rd Indiana, 8th New York, and a battery of flying artillery under command of Col. Gamble) has been continually on the march. Our Division under Gen. Buford marched from Aldie to Williamsburg; thence to Jefferson, Md; thence to Boonsboro, Md; thence to Fairfield, Pa., where we had a sharp fight with the rebel infantry and drove them from the village; thence to Emmitsburg; thence to Gettysburg where we arrived on the 30th of June...we had to take [the] head against the rebel army with two small brigades of cavalry and two field batteries, number less than 3,200 men all told under Gen. Buford. We held our position, however, and had captured a rebel flag and quite a number of prisoners before the infantry came up….
"When the infantry came up at 9 a.m., our regiment (8th Illinois) and brigade were ordered to the left of the line, to prevent a flank movement on the part of the enemy. From that time until the battle ended, we gave him great annoyance, and materially retarded his advance by making frequent bold dashes on him, obliging him to halt and change front to prevent us from sabering his flank and rear. In this way we saved a whole brigade of our infantry and a battery from being captured and cut to pieces. The rebels had them nearly surrounded and hemmed in, perceiving which, we made a detour to the left, gained their flank, and charged right on the rear of one of the living walls that was moving to crush our infantry. The rebel line halted suddenly, faced about, formed to receive us, and fired a volley that mostly went over our heads. We returned the fire with our carbines and galloped away. But during the time, they were thus delayed our infantry brigade escaped.
"Our line was whipping the rebels until Longstreet came up to Hill’s aid with 30,000 men and a powerful train of artillery. His corps was put on to the rebel right, in line of divisions—the line being a few hundred yards apart. These new lines overlapped our left more than half a mile. Our men both infantry and cavalry had been standing up gravely and successfully for eight hours before Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, but when this fresh horde of butternuts came up the fate of the day could easily be guessed. They advanced in long lines, they seemed to roll over the ground like great logs, that could not be checked, and yet moved slowly. I never saw anything like it. Our brigade’s battery belched forth grape and canister at short range, making gaps in the advancing line at each discharge, and our infantry and cavalry poured volley after volley into the rolling mass, but still it came steadily on, closing up the spots as fast as made. On it rolled, in three long parallel lines, about 500 yards apart, their muskets gleaming in the sun and pouring forth volley after volley of fire and leaded missiles at our lines. Our regiment was posted on the extreme flank, and partially on the rear of those logs advancing. Hues of 30,000 solid infantry making a grand charge. I could see the whole thing as plainly as you can a revue in McVicker’s Theater, as we were not 400 yards from the moving columns. When the rebels got near the thin, weak lines of our infantry, the latter of course had to give way and fall back. Then the rebs rushed forward on the double quick, with loud cheers. Our brigade then formed [a] column of attack and charged after the screaming devils. When close on their heels, we gave them a volley that sent scores of them headlong to the ground. Their lines halted, changed front, and delivered a volley after us as we fell back. By this means our infantry had time to take up another and stronger position and succeeded in checking the further advance of the enemy. The battle ended about half-past four o’clock p.m. The fighting was exceedingly desperate, and the losses very heavy on both sides.
"During the night Gen. Meade arrived with three army corps. He ordered our cavalry division to fall back to this place (Westminster,) and take positions on the railroad to guard our left against an apprehended flank movement of the enemy to cut off our communications and ammunition trains."
[Source: Major William Medill, published in Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 22, 1863, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031490/1863-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/ accessed March 27, 2017, Library of Congress Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers ]