The Battle of Gettysburg.
A special Dispatch to the N. Y. Times from the Battle field near Gettysburg, Pa., by way of Baltimore, Friday, July 3, says:
My brief dispatches, regarding the desperate engagement of yesterday have hardly conveyed a true idea of its magnitude and character. We have now had two days' fighting. Nearly the whole of Wednesday was thus employed by the 1st and 11th Corps, with varying success, they finally being obliged to fall back before greatly superior numbers.
This morning, there were strong premonitions of an early engagement with the enemy in force, but as the day wore away and no positive exhibition was made by the enemy, we began to think that perhaps there would be no immediate battle after all. We were hardly in condition to give battle, as all our dispositions had not been made, Gen. Meade not having arriven on the ground until two o'clock in the morning. The position of our forces after the fight of Wednesday was to the eastward and southward to Gettysburg, covering the Baltimore Pike, the Taneytown and Emmittsburg roads, and still being nearly parallel with the latter. The formation of the ground on the right and center was excellent for defensive purposes. On our extreme left the ground sloped off until the position was no higher than the enemy's. The ground in front of our line was a level open country, interspersed here and there with an orchard or or a very small tract of timber, generally oak, with the underbrush cut away, during the day a portion of the troops threw up temporary breastworks and an abattis. — Gen. Meade's headquarters were at an old house on the Taneytown road, immediately in rear of the center.
Our line was not regular in shape. Indeed, the center protruded out toward the enemy, so as to form almost the two sides of a triangle. Before sundown Gen. Meade's headquarters proved to be the hottest place on the battle-field, so far as a ceaseless shelling was concerned.
Gen. Howard occupied, with his corps, a beautiful cemetary on a hill to the south of Gettesburg. Cannons thundered, horses pranced, and men carelessly trampled the over the remains of the dead. From this hill a beautiful view could be obtained of the valley, and also of a goodly portion of the enemy's line of battle.
Our forces had all been concentrated on Tuesday night, save the Fifth and Sixth corps. The former arrived during the morning, and the latter soon after noon. They were all immediately behind our center.
Whether or not it was Gen. Meade's intention to attack, I cannot say, but he was hardly ready for it before the afternoon of yesterday. The day had become almost dull. Skirmishing was now and then brisk, and the sharpshooters in the steeples and belfreys of the churches persistently blazed away at officers and artillery horses. It was by a sharp shooter in a barn just opposite Wadsworth's Division, yesterday, that Capt. Stevens, of the 5th Maine Battery, got hit. A bullet passed through both legs below the knee, inflicting a severe, but not dangerous wound.
At 3 1/2 o'clock Gen. Meade had received sufficient assurances to justify him in the belief that the rebels were concentrating their forces on our left flank, which all felt to be secure under the protection of the invincible Third corps. Our line was immediately strengthened on that flank, Gen. Sickle corps being sent to its support, and several batteries from the reserve being brought out and placed in position.
About 4 1/2 P. M. the enemy sent his first compliments by a salvo of artillery, his first shells falling uncomfortably near General Meade's headquarters. From thir hour forth to 8 1/2 o'clock, occurred by all odds the most sanguinary engagements yet chronicled in the annals of the war, considering its short duration. The artillery attack which was made by the enemy on the left and center was rapidly followed by the advance of his infantry. The Third corps received the attack with great coolness. The rebels at once made for our flank, and kept moving heavy columns in that direction. This necessitated support, which was quickly given by the fifth corps — The division of Gen. Barnes being sent to the right, and that of Gen. Ayres, regulars, to the left, with Gen. Crawford in the reserve.
The battle now became perfectly fearful. — The armies engaged each other at very short range, and for three long hours the war of musketry was incessant. I have heard more noise, louder crashes in other battles, but I never saw or heard of such desperate tenacious fighting as took place on this flank. — The enemy would often bring up suddenly a heavy column of men, and force our line back, only to be in turn forced back by our own line of glittering steel. Our gallant column covered themselves with glory over and over again. They fought a superior force in numbers. The dispositions of the enemy were very rapid, for look where you would on that bloody field a body of rebels would be advancing. Our dispositions were equally rapid, and the enemy found more than their equal in such gallant veterans as Sickles and Birney and Humphreys. At half past six Gen. Sickles was struck in the right leg by a piece of shell, and borne from the field. The injury was so great that amputation became mecessary, and it was performed successfully — the limb being taken off below the knee.
The struggle grew hotter and hotter. The Second corps was called on for aid, and tho' its own position was strongly threatened, yet the 1st division, formerly Gen. Hancock's flung themselves into the fight with desperate conflict; the enemy slowly and sullenly gave way. In this last charge the brigade of Gen. Caldwell, 2d corps, won great honors. — The charges made by our men deserve mention, but want of time forbids. The rebels made frequent attempts to capture our artillery, and at one time had Watson's battery in their possession, but it was retaken in a furious charge by Birney's division.
The battle lasted till fully 8 1/2 o'clock, when the enemy fell back to his old position, and left our veterans the ensanguined victors of that field. Our pickets were thrown out, and our lines covered most of the field, including a great number of the enemy's dead and wounded.
I visited some portions of the line by moonlight and can bear personal witness to the terrible ferocity of the battle. In front of some of our brigades, who had good protection from stone walls or fences, the rebel dead laid piled in lines like winrows of hay. In front of Gen. Webb's — the Philadelphia — brigade, they lay so thick as to literally cover the ground.
Not far from here was found the body of Gen. Barksdale, that once haughty and violent rebel, craved as a dying boon a cup of water and a stretcher from an ambulance-boy. He is literally cut to pieces with wounds, and must die.
A great and magnificent feature of this fight is the splendid use of artillery. Though our line of battle was only a mile and a-half long, yet almost every battery belonging to the army of the Potomac was more or less engaged. Every one of the reserve batteries was brought into action, the positions for use being numerous. The enemy also used artillery largely, but not to near so great an extent as we did. From this they suffered immensely, and specially on the left, where canister was largely used. I believe we lost no artillery, unless it was two or three disabled pieces, though it was very wonderful we did not.