2nd Florida at Gettysburg
Report of Col. David Lang, Eighth Florida Infantry, commanding Perry's brigade
JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863.--The Gettysburg Campaign
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2 [S# 44]
HEADQUARTERS PERRY'S BRIGADE,
July 29, 1863.
Maj THOMAS S. MILLS,
MAJOR: I herewith submit the following as the official report of the part taken by this brigade in the battle of Gettysburg:
On July 1, while on the march from Fayetteville to Gettysburg, this brigade being the rear guard of Anderson's division, heavy firing was heard in front, and I received orders from Major-General Anderson to pass ahead of the wagon train, and close up on General Wilcox's brigade. This I did, and, moving to within 2 miles of Gettysburg, was directed, by order of General Anderson, to form line of battle about 1 mile to the right of the turnpike.
I continued to occupy this position until the morning of the 2d, when the division was moved to the front and right about 1ï¿½ miles, and formed line behind an open field 1 mile in width, the enemy being strongly intrenched in the woods and upon the heights on the opposite side of the field.
While this movement was being executed, an advanced body of the enemy, occupying a thickly wooded hill on the right of the intended line, opened a heavy fire of musketry upon General Wilcox's brigade, occupying the right of the division, and I received orders to move to his assistance. I accordingly moved by the right flank, but, before becoming engaged, was notified by General Wilcox that he needed no assistance, and in a few moments the enemy were driven back, and we occupied the intended line without further opposition. Here I received orders to hold my position without bringing on an engagement unnecessarily until General Longstreet could come up on our right.
About 5 p.m. I received an order from General Anderson to the effect that General Longstreet was driving back the enemy's left, and that Wilcox would advance whenever General Longstreet's left advanced beyond him. I was ordered to throw forward a strong line of skirmishers, and advance with General Wilcox, holding all the ground the enemy yielded.
At 6 p.m., General Wilcox having begun to advance, I moved forward, being met at the crest of the first hill with a murderous fire of grape, canister, and musketry. Moving forward at the double-quick, the enemy fell back beyond their artillery, where they were attempting to rally when we reached the crest of the second hill. Seeing this, the men opened a galling fire upon them, thickly strewing the ground with their killed and wounded. This threw them into confusion, when we charged them, with a yell, and they broke and fled in confusion into the woods and breastworks beyond, leaving four or five pieces of cannon in my front, carrying off, however, most of the horses and limbers. Following them rapidly, I arrived behind a small eminence at the foot of the heights, where, the brigade having become much scattered, I halted for the purpose of reforming, and allowing the men to catch breath before the final assault upon the heights.
While engaged in reforming here, an aide from the right informed me that a heavy force had advanced upon General Wilcox's brigade, and was forcing it back. At the same time a heavy fire of musketry was poured upon my brigade from the woods 50 yards immediately in front, which was gallantly met and handsomely replied to by my men. A few moments later, another messenger from my right informed me that General Wilcox had fallen back, and the enemy was then some distance in rear of my right flank. Going to the right, I discovered that the enemy had passed me more than 100 yards, and were attempting to surround me. I immediately ordered my men back to the road, some 300 yards to the rear. Arriving here, I found there was no cover under which to rally, and continued to fall back, rallying and reforming upon the line from which we started.
In this charge, the brigade lost about 300 men killed, wounded, and missing, and I regret to state that, while retreating, the colors of the Eighth Florida Regiment were left upon the field, the color-bearer and the color-guard (one sergeant and two corporals) being killed or wounded and left upon the field. I cannot attach any blame to the commander of the regiment, as in the confused order of the retreat several colors were crowded near each other, and the flag was not missed until the brigade was halted at the woods, too late to rescue it.
Throwing forward pickets, the brigade remained quietly in this position until daylight of the 3d, when I received orders from General Anderson to connect my right with General Wilcox's left, and conform my movements during the day to those of his brigade. I was at the same time notified that I would receive no further orders.
About 7 a.m. General Wilcox moved forward to the support of a portion of General Longstreet's artillery, then being placed in position; and, in accordance with orders, I moved up with his left, and put my command in front and at the foot of the hill upon which the batteries were in position, at the same time advancing my skirmishers to the crest of the next hill. Here we remained quietly until nearly 2 p.m., when the batteries opened a furious bombardment upon the enemy's stronghold, which lasted till nearly 4 p.m., when Pickett's division, of Longstreet's corps, charged the enemy's position, but were soon after driven back in confusion.
Soon after General Pickett's troops retired behind our position, General Wilcox began to advance, and, in accordance with previous orders to conform to his movements, I moved forward also, under a heavy fire from artillery, but without encountering any infantry until coming to the skirt of woods at the foot of the heights. Just before entering the woods, a heavy body of infantry advanced upon my left flank.
The noise of artillery and small-arms was so deafening that it was impossible to make the voice heard above the din, and the men were by this time so badly scattered in the bushes and among the rocks that it was impossible to make any movement to meet or check the enemy's advance. To remain in this position, unsupported by either infantry or artillery, with infantry on both flanks and in front and artillery playing upon us with grape and canister, was certain annihilation. To advance was only to hasten that result, and, therefore, I ordered a retreat, which, however, was not in time to save a large number of the Second Florida Infantry, together with their colors, from being cut off and captured by the flanking force on the left. Owing to the noise and scattered condition of the men, it was impossible to have the order to retreat properly extended, and I am afraid that many men, while firing from behind rocks and trees, did not hear the order, and remained there until captured.
Falling back to our artillery, we reformed in our old line, and remained here quietly until night, when I received orders from Major-General Anderson to fall back to the original line of battle in the woods. Here we remained, without any other interruption than a little picket fighting on the 4th, until the night of the 4th, when at dark, in accordance with orders from General Anderson, I withdrew my command and joined the army, then marching on the road to Fairfield.
During the entire series of engagements, my command acted well, obeying all orders with promptness and alacrity. In the charge made, after the repulse of Pickett's division, upon a position from which we had been repulsed the day before, they moved steadily and firmly forward, although every man knew the desperate character of the charge and that no support was near.
I received much valuable assistance from Captain [William E.] McCaslan, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant [A. J.] Peeler, acting aide, both of whom acted gallantly. I regret to state that Captain McCaslan was killed while we were retreating from the charge on the 3d instant.
The brigade went into action near 700 strong, and lost, as shown by the list forwarded a few days since, 455 killed, wounded, and missing, Major [W. R.] Moore, commanding Second Florida, and Captain [R. N.] Gardner, commanding Fifth Florida, being among the wounded. The former was left upon the field, and fell into the hands of the enemy.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
DAVID LANG. Colonel,