Charles A. Fuller was a lieutenant in the 61st New York, one of the regiments in the brigade of Col. Edward E. Cross of the 5th New Hampshire at Gettysburg. Fuller had been with his regiment from the beginning, fighting in the same battles as the 5th: Fair Oaks and the Seven Days on the Virginia Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
|Lt. Charles A. Fuller|
Cross commanded the First Brigade of the First Division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. The brigade was ordered into the Wheatfield at Gettysburg late on July 2, 1863, to prevent a Confederate breakthrough. Fuller’s account of the battle offers just a glimpse of Cross but shows what it was like to fight under him that day.
It also emphasizes how singular and particular each soldier’s experience of battle was. As a longtime student of Cross and the 5th on the second day at Gettysburg, I was amused to read that Fuller did not even know the 5th was there that day even though the regiment, small as it was by then, was in his own brigade.
Fuller considered his Gettysburg story “tame and personal (and) of but small interest,” but, he added: “It shows what was going on in thousands of families the land over – North and South – and it is the kind of matter that does not get into books on war subjects. The reality of war is largely obscured by descriptions that tell of movements and maneuvers of armies, of the attack and repulse, of the victory and defeat, and then pass on to new operations. All of this leaves out of sight the fellows stretched out with holes through them, or with legs and arms off.”
Here is Fuller’s account, beginning with an anniversary celebration of the battle of Fair Oaks, his regiment’s – and the 5th New Hampshire’s – first battle.
While in this camp [near Fredericksburg], June 1st, 1863, the First Brigade of the First Division, fell in and passed in review by quite a body of officers, including Hancock, [O.O.] Howard and [Francis] Barlow. Gen. Howard made appropriate remarks to the remnants of the 5th N. H., 81st Pa., 64th and 61st N. Y., which he commanded in the battle of Fair Oaks that day, the year before.
But a small fraction of the men he commanded that day at 7 a. m. were present to hear his words. He said we were in this great strife to win, and we would fight it to a finish, and we applauded his sentiments by lusty cheers.
After this we returned to our quarters. Barlow appeared and gave us a chance to grasp his hand. I am sure this great soldier always had a special affection for the men of the 61st N.Y. He had their entire confidence. Unquestionably they obeyed his orders, first, perhaps, because they didn’t dare do otherwise, and, second, because they trusted his judgment and ability to perform what he set out to do.
Now everything indicated a move at short notice. Sunday, the 14th of June, the Confederates shot off their big guns on the heights of Fredericksburg. I think our people crossed the river on a reconnaissance. At 8 p. m. the Second Corps moved, marched four miles and halted for the night. Monday, the 15th, we passed Stafford Court House. Tuesday, the 16th, the march took us beyond Dumfries’ Court House. This day was excessively hot, and it was stated that quite a number of the Second Corps died of sunstroke. Lieut. Elmore was stricken down by it. He lay on the ground almost motionless – was quite out of his head and talked crazy. He was put into an ambulance, and sent to hospital.
Wednesday, the 17th, at the close of the day, we halted at Pope’s Run on the Orange & Alexandria R. R. Thursday, the 18th, no move was made, except to change camp. In the afternoon of Friday (the 19th) we moved and halted in the evening at Centreville, the place we had been in about nine months before. Saturday about noon we left Centreville for Thoroughfare Gap.
We passed over the two Bull Run battlefields, which were fought about a year apart. On the field of 1861 the dead had been buried with the least expenditure of labor. I should say the bodies had been laid close together, and a thin coat of earth thrown over them. As the bodies decayed, the crust fell in exposing in part the skeletons. Some of our men extracted teeth from the grinning skulls as they lay thus exposed to view. On the field of 1862 from one mound a hand stuck out. The flesh instead of rotting off had dried down, and there it was like a piece of dirty marble. Such sights are not refreshing to men going forward in search of a new battlefield. . . .
After dark [on June 25] we camped at Gum Spring. It had rained all day. I was placed in charge of the picket line that night, and visited the posts wet to the skin. In the morning a young and innocent calf was sporting in the field we occupied. Some of our wickedest men ended the life of that calf skinned it, and gave me a chunk. I expected to have an unusually good meal out of it.
No time was found to cook this meat until we halted at Edward’s Ferry on the Potomac, where we expected to spend the night. Collins and I proposed to have a great meal out of our piece of veal. Our man “Robert” fried it in the stew pan, which was the half of a canteen, and brought it on smoking hot. The experiment of trying to eat it disclosed the fact that it was “deeken veal” and very “stringy,” I think the Spanish war soldiers would have called it. We discarded it and went back to “salt hoss.”
That night we crossed the Potomac on a pontoon, and were again in “My Maryland.” The performances this night were such as to justify vocal damning on the part of a very good Christian. The men were tired, but they were marched and countermarched, and halted and started, and placed and unplaced, until it was fair to conclude that someone was drunk.
At last the person directing the column got his bearings and we proceeded. We were plodding along a road in which there was on the right hand side a ditch about two feet deep. Having been up and awake all of the night before, I was fearfully sleepy and hardly able to drag myself along. All at once I went into this ditch, and struck full length. In its bottom there was about two inches of mud, thick enough to encase me. By the time I had pawed out, I could not, if laid out, have been distinguished from a mud sill; but I was too near gone to speak bad words, and so went on in silence, weighing five pounds more than before my descent. . . .
|Officers of the 61st New York Volunteers|
Sunday, the 28th, we moved up, and camped just before crossing the Monocacy. We spent the day very comfortably, and went to bed by rolling up in our blankets, when an order came to “fall in.” This we did of course, but wished it had been otherwise. We marched about two miles, and were posted to guard a ford of the Monocacy. . . .
Monday, the 29th, we made a march of over thirty-two miles. We halted for the night some miles beyond Uniontown, at about 10 p.m. I know I was so completely tired out, that, as soon as arms were stacked, I stretched out without unrolling my blankets, and I knew nothing till the next morning, when I was awakened by the sun shining into my eyes. I was so stiff that it took some time to get on to my legs, but, after moving about for a while, I was all right.
Tuesday, the 30th, we remained in camp, many straggled in the march of the day before, and during this day most of them came up.
Wednesday, July 1st, we started out, none of us knowing for where. We heard no sound of battle that day. No doubt the lay of the land shut off the thunder of the guns. A rumor soon became current that a fight was in progress, and that Gen. Reynolds had been killed. We marched through a little village, perhaps it was Taneytown. Our signalers were up in the steeple of a church on the street we were passing through, and their flags were we-wawing at a great rate. Before long the ambulance containing the corpse of Reynolds passed us. We halted for the night.
After sundown our brigade, and probably the division, were in line of battle. As soon as arms were stacked, we went to a rail fence, took down the rails, brought them to our line, and, before going to bed – i. e., spreading our blankets on the ground – we had staked up those rails and banked earth against them so that they would have served quite a purpose as breastworks. By this time lines of camp fires were burning as far as we could see, indicating that the army was massed here, or the ruse was worked to make the enemy think so.
Thursday, the 2d, we were quietly ordered to turn out. Breakfast was eaten, the guns and ammunition were inspected, and by six or seven o’clock we were in motion. On the march I remember we went through a small piece of open timber, where our doctors were posted, and as we went by we shook hands with them, and exchanged little pleasantries. I remember saying to them, “We’ll see you again later.” I tried to say this with a jaunty air, but down in my shoes I did not feel a bit jaunty. I think we all felt that this should be a death grapple, and, if Lee went further north, it ought to be over the played out ranks of this army. We continued our march and halted in a large open field to the left of the village of Gettysburg. Our brigade was massed, and commanded by Col. Edward E. Cross of the 5th N. H.
|Col. Edward E. Cross|
Our regiments were so small that, except in the case of the 148th Pennsylvania, each regiment made a single line. I think the 148th was divided into two battalions. The 61st had about 90 muskets.
While waiting for something to “turn up” Col. Cross came up, and after a little said, “Boys, you know what’s before you. Give ’em hell!” and some of us said, “We will, Colonel!”
After a time “the ball opened” on our left. A determined attack was made on Sickles’s position. He could not hold it, and re-enforcements were sent to him. I do not remember seeing the 5th N.H. move away but Col. Broady says it was detached before the brigade started [the 5th was in fact on the ridge]. I think it was between 5 and 6 o’clock when our orders came, and we were ready. It was preferable to advance into action, rather than to wait in expectation of the order to move.
|Lt. Col. Oscar Knut Broady was the 61st New|
York's retimental commander at Gettysburg.
In front of us across the road was a wheat field, which was bounded by a fence. We were ordered forward; we scaled the fence and advanced into this wheat field in line of battle. Finally we were halted, markers were thrown out, and we lined up. The 61st N.Y. was the right of our brigade line. I am not sure what regiment was to our right. It is my recollection that no regiment was in close contact with us. As soon as the alignment was perfected, the officers and file closers passed through the ranks and got in rear of the men. Up to this time not a confederate had been seen in our front.
At the further edge of this wheat field there were the remnants of a stone wall and scattering trees and brush, which made a natural line for the opposing force to form behind. As soon as I got into my place, I kept my eyes to the front, and in a few seconds I saw first one or two men come toward us on a run, and throw themselves down behind this partial stone wall. But a brief time passed when a solid line of men in gray appeared and placed themselves as had the first comers.
At once, and without any ordering, the firing opened by both sides. It was slightly descending from where we stood to the position of the enemy. I think their location was the best, independent of the protection afforded by the old wall. It was a case of give and take.
As a rule our men behaved splendidly; with a single exception I saw no flinching or dodging. I saw a certain second lieutenant doubling himself together so as to bring his head below the line of the heads of the men in front of him. Capt. Keech saw his posture and came up to him and said, “Stand up! What are you crouching for?” The fellow replied, “I’m not crouching.” Keech replied, “Yes, you are!” and he hit him across his humped-up back a sharp rap that made him grunt, and said, “Stand up like a man!”
In battle the tendency is almost universal for the men to work out of a good line into clumps. The men of natural daring will rather crowd to the front, and those cast in more timid or retiring molds will almost automatically edge back and slip in behind. Hence the necessity of not alone commissioned officers in the rear to keep the men out in two ranks, but sergeants as well. . . .
For the less than ninety muskets in the ranks we had . . . officers enough in our regiment in this great battle to have commanded three hundred men, and it is a standing proof of the gross ignorance, or the villainy of the New York government that such was the case. In the early part of the day I remarked to a number of the men nearby that when some one of them was knocked out I was going to take his musket and get into the firing line.
|The 61st New York monument in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg|
Near to me I saw a man named Daily go down, shot through the neck. I made a movement to get his gun, but at that moment I was struck in the shoulder. It did not hurt and the blow simply caused me to step back. I found that I could not work my arm, but supposed that hurt was a flesh wound that had temporarily paralyzed it, and that it was not serious enough to justify my leaving the fighting line. So, I remained and did what I could in directing the firing.
Sometime after this, I felt a blow on the left leg, and it gave way, so that I knew the bone was broken. This stroke did not hurt, and I did not fall, but turned around and made a number of hops to the rear, when my foot caught in the tangled grain and I went down full length.
Sometime after this, I felt a blow on the left leg, and it gave way, so that I knew the bone was broken. This stroke did not hurt, and I did not fall, but turned around and made a number of hops to the rear, when my foot caught in the tangled grain and I went down full length.
While lying here entirely helpless, and hearing those vicious bullets singing over my head, I suffered from fear. I had, as most men do, got over the dread of battle after I was once fairly in it, and was enjoying the excitement, but when I was “done for” as a fighter, and could only lie in that zone of danger, waiting for other bullets to plow into my body, I confess it was with the greatest dread.
|Legend on the 61st monument|
These men pulled me back in this fashion for a number of rods, and until I thought they had pulled me over a rise of ground like a cradle knoll, when I shouted, “Drop me” and they dropped, and went on without note or comment. I had a tourniquet in my haversack, and with my one serviceable arm, I worked away till I got it out, and did the best I could to get it around my leg, for anything I knew I was bleeding to death, and, if possible, I wanted to check the flow of blood. . . .
After a time the firing tapered down to occasional shots. Of course, I did not know who was on top. Certainly no body of our men had fallen back near my bivouac. In a short time I heard a line of battle advancing from the rear. As the men came in sight I sang out, “Don’t step on me, boys!” Those in range of me stepped over and on they went, to take their medicine. . . . It was not many minutes after these troops passed me that the rattle of musketry was again heard from that wheat field. It was kept up for a good while, and then it died down. No body of our men went back past me.
After a while I was aware that a skirmish line was coming from the front, and soon discovered that the skirmishers were not clothed in blue. The officer in command was mounted and rode by within a few feet of me. . . . A short time after these gentlemen in gray moved back in the same manner they had advanced, greatly to my relief. I did not fancy remaining their guest for any length of time.
As the Rebs went back, a nice looking young fellow, small of stature, with bright black eyes, whose face was smutted up with powder and smoke, came along where I lay. My sword was on the ground beside me. He picked it up, and said, “Give me that scabbard!” I said “Johnny, you will have to excuse me, as my arm is broken and I can’t unbuckle my belt.” He made no comment, but went off with my sword.
Then matters quieted down, and there was no sound to be heard in that vicinity, except the groanings of the wounded. As long as I lay perfectly quiet, I was not in much pain, but if I attempted to stir the pain was severe. I had heard that wounded men always suffered from thirst, but I was not especially thirsty, and I wondered at it. I did not have any desire to groan, and take on, as many about me were doing. So I wondered if I were really badly hurt, and if I could groan, if I wanted to. I determined to try it, and drew in a good breath, and let out a full grown-man groan. I was satisfied with the result and then kept quiet. . . .
After a time I was satisfied our people were establishing a picket line some ways to my rear. I succeeded in securing the attention of a sergeant. He told me the number of his regiment, which was a new Pennsylvania regiment. I told him I wanted to get back out of this debatable belt of land between the skirmish lines. He said he would go and see his officer. In a little while he came back with a lieutenant. He was a good hearted man, and commiserated my condition, and inquired what he could do for me. . . .
I told him I thought if he and the sergeant would make a chair of their hands, as children often do, they could carry me between them. With difficulty they got me up, and their hands under me, and started, but the broken leg hung down, and caught in the trampled wheat, and I told them I couldn’t go it. Then the lieutenant said he could carry me on his back. . . . So he squatted, and the sergeant helped get me on his back with my arm around his neck. Then he attempted to raise me up, but my weight and the tanglefoot were too much, and we all went down in a heap together, I under.
As soon as I could express myself in words, I told the men, if they would straighten me out and cover me up with my blanket, I would excuse them with thanks for their kind intentions. This they did, and left me with no one in sight. It now grew dark rapidly and soon there was as little light as at any time that night. . . .
I think it must have been about midnight – for hours I had heard no sound but the groanings of the men lying on the field about me. All at once I heard a voice. It came from the mouth of Phil Comfort, a private of Co. A. Phil had always been one of the incorrigibles. He would get drunk, and brawl, and fight on the slightest provocation, but he also had the credit of doing much for the wounded of the regiment. I do not know what Phil’s business was, out there between the picket lines at midnight of that day. I suspect he may have been there for the purpose of accommodating any corpse that was desirous of being relieved of any valuables he was possessed of, fearing they might be buried in an unmarked grave with his dead body. . . .
I made haste to call Phil up to me. He responded to my call, and in a moment was staring down on me in the starlight. He said, “Why, Lieutenant, that’s you, ain’t it!” I admitted the allegation, and said I wanted to get out of here. . . . Before long he was back with man and stretcher, and after much working they go me loaded and started for a point at which the ambulances were assembling. I was set down in the dooryard of a house built of hewed logs, whitewashed. . . .
After an hour’s waiting, I was loaded into an ambulance without taking me from my stretcher. . . . A man was placed beside me shot through the body. He was in an agony of pain, and it was impossible for him to restrain his groans. When the ambulance started, it went anywhere but in a good road, and as it bumped over logs and boulders, my broken leg would thrash about like the mauler of a flail. I found it necessary to keep it in place by putting the other one over it.
At last we stopped and were unloaded. It was still dark, but in due time light broke in the East, and a little later I could roll my head and take in some of the surroundings. Most of the wounded of the regiment had been gathered at this place, and we made by far the largest part of it. . . .
After a time two of our regimental doctors appeared. They cut open my trousers leg, found where the bullet went in, and, I think, put a strip of adhesive plaster over the wound, and they did the same with the shoulder. It was clear to my mind that the leg, at least, must come off. I expressed my opinion and said, I thought it would be better to do it at once, than to wait till inflammation set in. At my earnest request they promised me that they would see to it that I should be among the first operated on.
While in this place my lifelong friend and companion, Lieut. Isaac Plumb, came to me. We had been side by side since the organization of the regiment, and, until now, neither of us had been badly hurt. He told me that he saw me as I went down, and sang out “Uncle Fuller, that’s good for sixty days.” He said I made up quite a face, as if it hurt.
Shortly afterward he said he had a remarkable experience. He was struck and knocked down, and he supposed a bullet had gone through him, and he was done for. He said he clapped his hands over the place of the supposed wound and held on tight, with the thought that conscious existence might be a little prolonged. He expected to feel life ebbing, but he retained consciousness, and, after a while, lifted his hands, expecting to see an eruption of blood, but he did not. He began to move his body with no bad results, and, finally, got onto his feet, resumed his place and left the field with his men.
He did not discover what had happened till he prepared to bunk down for the night, when he unbuckled his sword belt and discovered a strange formation in his vest pocket. In it he had a bunch of small keys on a ring. A Minnie bullet had struck his belt plate square and had glanced so as to go under the plate into his vest pocket, where it met the bunch of keys. There was enough force and resistance to bed the bullet into the ring and the key heads, and there the keys stood out held in place by the embedded bullet. He was able to send this relic of that great battle home, and his mother has it now among her choicest mementos.
After a time the division operating table was set up in the edge of a piece of timber not very far away. I was on the watch, expecting every minute to be taken out, but I waited and waited and no one came for me. . . . At last I asked my friend Porter E. Whitney and another man to take me down to the table. . . . The men set me down as nearly under the noses of the doctors as could be, [but] the enemy began to drop shells that exploded in and about the locality. It was not a fit place to pursue surgical operations. [This was the start of the artillery barrage before Pickett’s Charge.]
The doctors knew it, so they hastily gathered up their knives and saws, and moved to a place where those projectiles did not drop. The two friends who had taken me there, picked up my stretcher and started for a like place. We had to move several times before the greatest artillery duel of the War began. When that opened we were out of range of it, but we could not hide from the tremble of the ground – the surface of the earth at that place shook and quivered from the terrible concussion of the artillery. The roar was enough to deafen one, and inspire the dread that no one would be left alive and unhurt. Generally however, the noise is a considerable part of such a bombardment. Probably comparatively slight damage was done by it until our artillery opened on the advancing lines of Pickett’s men.
The boys who were toting me came to a stone house with a wide piazza clear around it. I was laid on the floor of it, which made a hard bed. I ached in every bone. . . . After a while Frank Garland of Co. G was brought and laid on the floor near me. He could raise upon his elbow, but his breathing was painful to hear. A bullet had gone through his lungs and every time they filled a portion of the air went through the wound with a ghastly sound. . . .
That evening about 10 o’clock, an ambulance came for me, and I was taken to the ground selected for the 2d Corps hospital. It was another rough ride across lots. Once there I was taken out of my stretcher, the one Phil Comfort took me off the field on, and taken at once to the operating table. A napkin was formed into a tunnel shape, a liberal supply of chloroform poured into it and the thing placed over my nose and mouth. I was told to take in long breaths. To me it seemed a long time before the effect came, probably it was a short time, but at last my head seemed to grow big and spin around.
At this stage I remember a doctor had his fingers in the wound in the shoulder and said to the others, “Here is a fine chance for a resection.” I did not know what that meant, but learned afterwards. When I came to myself, I looked down far enough to see a quantity of bandage wound about a stump of a leg eight inches long. My shoulder was bound up, but otherwise not operated on.
Failure to resect [remove] may have been due to the great amount of work pressing upon the surgeons. They were worked as many hours continuously as they could stand, and still many a man had to be neglected. I was taken off the table and put back on my stretcher, which was set down in a wall tent. This tent was as full as it well could be of amputated cases. For the most part the men bore their suffering without a groan.
Among the number was a young Confederate officer, that had lost an arm. He probably felt that he was a good way from home, and he “took on,” bemoaning his fate as a cripple and a sufferer. He wore out the patience of every other man in the tent. At last I yelled out to him to shut up, or I would get up and kick him out doors. My bark was effective, we heard no more from him. . . .
During the night a doctor came, and gave every man a dose of morphine, which produced a happy state of mind and body. As I was taken from the table one of my doctors said, “Fuller, you may drink all of the whiskey you can get, and want.” . . .
The surgeons were continuously engaged upon new cases that had received no attention. Those of us that had been treated knew this, and we found no fault at what otherwise would have been terrible neglect. I think it was six days after my amputation before a doctor could be found to look at my stump.
The night before I had been made very nervous by crawly feelings on that side of me, just where I could not tell. It is, I think, the rule with amputations, that the patient cannot from the feeling put his hand on the place of amputation. It takes a good while for the nerves to realize where “the end” is. They were made to carry the news to the brain from the extremities, and, until the new arrangement has become somewhat acquainted with the change, these lines of communication are doing duty for parts of the body not there.
My bad feelings were not at the end of the stump, but down in the foot and ankle, where there were constant beats, and pulls and cramps. I think this is the foundation for the many fairy stories to the effect that an amputated leg or arm buried gave the owner of it great pain, as if something pressed on it, or it was cramped in its box, and when it was opened up there was found a stone between the fingers, or the cover jammed upon the foot, and that when the cause of discomfort was removed then the stump of the arm or leg was easy. As in the various phases of faith cure, the imagination has a powerful effect. So it has in these cases. It is never that there is a real feeling connected between the severed part and the body, but the belief in it creates a supposed reality.
It was the good fortune of our tent that a civilian surgeon from Ohio visiting the field came along and offered his services to any of us that wanted him to do for us. I told him how I had felt through the night, and I would be glad to have him dress my stump. He took the bandages off and found that there were a large number of full grown maggots in the wound. This discovery for the moment was horrifying to me. I concluded if all the other things did not take me off. the skippers would, but the good doctor assured me that the wigglers didn’t amount to much in that place, and he would soon fix them. He diluted some turpentine, took a quantity of it in his mouth and squirted it into the wound, and over the stump. It did the business for the intruders, and I had no more trouble of that sort. . . .
[A few weeks later] my shoulder was operated on, and three inches of the humerus taken out from the shoulder joint down. . . . A week after that operation, an incision was made into the stump and the bullet that broke the leg was taken out. That it was in the stump was, of course, a surprise, and when the surgeons of my regiment were informed what had been done, they claimed to be much surprised, and said that they traced out the bullet that they amputated for, and that the bullet extracted by Dr. King must have been a second one. . . .
In December, 1863, I was ordered to report at a hospital at Annapolis, Md. I started alone with one crutch, and my arm in a sling. At Albany I stopped over night with my cousin Stewart Campbell, and well remember that evening reading in the Atlantic Monthly that wonderful story, “A Man Without a Country,” by Edward Everett Hale. It made a deep impression on my mind and it confirmed the sentiment I had cherished that it was well worth hardship, wounds, loss of limbs, or life even, to have a hand in preserving in its integrity such a country as ours.