Letter from Cruikshank, Robert

Soldier: Cruikshank, Robert
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 123rd Infantry
Home State: New York
Date Written: Thursday, July 2nd, 1863
Location: Near Gettysburg
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Battlefield, Daily Life, Maneuvers, On the March, Warfare, Wife/Girlfriend
 
We were not disturbed last night. This morning we had crackers and coffee for our breakfast, the only food we could get and I relished that. After we had our coffee we were moved forward and took a position in the front line on the right of the cemetery, our right (that is, the right of the Regiment) resting on Rock Creek, reaching to the swamp or marsh. Our line ran through a heavy growth of timber. Here we built breastworks by felling large trees, trimming the limbs off and laying one on to the other until we had piled them breast high. We held them in place by smaller timbers notched and laid the other way. The upper timber we raised about three inches above the second timber so that we could put our guns between them and take aim, the upper timber protecting our heads. We then dug a ditch on our side deep enough so that when standing our heads would come as high as A the top of the works. We left a shelf of earth next to the timber so that short men could get onto that which would raise them high enough. We threw the earth on the enemy's side of the works so that a shell or solid shot would not splinter the timber,- the earth would check the force of them. The limbs we had cut from the timber we trimmed of all small branches, intertwining them in front of our works, the points of these limbs facing the enemy and were as high as a man's head, making it almost impossible for men to get through them. This is called "abatis." At Chancellorsville we learned the importance of good works and now put into use this knowledge. We felt we could hold our works if the enemy should bring twice our number against us. Skirmishing on our left was kept up all day and in the open fields if a man should expose his head to the enemy he would soon hear the whiz of a sharpshooter's ball pass it. We had finished our works and were thinking that we might rest a while about six o'clock, when an order came to fall in. There was hard fighting at this time to our left. We fell in at once and marched rapidly away from out works in the direction of where the battle raged furiously on the left, which was on Round Top. When we had reached the foot of Round Top we advanced with a terrible shower of lead with shell passing over our heads, some of the shell coming so close that many of us had to bow to them. When we had reached the top the enemy had fallen back, fresh troops were advancing and we were not needed at that place any more so we were ordered back to our works again.

We had got within eighty rods of our works when an officer rode up to Colonel McDougall, telling him that the enemy were occupying his works. The Colonel did not credit this report. Colonel Selfridge of the 46th Reg. Penn, Vols. suggested that he entertain the truth of the report before advancing his Brigade. Colonel McDougall then ordered a skirmish line sent out. Lieutenant Marcus Beadle and a part of Company I were ordered to do the work. Lieutenant Beadle deployed his men and advanced. While he was getting ready the men of the Regiment were going to a stream in front which ran from Spangle Spring to fill their canteens with water. Men were coming from the other side and filled their canteens. It was so dark they could not tell who each other were until they got together and then our men saw that they on the other side were Rebels. They informed Lieutenant Beadle what they saw, which he did not credit and yet was careful to save his men. He advanced with them across the stream and then halted his men and challenged them with, "Who is there?"

The reply came, "Pickets from the Second Division of the

Twelfth Corps. Come on it is all right." Lieutenant Beadle knew that the Second Division of our Corps was on our left when we left our works and now thought that when we moved out they had extended their picket line so as to hold our works, so leaving his men where they were he went forward himself and discovered too late that they were Rebels and he a prisoner. The enemy then told him to order his men to advance but he ordered them,"Fall back, men," which they obeyed at once , having heard the conversation between Lieutenant Beadle and the enemy, and they were saved from capture. As soon as our men began to fall back the enemy opened fire on them, the skirmishers firing as they fell back.

When the skirmishers went out the Brigade was formed in Regimental front one regiment behind the other. Our regiment was about half way down the hill in a cornfield and the 145th Regt. New York Vols. were about six rods back, on top of the hill. The men were so worn out that when we halted they had lain down and fallen asleep. When the skirmishers began to fall back the Regiment had orders to move back to the top of the hill. The firing started up the 145th and thinking we were the enemy advancing on them they began to fire on us and fall back rapidly leaving their Colors, and some their knapsacks. Their officers had hard work to check them. Fortunately they fired over our heads. The Regiment fell back over the crest of the hill, sent A out a strong picket line and lay down their arms until the morning.


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