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Strong Vincent and His Brigade at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 Oliver Willcox Norton

Strong Vincent and His Brigade at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

Oliver Willcox Norton

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Excerpt:[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]In the numerous histories of the civil war or accounts of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg which have appeared from time to time, the writer of this paper has never seen one which did full justice toMoreExcerpt:[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]In the numerous histories of the civil war or accounts of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg which have appeared from time to time, the writer of this paper has never seen one which did full justice to the important part enacted by Colonel Strong Vincent and his brigade on the extreme left of the Union Army on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, and which, if it did not decide the victory, contributed so much to it that but for this the battle would have been gained by the Confederates.Some accounts state that General Warren, observing the importance of the position, entirely unoccupied, and the evident intention of the Confederates to seize it, took the responsibility of detaching Vincents brigade from its division and personally conducted it to the place where it fought. Other accounts state that Weeds brigade was first placed on the hill by General Warren and that Vincents brigade came up later and extended the line to the left. All accounts give great credit to Vincents skill and the splendid fighting of the brigade, but they all miss the point which the writer wishes to make clear in this statement, which is that If Vincent had not taken upon himself the responsibility of taking his brigade to that position without waiting to receive the order from his division commander as soon as he knew that his corps commander had ordered a brigade to be sent there, the arrival of his brigade would have found the enemy in possession of the ground, from which in all probability it could not have been dislodged.It may seem presumptuous for one who at the time of the battle of Gettysburg was a private soldier of the Eightythird Pennsylvania Volunteers to question the accuracy of accounts written by officers of high rank or historians in civil life whose attainments have so well fitted them to write the story of the battle, but this presumption may be pardoned perhaps when it is known that the writer is the only living person, with the possible exception of a captain on the staff of General Sykes, who saw and heard what took place at the critical moment.Note.—Where italics are used in these reports they do not appear in the original but are employed by the writer to call special attention to certain statements.The writer, although a private soldier, was on detached service at the time of the battle of Gettysburg, at the headquarters of the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, acting as brigade bugler and bearer of the brigade headquarters flag. His duty was when the brigade was in the field to be always near the brigade commander, so that staff officers or others who had business with him could know by the flag where to find him, and to sound on the bugle orders for the brigade, when so directed by its commander.The First Division, under command of General Barnes, with the other divisions of the corps, arrived on the field early in the morning of July 2 and was massed in rear of the right of the line. It made some changes of position during the day and about the middle of the afternoon, when Longstreets attack on the Third Corps became very heavy, the Fifth Corps was moved to the left to reinforce the Third Corps. The First Division led the corps and the Third Brigade under Vincent led the division. The column was halted on the low ground in rear of the position of the Third Corps and General Sykes with General Barnes rode forward to select a position for the troops. Sykes and Barnes appear to have separated before any further orders were given to the division. While waiting for orders Vincent saw a captain of General Sykes staff riding toward him from the front. Vincent, who evidently knew the captain, left the head of his brigade and rode forward to meet him- writer followed closely with the flag.