The Fifteenth Massachusetts
(from an account of the dedication of the Regiment’s memorial, 1886)
GETTYSBURG, PA. June 2. The excursionists to the battle-field of
Gettysburg arrived here yesterday. To-day the party has been driving about sight-seeing, and the formal exercises dedicating
the 15th regimental memorial monument. Prayer was offered by Rev. C. M. Palmer of Westminster, and addresses were
made by Gen. Charles Devens, Hon. W. W. Rice and Gen A. B. R. Sprague. A letter was read from Senator Hoar, expressing regret
that public business in Washington prevented his attendance. Gen. Sprague’s speech was a eulogy of Col. Ware, and Mr.
Rice formally delivered the 15th regiment monument to the battle-field
association. The following is a portion of Gen. Devens’s address.
GEN. DEVENS’S ORATION
An Eloquent Sketch of the Work of the 15th Regiment
Comrades and Friends: We have met at a distance from our homes,
on a great field rendered immortal forever by the victory won here for the Union of these states and for the great principles
of liberty, and equality on which that heroism must live or else have no life, to dedicate this monument to the memory of
those of the 15th Massachusetts regiment, who fell in that terrible conflict. If such be the immediate object of
this monument, it has also a wider scope as in a large sense it commemorates all the brave men who nobly gave or bravely offered
their lives and testifies to our own devotion to, and faith in the great cause which demanded this solemn sacrifice. Our gathering
is in no sense ceremonial; yet simple and formal as they may be, we must willingly speak as we stand above these glorious
graves some words that shall express, however inadequately, the gratitude we bear this
men for their priceless services and the love and honor in which we cherish their memory. So rapidly do the years move that
in the near future the language of impartial history shall speak in the solemn and unanswered tones in which it had recorded
its judgment upon brave men and heroic souls long gone before us in the ages past. But, although 23 years are gone since these
hills rang with the echoes of the dead artillery and these fields almost shook with the tramp of contending armies, to us,
then, men must ever be what they were that day, brothers and comrades, husbands, lovers, fathers and sons, everything that
makes life sweet and beautiful gathers and entwines itself around their memory.
The battle of Gettysburg indicates the high water mark of the rebellion. Although many great battles were to be fought thereafter, many trials endured, many
disasters encountered, yet its culminating point was here and it was here that
the tide was turned. If the so-called confederacy could establish itself firmly on the soil of one of the Northern states
it would indicate to Europe that the civil war was
Something More than a Local One
vast rebellion and might, perhaps gain for it an admission into the family of nations by them who were covertly supporting
it. Vicksburg was not yet taken. It could not be wrenched from the grasp of the iron hands which held it, but the blow might
be parried if a victory could be won for the rebellion upon Northern soil. Whatever were the motives and hopes which induced
the invasion of Pennsylvania by Gen. Lee, here they were seen to come to naught and were utterly blasted.
In view, it may b fairly be presumed, of the consequences of this
great victory, of the fact that it was upon the soil of one of the free states and that this field is an appropriate memorial
of the whole war, the state of Massachusetts on March 25, 1884, appropriated to each of its regiments or batteries here engaged
a sufficient sum for a suitable monument to be erected on the battle field. The work of the artist is before us, and that
if simple, is yet graceful and appropriate, will be conceded. No state has proved more tenderly regardful of the children
whom it sent forth to battle than our own Massachusetts. No troops ever went forth more carefully prepared, clothed and equipped
than those which were sent out under her war-governor, John A. Andrew, whose name is never to be mentioned but with love and
respect. Never were men watched over with more affectionate regard through those stormy day of trial. Since the war has closed
no state has been more generous in supplementing the national bounty in behalf of our sick and wounded, our decayed and broken
men. It is to her that we owe the means of erecting this tribute to our fallen comrades, and for this we render to her to-day
our grateful and cordial thanks.
The 15th on the night of July 1st, bivouacked
about three miles from the field, and moved forward on the morning of July 2nd, with the rest of the 2nd Corps
at daybreak, reaching the field about 7 o’clock. The other brigades of the division were in line. The 1st
brigade was formed in the undulation of hollow behind the line of the regimental monument, so that it might be readily moved
to the aid of the other parts of the line in column of regiments. Col. Ward, who had been relieved the arrival of the brigade
Now Took Command of the Regiment.
He spoke briefly and spiritedly to the men, urged them to do their
duty, and told them of the momentous issues involved in their holding the ground
firmly. It was not until about 4 o’clock that serious conflict took place by a terrific attack upon the left of the
3rd Corps which had been thrown forward to a more advanced position on the Emmetsburg road, which ran diagonally to the front
of our general line. The lie of the 3rd Corps, commanded by Gen. Sickles, extended along that road by the peach orchard, then
turning back to the foot of Round Top, its right resting on the Emmetsburg road in echelon, some 500 yards in advance of the
line of the 2nd Corps. To protect his own left and the right of Gen. Sickles’s Corps, and to fill the gap, Gen. Hancock
ordered two regiments to be advanced to the Emmetsburg road north of the Cadori house. He 15th Massachusetts, Col.
Ward, and 82d New York, Lieut.-Col. Huston, were ordered to move forward, which they immediately did, forming along the road,
the 15th being on the right and the 82d on the left. This line did not immediately connect with the extreme right
of the 3rd Corps, but was some 200 yards from it, nor with the extreme left of the 2nd Corps, but was partially in front of
The attack which had commenced at the extreme left of the 3rd Corps
and at the Peach Orchard, gradually extended to its right until the whole line of the Corps was engaged. It was nearly 7 o’clock
in the evening before the storm fell upon the 15th and the 82d New York. The extreme right of the 3rd Corps was
now attacked by Barksdale’s, Wilson’s and Perry’s confederate brigades, and forced gradually back, thus
uncovering the left of the line of the two regiments whose action we are following. Wright’s Georgia brigade now advanced
and would have struck or swept around the right flank of the 3rd Corps but that it was encountered by these regiments. The
engagement was desperate; from their advanced position the two regiments were to some extent under the fire of our own men
as much as that of the enemy. The 82d, whose left was not wholly uncovered, was first forced back, and the whole weight of
the assault fell upon the 15th. It was necessary to retire the line of the 2nd Corps, and thither it fought its
way back. But the two regiments had done their work well in protecting the flank of their own Corps, for as the enemy followed
They were Handsomely Repulsed
the Second brigade of their division, and by a portion of the 13th Vermont, which had just reached that part of
the field. In this fearful conflict we had to mourn the loss of many brave officers and men, among them Col. Ward, who gallantly
fighting as his regiment steadily retreated, had received the mortal wound of which in a few hours later, he died. Lieut.-Col.
Huston was mortally wounded. But if terrible blows had been received they had been most terribly returned. The Georgia brigade
of Wright had left on the field either killed or seriously and perhaps mortally wounded, three of their regimental commanders,
col. Warden of the 22nd Georgia; Major Ross commanding the 2nd Georgia; Col. Gibson commanding the 48th
Georgia, and its loss in subordinate officers and men was proportionately heavy.
It was about 1 o’clock
on the 3rd of July, when the preparation for the terrific assault intended to break the center of our line and
drive in confusion its two separate fragments on two distinct lines of retreat, began by one of the most terrific cannonades
ever known. The confederate army was especially strong that day in artillery, and Gen. Lee was able to concentrate for this
150 guns. For two hours or more this storm continued toward the center it was intended to break. Sheltering themselves as
far as possible by such rude breastworks as they have been enabled to make, our troops, whom the artillery fire is intended
to demoralize, await the struggle which is to come by the movements of the enemy’s infantry. The position in which the
15th Massachusetts, now under command of Col. Joslin, lay during this tempest of shot and shell is some 25 to 30
rods to the left of the monument. Hancock knows that somewhere on the 2nd Corps the weight of the assault is to
fall, and as he rides along the line arouses his men by inspiring words and his own gallant bearing.
It is about 3 o’clock and the confederate fire slackens so
that their infantry may move out of the woods that have partially sheltered them. They are coming now in numbers nearly or
quite 18,000 men. Longstreet organized the assault, but
Pickett’s Division of Virginians
is to lead. It contains about 5,000 or 6,000 men who have not yet fought Corps of their army. It is a relief to see them come, for fierce as the encounter must be the recumbent
position of our men under the blazing July sun, is intolerable, and they spring to their feet with alacrity. The enemy was
formed for the attack in two lines, which as they mo0ved out contracted their front and doubled or trebled their lines by
reason of the difficulties and obstructions on the march, thus having the appearance and to some extent the formation of columns
as they are generally termed. They were severely handled by our artillery, but the enemy came steadily. The assault was directed
at first precisely towards the point of the line where the brigade was posted in which the 15th served, but more
lately as it advanced it deflected to our right, perhaps because the clump of trees afforded them a prominent landmark, or
because the fire of Stannard’s Vermont brigade, which was now thrown forward on the right flank of the enemy caused
the change of direction.
The 15th Mass., with the other regiments of the brigade
following this movement, promptly moved toward their own right to encounter the attack when it was about to strike on the
line of the 2nd Corps. In this movement many of out own men fell, notably Capt. Jorgensen, and a little later Capt.
Murkland. As the 15th regiment reached the clump of trees, the enemy breaking through the line of Gen. Webb, which
was marked by a low stone wall, for a moment fairly pressed the Union line back. It was the last effort of desperation. The
assaulting lines or columns could do no more. There was a moment’s pause, but the point penetrated by the enemy was
instantly covered, and as if by common consent the order “Forward” was given, and our men resolutely advanced
upon the foe. The first time I heard the order to ‘Advance the colors!’” says Capt. Hastings of the 15th,
“was from Corporal Cunningham, although it was only the repetition of the order given him by Col. Joslin.” The
ordered was uttered and repeated from man to man as well as from general and colonel, along the line. No one can say who gave
it first. There was some confusion, for in the rapid movements and the heavy fire organization was to some extent lost, but
all know what is to be done, and are resolute to do it. Firmly on, now comes
The Whole Union Front.
if they cannot always direct their commands, animate by their examples. For a few moments the contest is most furious, but
such a struggle is too desperate to last long. The confederate lines waver, yield, break at last, while many of their men
throw down their muskets and throw up their hands in surrender. A few wild disorganized bands strive to fall back to the confederate
lines from which they had issued so bravely an hour or two before, and the Army of the Potomac, as it gathers up the straggling
prisoners by the thousands, knows that by its steady valor a great victory has been won for the Union.
In this conflict our regiment had its full share alike of the danger
and the glory, for on both the 2nd and 3rd of July it was at the points where the fiercest fighting
was done, and where the victory was finally secured. Depleted by its former engagements the 15th, brought into
the battle only eighteen officers and 221 men. It lost, killed on the field, 3 officers and 19 enlisted men, and wounded (of
whom many afterward died) 8 officers and 85 men, in round numbers one-half of
those whom it had engaged. Tested by a merely material point of view, Gettysburg was one of the great battles of the world.
While the loss in our own regiment was 50 per cent, throughout the whole army it was probably 25 to 30 per cent. In the confederate
army it was without doubt larger, as it had been the attacking force. But dreadful as the story is we remember that the killed,
wounded and prisoners of the federal army numbered 23,000 men, who shall say as we reflect how much was done here for freedom
and law and good government throughout not only our own country but the world, that the victory won here was not worth even
the noble lives it cost.
SPOT IS HOLY WHERE THEY FOUGHT,
AND HOLY WHERE THEY FELL,
BY THEIR BLOOD THE LAND WAS BOUGHT
THAT LAND THEY LOVED SO WELL.
How shall I speak, my friends and comrades, of those men, when I
remember it was my duty to command them during nearly a year and lead them in the first of many bloody battles in which they
fought. Certainly no better or braver men ever went forth in obedience to the solemn call of country. They were the young
farmers, mechanics and business men of our County of Worcester, men who thought and felt as freemen.
Before Them Lay the Path of Duty;
could take no other road; they were animated by no hope of aggrandizement, for most of them left behind far more lucrative
positions; they were enflamed by no wild enthusiasm. Calm and deliberate reflection had told them that it was by their hands
and by the hands of men such as they, that the Union must be defended. They were
no kinless men, no waifs of society such as float on the surface of the turbulent waters of great towns and cities. Around
them were all the most sacred ties which bind us to life. Yet they laid these aside to answer the call of country. They were
such men as make the heart, and bone, and sinew of a nation and embraced all that was noblest and purest in its young life.
When shall their glory fade? Not surely while the great flag that they followed waves above a free and united country. All
who led this regiment in battle that are now living are here to-day. I am sure that I speak for all when I say that I wish
we could have led and served them better.
The monument we have reared to them is not a monument to the glories
of war. If that were all, it were better that the state of Massachusetts had withheld
its gift and that this granite block was sleeping in its native quarry. No one known better than we who have seen the
trampled fields, the desolated homes, the blazing towns, the agonies of the dying on such a field as this, less happy than
the dead, who are past all pain, what the horrors of war are. A war can only be justified or ennobled by great and solemn
cause, and that cause the American people had. It is the noble spirit and high resolve that their government should not be
destroyed, that freedom should prevail wherever their flag floated, which we seek to commemorate. Patriotic self-devotion,
unflinching loyalty to duty, these we would honor, these we would hold up to the reverence and imitation of those who are
to come hereafter, whether he who displayed those great qualities fell with the stars of the general, or the eagle of the
colonel on his shoulder, or the simple jacket of the private soldier.
Telegram, 3 June 1886)