By Rob Thomas
North Jefferson News
NORTH JEFFERSON —
First of a series
This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. The fighting men from Alabama played a great role in the battle, fighting from the first day until the last. This is a look at how the Alabama regiments fought while at Gettysburg.
In June 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee, leading the Army of Northern Virginia (about 70,000 men), marched into Pennsylvanian. Lee entered northern territory undefeated and without Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who was killed by friendly fire at Chancellorsville.
Also missing was the cavalry, led by Gen. “J.E.B.” Stuart, who was on a raid away from Lee’s position. Without Stuart, Lee moved blindly as he made his way through Pennsylvania.
Union Gen. George Mead, having just taken command of the Army of the Potomac and it’s 94,000 men, wasted no time in racing toward Lee’s position. They meet in Gettysburg, a small town with a population of only 2,400. The town was completely taken over as the war invaded their town, lives and in some cases, their homes.
Under Lee’s command at Gettysburg were about 6,000 men from Alabama: 17 infantry regiments and two artillery regiments. The infantry were: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th Battalion, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 26th, 44th, 47th and 48th. The artillery were Jefferson Davis artillery and Hardaway artillery.
On the morning of July 1, 1863, the 13th and 5th Alabama were camped in Cashtown located seven miles outside of Gettysburg. At about 5 a.m., the 5th Alabama broke camp, recruited 55 men from the 13th Alabama regiment and began to march toward Gettysburg.
About four miles outside Gettysburg, they encountered a group of Federal cavalry. The 5th Alabama was ordered into the field to form a skirmish line. As the men entered the field, the first shot of the battle was fired. While the Union is credited with opening the “ball” with the first shot, it was the 5th Alabama that fired the first shot for the Confederate Army.
Archer’s Brigade and the men from the 13th and 5th Alabama pushed the Union back toward Gettysburg.
About 200 Confederate soldiers, including Alabama men from the 5th and 13th, pushed hard and broke through the center of the Union line, finding themselves isolated from their allies and surrounded by the Union. One solider wrote about their new position as, “We had Yankees on the front, Yankees on the flanks, and soon Yankees behind us.” The men were captured and taken as prisoners.
As the first day continued, Hardaway’s artillery placed two cannons near the Chambersburg Pike where they were able to effectively shell the Union troops, allowing Confederates to stage several attacks throughout the day.