Friday, April 11, 2014

Gettysburg interactive panoramas: Unfinished Railroad Cut

Click here for battlefield panoramas from Antietam, Cedar Mountain, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Harris Farm, Manassas, Malvern Hill, Salem Church,  Spotsylvania Courthouse and more.

                                           Looking northwest toward Catoctin Mountains.

A post-war image of the Railroad Cut and the old bridge across it.
(Photo: Library of Congress)
It's difficult today to imagine the horror, chaos and confusion that took place at the Unfinished Railroad Cut on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Among the three Union regiments that rushed to take this position was the 6th Wisconsin of the famed Iron Brigade.

Enraged by the mortal wounding  of a comrade who attempted to snatch the 2nd Mississippi flag at the Cut, a private in the 6th Wisconsin clubbed to death the culprit with his musket. In the ensuing melee, Francis Waller, a 22-year-old corporal in the 6th Wisconsin, captured that flag, an act of valor that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1864 and perhaps factored into his promotion to 1st lieutenant later in the war.

Plenty has been written about the fighting at the Cut, including this detailed account on an excellent 2nd Mississippi web site by Michael Brasher, whose ancestor served in the regiment. I shot these images on Wednesday afternoon during a two-day visit to the battlefield. Sliding down the steep embankment and deftly avoiding snapping my ankle, I captured a Rebel's-eye view from next to the railroad tracks, which had not been laid at the time of the battle. In 1939, remains of a Union soldier were found here and 57 years later, a tourist -- a National Park Service employee from Oregon --  found remains of another soldier. A forensic examination determined that the unknown soldier, probably a Confederate, had been shot in the head. With full military honors, he was re-buried in the national cemetery in Gettysburg on July 1, 1997, the 134th anniversary of the battle.

                                                Looking southeast toward Gettysburg.

"My notice that we were upon the enemy was a general cry from our men of:  'Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets!' Running forward through our line of men, I found myself face to face with hundreds of rebels, whom I looked down upon in the railroad cut, which was, where I stood, four feet deep. Adjutant Brooks, equal to the emergency, quickly placed about twenty men across the cut in position to fire through it. I have always congratulated myself upon getting the first word. I shouted: 'Where is the colonel of this regiment?' An officer in gray, with stars on his collar, who stood among the men in the cut, said: 'Who are you?' I said: 'I command this regiment. Surrender, or I will fire.' "

-- Colonel Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin

                                                  View from inside the Railroad Cut

 "My color guards were all killed and wounded in less than five minutes, and also my colors were shot more than one dozen times, and the flag staff was hit and splintered two or three times. Just about that time a squad of soldiers made a rush for my colors and our men did their duty. They were all killed or wounded, but they still rushed for the colors with one of the most deadly struggles that was ever witnessed during any battle in the war. They still kept rushing for my flag and there were over a dozen shot down like sheep in their mad rush for the colors. The first soldier was shot down just as he made for the flag, and he was shot by one of our soldiers. Just to my right and at the same time a lieutenant made a desperate struggle for the flag and was shot through the right shoulder. Over a dozen men fell killed or wounded, and then a large man made a rush for me and the flag. As I tore the flag from the staff he took hold of me and the color. The firing was still going on, and was kept up for several minutes after the flag was taken from me..."

-- Corporal William Murphy, 2nd Mississippi

Source: Murphy to F.A. Dearborn, June 29, 1900, Papers of E. S. Bragg, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Cited on 2nd Mississippi web site by Michael Brasher)

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