- Early Contemporary Accounts on the Fate of Confederate Brig. Gen. Richard Brooke Garnett in the Battle of Gettysburg
"A thousand fell when Kemper led;A thousand died where Garnett bled:In blinding flame and strangling smokeThe remnant through the batteries brokeAnd crossed the works with Armistead."1
The events of the last day of the battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, which are known as Pickett's Charge, and Brig. Gen. Richard Brooke Garnett's role in them, do not need enumeration since many pages have been used in describing them and they are deeply engrained in the American history lore. However, a lot of the reports, accounts, and testimonies that were used to compose the collective story of what happened in Pickett's Charge were not contemporary and even eyewitnesses appear confused and conflicted. There is a very good reason. There was too much noise and smoke, and projectiles were too plentiful to allow a person be perfectly aware of his surroundings and have the ability to describe what happened with clarity even moments later, let alone decades later when most of those accounts are created. Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division was decimated. Pickett himself did not leave an official report, after Gen. Robert E. Lee rejected his first official report because he did not like what it said. When Lee told him to rewrite it, the division commander did not bother to oblige.2
The commanding officer of Garnett's brigade, after the events of July 3, was Maj. Charles S. Peyton of the Nineteenth Virginia Infantry who composed the official report for the brigade five days later, on July 9th, in the Confederate camp near Williams-port, Maryland. His words are the closest to a contemporary eyewitness account we have, by a participant, so they are presented here intact to describe what he witnessed:
At 2,30 p. m., the artillery fire having to some extent abated, the order to advance was given, first by Major-General Pickett in person, and repeated by General Garnett with promptness, apparent cheerfulness, and alacrity. The brigade moved forward at quick time. The ground was open, but little broken, and from 800 to 1,000 yards from the crest whence we started to the enemy's line. The brigade moved in good order, keeping up its line almost perfectly, notwithstanding it had to climb three high post and rail fences, behind the last of which the enemy's skirmishers were first met and immediately drive in. Moving on, we soon met the advance line of the enemy, lying concealed in the grass on the slope, about 100 yards in front of his second line, which consisted of a stone wall about breast high, running nearly parallel to and about 30 paces from the crest of the hill, which was lined with their artillery. The first line referred to above, after offering some resistance, was completely routed, and driven in confusion back to the stone wall. Here we captured some prisoners, which were ordered to the rear without a guard. Having routed the enemy here, General Garnett ordered the brigade forward, which it promptly obeyed, loading and firing as it advanced. Up to this time we had suffered but little from the enemy's batteries, which apparently had been much crippled previous to our advance, with the exception of one posted on [End Page 85]
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the mountain, about 1 mile to our right, which enfiladed nearly our entire line with fearful effect, sometimes as many as 10 men being killed and wounded by the bursting of a single shell. From the point it had first routed the enemy, the brigade moved rapidly forward toward the stone wall, under a galling fire both from artillery and infantry, the artillery using grape and canister. We were now within about 75 paces of the wall, unsupported on the right and left, General Kemper being some 50...