Sunday, January 26, 2014

Four Casualties at Pitzer’s Woods, Part 1: Smith Haight

Students of the Battle of Gettysburg are familiar with the reconnaissance action at Pitzer’s Woods. At noon on July 2, 1863, 300 Union soldiers probed the Confederate position. Four companies from Col. Hiram Berdan’s 1st U.S. Sharpshooters—about 100 men—led the way. They formed into skirmish line in the woods near the Warfield and Flaherty farms and then pushed northward, moving along the crest of Seminary Ridge. When the four companies reached a position northwest of the Staub Farm, they made contact with three regiments from Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade, the 8th, 10th, and 11th Alabama. A twenty-minute fire-fight developed. After it was all over, the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters counted their losses. They had subtracted nineteen officers and men. Of this number, five had been killed in action.

The first Sharpshooter to fall was probably Private Smith Haight, a twenty-two-year-old farmer from New Berlin, New York. When Haight went down with his mortal wound, two comrades in Company D fashioned a makeshift stretcher for him, loaded him onto it, and carried him to the rear. Haight said nothing after receiving his wound and he died shortly after his litter-bearers reached the rear of the 3rd Corps. One of those who carried him off the field was Private Cyrus J. Hardaway. On July 5, Hardaway wrote to his mother. He said:

Dear Mother,

I have been through one more terrible battle and thank God I am still safe and sound. But not so with the rest of my companions. Smith Haight is dead and Edwin Nelson is I am afraid mortally wounded. . . . We brought Haight and Nelson off from the field more than a mile. Smith died before we got him to the hospital. We gave him a verry deacent burial and have a chaplain to read the burial service. That is a great deal better than I have seen done by thousands of other[s] for the last two days.

Smith Haight’s body did not remain buried on the field for long. Sometime in the autumn, his family arrived at Gettysburg to recover his remains. They now lie in a small cemetery in Haight’s hometown, New Berlin.

The trek from Pitzer’s woods to the Peach Orchard is no small distance, nor is it especially flat. (Back when I ran cross country for Gettysburg College, I ran the paved roads between Pitzer’s Woods and Sherfy’s Farm more times than I can count, so I know of what I speak.) I cannot imagine carrying a dying man over this terrain (and through farm fields no less) for such an incredible distance with an enemy hot on my heels.

If it was within their power, the men of Berdan’s 1st U.S. Sharpshooters made certain to leave no man behind—not even a corpse.
(This maps offers a rough depiction of Berdan's July 2 reconnaissance action, set against the modern-day roads of Gettysburg National Military Park. At the lower right, you can see the position of the six reserve companies from the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters. Their skirmish line extended up the Emmitsburg Road. At the top of the map, you can see Wilcox's Alabama regiments, and at the far left, you can see the 3rd Maine, which supported Berdan's Sharpshooters, losing 48 men in the process. The four companies from the 1st U.S.S.S--D, E, F, and I--are labeled near the top of the map. I've also outlined the approximate route taken by the men who carried Smith Haight to safety. The primary accounts suggest that they carried him more than a mile.)

(This image depicts Edwin Nelson, Company D, 1st U.S.S.S. Like Smith Haight, Nelson received a wound during the noon reconnaissance. The Sharpshooters carried him off the field too, probably along the same route taken by the men who bore Haight.)

No comments:

Post a Comment