Today dawned bright and early. My company got up and had breakfast right away, so that we could be out riding and scouting the countryside. We are several miles ahead of our forces, us being the cavalry under General Buford; company E, the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 8th Illinois Cavalry. The rest of the army is down Emmitsburg way. We believe the Confederate Army to be up northwards of us, somewhere.
We have been scouting out the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania since yesterday. When we rode through the townspeople came out of their houses, waving and cheering. We found good ground, up on what is called seminary ridge.
It is now about 7:30 in the morning; we are a few miles west of town on McPhearsons Ridge. All is calms except for… what is that? General Buford has just ordered us to halt and several of the men are looking out with their field glasses. I pull out mine. They are troops, Confederate troops. Out of nowhere, a shot rings out.
“Who was that?” General Buford barked and I am surprised to see Lieutenant Jones step forward.
“I fired the shot, sir”, he confessed.
The General stares at him, and then turns away. “Do not fire again without orders.”
After the sighting of the Confederate troops, they pull back slightly, and General Buford sends for General Reynolds asking for reinforcements.
I dismounted from my horse, and walked to over to my friend, Private Jenkins. “Think they’ll come and fight?” I asked.
A shot echoed from across the field. He nodded in the direction it came from. “It would seem so.” The distant boom of a canon cut off his next words. The orders came for us to take up positions behind the rail fence and ready our guns.
“If they’ve got canon’s over there” I muttered, “I sure hope reinforcements come soon.”
By ten-twenty that morning, the Confederates had pushed us off the ridge, it was then that General Reynolds and his Iron Brigade finally arrived. We began pushing forwards again. I was thick in the fighting and was near General Reynolds. I fired at every Reb I saw, and was in the act of reloading my gun, when I saw General Reynolds fall from his horse. Everything seemed to freeze for a moment. Gathering my wits, I ran to his side, but it was too late. He was dead. He was carried off the field and the fighting went on.
By now we had figured that we were fighting against troops led by General Heth and General Early with more coming. We were doing our best and had some of us gotten to Seminary Ridge, but the facts of the matter were we did not have enough troops. Soon though, the Sixth Corps led by General Howard arrived.
About two-forty in the afternoon I saw my friend again. “The Confederates have just about got us flanked!” he yelled over the din.
“Who and where?” I yelled back, picking off another soldier.
“First and Sixth Corps! North and Northwest of town. Led by Generals Rhodes and Early!”
“And how did you come across all this information?”
He shook his head, “You don’t want to know!”
I shrugged and left the matter aside, for now the orders were coming from General Howard to withdraw from our positions. Retreating through the town of Gettysburg, we took a stand on Cemetery Ridge, south of the town. I thought it slightly ironic that the Confederates were now north of town and the Union troops in the South. The battle had started out that way as well, I reflected.
Darkness fell, and General Winfield Scott Hancock –sent by our new commander General Meade – to control of the troops stationed here in Gettysburg.