Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Surprise Guest at Pickett's Charge

When discussing the conspicuous feats of courageous gallantry during Longstreet's Assault on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, we often describe with rhetorical flourishes the actions of the countless men who faced death without flinching. Some ten thousand would die on those fields while three times that number would suffer non-mortal wounds. Two weeks after the battle, Union Brigadier General Alexander Hays, who commanded the portion of Cemetery Ridge just above The Angle, would submit a report on those dead that his command buried in the wake of the slaughter. On July 3, 1863, General Hays' men resolutely held their ground, withstanding the potentially crushing wave of Generals Pettigrew and Trimble's portion of Pickett's Charge. General Hays’ report served as a simple yet grim statement of the work death had done on that day. It would include one unexpected casualty.


Sandy Hook, Md., July 17, 1863.

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General, army of the Potomac:

SIR: I have the honor to report the following number of dead buried at Gettysburg, Pa., by my command, from July 2 to 5, inclusive:

Forces.Officers.Enlisted men.Total.

Remarks. - One female (private), in rebel uniform.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding Corps."

General Hays' uncomplicated summary gently reminds us all that, along with those who suffered on the home front, some women faced the horrors of battle, bled, and died as our country fought itself to determine the kind of nation it would become.



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