Missing in Action: Battle Reports
Beyond the Official Records
By Michael P. Musick
The published Official Records contain many hundreds of battle reports from Union and Confederate commanders. They are the first place to look for what in another century were styled "after action" reports. Some reports, however, were not available to the editors of the OR. These soldier-editors made a considerable effort to contact former officers of both sides to obtain copies of bona fide documents to fill in the gaps in the files, and to some extent they succeeded. But as careful examination of the OR will disclose, there are still many reports, particularly for Confederate forces in the later campaigns, that are conspicuously absent.
Thomas W. Broadfoot of Wilmington, North Carolina, has undertaken to publish in a supplement such reports as researchers allied with him could find that are not in the OR. Most of those uncovered were found in collections other than the National Archives; many are Confederate. The following is an example of one such report, which one would reasonably expect to find in the original OR but that until recently remained unpublished among the holdings of the Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. It is for Gen. Lewis Addison Armistead's brigade in what became known as Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Who knows what similar treasures may await discovery?
[Paragraphing and occasional capitalization added]
I have the honor to submit the following report of the part borne by this Brigade commanded by Brigadier Genl. L. A. Armistead in the battle of July 3d 1863 near Gettysburg Penn.
After a march of about 25 miles on the 2d the brigade bivouacked about four miles from Gettysburg on the Chambersburg turnpike.  From this position it moved at 3 o'clock A.M. on the 3d, passed to the right of the town and took position as a second line or support to the first line of assault composed of the Brigades of Genls. Garnett & Kemper, with orders to follow when they moved forward & carry the enemy's position.
Shortly after the line was formed our artillery posted on the hill in our front opened a severe fire on the enemy's position, which was responded to with a great rapidity.  Altho the men were for an hour exposed to a very severe fire the brigade suffered but slight loss and took its position with alacrity and precision when the line was ordered to advance.
The Brigade moved on across the open field for more than half a mile receiving as it came in range of fire of shells, grape cannister and musketry which rapidly thinned its ranks; still it pushed on until the first line of the enemy strongly posted behind a stone wall was broken & driven from its position leaving in our hands a number of pieces of artillery, how many is not known.  By this time the troops on our right and left were broken & driven back and the brigade was exposed to a severe musketry fire from the rocky hill some distance to the right.  support coming up the position was untenable and we were compelled to retire leaving more than two thirds of our bravest & best, killed or wounded on the field.
For particulars of our loss I refer you to the lists of casualties herewith submitted* and for the part borne by the different regiments, to the reports of Regimental commanders filed herewith.  Where all conducted themselves with gallantry and coolness it would be invidious to specify individuals but I must be permitted to remarks that the whole brigade acted with the utmost steadiness & bravery and only fell back when its numbers were so small that it could accomplish nothing by remaining.
This report would fail in completeness & in the rendition of justice to signal valor and heroic behaviour were it omitted to notice particularly the gallant conduct of our brigade commander Genl. L. A. Armistead.  Conspicuous to all, fifty yards in advance of his Brigade, waving his hat upon his sword he led his men upon the enemy with a steady bearing which inspired all breasts with enthusiasm and courage and won the admiration of every beholder.  Far in advance of all he led the attack till he scaled the works of the enemy and fell wounded in their hands but not until he had driven from their position and seen his colors planted over their fortifications.
In consequence of the great loss of field officers the command of the brigade devolved upon Lt. Col. [William] White 14th Va. who retained it until his wound rendered him unable to do duty— he was succeeded by Maj. [Joseph Robert] Cabell 38 Va. who retained command until I was sufficiently recovered to assume it.
Your Obt. servant
Wm. R. Aylett
Col. Comdg. Brigade
* Present in the original, but omitted here.
Also see these related articles:
- The Only Medal
- Lincoln, Gettysburg, and the Papers of the Presidents
- Campaigns and Courts-Martial
- Honorable Reports -- Battles, Campaigns, and Skirmishes
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