Charles F. Miller was about 22 years old when these events occurred. He died in 1892 at the age of 51. His story here is told in his own words, published January 1966 in Historical Wyoming.
WITH THE 6TH U.S.1 CAVALRY IN THE CIVIL WAR
The 3rd day of July 1863, at Gettysburg, was a day that will ever be remembered in the annals of history. The brilliant success of the Union Army over a brave and determined army, marshalled by warriors whose fame upon the battlefield had reached the ends of the world, was only accomplished by skilled generalship and the unflinching bravery of loyal men, whose breasts were an impenetrable barricade against the shot and shell, the saber and bayonet thrusts, in protection of the Flag of Liberty, and for their invasion of free soil.
While this horrible struggle was being enacted, I thought the fortunes of war very much in favor of the 6th U.S. Cavalry2, the command to which I belonged. As we lay at the extreme left watching for flank movements, and not crowded into the fire and smoke of battle, although well knowing the magnitude of the conflict by the roar of the artillery and the incessant volleys of musketry, which tells too well the story of suffering, the morning sun was obscured by clouds, and I believe it would have been no more than just had it refused to shine or give light upon such fearful carnage as this day's history records.
I am not a believer in any presage or foreboding of good or evil, but I beg leave to liken the grey clouds of the morning to the apparel or uniform of the invading hosts, the blue of the etherial [sic] sky to the invincible army of justice, freedom and right. As the sun neared the zenith and passed on its downward course to the western horizon, apparently the desperate charges darting from the blue and grey, until the last vestige of the storm cloud had rolled away, left it to shine clear and unmolested, as did the bright stars on the field of blue of the emblem of liberty at the close of the day's struggle, triumphant and brighter than ever before.
A messenger arrived at headquarters, astride an old grey horse, impersonating an honest tiller of the soil, divested of coat and vest, with verbal tidings that a large Confederate wagon train was corralled on his farm, "but a bit of a way round at the foot of yon mountain." "A right smart chance for you'ns to capture it, the soldiers are all over in the big fight." This news was considered trustworthy by the officers, and anxious, no doubt, to make a dash for honor and country, struck out for the wagon-train. It was suggested by the old man who brought the news of the train that a part of the command take a road to the right which intersected and formed a junction near where the train was corralled. This was considered good stratagem and was accepted. The old man was taken with us for a guide. All was excitement, and you will not wonder when you imagine capturing a hundred wagons laden with spoils of confiscation, and the plundering and destruction of the same.
After a short and pleasant gallop of about four miles, we entered the small town of Fairfield, and by our reception I can vouch for the loyalty and patriotism of the inhabitants. We were all supplied with luxuries which brought us thoughts of home--bread, cake, pies, etc., but the best of all were the well wishes and pleasant smiles of the fair sex, wishing us success in a glorious cause.
There was firing at the front, the advance guard had reached the Confederate outpost. Skirmishers were deployed at the right; the column keeps the main road which angles around near the mountain. "See," cry the men, "The rebel skirmish line there in an orchard, under that tree, along the fence, in the woods there," both lines in plain sight and hotly contesting the ground. As we galloped down the road, to our left through a field of grain, yellow and ripe for the harvest, advanced a long line of Confederate cavalry, tauntingly beckoning us to come on, saying, "Yanks, our wagon train is right back here." We are commanded to halt, left wheel into line and fire. The range is short and the bullets tell. Their colors fall and they retreat, only to be reinforced and come again. Now, evidently, we must fall back, and preparations are made for it. The fences are taken down and we pass from the road into the field, reforming again, and open fire, holding them in check (although they outnumbered us three to one) until the shot and shell from five pieces of artillery made us think that we would better get out of there, and some of the boys made good time too.
The old saying is, "Those who know nothing fear nothing," and I confess the fact that two comrades and myself, through sheer, reckless excitement, not bravery, not even thinking our lives were in danger, confronted twice our number at no more than 15 yards distance, and exchanged salutations with them with Colts navy revolvers. We were not an easy prey as they had anticipated, as two of their number fell on the spot, and the other four putting spurs to their steeds, fled. Looking around, we found ourselves alone; the whole command had vanished and we were being flanked, so we dashed on after the retreating column, passing through an orchard into a lane. We saw a greycoat advancing near a barn, and by his careless manner it was evident that he had not seen us. By agreement we halted and leveled our carbines to surprise the chap as he rounded the corner, and I think he was surprised by the report of three guns the contents of which brought both horse and man to the ground. We did not stop to see whether he was hurt or not but put spurs to our horses hoping to gain the road and overtake the column.
Here we were obliged to run the gauntlet of the rebel skirmish line, the bullets whistling thick around us. Unfortunately, one struck my horse just below the left ear. He fell like a log and went sprawling over his head, hardly knowing which was killed, the horse or myself. Now, what should I do; there lay my faithful beast, struggling in the agony of death. Tears came to my eyes for I felt that no earthly friend could do what he had done for me. With patience he had stood hour after hour upon the picket post with almost human alertness and intelligence, borne me on many a long and weary march, carried me safely through the smoke and fire of battle, and now to be left wounded and dying. Although a brute, it did seem hard, but the enemy are almost upon me, my ammunition exhausted except one cartridge in a chamber of my carbine. I don't know what I thought, but the thought was indeed a rash one. I crawled to the fence toward which the rebel line was advancing, leveled my piece on a rail, and taking slow and deliberate aim I fired. This delay was disasterous [sic] on my part, for if I had taken to my heels as soon as my horse fell, possibly I might have escaped, but now they were too close upon me. I did, however, run until my breadth was exhausted, unmindful of the shots which struck around me, and the commands to halt, surrender, etc.
I gained upon the Company, and never shall I forget the appeals of a beardless boy for them to rally once more, charge the enemy back and save me from capture, but his entreaties were unheeded. I could go no farther, I must stop or I die. Throwing myself and my carbine on the ground, I faced the enemy and waited. First advanced a gentlemanly youth who received my arms and under whose protection I surrendered. A second arrived with revolver cocked and pointed, reminding my captor of their fallen comrades and craving my blood for revenge. How often have I though that then, just the slightest pressure of the finger would have sent me into Eternity.
Did I fall on my knees and implore of him to spare my life? No, I opened my mouth and as near as I can remember the forthcoming was, "You cowardly wretch, are you civilized or savage, a man or a brute? Would you shoot an unarmed prisoner after he has surrendered, given up his arms and asked for protection?"
I have already stated that my captor was a gentleman, and now to strengthen that assertion I must tell you how he used me. He said, turning to his comrade, "You have no business with this man. I took him and he shall suffer no harm while under my charge." Then to me, "Come Yank, now march back to the rear." Of course I complied, moving slowly wiping the perspiration from my face and occasionally casting a longing glance behind. We soon came to the spot where my horse had fallen. The rebels had confiscated my commissary and Quartermaster's stores and divided them among themselves. Strapped to my saddle was a fine rubber blanket and an overcoat, besides a haversack filled with sugar and coffee. Thinking perhaps the coat or blanket might be useful to me, I asked if I might take it along. The coat I was permitted to take.
My captor said his horse would carry double, bade me mount behind him and many a compliment we received as we rode, chatting good naturedly, back to the rear. On turning me over to the Provost, he gave me his name and address, and asked me, if I ever lived to see the end of the cruel war, to write him a letter. I gave him a token of his kindness, a three-bladed pocket knife, and we parted the best of friends. Here I met quite a number of my unfortunate comrades. A large watering trough was crimson with the blood of the wounded. Those who were able to travel were marched until dark, and then halted for the night.
I will now return and make a brief mention of the old man, the farmer. As soon as we came upon the enemy we found he had misrepresented their force, and therefore we got out, plainly it was a trap to capture our whole command. He was placed under guard and hurried back to the rear. I presume that every soldier who was at Gettysburg knows to whom I have made reference. It was none other than Richardson, the Confederate spy, who paid the penalty of the crime by hanging by the neck from a locust tree in the suburbs of Frederick City, placarded, "Spy." I have been told that he was left hanging three days until stripped nude by relic hunters.
Night had once more spread its sable mantle around us. The din of battle had ceased. The electric current had flashed the news of victory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but many who were engaged in the conflict were as yet ignorant as to which way the tide had turned. Here in our northern homes great was the anxiety and suspence [sic] of those whose sons, husbands and lovers were engaged in the struggle. How many a mother saw in her dreams her darling son with ghastly wounds and blackened face, the life current flowing fast, which only foretold the dread reality.
I had settled down to sober thought. The current of my meditations which mingled grief with misfortune carried me back to the home of my childhood, pictured a mother's agony when she hears for the first time the sad news, that her son is among the missing. The watchful eyes of the sentry are upon us, and his steady tramp, tramp, is all that breaks the stillness of the night. Morning at last dawns, wet and gloomy. Rations are issued consisting of about two quarts of flour per man. With no cooking utensils, who but a soldier could convert raw flour into food, substantial but not over and above palatable? I will tell you the "modus operandi." We wet it up, kneading it into balls which are pasted onto hot stones and set before the fire until baked. We had a bountiful breakfast, thought we had a very liberal commissionary [sic], ate all we wanted and threw the rest away, not knowing or thinking it was intended for three days.
The prisoners are ordered to fall in line, and the march "on to Richmond" is begin [sic]. Rain poured in torrents all day, and our march was not a holiday parade in commemoration of the "Glorious 4th of July" but a march from freedon [sic] to bondage, and to many, starvation and death. Our squad of about 170 increased before night to thousands of drenched and miserable men who were glade enough to make the wet ground a bed to rest their aching feet and weary limbs.
July 5, 1863
We were aroused early the next morning, and those who had rations hastily prepared a breakfast. We were soon on the march again, columns of infantry and long trains of baggage and artillery. They seemed very anxious to place between themselves and the Federal army as great a distance as possible.
The weather continued very wet, consequently the roads were in bad condition. Late in the afternoon we began the ascent of the mountains and were marched until midnight before we reached the summit. Many of the men were so completely exhausted that only threats and the fear of the bayonet kept them from falling by the way. I actually believe that some were unconsciously asleep, and still trudging along. The clouds were thick and the night was dark.
Just before a halt was made I was aroused by remarks that we were going to camp, and to my surprise I found I was in altogether different company than I had marched with during the day. The men all had knapsacks and carried muskets, but did not recognize the stray Yankee by their side, and I kept along quietly with them until a halt was made. They soon built roaring fires of rails, and set to work warming up what few rations they had left, and tried to make themselves comfortable for the night.
I made inquiries as to where the prisoners were and was told they had halted in the field, a short distance back. Guided by the bright blazing fires I retraced my steps and was again with our own men. Would that I could have probed the future! There were no songs of mirth, no tales of love or thrilling adventure related around the camp fires that night. The men thought not of freedom or bondage; they were exhausted, and only thought of nature's sweet rest or sleep, which was only too short.
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1 The story was mistitled when published; I have corrected the title above. Charles Frederick Miller was in the 6th U.S. Cavalry, but when his story was published in 1966 in Historical Wyoming, it was erroneously titled WITH THE 6TH NEW YORK CAVALRY IN THE CIVIL WAR. His story matches the actions of the 6th US, not the 6th NY. Confusingly enough, there was also a Charles F. Miller in the 6th NY Cavalry. In transcribing this story, I struggled mightily with whether to leave the title uncorrected. Anyway, I learned that cousin Charles had written this memoir from Eric J. Wittenberg in Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions.
2 His confirmation: he was in the 6th U.S., not the 6th N.Y.