At All Hazards

Imagine hauling your car over a stone wall.

We welcome to Civil War Tails “At All Hazards,” our small diorama of the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery at Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, Captain John Bigelow’s battery was already cut to pieces after heavy fighting when they received the order to hold a position near the Trostle house and barn “at all hazards,” to buy precious time for infantry and artillery to plug a gaping hole in the line. Bigelow later recalled how “the enemy crowded to the very muzzles of [the guns], but were blown away by the canister . . . Sergeant after sergt. was struck down, horses were plunging and laying all around, bullets now came in on all sides . . . The air was dark with smoke.”

For half an hour, Bigelow’s six guns fired at the advancing Confederates. Rifle fire picked off men and horses. Recoil backed the left-most cannons too close to the stone wall behind them, so Bigelow ordered those two cannons to the rear. The first cannon’s team of horses galloped through a gate in the wall and turned into Trostle’s Lane, but the turn was too sharp and the cannon tipped over.

Unable to use the blocked gate, the cannoneers of the second piece eyed the stone wall. The horses could easily jump it, but could the cannon? A cannon with its limber weighed just shy of two tons! But the men had no choice but to try. They took some of the rocks out of the wall to make a gap, then galloped the horses over the wall, pulling the limber and cannon over the rocks after them—successfully!

p1250165-jumping-the-wall

While watching his men work to get the cannon over the wall, Bigelow fell wounded. Not long after, he saw batteries coming into position behind him, knew his work had been accomplished, and ordered his remaining four guns to fall back. Bugler Charles Reed then helped Bigelow to the rear in an action that saved Bigelow’s life and led to the Congressional Medal of Honor for Reed . . . but that’s a story for another day.

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