The internet is a wonderful research tool, but it has no filters, so it is easy for desceptive stories to continue making the rounds long after the truth is known. One such story is that of Pvt. Joseph Marable and the "surrender" of the 11th Mississippi banner on July 3, 1863. Marable, one of the few survivors of the battle, returned home at war's end with a heroic tale of how he carried the banner to the Union line where he was stunned, the banner taken from his unconscious fingers. He was captured and confined at Fort Delaware from where he escaped by swimming the swift river currents on a ladder. It is a wonderful tale, but unfortunately for the fine Marable family, very little of it is true. Certainly Marable's account of the battle-- still attached to the banner on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia -- is untrue. What Marable could not have known when he was entertaining folks back home with accounts of his war-time exploits was that an officer left a diary that was not placed before the public until 1980.
Lt. William "Billy" Peel wrote an extensive account of the battle of Gettysburg and his subsequent months of imprisonment at Johnson's Island. His diary was probably copied over from loose sheets in February 1864, placing it only 10 months after the battle when it was still fresh in his mind. The text below is taken from the transcript of The Diary of Lt. William H. Peel, 1863-1865, published by Pioneer Publishers, Carrollton, Mississippi, 2011). Anyone wishing to read the entirety of Peel's diary, should contact me via the web address below.
This is Peel's account of the surrender of the 11th Mississippi Infantry's banner during Pickett's Charge:
Four brave men 1 had already fallen under the colors of our Reg't,+ now the fifth bore them aloft, + rushed boldly forward, to embrace, if need be, the fate of the other four. The flag staff was now cut in-two midway the flag, but without one moment's pause, the never-flinching little Irishman (Geo. Kidd),2 his flag now dangling in graceless confusion, from one corner, still pushed fearlessly upon the stone fence. Thirteen of our Reg't had concentrated upon the colors, as if to constitute ourselves its guard. We were some yards in advance of the line, + now found ourselves within about thirty yards of the stone fence.
Immediately before us was a small framed house about twenty feet square the farther end of which joined the fence. Springing forward, we secured its shelter, gaining at the same time, a position within seventy five feet of the Yankees behind the fence.
The boys betook themselves to the work before them in good earnest. A number of shots were fired, which must have proven very fatal, as the distance was so small.
Thinking the line rather a long time coming up, I looked to the rear.
The state of my feelings may be imagined, but not described, upon seeing the line broken, + flying in full disorder, at the distance of about one hundred + fifty yards from us.
What was to be done. A momentary consultation decided. Lt. R. A. McDowell + I were the only officers with the party. I being the senior, the responsibility, if indeed there were any, devolved upon me. There were but two alternatives: to surrender, or become the "flying target" of a thousand muskets. We preferred the former, + in a moment more a white flag floated from behind the corner, around which the moment before our acurately aimed muskets had belched their deadly contents into the ranks of the enemy.* An old serg't came out + took charge of us, + ordered us through the gate that was open on the left of the house.
1 Irish-born Pvt William O'Brien [Co. C] age 34, the appointed color bearer, was killed as the unit crossed the Emmitsburg Road. Pvt. Joseph M. Smith [Co. H] took up the banner, but fell wounded. Pvt. James M. Griffin [Co. H] carried the banner a few feet before he too was wounded. Pvt. William P. Marion [Co. H] lifted the flag and was shot dead. The last to take up the flag was Pvt. George Kidd [Co. C].
2 Pvt. George Kidd was born in Ireland in 1836, immigrating to Baltimore with his mother and siblings in 1852. With the onset of the war George (age 25) and his older brother William (age 26) were living in Mississippi where they worked as coach-makers. Both brothers enlisted in the 11th Mississippi Infantry in Okolona in Chickasaw County. William was the banner bearer when he was killed at Antietam / Sharpsburg in September 1862. He is buried in the Confederate mass grave in Hagerstown and the banner he carried, taken by Union troops, is now on display at the Carlisle Military Museum in Pennsylvania.
When George grabbed the banner from the fallen bearer at Gettysburg, he was wounded in both hands (possibly when the banner staff was shattered) with another wound in the right thigh. Later a finger and a hand were amputated at a hospital in Baltimore while Kidd was imprisoned at Fort McHenry. He was transferred on August 14 to the prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. On April 18, 1864, Kidd took the Oath of Allegiance, and returned to his family in Baltimore, where he took up the coach-making trade again. George married a young lady from Ireland, who probably died in 1869 giving birth to their son William. The family can be traced to 1900 still living in Baltimore.
The 11th Mississippi Infantry
In Pickett's Charge
"The army did all it could. I fear I required of it impossibilities."
Gen. Robert E. Lee after the loss at Gettysburg
In the years following the war, a rivalry ensued between various southern states concerning the overall portrayal of the Confederacy. A particular area of controversy was the 3rd day of battle at Gettysburg, including the name and extent of the final charge.
John Bachelder's Gettysburg: What to See and How to See It, published in 1873, referred to the charge as "Longstreet's Assault" a name that quickly went out of fashion, in large part due to Longstreet's desire to separate himself as much as possible from the decisions of that day. As late as 1905, the term "Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge" was still in vogue (see Robert Douthat's battle ode Gettysburg), but the trend was heading towards the simpler "Pickett's Charge." It was not that anyone thought that Pickett was responsible for the attack or its outcome. Pickett was in command of only one of the three divisions involved in the final charge. The impetus behind naming the action of that day came from Virginia veterans who wanted the name of a Virginia general to mark the sacrifice.
At the heart of Virginia's claim lies Brigadier General Lewis Armistead's penetration of the Union line at the Angle as the Virginians approached their objective, a copse of trees where the current High Water Mark stands, a monument marking the objective of the Confederate troops. The first problem evident is that the Angle, the point where Armistead's men broke through, lies considerably forward to the southwest of the rest of the Union line, and the monument marking the spot where Armistead fell mortally wounded is seventy yards to the north of the copse of trees.
Despite Virginia's efforts to cement the glory of the day for themselves, North Carolinians have long been vocal in pointing out that Brig. Gen. James Pettigrew (North Carolina) and Maj. Gen. Isaac Trimble (Maryland) led 15 regiments of North Carolina men, a number comparable to Virginia's 19 regiments. The proof of their actions lies further north along the road.
Moving through the high grass beyond the Armistead monument, is another marker lying just off the road. The stone commemorates a small party of the 26th North Carolina who reached a point sixty-three yards further north than where Armistead fell, although still outside the Union's defensive line, which had folded back along the road, away from the Angle. Because of this it is once again considered politically correct to call the action of that day the "Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Assault."
As the visitor walks north along the road to the Bryan barn, one reaches the point where Mississippi's quest for recognition began. Starting in the late 19th century, and continuing until the end of the 20th, excellent scholarship from dedicated Mississippians finally proved their ancestors' part in the action of that day. The barn stands where it always has. Sorting through a myriad of veterans' accounts, researchers assembled a stirring account of the men who reached the barn only to be overwhelmed by enemy forces and forced to withdraw back across the field. In 1998, the National Park Service placed a marker behind Bryan's barn, a full 218 yards north of 26th North Carolina marker. The inscription on the 11th MS marker reads:
The 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, with its ranks growing thinner at every step, advanced across the Emmitsburg Road. Formation then broken, clusters of men advanced with the colors to the stone wall near the Brian barn.
Here we were subjected to a most galling fire of musketry and artillery that so reduced the already thinned ranks that any further effort to carry the position was hopeless, and there was nothing left but to retire.
Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Davis
Davis' brigade had arrived at Gettysburg with 2,305 men. In those three days, in its first major engagement, the brigade lost 1,030 men killed, missing, and wounded. Davis was left the task of writing the official report for Heth's Division at the conclusion of the battle. Of the final charge he wrote:
Not a gun was fired at us until we reached a strong post and rail fence about three-quarters of a mile from the enemy's position, [and there] we were met by a heavy fire of grape, canister, and shell, which told sadly upon our ranks.
The fence lined both sides of the Emmitsburg Road, marking the perfect range for the Union's considerable fire-power.
Of all the regiments who made the charge, none suffered more casualties than the 11th Mississippi, the only fresh regiment in Heth's Division. All 31 men of Company A (the University's Greys) fell killed or wounded. In Company E, of 37 men, only one remained free and unwounded. Company C had arrived at Gettysburg with 29 men. Of these, 5 were killed, 20 were captured (17 of which were wounded), and 4 escaped unhurt.
Billy's narrative states that only he and a dozen men reached the Bryan barn, and that their surrender was swift and uncomplicated. Other accounts, written decades later, give the impression of a more complex scene at the barn.
Union troops remembered the attack of the 11th Mississippi, and the following accounts suggest that there were other rebel troops present besides those under Billy's command. David Shields, [Lt, 111th NY], wrote to his former colonel in 1890:
The great press of the enemy was in the direction of the Brian house and stables: the masses of the enemy in your regiments front and to the front of the 12th New Jersey to your left, were so much more threatening that it was here General Hays, Capt. Corts A. A. G. and myself remained. The nearest enemy was killed to the right of the stable.
Billy makes no mention of any of his men being severely wounded or killed. Aaron P. Seely [Capt, 111th NY], also writing in 1890, said of the capture of Billy's men:
Some who were near our line who had escaped death rallied behind and into the barn indicated and commenced firing upon us at short range. Our men being the nearest of any to the barn, made a rush and killed or captured this fragment of the enemy.
Billy says his men fired into the Union ranks. John A. Thomas [Pvt, 111th NY] was one of those wounded:
I was on the left of the barn close to the old stone wall. I remember very distinctly the last shot I fired before I fell. The smoke had got so dense that I could not see the rebs directly in front of us but at my right hand and a little in front I could see a squad of rebs coming up behind the old barn where there was not so much smoke and I turned I fired my last shot at that squad.
The 11th Mississippi had its own memories. In 1911, Warren D. Reid, [1st Sgt, Co. H] recalled that
I do know that I went to that rock fence and was shot down there and that some of my company and regiment crossed that fence and but few returned as most of them were killed or wounded at or near the rock fence." Frank A. Howell [Pvt, Co. F] wrote: "Our regiment did not fall back, but nearly all who survived went forward to the stone fence and were killed or captured.
In 1906, William A. Love published an article based on the experiences of men in the 11th Mississippi:
J. T. Stokes [Capt, Co. F] who was wounded within twenty steps of the wall, and the few remaining of the company went on. John J. and Frank A. Howell, brothers, reached the wall together. The former went over, was captured and died a prisoner. The latter was wounded and returned. Lieutenants Brooks and Woods were captured, leaving but a few privates and no commissioned officer.
Billy makes no mention of these men. It is unlikely that the events of that day had much dimmed for the 25 year old lieutenant when he wrote his account. Three possibilities spring to mind:
(1) Billy chose to simplify the chaos at the barn, focusing his narrative only on those under his command.
(2) In the confusion of battle and with the passage of many years, men who claimed to be where the monument now stands were, in fact, nowhere near the Bryan barn.
(3) None of the surviving veterans wanted to be included amongst those "flying in full disorder, at the distance of about one hundred and fifty yards" from that handful of men trapped behind the barn.
Much of the 11th Mississippi's history can be credited to Judge Baxter McFarland. [Baxter McFarland was born in LaFayette Co, MS in 1839. He was a lawyer before the war, and rose to prominence in the years after. He died in Aberdeen, MS in 1925 at the age of 86.] He was not at Gettysburg, having transferred to another unit shortly before the battle. Throughout the early decades of the 20th century, McFarland published articles about the 11th Mississippi based on accounts from other participants. In 1923, he wrote of the final moments of the 11th's advance:
Captain Magruder was killed upon the wall near the Bryan barn while cheering the men over the wall. After a short and bloody struggle to carry the works, the few gallant survivors, realizing the utter hopelessness of the unequal conflict, were ordered to retreat, and made their way back under a deadly fire to the position from which the charge began.
McFarland's research was extensive and well-intentioned. As Gettysburg's 50th anniversary approached he was caught up in the effort to ensure that Mississippi's sacrifices were not forgotten. He had no access to the Peel diary, which was then in private hands. Decades had passed; details had dimmed or merged. McFarland made the best use of the resources available to him.
So, who were the thirteen men behind the barn? In the usual deployment (as viewed from behind the regiment), Company A, as the dress company, would be on the far right; Company B on the far left. The regimental standard would be carried by the company occupying the center of the line, in this case, Company C. Companies E, H and K were probably adjacent to Company C as the regiment marched out. Billy names only three men in his diary himself and Pvt. George Kidd of Company C, and Lt. Robert McDowell of Company H. It is unlikely that other men from Company C were present, because Billy would have known and named them. Therefore, those who surrendered with Billy ranked below lieutenant, served in center companies other than C, and if wounded, remained ambulatory.
The following accounts place their authors in view of, or with, Billy at the time of surrender. In 1906, William F. Hamilton [Pvt, Co. K] received a letter from R. R. Hawkins, [Pvt, Co. K]:
I remember passing near a barn in the charge of Gettysburg on the 3rd day of July 1863. I was captured I should say about 20 or 30 feet from this barn. It was at the line of the enemy. Lieut. Peel of our Regiment was in command of the little band that was captured with myself. I should say there were not over 8 or 10 in this band, the only member of Co. K besides myself that I can now remember of this band, was Arch Turner. This band I speak of had just started through an opening (an open double gate) in the rock fence between us & the enemy, when we were surrounded, & Lieut. Peel ordered us to surrender . . . possibly we were a little ways inside said opening when Lieut. Peel gave the order to surrender. . . . Our Regiment was on the extreme left of Joe Davises Brigade. Very few of said Regiment were at the particular part of the line where we surrendered. Our little band was on the extreme left of Regiment & Brigade, at the time of our surrender.
So, we can add Pvt. Rhesa R. Hawkins and Pvt. Archibald J. Turner of Company K to the men behind the barn. Hamilton wrote in the Military Annals of Carroll County:
The stone fence is reached and from behind it a deadly fire is poured into their ranks. Capt. [George W.] Bird of Company K called to those around him: Rally, boys and go over that fence!' In an instant he falls and his place is taken at once by Lieutenant John T. Stanford. The advance is begun. Some of the men scale the fence. Stanford falls and Sergeant John W. Kimbrough takes command. The boys who had climbed the fence were faring roughly, and Lieutenant Peel of Company C seeing the hopelessness of getting back, or moving forward surrendered about a dozen men of the Eleventh . . . Of Company K, R. R. Hawkins and A. J. Turner were with Lieutenant Peel when they surrendered. Lieutenant Stanford and Shaw Stevens having been wounded near the stone fence were captured, also Duncan McRea.
The truth of those minutes behind Bryan's barn probably lies between the three possibilities. Billy, writing a few months after the fact (see Appendix A), may have omitted some details. There were men in the 11th Mississippi who thought they were at Bryan's barn when, in fact, they were at other points along the stone wall. And there can be no doubt that most of the unit's survivors did so by abandoning the attack but not by regrouping and retreating from the Bryan barn.
There remains a final question of who last carried the regimental colors to the wall. According to McFarland, the following sequence occurred in the carrying of the colors:
Hon. James M. Griffin, of Company H, when nearing the wall, firing as he advanced with his company, had just fired and rammed home a cartridge when the gallant color bearer of the regiment, Billy O'Brien, fell dead at his feet, and Griffin stooped to pick up the flag, but Joe Smith, of the same company, seized it first and raised it; Griffin made a few steps forward and, while in the act of capping his gun, was severely wounded in the foot . . . Joe Smith fell wounded about the same time, when William P. Marion, of the same company, picked up the flag and had gone on a step or two, when he was killed. Then Joseph G. Marable, of the same company, raised the colors and planted them on the wall, falling against it as he did so, stunned, but not much injured, and presently he and the flag were captured.
McFarland's account only names three color bearers (O'Brien, Smith, and Marion) before Marable takes up the standard; he never states the Griffin carried the flag at all.
Billy's proximity to the events speaks for itself. He knew that four men had fallen with the flag, and named Kidd as the fifth, with twelve men clustered around him. Billy is specific on the name, the number and the details. The bullet that shattered the flag-staff moments after Kidd grabbed it corresponds with the wounds that Kidd suffered to both hands. Therefore, the honor of carrying the flag must be given to Kidd, if only for the few moments before his capture. The banner captured at Gettysburg is on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. As for Pvt. Joseph G. Marable, he could have been one of the unidentified eight men, as could have Pvt. John S. Marable [Co. H] who was captured unwounded.
Billy's account of the surrender does not appear on the monument. If it did it might well read:
The dozen men under Lt. Peel's command were too few to change the course of battle, even with their deaths. All others in the vicinity were either wounded or dead, and those he counted on to reinforce his position were retreating in disorder. Die fighting, die running, or surrender the simplicity of his choice remained the same.