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5718Longstreet's cannon crew--fact or fiction?

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  • eighth_conn_inf
    May 11, 2009
      Probably most of us agree that Longstreet's famous cannon crew fired from near the Hagerstown Pike. But has it been settled that he and his staff did crew a cannon? I thought so until I ran across the following in the "Confederate Veteran:"

      246 Confederate Veteran August 1893.


      "Many errors drop into history by inadvertence and imperfect knowledge of facts. In reading an account of the battle of Sharpsburg by a Virginian, I find he is in error. In speaking of the great danger that at one time threatened General Lee's center, which was held by Gen. D. H. Hill, he states the withdrawal of General Rhode's brigade made a great gap through which the enemy rushed in great numbers, and to check them General Hill led a squad of stragglers in person, and General Longstreet was seen working a piece of artillery on the field to save the day. I was in this engagement at that point with General Anderson's brigade of North Carolinians and did not see any troops withdrawn, but I did see that the right and left of our division were swept away by the deadly fire centered upon us, our General was wounded and taken from the field, all our field officers killed or wounded with the exception of Col. R. Tyler Bennett of the 14th .North Carolina, who was in command of the remnant of our brigade at that time of the battle. His regiment had the good fortune to come into line in the " bloody lane," which was a depressed road. Two regiments, 14th and 4th North Carolina, occupied this lane and found it, comparatively, a safe place to fight from, and the enemy in our front were unable to dislodge us. Federal lines of great strength had been pressed upon us from the first of the engagement until after midday and were repulsed by our deadly fire. We were just getting ready to receive three heavy lines in our front, when an officer from the right came to us in great haste and informed our Colonel that we were flanked at that point, and called our attention to a column coming perpendicular to our rear. Then Col. Bennett ordered us to fall back, which was done under a murderous fire from front and flank. When I reached the pike leading from the " burg" to Hagerstown, I found only four of our regiment together, Sergt. P. D, Weaver, Lieutenant Hanny, Colonel Bennett and myself, but quite a number of stragglers behind a rock fence along the pike. At this point a brass piece left by the road, which these four officers, with what help they could get from the stragglers, pulled to the top of the hill and loaded it, which they had just accomplished as a soldier rode up and inquired what they were trying to do. He was informed in a few words that they wished to fire the gun at the advancing line, then in a short distance of them. The soldier jumped from his saddle and fired the gun, throwing the shot into the enemy's front line, which caused them. to halt and lie down at once. This unexpected shot, I think, created the impression that we had a masked battery behind the rock fence. We fired three shots at them before their sharpshooters drove us from the gun. This delay gave General Hill time to get his reserve artillery on points behind us, which opened with great vigor on the enemy. It was then that General Hill rode forward to us and ordered us to get the stragglers into line in front of the rock fence, and headed us in person to a charge on the enemy in our front, who delivered a galling fire which sent us to the rear in great disorder, but our troops rallied later, recaptured a portion of our original line and held it until night came and closed the battle of Sharpsburg. I did not see General Longstreet pulling and firing a cannon on the field, but remember that the soldier who helped us fire the gun told us he belonged to Longstreet's staff. General Longstreet had all he could do to look after his own line, which was being heavily pressed in front, and Jackson on our left was fighting overwhelming numbers. This was the turning point of the battle and firing of that deserted brass piece saved General Lee's army from being cut in two, with Longstreet to the right and Jackson. to the left and D. H. Hill pressed into the river.

      Salisbury, N. C. July 18, 1893."

      I also recently ran across an article by D.B. Rea of the First North Carolina Cavalry "Cavalry Incidents of Maryland Campaign" from the January 1895 Maine Bugle which describes the Quebec School House fight in a totally different way from others I have read. This account is more than just a different perspective so it will be interesting to square it with Pickerill's detailed telling from the Union perspective.

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