Accounts of War

Philip Garnett

Philip Garnett, McDougal, NY“Philip enlisted under the Old Flag on the 5th of August, 1862, and joined Co. I, 126th Regiment, N. Y. Vol. Infantry, and was present in the battles of Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg, Auburn Ford, Bristow Station, Wilderness, Po River, Spottsylvania, Mine Run, Morton's Ford, Petersburg, and, if he had not been disabled at the latter place, would a few days later have witnessed the closing scene of the War of the Rebellion, when Gen. Lee, to avoid ‘further effusion of blood,’ wisely accepted Gen. Grant’s kind invitation and liberal terms to surrender.

“At Gettysburg, Phillip’s regiment was in the Third Brigade, Third Division, of the famour Second Army Corps, under ‘The Superb’ Major General Winfield S. Hancock, and was in the thickest of the terrible fighing on the second and third days of that memorable and decisive battle. It was the Second Corps that received and repulsed the shock of Pickett’s fearful charge in the afternoon of the third day, than which a more determined assault no army perhaps ever made and none ever more valiantly withstood. The Third Brigade was in the front line of battle, the men resting and waiting on their knees, while the defiant and confident Confederates under Pickett, Kemper, Pettigrew, Archer, Davis, Armistead, and other fearless leaders, whose valor should have graced a better cause, came boldly, with bayoneted muskets, across the plain from the foot of Seminary Ridge to fight and to win or perish. But the men they were confronting were just as brave and determined, and when the assaulting columns had advanced close to the kneeling line, showing their firm set faces and fire-flashing eyes, the Boys in Blue rose to their feet and gave them a death-dealing volley. But the check thus given to the impetuous foe was only for an instant. Terrible! terrible! was the crash of arms and slaughter that now for some moments followed. Death and destruction did their awful work all along the line. The appalling scene can not be adequately described—and with Philip we are glad to turn away from its contemplation. But thank Heaven! a great victory was won by the defenders of Freedom and Humanity, and the world forever has reason to rejoice.

“On the evening of that fateful day, when the ground was thickly covered with the wounded, the dead, and the dying, Philip was among the detailed to look after and help the wounded. Finding a dying comrade, whom he had long known and esteemed, and who belonged to his own company, he remained with and did all he could for the suffered until he died, at midnight, and then, worn out himself with the days of hard marching to reach the field of battle and by the strain that immediately followed, he lay down by the side of his dead friend, under the same blanket, and slept soundly until the first rays of morning enabled him to begin again the search for the wounded. What a sad and extraordinary celebration was this in commemoration of the Fourth of July! But never was there one more heroic and heartfelt since the first Day of Independence. Some idea of the fierceness and havoc of the struggle, and of the sanguinary part in which it was Philip’s fate to share, may be formed when it is considered that of the Third Brigade alone 139 men and officers were killed, 542 were wounded, and 33 men were captured, making a total loss of 714, or 137 more than the combined casualties of the other two brigades of the Third Division of Hancock’s Corps. It was in this battle that, as history now declares, that the ‘backbone’ of the great slaveholders’ rebellion was broken, but it was at a fearful cost, and, as Philip’s further active participation reminds us, there were many terrific and costly encounters before the final victory at Appomattox, and Johnston’s surrender at Durham’s Station.

“After Gettysburg Philip shared in all the important engagements with the Second Corps, in what is known in history as the Wilderness campaign, such as the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, Mine Run, Po River, and a succession of fierce conflicts that, until the end of the ‘cruel war,’ almost daily occurred. It was during this active campaign that the intrepid Grant made his famous comment in one of his dispatches to the Secretary of War: ‘I propose to fight it out on the line, if it takes all summer.’ It would require too much of our limited space to give a detailed account of Philip’s part and recollections of this eventful period of the great conflict, as it will be necessary also to refer to the military service of many others of the descendants of Heinrich Gernhardt who enlisted in the hallowed cause of the Union and human freedom. Philip probably never dreamed that while he was at the front hearing the ‘red-mouthed cannon’s peal,’ and during the many wearisome marches and countermarches, when the contending armies were moving to embarrass and circumvent each other, to win the advantage of position, so important often in determining the issue of a battle, that there were others on duty near him, in the same marches and in the same battles, through whole loyal hearts the same blood of his ancestors, Heinrich and Rosine, was then pulsating. How little we, one and all, know of what is constantly transpiring around us in the great world in which we live and strive and muse and die. Philip returned to his home with the marks of merciless war on his person. He was twice painfully wounded: first, by a ball striking his left leg below the knee, while he was going on the picket line at Spotsylvania, one of the hardest fought battles of the war, where the brunt of Lee’s desperate but unsuccessful effort to regain the position he had lost was again sustained by Hancock’s Corps; and the next time he was more dangerously wounded by a bullet striking his gun and bursting it, and causing a breast injury that took him to Mansion House Hospital, at Alexandria, and terminated his usefulness in helping to crush the Rebellion. He was honorably discharged when his regiment was mustered out, and now receives a pension of $14 a month” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 104-107).

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