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 Harpers 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. Grants kind invitation and liberal terms to surrender.
At Gettysburg, Phillips 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 Picketts 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 describedand 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 Philips 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 Hancocks 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 Philips further active participation reminds us, there were many terrific and costly encounters before the final victory at Appomattox, and Johnstons surrender at Durhams 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 Philips
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 cannons
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 Lees desperate but
unsuccessful effort to regain the position he had lost was again sustained
by Hancocks 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.