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Semmes's Brigade


10th Georgia
50th Georgia
51st Georgia
53rd Georgia


Although the 10th Georgia had bene with the Army of Northern Virginia since September 1861, the three other regiments were not mustered into service until the late winter-early spring of 1862, and spent their initial months on the South Carolina coast.  They were transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia in June-July 1862 and were finally combined into Semmes's Brigade in November 1863.  Thus, while all four regiments had seen combat, they did not enter a battle as a unit until the Fredericksburg campaign.
Their commander, Brigadier General Paul Semmes, was a banker and plantation owner prior to the war.  Entering the war as colonel of the 2nd Georgia, he was in command of General Lafayette McLaws's old brigade by the spring of 1862.  He fought at Savage Station and Malvern Hill, and helped capture Harper's Ferry during the Maryland campaign.  After the battle of Sharpsburg, the brigade was reorganized to contain only Georgia regiments.  Semmes's Brigade served in a reserve capacity at Fredericksburg, but showed its mettle at the battle of Chancellorsville, where it helped blunt the advance of a Federal V Corps division and later helped halt an entire Federal corps.  After their successes at Chancellorsville, the men were ready for more action as the army moved north.
     The brigade crossed the Potomac with "much jollity and merriment," recalled Judge L. Cochran of the 10th Georgia.  It marched rapidly through Maryland and then into Pennsylvania.  The townspeople of Greencastle, Pennsylvania, lined the streets to watch the Confederates pass "with as much apparent curiosity had been orangoutangs [sic] or baboons," wrote one of the soldiers of the 10th Georgia.  "We were clad in garments very much damaged by hard usage," noted the soldier.  When a private overheard a smirk about the soldiers' clothes, he merely smiled and said, "We don't put on our best clothes when we go to kill hogs."
     The men spent the next day and a half in Chambersburg, where, as one soldier put it, the men spent time "testing the qualities of Pennsylvania poultry."  Despite Lee's orders to the contrary, many of the men "seemed to consider the private impressment of supplies an imperative duty incumbent upon us in retaliation for the marauding of the Yankees in our country," wrote one of the men.  William Stillwell of the 53rd Georgia wrote home that the "peple [sec] hear [sic] are mostly Duch [sic] it hurts them very bad to see the rebble [sic] occupying thare [sic] country we don't disturb eny [sic] thing but what we need [sic] to eat . . . the peple [sic] looked very sour and crest faling [sic] though they hope we will git [sic] whiped [sic] at the capital [Harrisburg]."  The men were also issued whiskey along the way and cherries were to be had in abundance.
     Marching second in line behind Kershaw's Brigade, Semmes's men arrived near Herr Ridge on the morning of July 2.  Here they participated in the circuitous march to their position on the southern part of Seminary Ridge.  "We kept marching to and fro, backward and forward, until about three o'clock PM," wrote Private Stocker of the 10th Georgia.  The brigade finally took position about fifty to seventy-five yards in the rear of Kershaw's Brigade, which it was to support.  According to modern historian John Imhof, the brigade was arrayed, from left to right, as 50th Georgia-10th Georgia-51st Georgia-53rd Georgia.  Cochran (10th Georgia) recalled surveying the ground in front of the brigade.  "In our front was an open field, some six or eight hundred yards across.  Beyond this, and on our left were hills and mountains, bristling with Federal bayonets and cannon."  The regimental officers encouraged the men while waiting for orders to advance.  Sergeant William Pendelton of the 50th Georgia noted that Lieutenant Colonel Francis Kearse "addressed each company, telling the men to fight and win."  Any enthusiasm that was generated by the short speech was probably dissipated when the men were ordered to fall in before the canteen carriers had returned.  The men would thus go into the fight without water.
     The Federal artillery took its toll as the line of battle advanced across the open plain.  Pendleton noted that "we moved forward over a hill into an open field where we were under fire.  We came to a road [Emmitsburg Road] with high fences on both sides; the firing was getting hotter.  I wondered if I would ever get across the fences.  We were going toward a Peach Orchard, but were ordered to right oblique.  The firing was very heavy and dangerous."  Cochran (10th Georgia) recalled how the "men sprang quickly into line, and the brigade moved slowly forward into the open field, and then 'hell broke loose' from every hill in our front, and on our left burst such a roar of artillery and such a storm of shot and shell as we had never faced before;  it was Malvern Hill all over again, but on a grander scale."  Another soldier from the regiment agreed.  "Charge after charge of grape shot, canister shot, shells, etc., came whizzing through the air in a continuous stream of destruction . . . the greatest wonder with us was how any of us survived."  Many didn't, including Leiutenant Colonel Kearse.
     The line of battle halted to the right of the Rose farm buildings.  Up ahead and to their left, they could see Kershaw's South Carolinians engaged with the enemy.  As the sounds of the conflict escalated, the men knew that it was just a matter of time beofre they would be called forward.  Some of the soldiers on the left of the line may have seen General Kershaw striding quickly toward General Semmes with a plea for assistance.  General Semmes was mortally wounded at this time.
  As the brigade swept forward to try to close the gap between Kershaw's and Anderson's Brigade, the 50th Georgia on the left of the line advanced faster than the others and took position to the right of Kershaw's 7th South Carolina.  A gap still existed between the two brigades, however.  Major Peter McGlashan of the 50th Georgia noted, "a dense and large mass of infantry suddenly arose, poured in a destructive fire of musketry and charged."  The 50th Georgia threw a volley into the Irish Brigade (Caldwell's Division, II Corps), causing it to halt momentarily.  Over to the right, the rest of the brigade ran through an open meadow and into the concentrated firepower of Brooke's Brigade, which had just taken position behind trees and boulders at the edge of Rose Woods.  "We then advanced about 60 yards and stopped behind some rocks, which however, did not afford much protection because they only projected from 12 to 18 inches above the surface . . . many fell along this line," recalled a soldier in the 10th Georgia.  The line buckled, and then fell back.
     Over on the left, the relentless pressure in the gap caused Kershaw's right-most regiment, the 7th South Carolina, to pull back.  The pressure was also too great for some of the 50th Georgia of Semmes's brigade, and they too fell back.  Some of the remaining members of the 50th Georgia became mingled with the 3rd South Carolina on Stony Hill, weakening the overall command structure.
     Caldwell's Division, which had valiantly held its ground in the Wheatfield.  As Semmes's Brigade followed, some of the men stopped at Rose Run for a quick drink, even though swirls of blood were evident in the water.  Continuing on, the brigade, together with Anderson's, Kershaw's, and Wofford's Brigades, smashed into Sweitzer's Brigade (Barnes's Division, V Corps) and then Burbank's (Ayres Division, V Corps).  In a fit of excitement, Pendeleton (50th Georgia) yelled to his men, "Let's show we can fight in Pennsylvania as in Virginia."
     Moving forward, the brigade approached Little Round Top.  But night was falling, and soon the men received orders to fall back.  That night, few men could sleep because of the groans of the wounded all around them.  The next day, the men cared for the wounded and helped bury the dead.  Later in the day, the brigade was moved to the righ to relieve Anderson's Brigade.  The men returned to their original position during the morning of July 4 and remained there until after nightfall, when they joined the retreat to Virginia.
     Semmes's Brigade played a small role during the battle.  After its commanding officer was killed, the brigade battled Brooks's Brigade, and ultimately assisted in the destruction of Sweitzer's Brigade in the Wheatfield.