Charles E. Hutchinson, a member of the “Vicksburg Volunteers,” Company H, 48th Mississippi Infantry, had the story of his Civil War service published long after his death. It was entitled “A Confederate Soldier’s History of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863,” and it detailed Hutchinson’s participation in one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War: Gettysburg.
At the time the diary was first published in 1896, Hutchinson had been dead for several years; many of his comrades in the Vicksburg Volunteers, however, were still alive, and they were the intended audience for this work, as the Post stated in its introduction to the diary: “Those of this command who are living today, will no doubt take some interest in their old comrade’s notes, and in memory, go over again the long, hard marches, and fight the fierce battles, and stand the dreary picket that they shared with him thirty-three years ago.”
It has been 116 years since Sergeant Hutchinson’s diary was first published, and the sentiments expressed by the Post are just as valid today as they were a century ago. The diary does not reveal any startling new information about the Battle of Gettysburg, but it does illustrate how one Mississippi sergeant of the rank and file viewed the battle.
Unlike most of his fellow soldiers in the Vicksburg Volunteers who were native Southerners, Hutchinson was from the prairie state, having been born in Illinois on July 22, 1832. He moved south in the early 1850s, and the first record of him in Mississippi is from March 5, 1856, when he married a widow, Mrs. Eleanor Calkins. By 1860 Charles and Eleanor, both 27 years old, were living in the town of Warrenton, seven miles south of Vicksburg. The couple operated a hotel in the town where they lived with their three children.
With the outbreak of war in 1861, Charles linked his fortune with his adopted state and joined the Vicksburg Volunteers on March 5, 1862. The company left Vicksburg in late April 1862, and was ordered to Virginia where they were made part of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Battalion. The 2nd Mississippi was a veteran unit that had been in Virginia since the summer of 1861 and had already been blooded in several battles.
[Editor’s note: In early 1863, the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Battalion was increased to regimental size by adding several new companies. The unit was renamed the 48th Mississippi Infantry, and went by this designation for the remainder of the war.]
The 2nd Mississippi Infantry Battalion belonged to the Department of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. Under his command, Sergeant Hutchinson first saw combat with the 2nd Mississippi at the battle of Seven Pines, Virginia, on May 31 – June 1, 1862. General Johnston was wounded in this engagement, and command of the army passed to General Robert E. Lee. Soon after taking over, Lee renamed his new command the Army of Northern Virginia, a name that grew to almost legendary status as they won victory after victory over the larger and better equipped Army of the Potomac.
Hutchinson participated in some of the most famous battles of the war while serving in the 2nd Mississippi: The Seven Days’, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, are just some of the battles in which he fought. He survived all of these bloody engagements, and by the time of the Gettysburg Campaign he had been promoted from 5th sergeant to 3rd sergeant.
When Sergeant Hutchinson began his diary on June 15, 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was already in motion, moving toward Pennsylvania in its second invasion of the north. General Lee planned to defeat the Army of the Potomac on Northern soil and force a negotiated end to the war. Such grand strategy meant little to Hutchinson, who had more pressing concerns, such as surviving the next battle, and worrying about the safety of his wife and children, who were caught up in the other great campaign that summer of 1863: Vicksburg.
The Diary of Charles E. Hutchinson
June 15, 1863 – Camped 1 mile from Chancellorsville. Marched 15 miles. Most of the day very hot. Forty of our brigade fainted; one died. Gave out myself.
[Editor’s note: The 48th Mississippi was part of a brigade commanded by Brigadier General Carnot Posey of Wilkinson County. Posey’s Brigade consisted of the following regiments: 12th Mississippi, 16th Mississippi, 19th Mississippi, and 48th Mississippi.]
June 16 – Marched 12 miles and camped to cook. Feel very unwell. Have heard nothing from home; dread the worst.
[Editor’s note: Hutchinson had good reason to be worried about the welfare of his family. When the Union navy approached Vicksburg in May 1862, his wife Eleanor took her children and fled to the Methodist Church in Redbone, 10 miles south of Vicksburg. After living in the church with other refugees for a time, she moved her family into Vicksburg, and thus the family was in the hill city during the 1863 siege.]
June 17 – Very hot. A great many men falling out. Camped yesterday two miles from Culpepper. Rested a great many times. Crossed Hazel River at sundown and camped. Took a good bath in the river.
June 18 – Started early. Very hot and sultry. A great many men falling out. Stopped at 11 o’clock to rest, cloudy – had a hard rain. Marched at 2 o’clock and camped 1 and a half miles from Flint Hill.
June 19 – Started early. Very good marching. Have heard splendid news from General Ewell. Stopped for a while 1 mile from Fort Royal. Crossed Southern Shenandoah that evening during the rain, and camped for the night. Raining very hard. Passed very unpleasant night.
Editor’s note: Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell was commander of the 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. On June 14, 1863, he defeated Union General Robert Milroy at the Battle of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley.]
June 20 – Moved early, 2 miles and stopped to cook. Rained very hard this evening. Marched about 10 miles and camped in a very nice place.
June 21 – Marched about 8 miles today and are now camped near Berryville. For the last three days have been marching through the finest country I ever saw. Have heard “bully” news from Mississippi, if it is true. Cannot hear from home. Am in hopes that letters may soon come through.
June 22 – Have written home today. Hope the letter will get there. Started very late. Marched 9 miles and camped. The country is the finest I have ever seen. The scenery is beautiful. Passed several small towns and camped at sundown in a nice grove.
June 23 – Started early today, cool and pleasant. Passed through Charlestown. We were greeted with cheers, the waving of flags and handkerchiefs. There are a great many ladies, and all true Southerners. Hurrah! for Charlestown. If I get sick, I want to go back there. Marched about 10 miles and camped to cook. Left Harpers Ferry on the right, free of Yankees.
June 24 – Started early and crossed the Potomac at 10 o’clock. Stopped to rest in sight of Sharpsburg. We are now fairly started into Maryland. Hope we will be more fortunate than before. Passed through Sharpsburg. Houses are closed. No Southern feeling here. At Keidersville Ditch, through which we passed, a son of General Wright was taken prisoner just ahead of our troops today. We are camped near Boonsboro.
[Editor’s note: At the Battle of Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862, the 2nd Mississippi Battalion had 5 men killed and 55 wounded.]
June 25 – Started very early, passed through Boonsboro – All Union. We captured several spies in town yesterday. We are marching through a fine country and are within ten miles of Pennsylvania. Passed through Franktown; a good many Southerners in it. We are camped in sight of Hagerstown.
June 26 – Passed through Hagerstown. All Union. Did not see but one Southerner – but she gave us a wave. Middletown, through which we passed, is on the Pennsylvania line. Two or three small specimens of Confederate flags were exhibited – A very pretty town. All rabid Union. Some very pretty girls – but they looked very black at us. Marched twelve miles and camped at 12 o’clock. Raining very hard all day. Miserable souls since we left the Pike in Maryland. There has been some “pressing.” It looks hard but the Army must live. I hope there will be no ladies insulted. Expect a fight in a day or two.
June 27 – Wrote home. Left camp about 8 o’clock. Marching in rear of division. Passed through Marion, a small village. Saw General Longstreet today for the first time on march. He rode into Chambersburg at the head of our brigade. The “Burg” is a very nice place of about ten thousand inhabitants. All Yankees and full of young men. Some of our boys haven’t acted right, are in hopes it will be stopped. Strict orders have been issued in regard to it. We are camped near the mountains.
[Editor’s note: Lieutenant General James Longstreet was the commander of the 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.]
June 28 – Remained in camp all day. We had preaching in camp, two young ladies were present. Foraging party sent out this morning, and returned with chickens, eggs, honey, butter and onions, for which they paid in Confederate money.
June 29 – Have orders to be ready to move at 7:30 o’clock. Orders countermanded. Good news from the brave old state of Mississippi. Grant has been repulsed again with great loss; reported at ten thousand. Hurrah! for Mississippi. Have had some rain today. Expect we will move in the morning.
June 30 – Still in camp. Have had some rain today. Have heard we are the “Reserve Division.” Some of our battalion came in today, that had been left behind sick. They report Yankees at Hagerstown.
July 1 – Left camp near Chambersburg early. Passed through Fayetteville and were soon climbing the mountains; and when at the top heard cannons ahead of us. Marched on, and found a fight progressing near the town of Gettysburg. A good many coming out wounded, and a large lot of prisoners. Hear that Hooker has been superseded by Meade, and that we have killed Gen. Reynolds. We have driven them some distance today. Have heard that we took six thousand prisoners.
[Editor’s note: Major General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac three days before the Battle of Gettysburg and replaced with Major General George G. Meade. Major General John F. Reynolds was commander of the 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac. He was killed on July 1 at Gettysburg.]
July 2 – We have moved to the front to support battery. Sent out skirmishers and threw up temporary rifle pits for our protection. In the evening our battalion was sent forward to support skirmishers, who were driving the foe. Advanced to within three hundred yards of battery, and could have taken it, if we had been supported, I think. Stayed out until dark and came back to pits. Our adjutant was killed. Loss to our company – (wounded) – Kain, shot in hand; McRaven, shot in ankle; Gibson, in the head, and Wiley, slightly in the hand. It seems impossible for men to advance in such a storm of shot and no more be killed. The shelling was terrific.
[Editors note: Posey’s Brigade was supporting Major William J. Pegram’s Battalion of Artillery, which was just in front of their position. The adjutant that Hutchinson mentions being killed was Martin R. Campbell, who had been appointed to the position on May 16, 1863. Private Charles M. Kain was wounded in action on July 2; he was permanently disabled and detailed to provost marshal duty in Georgia. Private D.J. McRaven was wounded in the ankle on July 2; he was permanently disabled and was never able to return to the regiment. Private David D. Gibson was wounded on July 2; after a short hospital stay he returned to the regiment and served until the surrender at Appomattox. Private John C. Wiley was wounded on July 2, and by the end of September he had recovered and was back with the regiment.
July 3 – We were awakened this morning by the picket firing, and soon after the cannon opened up, and then we had a lively time of it. About twelve lines of battle were formed, and advanced about 2 o’clock, but the enemy was too strongly posted. Before our lines advanced, our cannon opened, and were replied to by the enemy; and such a rattling of shell I never heard before. It was one continued roar for about two hours. I thought I had been under shell at Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg, but I never saw shelling until today. A great many horses of our battalion were killed. Do not know our loss in front. Expect it was heavy.
[Editor’s note: the 48th Mississippi had 6 men killed and 24 wounded in the fighting at Gettysburg.
July 4 – Heavy skirmishing today all along the lines. We were moved further to the right, and again threw up temporary rifle pits with bayonets and tin plates. Heavy rain most of the day. We will fall back tonight, and it will fall to our battalion to go on picket tonight.
July 5 – We relieved the 16th [Mississippi] pickets last evening and the artillery were withdrawn, and in an hour, all the troops in our front were gone. I did not like to be left but the night passed very quietly, with occasional picket firing. Rained hard all night. At the break of day, the order was given to fall back, and we went at a double quick to the rear and formed. Here had the hardest march I remember. Passing through Fairfield we soon struck the mountains 8 miles from Barnett’s Ford. Raining all the time and the roads knee deep in mud. After we got to the mountains, the narrow road was blocked with wagons, and such a march [I] have never seen. Our brigade was ahead of us, and we were trying to get up to it. We passed over and through the mountains and camped at night 1 mile from the Gap, and near a little town – Waterloo. Our wagons were not up, and we will have to forage some. We have marched between 20 and 22 miles. The enemy have made some captures from us in the mountains.
July 6 – Lay in camp until all the army had passed, and we were rear guard. marched all night. A private in the 12th was shot and killed by Sergeant Gregory of the 19th. He was drunk and will die for it. Marched until 8 o’clock and stopped to cook. All as hungry as wolves.
Editor’s note: Hutchinson had his facts mixed up; 1st Lieutenant Frank R. Gregory of Company B, 19th Mississippi Infantry, was killed by Private Richard G. Wilson of Company K, 12th Mississippi Infantry during the retreat from Gettysburg. Private Wilson was arrested and sent to Castle Thunder prison in Richmond. While in prison Wilson volunteered to serve in the Winder Legion for the defense of Richmond from Sheridan’s Raid in 1864. For his actions he was pardoned by Jefferson Davis and returned to his regiment. Private Wilson was captured at Petersburg on April 2, 1865.]
July 7 – In camp near Hagerstown cooking.
July 8 – Still in camp near Hagerstown. Rained very hard last night. Our tent fell down and we got very wet. Still raining. There have been but two or three days it did not rain since we crossed the Potomac.
July 9 – Still in camp. Today has been beautiful. Have heard all kinds of rumors today. Heard “that we had possession of New Orleans,” “that Grant is surrounded and his supplies cut off,” that “the enemy lost forty-two thousand men at Gettysburg,” and that “we have possession of Maryland Heights.” God grant it may all be true. The enemy came near getting our wagons today, but was driven off by our cavalry. I am in hopes that peace may soon be declared, and that we may be sent to our homes all right. Wise counsel must prevail; fighting will not make peace. Sent letter home today, and think it will go through this time.
July 10 – Pleasant day. Fighting in the direction of Franktown; we moved at 3 o’clock. Sent out foraging party for battalion. King went from our company. We passed through Hagerstown today. Have changed my opinion in regard to the place. There are a great many Southerners there, and some very pretty girls. We are now camped, I suppose near Franktown. Expect a fight tomorrow. “God defend the right.”
[Editor’s note: This ends Part 1 of “An Illinois Rebel at Gettysburg – I will post Part 2 very soon!]