Fall 1996

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


A Grand Celebration of Fireworks

An Account of the Battle of Gettysburg
by Sergeant Edgar D. Haviland,
Co. E. 76th N. Y. Volunteers of Dundee, N. Y.

introduced by

Richard F. Palmer

Recent issues of the Crooked Lake Review carried an account of A Newspaperman's View of Gettyburg, focusing primarily on the 76th Regiment, New York Volunteers. The following is an account by a member of that Regiment, Sgt. Edgar D. Haviland of Dundee, Yates County. Haviland paints a vivid picture of the desperate fight that took place during the first infantry clash at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1863. This brief encounter was between Cutler's Brigade of which the 76th was a part and the General Joseph Davis's Mississippi - North Carolina Brigade which set the tone for the following two days. The 76th lost more than 60 percent of its men during the battle, including 32 killed. Co. E alone lost seven men killed or mortally wounded.

Haviland's letter is considered to be very accurate in its content. But it also brings up one point that does not jibe with other existing accounts. In the Official Report written after the battle, published in the regimental history written in 1867, as well as in a speech given by John Bachelder at the dedication of the 76th monument in 1888, it is stated that Major Andrew J. Grover fell within a few minutes of combat while attempting to refuse his flank by performing a front to rear movement.

If this was the case, then it would have been impossible for Haviland to have had a brief conversation with Grover after they retreated back into the nearby woods. While it is possible Haviland could have been mistaken, or made up a story, it doesn't seem probable and it is just possible he is correct. In looking back over the known accounts of Major Grover's death, all of them traced back to one source—the Official Report of Captain John E. Cook who took over command, which was written on July 11, 1863, following the battle. Without further evidence one cannot dismiss the Haviland account.

Edgar D. Haviland was born about 1844. He was raised in or near the town of Dundee in Yates County, New York. Edgar's father died when he was just two years old and in 1848 his mother remarried Mr. James Rew, "under whose supervision he grew up to manhood." At 15 years of age Edgar went to work to help support his family. In January, 1862, he joined the newly formed 76th New York Volunteer Infantry and was enrolled in Company E. Throughout his service he continued to support his family by sending home his pay. "He proved himself to be an active and good soldier" and on January 1, 1863, was promoted to first sergeant. On July 1 at the Battle of Gettysburg, Edgar was "unexpectedly" placed in command of his company when all it's officers were killed or wounded. "It was said by those who knew" him that he "acquitted himself in a brave and fearless manner."

Letters from the Battlefield

In this letter, written to his mother just one month after the battle, Edgar describes his experience.

Headquarters 76th NY Vol.
Near Rappahannock Station VA

Aug. the 11th 1863

Dear Mother

I have just recieved your letter and was very happy the letter came for I did not know whare to write and was very glad to hear you was well and had a good time in New York. You said you was thare when the riot broke out [New York draft riots]. I suppose you was most scared to death. I would like to have been thare with our Regiment. Those devils would thought that thare was no use talking for a while. we would not commenced with blank catridges on them but would gave them the balls if they was so ancious for armies.

Now I will comence and tell you all about our campaign this summer. You know we was at Pratts Point last winter about two months. We recieved marching orders for the Battle of Chanslersville and went thare in one day. It was a mighty hard march through the woods and over hills and through vallies. We arrived on the battlefield about One O'clock. Thare was a great many men engaged when we came thare so we was on the reserve. The Fifth, Forteenth and several other regiments ware in the front.

That day thare was the hardest musketry that I ever saw in my life. The boys ware all ancious to get into it. Just then our old Brigadier rode up to us and said "if those regulars break and run you brave fellows must open the ranks and let them through and take the front but they should hold their ground." So we did not get in the musketry that time.

Then about night we found out that the Rebs was leaving their position and trying to get in the rear of us and then we fell back to the Rappahannock River and could see the Rebs trying to cross but it was no go. we went acrossed and headed them and drove them back.

Then we fell back to the camp called camp near White Oak Church. Thare we remained thare for one month. We heard after a while that the Johnneys ware in Pensilvania. We recieved marching orders the next day to find them. We marched night and day for eight or ten days. Came mighty tough for us. We arrived at Gettysburg on the first of July and we had a grand celebration of fireworks. We was on the head of the colum that day and our Regiment was on the lead of all of the troops which caused us to get in the battle. The first day we had a great many killed and wounded from cannons before we got into the musketry. The men fell like sheep on all sides of me. When we first came on line thare was a Corporal hit with a cannon ball and fell wright back into my arms. In such times a man dont have much time to take care of the men so I threw him down. No sooner had I done that than thare was another one fell by my side which was a Dundee boy whose name was James B. Bush of Barrington. His fathers name is Thomas Bush. I was sorry the bullet hit him fore he was my tent mate. He was a fine little fellow about my size [Bush would die of his wounds on August 22, 1863]. In a few minutes our Captain [Robert B. Everett] was killed and then the Lieutennant [Phillip Keeler] was in command of the Company. It was not long before he recieved a wound that will make him loose his leg [Keeler would die of his wounds on August 2, 1863, at a hospital in Albany, New York]. Thare was no commissioned officers and then I took the Company in hand myself and maid it go first best. Just as I took command of the Company Sergeant Walter B. Wood of Barrington was killed. He used to live with Carmens folks and likewise with Selea Baileys folks and a few minutes I heard some one say that B. F. Carpenter was killed [Benjamin F. Carpenter, Corporal of Co. A]. That maid me feel like as if I would like to speak a word to him before he was gone fore good so I went down the line to find him and found him but he was dead and so [h]e could not speak to me. I had it in my mind to feel in his pockets. I know he had ten dollars but the next regiment [56th Pennsylvania] was ordered to move back to the woods which was about ten rods distance. I saw they was going and I new we would go to for the rebs had us flanked on three sides. So I hastened to my command and just then we was ordered to the rear to the woods. The Major in command of the regiment ordered me to give my gun to one of the men in the ranks but that made me mad for I wanted to shoot with the rest of the boys and I asked him if he would not let me keep it and he said "you must be a d-d fool, you have got your hands full now without a gun." So he said "you are a brave little devil." Those are just the words he used and afterwards he was killed. He was a Gentleman and a Grand Officer. His name was (A. J. Grover) [Andrew Jackson Grover, 31-year-old commanding officer of the 76th NY].

Now I will tell you all what I think. I think I will get a commission as a Second Lieutant, that I have been working fore fore three months. Dont tell Pap of this fore he will say it is all a dam lie. This is all at present. Write soon

Your Son

Near Rappahannock Station Va

Dec. the 17th 1863

Dear Brothers

It being a rainy day I sit down to write you a few lies to let you know that I have not forgoten you. Mother said in her last letter that you wanted me to write to you once in a while so I though this would be the best opportunity that I would get. I am now at Brigade Head Quarters doing duty. It is a mighty nice place. We do not have to go on picket or on drill.

We are drilling the bauynet exercise. It is a fund thing to us. There is men picked out of each Regiment to come to head quarters. There was ten men and two corporals and one sergeant out of each Regiment. And I was the only man in our Regiment that stayed and I think I will stay here until my time of enlistment. If I do enlist again I will get a furlough for thirty days. Then I will come home and see you boys. I wonder if William is on the Old Mill Pond Skating.

Jimmy you must tell Sam and Charley that I am coming home to see them. I will have to stop now. Write soon.

From E. D. Haviland

Direct your letters to
E. D. Haviland
Headquarters, 2d Brigade,
1st Division, 1st Army Corps
Army of the Potomac

This is just such a house as I live in [drawing of house].

As for Haviland, he never got the commission to second lieutenant he had wished for. In January, 1864, he re-enlisted as a "veteran," and on May 5 he was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness. He was only 20 at the time. The spelling is as it appears in the original letters, in the National Archives, to maintain historical accuracy.


Obituary found in Edgar D. Haviland's pension file at the National Archives from an unknown New York newspaper.

Edgar D. Haviland

Was a native of the town of Washington [illegible] His father died when he was quite young, and his mother afterward married Mr. James Rew, under whose supervision he grew up to manhood. In 1861 he enlisted under Capt. H. W. Pierce, of company A, 76th N. Y. V., but finally in making up the regiment and filling the companies, Edgar was enrolled in company E. In this position he went to Virginia. He proved himself an active and good soldier, and participated in the various duties of camp and field life, and was promoted to the post of first Sergeant. In this capacity he went to Gettysburg, where his regiment was among the first who became engaged on that memorable field. Here his Captain and Lieuts. were either killed or wounded and Ed found himself unexpectedly in command of his company, and it is said by those who knew, acquitted himself in a brave and fearless manner.

After this, he continued in the service until January, 1864, when he was honorably discharged, and re-enlisted as a veteran, upon which he received a furlough and came home on a visit to his friends. With the expiration of his furlough he returned to his post, and finally on the opening of the spring campaign, met the foes of good government in the Wilderness of Virginia, and on the 5th of May, 1864, fell on his post a martyr to the cause of right and justice. We are not able to give particulars; all we know is he fell on the field, and his warfare is ended. He was 20 years of age, and died just as manhood was developing his powers, on the altar of liberty and for his country.

© 1996, Richard F. Palmer
A Newspaperman's View of Gettyburg
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR