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Franklin County: Diary of Samuel Cormany (1863)

About Samuel Cormany:
Samuel Cormany enlisted in the Union Army not long after moving to Chambersburg from Canada with his wife, Rachel. His diary provides a graphic account of a soldier's participation in the battle of Gettysburg. Samuel survived the war, and afterwards he and his wife moved to Missouri to live on a farm.


June 1863

June 30, 1863

Tuesday. We moved out early to within a few miles of Westminster and drew up in line for battle--our advance moved on--and the Reg't supported--met little resistance in taking the City--Took 8 prisoners.

The Regiment halted close to the City--We got some eatables-- The people were ecstatic to see our troops driving out and following up the "Johnies." They did all in their power for us--The Rebs had acted awful meanly--Took everything like hats, boots, shoes, clothing &c--The streets and fence corners were strewn with their discarded old ones. Some of them, yes many, were almost able to join in the march, being so full of lice[1]--Soon we were called on to muster for pay--still near town--and at noon took up the march Manchester--I never saw more cherries, ripe and ripening, and better crops then are to be seen hereabouts--Lieut Barnes & I got a fine supper at Mr. Bingamins--Fine ladies about. Exultant on our arrival, and almost worshipped us as their protectors- i.e., our soldiers--For the night we picketed and laid ready--I stood Post two hours--

July 1863

July 1, 1863

Wednesday. I had a fine chicken breakfast--and a feast of other good things. Took up march for Hanover. Very fine rich country--and such fine water--Settlers are Old Style People. Many Dunkerds. We were given any amount to eat all along the way--The Rebs who had passed this way acted very meanly--All around--demanding setters to pay money to exempt horses from being taken and barns and houses from being burned--One old man said he paid $100 to exempt 2 horses-- another paid $23 to save his horse--Still another--$100 to save his barn. We found this hideous thing to be quite common[2]--We struck Hanover at dark. Found N.C. R. R. badly torn up[3]--During the day we heard heavy canonading--and later musketry firing--in the direction of Gettysburg. Rumor was, "Theres a Battle on at Gettysburg" and was not hard to believe--Some of our Cavalry had fought desperately here today, early--Charging into the enemy's rear and flanks-- Killed some 30 rebs and hustled large forces on their way. So they had to abandon their dead and some of their wounded[4]--We lay on arms in a field for the night--we were well fed, but awfully tired and sleepy--A shower of rain failed to awaken me--I was lying in a furrow, an old furrow. I partially awakened in the night feeling coolish on my lower side--but didn't fully awake. In the morning I discovered that water had run down the furrow--and I had "dam'd" it somewhat and so was pretty wet from below, while my poncho had kept me dry from the top--

July 2, 1863

Thursday. More or less Picket firing all night--We were aroused early, and inspection showed a lot of our horses too lame and used up for good action--So first, our good mounts were formed for moving out, and were soon off--with the Brigade and took Reb. Genl. Steward by surprise on the Deardorf Farm--on right and rear of the army line--where Steward was expected to at least annoy the rear of Genl Mead-- But our boys charged him--and after severe fighting dealt him an inglorious defeat and later in the day came in and lay on arms in the rear of Meads right--While our mounted men were paying attention to Genl Steward, we fellows had our horses cared for and were marched down to the right of the main line--to occupy a gap and do Sharpshooting--at long range, with our Carbines--we soon attracted attention, and later an occasional shell fell conspicuously close-- but far enough to the rear of us so we suffered no serious harm. Towards noon firing became more general and in almost all directions- -and we were ordered to our horses--and joined our returned heroes, and lay in readiness for any emergency--The general battle increaced in energy--and occasional fierceness--and by 2 P.M. the canonading was most terrific and continued til 5 P.M. and was interspersed with musketry--and Charge--yells and everything that goes to making up the indescribable battle of the best men on Earth, seemingly in the Fight to the Finish--At dark, our Cav Brig--2nd Brig 2" Div--was moved to the left--many wounded came in--Taken as a whole from all one can see from one point--it seems as tho our men--The Union Army--is rather overpowered and worsted[5]--Lay on arms to rest-- Little chance to feed and eat.

July 3,1863

Friday. Canonading commenced early- -and battle was on again in full intensity at 10 ock we were ordered to the Front and Center, but immediately removed to the right of the Center--had some skirmishing. Pretty lively--Our squadron almost ran into a Rebel Battery with a Brigade of Cavalry maneuvering in the woods. They didn't want to see us, but moved left-ward and we held the woods all P-M.--All seemed rather quiet for several hours--From 1 1/2 til 4 P.M- there was the heaviest canonading I ever have heard--One constant roar with rising and falling inflections[6]--

Our Boys opened 54 guns at the same time on the Rebel lines and works from a little conical hill, Cemetary Ridge. We were picketing in the rear and on the right of it--Many shells came our way--some really quite near--But it is wonderful how few really made our acquaintance.

July 4, 1863

Saturday. The great battle closed and quieted with the closing day--Some firing at various points--

Our Regt layed on arms with Pickets out--on the ground where we had put in most of the day--Rather expecting attack momentarily--Rained furiously during the night--We had fed, eaten, and were standing "to horse" when about 6 ock NEWS CAME--"The Rebs are falling back!" and "Our Forces are following them" and our Regt went out towards Hunterstown reconnoitering. We found some confederates who had straggled, or were foraging, not knowing yet what had happened and was taking place--Of course, our Boys took them in--Making a little detour I captured two. Sergt. Major J. T. Richardson and Private Cox 9th Va Cav--disarming them and bringing them in--I guarded them--while the Regt gathered in some others--P.M. Captain Hughes came along and paroled them--and we were ordered to camp near Hanover--where we first lay on arriving near Gettysburg-- Evening awfully muddy and disagreeable--I saw much of the destructiveness of the Johnies today--

July 5, 1863

Sunday. Rained awfully during the night. I got very wet--

Early we took up the march for Chambersburg[7]--Crossing the battlefield--Cemitary Hill--The Great Wheat Field Farm, Seminary ridge--and other places where dead men, horses, smashed artillery, were strewn in utter confusion, the Blue and The Grey mixed--Their bodies so bloated--distorted--discolored on account of decomposition having set in--that they were utterly unrecognizable, save by clothing, or things in their pockets--The scene simply beggars description--Reaching the west side of the Field of Carnage-- we virtually charged most of the way for 10 miles--to Cashtown-- Frequently in sight of the Rebel rear guard--taking in prisoners--in bunches--We captured some 1,500 wounded men, and 300 stragglers--we went as far as Goodyears Springs, where we rested for the night. (I had to guard a Reb all night.)

July 6, 1863

Monday. Had a good breakfast. Turned my prisoner over to others We took up the march--via Fayeteville for Quincy-- I told Corp. Metz I intended going on--To Chambersburg--To see wife and Baby--and would report in the morning again. He understood and I slipped away--and was soon making time for home--I got a fine "10 oclock piece" at Heintzelmans--on approaching Chambersburg I was assured there were still squads of rebs about town--Near town I was met by town folk inquiring about the battle. I was the first "blue coat" they had seen--and the first to bring direct news of the Enemy's defeat--as communications had been cut. As I struck the edge of town, I was told "The Rebel rear-guard had just left the Diamond." So I ventured out 2nd Street and ventured to strike Main near where Darling and Pussy lodged--and behold They were at the door--had been watching the Reb Rear leaving town--and Oh! The surprise and delight thus to meet after the awful battle they had been listening to for passing days--My horse was very soon stabled. My Cavalry outfit covered with hay--and myself in my citazens clothes--So should any final "rear" come along, I would not be discovered--To attempt to describe my joy and feelings at meeting and greeting my dear little family must prove a failure--We spent the P.M and evening very sweetly and pleasantly, but only we had a few too many inquiring callers.


{1} Many sources agree that the people of Maryland and Pennsylvania were repelled by the appearance of the ragged, unkempt, and poorly supplied Confederates.

{2} See Rachel's diary for numerous references to this same practice in and around Chambersburg.

{3} The Northern Central Railroad, which ran north from Baltimore to York, Pa., included a spur line through Hanover to Gettysburg.

{4} Stuart's main cavalry force had made a long loop below, around, and now almost back through the Union army. Just as he was about to reunite with the main Confederate army, Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick engaged his troops and forced them to make another long circular detour, during which they were again attacked, and Stuart himself was nearly captured. This forced Lee to suffer a last critical day without the bulk of his cavalry.

{5} Cormany fought most of the second day at Gettysburg beside infantry forces on the right wing of the Union position. Two Confederate brigades had temporarily reached the top of Cemetery Hill, and Southern troops were entrenched for renewed attack at the base of Culp's Hill. The Confederates very nearly turned the Union right flank, but Confederate commanders, deprived of cavalry reconnaissance never fully realized how much they had weakened the Union line in Cormany's area. Consequently, though battered, even beaten, Union defenders remained at the end of the day basically where their commanders had placed them. Glenn Tucker, High Tide at Gettysburg: The Campaign in Pennsylvania (Indianapolis, 1958), pp. 282-306. Samuel's name appears on the Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg.

{6} The Battle of Gettysburg reached a climax on July 3, when a Confederate effort to break the center of the Union line failed disastrously. That effort, which featured the massive infantry offensive known as Pickett's Charge, began with what still remains the largest artillery duel ever waged in North America. The sound of that duel, reverberating through the valleys of south central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland and back and forth among layered air inversions, was said to have been audible 140 miles away. Jack McLaughlin, Gettysburg: The Long Encampment (New York, 1963), p. 136. Later, Union field gunners played a crucial role in repelling the infantry offensive and inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating Confederates after their attack had been turned.

{7} When Lee decided to retreat, he divided his forces into two main columns. The first headed west through Cashtown, Greenwood, and Fayetteville to Chambersburg, where they would turn south down the Cumberland Valley. The other proceeded directly southwest from Gettysburg toward Hagerstown. The 16th Pennsylvania pursued the first of those columns in the direction of their own home town.

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