Choctaw Confederates
This week in the Civil War for September 7, 1864

Capt. Frank W. Nelson

Capt. Frank W. Nelson, Now 93, Vividly Recalls The Charge That Made Immortal The Names Of Those Gallant Men In Gray Who Dared The Impossible 

  • Richmond Times Dispatch  September 28, 1936

Fifteen thousand men took part in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Today, so far as is known, only one of those men is living. He is Captain Frank W. Nelson of A Company, Fifty-sixth Virginia Infantry, Colonel W. D. Stewart, Garnett’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps.

Captain Nelson is 93 years old (he was born Christmas Day, 1843), but he is erect, and he can still tell in thrilling detail the story of that glorious display of bravery on July 3, 1863, that ended in wanton bloodshed. “My division is almost extinguished,” Pickett wrote his wife a few days after the battle. “I was ordered to take a height, which I did, under the most withering fire I have ever known, and I have seen many battles.”

Although he spent much time defending his chief, General Longstreet, Captain Nelson’s account of the famous charge is graphic and awe-inspiring: The deadly stillness of the hours of waiting before a battle, “when the men lay in the tall grass in the rear of the artillery line, the July sun pouring its scorching rays almost vertically down upon them … the awful silence of the vast battlefield was broken by a cannon shot that opened the greatest artillery duel of the world.” All the horror of this losing battle with death can be felt as one listens to this aged man tell his story.

"Had we taken Cemetery Hill (the object of the attack), we could never have held it. Those who reached stone wall saw the Federal reserves in countless thousands in the rear of the defending line. Our failure to a great extent can be laid to General Lee’s one fault—he left too much to his subordinate officers. Our brigade reached Gettyburg at twilight of the 2d, and orders were issued for us to cook three days’ rations. It did not take this to tell us that a great battle impended. We had breakfast before daylight on the 3d and by dawn were in line, ready for whatever came.

"We were in Peach Orchard by 5 o’clock, and lay there for many hours. The Federal cannon on Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, which we could have taken the previous evening without firing a shot, enfiladed [sic] our column, doing much damage. Of course we had no way of replying to these shots. The three Virginia brigades of Kemper, Garnett and Armistead were touching each other. The first named contained about as many as the other two combined. The absence of General Stuart and his cavalry had much to do with our failure.

From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

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