York soldier wrote home from the Gettysburg battlefield
A Union artillery battery fires on the Gettysburg battlefield in this Scott Mingus photograph of a section of the Gettysburg Cyclorama.
The Rudisills remain one of the longstanding families in York County, Pennsylvania, dating back to the 18th century. During the Civil War, Abraham Rudisill served as a Union artilleryman in Battery G, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery. He was in his early 50s at the time of the summer campaign in June 1863 as the Army of the Potomac hustled northward to intercept Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Rudisill, a printer of religious materials by trade, frequently wrote home to various family members. On July 1, as his battery (commanded by Captain Bruce Ricketts) paused near Taneytown, Maryland, on its way north toward Pennsylvania, he began a letter to his wife back home in York.
He would add more information over the next few days.
Corporal Abraham Rudisill would be one of a handful of men from York County to fight in the battle of Gettysburg and leave a written record of his experiences.
“Wednesday, July 1, 1863 – near Taneytown MD
I mailed a letter for home today, addressed to Isaac. I just heard that some of our mails were captured and some of your letters to me may be among them; also one of my letters I sent, the last one before today, mailed at Fairfax Court House. I may perhaps soon know.
[7/2] This morning we left our camp near Taneytown. I had charge of the guard, etc. the latter part of last night. I was directed to call on our Lieutenant at 3 o’clock last night, which I did. The Captain at once bid me to tell our bugler to blow the first call. Our camp was soon on motion; roll call, packing up, hitching up, etc. and soon we were on our march to Gettysburg. Here we are halting and resting in a meadow, not far from the Baltimore Pike.
“Part of the road today was exceedingly hilly, stony, muddy, with the improvement of the land and buildings somewhat indifferent. Some of our men remarked they thought it worse than Virginia. We passed a village called Hiny, if I understand right. As we approached this place we saw indication of the engagement that had taken place yesterday; passing some prisoners; some men wounded; some wrecks or remains of batteries that had retired from battle, etc.
Soon after we arrived here, there was some cannonading a short distance in front of us. We are some 2500 yards in the rear of our extensive battle line. The Lord grant to be with our way-worn troops. Let us trust in thee. We made a very hurried march to this place. I was tired and weary.”
With those words, Rudisill put down his pen. Later that day, he picked it up again and continued his letter.
“Toward evening. Brisk cannon firing is going on immediately on our left. We hear the shells, which may soon reach us.
Near sundown. For some time past the most fierce battle raged and we were exposed as usual – and now while I am writing the battle goes on without intermission.
I wonder whether you do not hear the cannonading at Hanover and York. I am acting chief of caisson. We are behind the skirt of a woods. Our guns were just sent forward to enter the line in front; but no room for them, they returned.”
Ricketts’ Battery went into position on East Cemetery Hill on the afternoon of July 2 and took part in the repulse of two of Jubal Early’s Confederate brigades. Rudisill did not know these were some of the very same enemy soldiers which had invaded his native York County and caused fright for his own family, particularly a North Carolina brigade under Col. I. E. Avery which had occupied downtown York for two days early that same week.
On July 3, Abraham picked up his pencil again and described the cannonade preceding Pickett’s Charge.
“[7/3] I am writing while in the very front with our gun, just across from the building by which the cemetery or graveyard of Gettysburg is entered, at the edge of the town towards Baltimore. The minnie bullets of the sharp shooters are paying us visits. I hear them. Sometimes they strike near me.
The battle rages. We have been firing much with our batteries. A number of horses were killed; some of our men wounded and killed.
Later in the afternoon. After a most terrific cannonading and continued vast rattling of small arms, we heard heavy cannonading far to our right front, which seemed to be some of our troops coming to our aid. Soon firing gradually ceased, more or less, and now while I write at the side of our cannon number 1, there is comparatively a great calm. Perhaps the Rebels are charging or falling back. We will see; but the storm may rage again ere long. Lord keep us.
Praise the Lord for His goodness. I see men reading the Testament. Just in front of me cannons are booming; now and then a shell passes here, sometimes cutting the limbs of trees. Musketry is also rattling most briskly. Lord grant us the victory if consistent with thy will. For thine is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory. Amen”
On Independence Day, July 4, 1863, Rudisill continued his letter, informing his wife about the events of that day and celebrating what now was a major Union victory.
“[7/4] Praise the good Lord for the great deliverance and victory He has given our troops, though undeserving and unworthy as we are. Oh, it is indescribable what we passed through since I wrote yesterday. The line of battle was the Rebel battery around us on three sides, our batteries inside.
Such a cannonading took place on both sides as was scarce ever witnessed in similar circumstances in the annals of warfare. I was busily engaged in preparing for the firing; yet amid the mighty thundering of this vast collection of artillery, actively engaged, I found delight in praise and relief in prayer.
The papers will describe some of the scenes I participated in. Here I was in the very front trying to do what I could.
Your affectionate Husband,
The middle-aged corporal was not finished however, adding a lengthy postscript.
Dear Friends, if you would have been with me, you might have seen the poor horse limping, bleeding, wounded in the most shocking manner passing where I was – with entrails, guts all hanging out on both sides. And I heard the poor horse actually uttering a shriek or clear voice of agony. Dead horses all around.
But oh, what is still more horrible, one of my dying comrades, by whose side I stood, drank water from a canteen a few moments before he entered the spirit land – his entrails hanging out of his belly, having been struck by a piece of shell.
This morning and last night nearly all quiet. A commissioned officer who was in town said that the most and heaviest cannonading was from the hill we are on [East Cemetery Hill]. He asked if we held the hill all the time. We did hold the hill all the time was our reply.
Our troops entered Gettysburg this morning. It is described as looking awful. Women and children sought refuge cellars. This morning as our men came from town, they came out saying this is the happiest “Fourth of July” they ever saw.
The Lord be with you. Amen. Oh, how I wonder how you all are and what you experienced. What were your hopes and fears; what you knew or conjectured about me. Sometimes I thought I knew you were praying for me.
What little I slept was on the ground, except for a small bit of rag or gun blanket; no covering on me; all had to lay down at our posts ready for any emergency in a moment. I am now at the grave of [Private Elijah] Anderson, one of our men who was killed on the 2nd in battle. On the same day I had him on my guard list and posted him on guard, on the first relief. I am taking a walk in the cemetery.”
In 1936, a descendant named James Jefferson Rudisill published Abraham’s Civil War letters and reminiscences in a book entitled The Day of Our Abraham, 1811-1899. The York Printing Company printed the book. A copy is in the library of the York County Heritage Trust.