The 2nd South Carolina's Advance on Bigelow's Battery at Gettysburg
by Gordon Thorsby
Marvel Comics had their Avengers but in the Civil War, South Carolina had Company H of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, better known as “The Invincibles.” In South Carolina, companies of enlistees for the war didn’t start with the firing on Ft. Sumter. They started on 12/20/1860 with the state's secession but the “Invincibles did form on April 28, 1861 outside the Lancaster Courthouse on April 28, 1861. After over two years, some of its bloodiest fighting took place in the Wheatfield of the George Rose farm near Gettysburg.
Kershaw’s Brigade of South Carolinians formed in the woods behind Cabell’s battery that sent rounds up Emmitsburg Rd toward the Trostle farm. On the one-two-three signal from the battery, Kershaw’s men passed through the now waiting gunners to proceed Emmiitsburg Road. As the line crossed the road, Hartt’s 12-lb. Federal Napoleons began tearing up the ground that the South Carolina lines crossed through and became victims of. The 8th SC, on the left, began dissolving from canister coming from Batt G 1st New York the instant they hit the road. “Union artillerists enjoyed a perfect left front enfilade down much of Kershaw’s long brigade line” with the left having to endure most of the fire."
The Union’s flank appeared to be open and so was Kershaw’s . His brigade was an unsupported force so three regiments became the left wing and the Second was part of the left. The Second crossed at approximately the entrance to the Rose farm lane. Advancing through the woods, the wing eventually wheeled slightly left and advanced at the double quick to the Federal line of batteries near an orchard along the Wheatfield Rd.
Col. John D. Kennedy led the Second while on foot as were all of Kershaw’s regimental commanders. Kershaw wanted the guns taken and the three regiments charged across the open ground to the awaiting batteries of guns. Private John Coxe of Co. G explained. “Well, just as our left struck the depression in the ground every Federal cannon let fly at us with grape. O the awful deadly surging sounds of those little black balls as they flew by us through us, between our legs, and over us! Many of course were struck down.” Still the gray line kept moving forward to the guns now at a double-quick. With an order to adjust the line, the batteries responded with canister and Kershaw reported that “the bravest and best men of Carolina fell.” Kennedy was hit twice by grape in the hip and in one hand and went down. Kershaw’s left regiments were taking a beating from infantry regiments as the Confederate line advanced across the field.
Coxe continued, “but our spunk” was up and the men knew that they were already dead and that the carnage didn't matter. Kershaw’s three left regiments were sticking out in the wind, and now received attention of many of the Napoleons in the orchard and they used canister. Clark’s Battery was to the left of Second SC. Sgt. William Clairville of the battery told his crew as they fired as quickly as possible, “This is the stuff to feed them; feed it to their bellies, mow them down.”
The thought that any soldier of Co. H or the regiment survived is miraculous but many did. While observing before he must work, Surgeon Simon Baruch witnessed from a safe distance as “shot and shell cut down 400 of our men… when orders came to proceed to the field hospital I lost no time in reporting.” many from Co. H did not leave the field. Private Mack Horton took a wound of grape that day but was able to retreat with the army on July 4. Older brother, Bill, was not so lucky as he was hit with grape in the abdomen. He was left on the field and survived until July 5 where he expired near the Rose Farm. Lt. George Brasington was also took grape in the chest. Not able to be moved, he was made as comfortable as possible. He was buried on the Rose Farm. Lt. Marion Hinson died on 7/3 and was also buried on the farm by Union soldiers.
Bigelow reportedly fired two tons of ammunition that day. He ran out of canister and began using shell. Bigelow left four of his six guns. The men of the second South Carolina earned the guns with their blood but could not take them. Barksdale's 21st Mississippi finally took the guns.
Pvt. Jimmy Small had his arm ripped away by a load of canister and survived for ten days until dying in one of the Union hospitals. John Kennedy survived and fought for the entire war and through as many as ten other wounds. Captain Amos McManus, a veteran of the Mexican War, led Co. H though the war and his likeness is on the statue in front of the Courthouse where the company formed that day in 1861. Pvt. George Kennington was a color bearer for much of the war and he survived; don’t know how.
The regiment’s next stop was in Georgia and Chickamauga.
Coxe, The Battle of Gettysburg,” Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXI.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Vol XXVII.
The Second Day at Gettysburg, by Shultz, David L. And Mingus Sr., Scott L. Savas Beatie, 2015, pp311-312.