Beneath a dandelion-shadowed grave at the Gettysburg Military Cemetery lies a long-forgotten Washington County lad wounded in a useless skirmish on July 3, 1863.
His headstone identifies him as “W.H. Smith.” (first line) of “CO. K. REGT. 7.” (second line). He’s a Smith — plenty of them in Maine, of course — who served in Co. K, 7th Maine Infantry Regiment.
There is more to this particular Smith, however.
Here, far from the sweeping tides and strikingly beautiful shores of coastal Washington County, lies Pvt. William H. Smith, 18 and single when he joined the 7th Maine on Dec. 22, 1862. Bloodied at Marye’s Heights during Second Fredericksburg, the under-strength regiment arrived at Gettysburg with six companies (B, C, D, F, I, and K) and 261 officers and men around 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 2, 1863.
Companies A, E, G, and H had gone to Maine to recruit men. That job would prove a bit tough, because the Lincoln Administration had launched the draft, which some men were too busy dodging to enlist.
The 7th came with the 3rd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Thomas Neill) of the 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. Albion Howe) of VI Corps (Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick). Smith’s company commander was 1st Lt. Andrew B. Benson of Old Town, and Co. K was so short on warm bodies that the 7th’s commander, Lt. Col. Selden Connor of Fairfield, sent 2nd Lt. Augustus F. Emery of Fairfield over from Co. E to help Benson.
Arriving at Powers Hill “considerable in rear of the Union centre,” the 7th Maine boys encountered “disheartened stragglers from the front,” where Confederate infantry participating in James Longstreet’s flank attack had shattered Dan Sickles and III Corps. “A great cloud of smoke hung over the brow of a slight eminence in front of the Seventh’s line,” a 7th Maine historian recorded.
Friday morning, Connor took the 7th Maine and the 43rd New York Infantry east across Rock Creek and formed on the right flank of XII Corps, which held the right flank of the Army of the Potomac. Neill and his cavalcade, accompanied by Connor, soon “rode up to the brow of a slight elevation in the front.”
Noticing “a small house” on a nearby “eminence,” Neill suggested that Connor occupy the building. Suddenly “Confederate skirmishers in and around the house” fired “a sharp volley,” and Neill changed his suggestion to a command.
Noticing a stone wall about 100 yards downhill from where he sat on his horse, Connor ordered the 7th Maine lads to run to the wall “as quickly as possible.”
The Confederates fired when the Mainers appeared and continued firing “in a sharp skirmish to the left.” The 7th Maine’s chapter in Maine at Gettysburg indicates this shooting cost the regiment two men “killed or mortally wounded, and five wounded.”
Add to that number Pvt. Folsom Dutton of Co. C, who went “missing” on July 2.
Co. K lost three men wounded: Smith, Corp. Richard Sculley, and Pvt. Wesley Plissey. Sculley died on July 4, William H. Smith on Sept. 1.
Sources: Return of Company K, Seventh Regiment Infantry, 1863 Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, Appendix D, p. 281; Seventh Maine Regiment, Maine at Gettysburg, pp. 431-433, 438
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Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.