Prologue- Blood for Boots

Something was not right, thought Colonel Robert Nixon of the 78th North Carolina, as he and the rest of Pettigrew's Brigade marched in a column of threes up the Chambersburg pike towards the small town of Gettysburg.

The time was about ten o'clock in the morning, the sun nowhere near it's highest, yet still the heat was almost unbearable for the soldiers who marched this day, with only the unhappy thought in their minds that the day could only get hotter.

It was made worst for the men that marched at the end of the column, the 78th amongst them, who collected most of the dust that was beaten up by the boots of the leading battalions, this made each man's face caked with sweat streaked dust, their eyes sting painfully and their mouths as dry as the road they marched on. The dust also caused the men, who still retained there original gray uniforms and not the butternut brown that was cheaper to produce, to turn to a dull brown.

Everyman there thought, for more than the first time, at some point how strange it was to be in a countryside in which crops of corn and cattle hadn't been taken away to feed armies. They also noticed that trees were not scarred by missed bullets and the fields which they passed didn't show signs of where cannon shells had fallen. The soldiers in grey would almost be able to believe that the people who lived here didn't know that a war was being fought if it was not for the fact that they had passed numerous farmhouses that had had its shutters nailed shut and in which it seemed that there were not living soul present.

The reason that they were marching towards the town this day was because it was rumored that there was a supply of boots in the town which the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia desperately needed. For after almost two years of war, which had seen the United States of American torn in half, the Rebel armies' boots, like most of its equipment were in ill repair.

General Heth, their Division leader, seeing an opportunity to equip his men with boots and any other supplies that the town might hold, had sent Pettigrew and the 3000 men of his Brigade to march the eight miles from Cashtown to Gettysburg to search the town. They would pay for everything that took from the place, though admittedly it would be in the confederate paper dollars which everyone knew wasn't worth the match to burn it with.

Nixon tried to brush the dust from his face but to no avail, he was six feet tall, with long brown hair, blue eyes and a suntanned face that had a scar which ran across his right cheek; this had been caused by a Yankee bullet at the battle of Gaines' Mill over a year ago. He was dressed in a patched threadbare grey uniform jacket and trouser with yellow stripes down each side. At his side he had a holstered British 44. Caliber Webley revolver and slung on his shoulder was a Springfield rifle, which was a single-shot, muzzle-loading gun that was detonated by a percussion cap that was one of many that had been capture off the union. He was often mistaken for a private soldier because his uniform's collar didn't have the three bronze stars which were the badge of his rank, a sword or a sash. These could get a man killed for they were the first things that Yankee sharpshooters look for when they were picking a target.

Like most officers though he owned a horse, but he never rode when better men walked, so a private from A Company was leading it by reins and the majority of his men seeing that he walked, when he could have rode, didn't grumble. The ones that did, who wished they were cold when they were hot and hot when they were cold, made sure that they were out of his earshot before they did for he was not a man that many wanted to cross lightly.

Trying to distract himself from the growing unease that he was feeling, which he could find no reason for, Nixon thought of today's date, Tuesday 30th of June 1863. He smiled, for the second time the invaders had become the invaded. For Robert E Lee, the south's commanding General had taken the war to the north by invading the untouched fields of Pennsylvania six days ago after he had found out that the union army had crossed the Potomac river into Maryland, giving Virginia the much needed rest that would enable her to recover from the battles that had been fought over her soil.

He remembered the first time the confederacy had invaded the north, that invasion had ended with the bloodiest day of fighting beside the Antietam Creek, where the confederate army numbering around forty thousand men had held off a union army of about eighty thousand, the army had taken a beating and although it had given one as well they had been forced to retreat the next day. This time the Union would pay, Lee would see to that.

The 78th would as well. Nixon looked at the 489 men of his Veteran battalion with pride, their uniforms might look little better than beggar's rags but he had been pleased to see that every one of their rifles had shown no traces of rust when he inspected them before they had left this morning, they would give someone a big beating when the time came.

"Fine day for it, Colonel" said Captain Ethan Henshaw, in his broad southern accent. Henshaw was a small man with short blond hair and a beard that every few seconds he would nervously stroke with his hand. He was dressed little better than Nixon. "Hope there is boots in the town; my boys sure do need them". He gestured towards his company.

"We all do" replied Nixon slightly annoyed at being woken from his thoughts while looking down at his boots, which were falling to pieces and only held together by bits of twine. He counted himself lucky to have these for quite a few of his men marched without boots and on those men, more often then not marching on the summer hardened road, were the victims of straggling, which could deplete a regiment as good as any battle. He had taken precautions against this by having three good sergeants marching at the very end of the battalion to stop anyone from falling out, if the sergeants generally believe that a man who was straggling generally couldn't go on they had orders to let the man go, but to relieved him of his rifle and ammunition till they rejoined, for he would leave nothing that could fall into the enemy.

"Will there be Yankees in the town?" asked Henshaw, and although he had tried to hide it Nixon could trace fear in his voice. He couldn't blame him for in the six months that Henshaw had been in the battalion he had quickly learned that he really shouldn't have become a soldier. He had been a lawyer in Greensboro, North Carolina, he was about twenty eight years old, five years older than Nixon, and was marriage with two children who he missed dearly.

"Maybe, there might be some local militia that we could have to deal with, old men and boys, who haven't had to shave yet, or maybe some cavalry, but when was their cavalry a match for Jeb Stuart's boys" said Nixon scornfully.

"The union cavalry did well at Brandy Station" replied Henshaw, talking about the battle between Stuart cavalry division and Alfred Pleasonton's division, the union's new cavalry commander, three weeks before. It had been the biggest cavalry battle of the war more than twenty-one thousand men were involved in hand to hand fighting, in which it was rumored that Stuart's men had been surprised by the enemy. Stuart's men though had seen off the union troopers and it had been a confederate victory, but it had shown that union cavalry could fight as well as any southern cavalier.

"They did, like I said there will probably just be some local militia that we will have to teach a short, but harsh lesson in soldiering" stated Nixon with utter certainty in his voice.

"Nothing more" said Henshaw with relief in his voice and a smile on his face.

"Hell, who knows, always expect the unexpected in war, the whole of the Army of the Potomac could be in the town just waiting for us to walk into their guns" Nixon saw that Henshaw had stopped smiling. "Don't worry whatever happens in the town it won't be as bad as Chancellorsville, and you fought well there". It was true Henshaw had fought as hard as anyone else at the battle and he respected him for it. After the battle Nixon had promoted him to Captain of A Company to give him more confidence, at the moment that had not happened, but he didn't regret the decision for his men seemed to like him.

"Thanks, but I was terrified, sir" said Henshaw, with a voice full of bitterness.

"Don't you think we all were" replied Nixon. "Do you think any of us really want to be here fighting? What's this?" This last remark was to Captain Young, Pettigrew's aide who was riding his horse toward where Nixon and Henshaw were talking.

"General Pettigrew's compliments, Sir" said Captain Young "We are almost at the town and the General wants you to unfurl your colours" then as Young turned to ride away he said "We're going to show them a find southern welcome".

Nixon laughed, "Sergeant, unfurl the colours" he watched as the battalion's first colour, the battle flag of the confederacy, which was a blue cross with thirteen white stars on a red field, was unfurled on a six foot staff. There was one star for each of the thirteen states that made up the confederacy, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and one for Kentucky and Missouri, which although both had declared themselves neutral, were deemed to be part of the confederacy. The flag also had, sown on in gold cloth, the names of every battle that the 78th had took part in, battles of first and second Manassas, the seven days campaign outside Richmond the confederate capital, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

The second colour showed the crest of North Carolina on a dark blue field, and the number of the regiment in gold letters. He felt a surge of pride as he looked at them, for they were the heart of the regiment. If the battalion took heavy casualties and only a handful of its men survived, but the colours still flew then the regiment was still alive, the heart still beating. They also played a big part in the moral of the battalion, lose them in battle and the shame of it could destroy a battalion better that any Yankee bullet or canon shot ever could. Both flags, like the men's uniforms, were a sign that they were a veteran unit because of the many holes in the material that had been torn by Yankee bullets.

The battalion in front of the 78th suddenly halted and Nixon called for his men to halt as well, he listened as the officers and sergeants of his eight companies relayed his order to their men.

"Why have we stopped, sir?" asked Henshaw.

"Don't know" replied Nixon who was as puzzled as Henshaw, he could now see the roofs of some of the town's buildings and that meant that the lead elements of Pettigrew's brigade should now be just outside the town. "I'll go and see what the hold up is" Nixon started to walk towards the front of the column, on his way he passed the 11th, 26th, 44th, and 52nd North Carolina Regiments, that with the 78th made up the First Brigade of Heth's Division. He called out greetings to officers and men that he knew, and then he saw a party of mounted officers, one of them was Pettigrew.

Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew was mounted on a fine chestnut gelding; he had a kind face with a great black bush of a beard that hid his neck and a receding hairline, he was dressed in an immaculate grey uniform with the insignia of a brigadier General, a gold wreath around a star, on his collar. At his side was an expensive sabre, the cost of which Nixon would never be able to afford. The men with him were the colonels of his other regiments. He saw Nixon approaching. "I guess your wondering why we have stopped"

"I was wondering that sir" replied Nixon.

"This man" he pointed to a mounted man that Nixon hadn't seen before, and who wasn't dressed in the uniform of either army. "Say's that Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry division is coming our way, and that elements of the Army of the Potomac aren't far behind!"

"That can't be true, sir, Stuart's cavalry would have sent a warning if they were that close!" Stuarts cavalry were screening the army as it marched, keeping the enemy cavalry from finding out where they were.

"I already told him that" said Pettigrew angrily, "but he says that Stuart's men aren't there."

"What, they must be there!" said Nixon. "Who is this man anyway, sir?"

"He's called Harrison and is one of General Longstreet's spies" answer Pettigrew, "and like I said, he say that Stuart ain't there and that his taken his men off on a raid".

"I don't believe it" said Nixon, "He wouldn't let us march blind!" For, if it was as this spy said and Stuart had gone off on a raid, then the army had been marching in union territory without any knowledge of the union army's position.

"Believe it or not, but his men still ain't there" said Harrison; he turned to Pettigrew, "I'd better take this information to Longstreet". With that he gave his horse a kick of his spurs and rode down the column.

For a moment there was silence then.

"What are we going to do, sir?" said Collett Leventhorpe, colonel of the 11th North Carolina. He was an Englishman, in his late forties who had been a Captain in the British 14th regiment of foot on colonial duty, before he had immigrated to America in 1842. "Shall we prepare our men for battle, and give the Yankee sons of bitches a whipping that they'll never forget?"

"No, our orders are not to seek battle, just to get supplies", said Pettigrew and he unconsciously stroked his beard. "We'll have to march back and tell Heth about this".

"Yankee bastards, General" said Leventhorpe, pointing to a ridge about two miles away where a small group of blue coated cavalry were staring through field glasses at the Confederate brigade.

Instantly the group of officer got out their own field glasses and started to stare at the enemy troops, bar Nixon whose own glasses were in the saddle bag of his horse, due to which he silently cursed himself for a fool for not riding his horse when he came to see why they had stopped.

"That Settles it gentlemen" said Pettigrew in a stern voice that suggested instantly that the matter was settle, and that no amount of arguing would change his mined. "We'll turn around and march back to Cashtown."

For after six days of marching in enemy territory they had found the enemy.
* * * Brigadier General John Buford, commander of the First Union Calvary Division, watched through a pair of field glasses as the Confederate troops that were approaching the town of Gettysburg suddenly stopped, then turned around and started to march back the way that they had come. Lowering the glasses he walked back towards his horse and took a notepad and pencil out of a saddle bag and hastily scribbled two notes. When finished he walked toward a mounted trooper and ordered him to ride without delay to Generals Reynolds and Meade.

He then turned his attention to the layout of the surrounding terrain and cast an experienced eye over it, then silently agreed to himself that this was as good as any an area to fight a battle. Two ridges ran north and south to form a basin, in the centre of which was the town of Gettysburg. To the north and south of the town were a series of long rather flat hills and ridges, between each were fertile fields and lush pastures. About a mile and a half to the west of the town stood Herr Ridge, about nine hundred yards to the east of that across a swale through which a rather sluggish little steam call Willoughby run, was McPherson's Ridge. A few hundred yards to the south of the Chambersburg Pike, which the rebel troops were now retreating down, was McPherson's Woods and grove. This stood on a seventeen acre patch and was usual as the tangle of forest growth was missing there, while the grove was long and narrow, that extended from the crest of the southern ridge right up to the Willoughby's run, whose banks could offer troops excellent protection from enemy fire and Buford knew that he would put that watercourse to good use if the enemy came back, because it formed a natural defence line. Five hundred yards to the east, and about three quarters of a mile from the town was Seminary Ridge, which was the home of a three story building that was called the Lutheran Theological Seminary. A short distance north of the Chambersburg Pike, Seminary ridge merged with McPherson's ridge, then from there was, Oak Ridge, which continued northward towards Oak hill, an eighty foot high knob northwest of Gettysburg. The Chambersburg Pike traversed the ridges from the northwest and two hundred yards to the north there was a rail bed that ran parallel to the road that in places was as deep as twenty feet.

Buford after looking at the terrain led his division towards Willoughby run and placed Colonel William Gamble's First Brigade that consisted of the 8th and 12th Illinois, the 3rd Indiana and the 8th New York along the east bank in a thousand yard line that extended south of the rail bed across the Chambersburg Pike. To the North of the rail bed he placed Colonel Thomas C. Devin's Second Brigade that was made up of the 6th and 9th New York, the 7th Pennsylvania and the 3rd West Virginia whose line reached to the base of Oak hill. All together his forces numbered up to almost two thousand eight hundred men, with six cannons, a quarter of his men would be needed to hold the horses of other men. He also placed men in a five mile arc of the town as pickets and sent some men to follow the retreating enemy troops as precaution against an enemy attack.

Buford knew that if the Confederates did attack and in force then he would be unable to do anything but fight a delaying action for General Meade's advancing Union army.

Despite the odds that were coming against his division its moral was high and he had every faith in their ability to fight the enemy. He called the commanders of his brigades together and told them that he expected them to have a fight on their hands in the morning.

"Personally" said Colonel Devlin, "I think that the Rebs will bypass us, General".

"You are wrong, Colonel" replied Buford sternly. "The enemy will attack in the morning. He'll come booming three deep, and we will have to fight like devils to maintain ourselves until the arrival of the infantry". When the enemy came he would be hugely outnumbered, but his men would fight like devils, but would they hold?