The 123rd New York Infantry, part of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac, built substantial earthworks on Culp’s Hill on July 2, 1863. However, as the Confederate attacks on Day 2 of the battle of Gettysburg pressured the Federal left flank first, the 123rd New York became part of the XII Corps contingency that left Culp’s Hill (right flank) and hurried toward Cemetery Ridge and points threatened as the Confederates pushed through the exposed III Corps and dashed toward the heart of the Union line.
In the regimental history is an interesting incident during their journey from Culp’s Hill toward the fighting lines, and it involves an artillery sergeant and a hurried mission:
Towards night the battle raged furiously on the left, and the Regiment was ordered to the rear of Round Top, the extreme left of the line, to support the forces there engaged. The shells from the Rebel guns struck all around them in their march there, but no one was wounded. Here and there they passed a dead solider. Down a hill, away in front of them, came tearing what they supposed was a battery, believing from this maneuver that our forces had been pressed back, but on a nearer approach it proved to be a Dutch sergeant of artillery going to the rear for ammunition with his caissons. As he dashed by he yelled out, “Dis ish nod a retread, dis ish nod a retread!” The boys were very glad it was “nod a retread,” and pressed forward, but soon the firing ceased and they were ordered back.
Though the 123rd’s movement from Culp’s Hill ended without the regiment entering the fight in the threatened portion of the field, the story about the “Dutch” German artilleryman provides an interesting snapshot of feelings and sentiments of some soldiers on the field.
For the second time within a two month period, the Union’s XI Corps which was known for its German-American soldiers had broken and fled, earning them the derogatory nickname “Flying Dutchman.” One of those instances had been at Chancellorsville in May 1863, the other on the previous day, July 1, at Gettysburg. Whether or not the sergeant hailed from the XI Corps, there could’ve been some factors behind his shouts to the infantry.
Did the shouting German artilleryman who encountered the 123rd New York simply call out to them to let the infantry know that there was still artillery fighting in the field? Or did he have a more personal concern—not wanting to be lumped together in the stereotypical view of cowardly German-American soldiers that was somewhat prevalent in the Army of the Potomac? Without knowing about the artilleryman’s battery and its ethnic demographics, it’s harder to draw reasonable and informed conclusions. But the quote does offer some reflection on the fact that soldiers did not want to be seen as cowards.
Whether or not the artilleryman’s actions had ethnic motivation or were simply for clarification that he personally was not a coward, the sense of honor is layered into this story. Whoever he was, whatever his background or previous experiences, this artillery sergeant wanted everyone to know he was doing his duty, and he was not running from the fight. Instead, he was getting the ammunition to continue his battery’s death-dealing thunder on July 2 during the battle of Gettysburg.
Sergeant Henry C. Morhous, Reminiscences of the 123d Regiment NYSV (1879). Page 43. Accessed through Archive.org