We have been kindly furnished with the following letter from Capt. Robert B. Arms which we take pleasure in publishing as it will have special interest for many of our readers.
Battlefield at Cashtown near Gettysburg, Penn., July 5th, 1863.
Dear F---This is the first opportunity I have had to write since we arrived at this place. We came here the first day of July late in the afternoon, it being the eighth day we had been on a forced march from Union Mills Va. It having rained most of the time the roads were very muddy, and we were a tired and jaded set of fellows I can tell you.
When we arrived they were just closing up the first day's fight, and things looked rough, for Gen. Lee was here with the largest part of the rebel army, while but a small portion of ours had arrived. They had driven our forces and gained possession of the town, and were confident of cleaning us all out in the morning; but our troops continued to come in during the night, and we had men enough to make a show in the morning.
We were drawn up in line of battle just as soon as we arrived, and lay on our arms at night. All of us enjoyed a good sleep notwithstanding we were to fight the next day, for we were very tired and hungry. I never had any idea what it was to be tired and hungry till now, and it made me feel so bad to see my poor boys have to suffer so much.
On the morning of the 2nd, we were ordered to support a Battery near the centre of our line. The artillery kept up a kind of random firing for the purpose of getting into a good position. We were stationed on rising ground mostly clear of trees, and had no protection from the rebel guns. While the rebels were stationed behind their batteries in a heavy wood with a low and open space between us.
About 4 o'clock P. M., the ball opened all at once with a vengeance along the lines. We were at the time supporting a battery near the right of the line. I supposed that I could form some idea of a fight, but there is no use for me to try to describe it, for I cannot find words to express it; such a roaring of cannon and musketry, the screaming of shells, and solid shot, the whistling of the rifle balls, the groans of the wounded and dying, was enough to turn any one's head; but as we were there we had to make the best of it.
At the time the firing commenced our Regiment was ordered to lie down upon our faces to avoid the shell that flew thick and fast. We lay for about an hour expecting every moment to be hit, when an order came for me to take my Company down to the line of the skirmishers at the centre of our line, as a portion of them had been driven in.
I started off with Capt. Foster of Co. C, of our Regiment, who was to bring intelligence to the General as to the condition of the line. I had proceeded but a short distance when the bullets began to whistle around me, but not a boy in my Company but that marched and obeyed my orders as well as they could at an ordinary drill.
On arriving at the point where I was to support the skirmishers, I found that they were all killed or wounded but four, and they had returned leaving the rebels in possession of the line, who had five men to my one, and sharpshooters at that. They had concealed themselves so as to have a cross fire into the road where I had to lead my boys.
They saw us coming and were all ready to pour into us; but seeing that matters were at a focus, I made a move and came into line in the gutter at the road side, and instantly gave an order to fall down on the ground, which was done just in time to save the lives of most of my Company, for as we fell to the ground they fired a terrible shower of balls just where we had stood, which passed harmless over our heads as we lay in the muddy ditch, with the exception of one that passed through the leg of Capt. Foster as we stood side by side.
Afterwards I ordered the boys up and to go on. Every one went with a will, and the line was soon in our hands where we staid skirmishing between the two armies until the next forenoon.
During this time I had the following boys wounded. 3rd Ser'gt Jason Mann of Guilford shot in the head; will recover. Corporal D. B. Stedman of West Brattleboro, shot in the thigh; will recover. Private John M. Joy of Brattleboro badly wounded in the hips, and Surgeon thinks he will recover.
During the evening I took a Corporal of the 19th, Mississippi Regiment prisoner, who stated that they had a force at the time opposed to us sufficient to have whipped us all out; so I think we were lucky to come out with so small a number wounded. The dead and the wounded of the Company that went before we did, were lying all around us, which gave us the hint not to expose ourselves more than was necessary.
July 3rd Co. B, and G, 16th Vt., were stationed to support a Battlery in the centre of our lines. We were with a lot of other troops and had to lie flat on the ground on our faces in the rear of the cannon, ready to jump up at any moment in case the rebels should charge bayonets and undertake to capture the guns.
The artillery commenced the fight again as soon as it was light, about half past four in the morning, but it did not get to be very hot until about noon, when all at once they opened with a terrible crash on both sides; and such a continued noise!
Imagine the heaviest thunder you ever heard, and have it continued for about six hours without a moments cessation, and added to that the crash and whizzing of showers of solid shot and shells that were bursting and cutting the air just over our backs as we lay on the ground, each one expecting that his turn to be hurried out of the world would come next, and you will have but a faint idea of the suspense we were in lying there with a boiling sun pouring down upon us to add to our troubles.
During the day, Friday, I had the following wounded in my Company. 2nd Serg't Walter W. Ranney of Westminster, in head; will recover. Private Geo. A. Jacobs of Guilford, ball shot into the calf of his leg passing upwards coming out at his back, will probably die. Private Hollis B. Cobb of Putney, badly shot in leg, and doing well. Private Thomas J. Miller, of West Brattleboro, wounded in the hand by piece of shell, not badly.
Thus you see I have come out of the battles with but seven wounded, which is luck indeed considering the fire we were under. We gave the rebels a good thrashing on the 3rd, and on the 4th we had no fighting except with pickets. Our Brigade and other troops are left on the battlefield to bury the dead and to take care of the wounded as the enemy have run away and left theirs's on our hands.
We cannot as yet get an estimate of the dead and wounded, but it is very large on both sides. But from the appearance of the field I think the rebels lost three to our one. The wounded of our Company were all taken from the field as fast as they fell and put in charge of the Surgeon, and are now in the hospitals and as good care of them as can be under the circumstances; the rest of the Company are in good health.
Yours &c., Robert.
Captain Asa Gilbert Foster enlisted from Weston, Vermont.
[The copyist or typesetter omitted a sentence or phrase following "I had proceeded"]
Robert Bruce Arms was born in Brattleboro, Vermont on September 21, 1834 to Hinsdale and Theda Arms. He enlisted in the Union Army on August 28, 1862 as Captain, commissioned into Company "B", 16th Vermont Infantry on October 12, 1862 and was mustered into service eleven days following.
Capt. Arms and his company spent much of the winter at Fairfax Courthouse and Fairfax Station. They helped repulse Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Arms returned there twenty-six years later with members of his regiment for the dedication of the Vermont monuments.
Less than a year after he enlisted, Robert B. Arms was mustered out of service on August 10, 1863 in Brattleboro, Vermont. Following the war, Arms aided veterans in their pension claims, and served several years as Deputy Collector. His obituary reports that he died on March 5, 1901 of Bright's disease, leaving behind his son, Robert A. Arms, a brother, and his second wife.