“Destruction at the Angle: The 7th Tennessee’s Company ‘I’ at the Battle of Gettysburg” – 2004: Speech presented to the Sons of Confederate Veterans of Lebanon, Tennessee

Posted on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I will try to reconstruct what happened to the 7th Tennessee during Pickett’s Charge. I will focus on Company ‘I’. The company totaled just over thirty veterans on June 30, 1863, however by the end of the three-day battle of Gettysburg over a third of the men were lost. Company ‘I’ was commanded by 25-year-old Captain James ‘Oren’ Bass, with 3rd Lieutenant Tom Clemens second in charge. The company’s sergeants were; 1st Sgt. Jess Jennings, 2nd Sgt. John Jennings, 3rd Sgt. Will Young, and 4th Sgt. Jack Clemens. There also were four corporals, twenty-one privates, and Musician Enos Jennings.

            I am still working on the company’s position within the regiment, but at this time I believe it was slotted in the second line (Stewart, Pickett’s Charge). When the orders were given to attack Cemetery Ridge the first formation moved out and moments later, the second. The 7th Tennessee, along with the other regiments of Archer’s Brigade appear to have been fortunate in that they suffered very little while crossing the near-thousand yards of space between Seminary Ridge and the Federal position. This good luck came at the expense of the Virginians of Pickett’s Division who found themselves the target of most of the Union artillery (Stewart). Thus, the 7th Tennessee moved across the open ground fairly safely. A glance at the casualty reports confirms this statement.

            As the two formations crossed the fields the second line moved slightly faster than the front line. This was probably due to the leading formation’s ability to see what was before them. They saw the danger confronting them and this slowed their approach. They did receive artillery fire and these explosions disrupted their movement, and also impeded their speed.

            Meanwhile the second formation closed the interval between the two lines. They, as is normal, wanted to catch up with those ahead, and to get on with the lethal business at hand. Therefore, when the front line reached the stout fences lining Emmitsburg Road the rear line was close behind. Thus, when the soldiers of the first formation started to climb over the fence, the men behind easily saw what happened to them.

            The Union infantry waited for the Confederate to reach the road before pouring volleys into them. The gray ranks were withered by the Yanks’ deadly fire. Flags went down, as did scores of Virginians, Tennesseans, Marylanders, and the rest. When the second line reached the fences they found the ground covered with casualties. Some of the fellows noticed the safety which the sunken road provided. These veterans were not cowards; they could see what was happening to their brothers, and they were realists. Many hunkered down in the road’s comparative safety. The number of Company ‘I’ survivors suggests many went no farther than the fence line. Plus, it has been suggested that Captain Bass had been stunned by a nearby artillery blast and some of his friends stayed with him to tend to his needs.

            Others however, climbed over the fences and surged forward, following other courageous leaders, of whom there were plenty. They were gunned down in that final hundred yards between Emmitsburg Road at the stone wall of the Angle. I think very few got close to the stone wall. This part of the fight dissolved very quickly as the slaughter was rapid and merciless. The more prudent ones dropped to the ground, seeking shelter from the Federal’s lethal fire, and pretended to be dead. When the slaughter ended and the Yanks ceased fire, these survivors popped up their heads and waited for an opportunity to escape. Once the Union troops quit shooting and ventured out, away from the protection of their stone wall, many opportunist Confederates leaped to their feet and hustled back to the Confederate lines.

            It was at this time that the 7th Tennessee’s Captain Archibald Norris (Co. ‘B’) made his escape. Norris was near where the 7th’s battle flag had fallen. He had crawled over to the downed colors, ripped it off its wooden flag pole, and stuffed it into his jacket. When the shooting ceased, Norris jumped to his feet and ran, saving the unit’s sacred flag. Norris’ actions were save the only remaining flag of Archer’s Brigade. All the others were captured at this time.

            The following is the muster of Company ‘I’, 7th Tennessee, dated July 3, 1863:

Rank  Name Age Remarks
Cpt. Oren Bass 25 Survived
3rd Lt. Tom Clemens 22 Survived
1st Sgt. Jess Jennings 24 Survived
2nd Sgt. John Jennings 21 Wounded; was carried off the field safely
3rd Sgt. Will Young 22 Survived
4th Sgt. Jack Clemens 24 Survived
1st Cpl. J. P. Bashaw 27 Wounded; carried off the field but captured July 5th
2nd Cpl. Joe Hamblin 22 Survived
3rd Cpl. Rufe Vivrett 21 Survived
4th Cpl. Brad Anderson 22 Wounded; captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Clint Anderson 20 Survived
Pvt. Oren Anderson 27 Captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Frank Bass 28 Survived
Pvt. Jim Criswell 20 Survived
Pvt. Turner Criswell 29 Survived
Pvt. John Eatherly 19 Killed near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Martin Eatherly 23 Survived
Pvt. George Guire Survived
Pvt. Pos Gwynn 27 Survived
Pvt. George Hellums Survived
Pvt. Clem Jennings 24 Survived
Pvt. Charlie Lane Wounded; captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Bill Orgain Survived
Pvt. Sy Peek 27 Survived
Pvt. Charlie Robertson 21 Captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Eli Smith 27 Wounded; captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. James Sullivan 22 Survived
Pvt. John Sullivan 38 Wounded near Emmittsburg Rd, retrieved safely
Pvt. J. B. Vivrett 24 Survived
Pvt. Jim Walpole 24 Wounded; captured near the Stone Wall
Pvt. Albert Wilkerson 21 Wounded near Emmittsburg Rd, retrieved safely
Musician Enos Jennings 21 Survived
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