During the Confederate retreat following the Battle of Gettysburg, George W. Peterkin of the 21st VA Infantry found a few moments to write his father about the battle and the losses suffered by the army. In 1878, Peterkin became the first Episcopal bishop in the new Diocese of West Virginia.
Hd. Qrs. Arty. Corps. A. N. Va.
We got near Hagerstown last night, after a very fatiguing march, fatiguing not so much on account of the length and rapidity of our marches as on account of the crowded roads and the tedious slowness of our progress. on account of the gaps in the mountains our line of march was confined to one or two roads, and indeed sometimes all the troops were on one road. owing to this circumstance, we moved with great trouble, starting early in the morning and being on the road until very late at night, and worst of all making very little distance. The wagons would block up the road continually and we would be halting continually - We have had the biggest fight of the war at Gettysburg and the result of the whole was that we were repulsed. I cannot properly estimate our loss but I imagine it was about fifteen thousand, The Baltimore American of July 4th admits a loss of thirty thousand men and says their army was terribly cut up especially by our Artillery. They say we had six hundred pieces of artillery in the battle - They had made preparations to retreat and actually had begun to fall back towards Washington, So much for their army. Now the truth of the case is this, that on Wednesday evening we came across the Yankees at Gettysburg. This side of the town we drove them from their position with great slaughter taking about five thousand prisoners the next day we attacked them again and drove them back from the centre of their left. We were not able to turn their extreme left the mountain on which it rested was almost impregnable and resisted our utmost efforts to take it. the same day Genl. Ewell took a strong position on our left but was unable to hold it. so far we had the decided advantage, and on the morning of the third day we occupied the ground from which they had been driven, and posted our guns on the crest they had occupied the evening previous, beyond this we went no farther, We commenced our attack by a furious cannonade, the most tremendous of the war and, according to the statements of their papers and prisoners destructive to such a degree that they had to detail infantrymen to work their guns, the slaughter among their troops by this fire they report as very great. a great number of their caissons were blown up and a considerable of guns disabled. To sum up the whole matter we attacked their position, Genl. Pickett's Division gallantly took the enemy's works but were unable to hold them, not supported - whose the fault I do not know or if there were any troops that could support them - our loss was very great you have I suppose heard the casualties - We were all mercifully spared of our friends I have not been fully informed. The information I may give is as correct as I have been able to obtain. Thom. Harrison is wounded. I don't know how badly and I am afraid he is in the hands of the enemy - Col. Wm. D. Stewart was wounded I expect you will hear of him in Richmond soon. Our loss in generals was very great - wounded Maj. Genls. Hood, Heth & Pender & Trimble - Brig. Genls. Armistead, Semmes, Pettigrew - killed Brig. Genls Barksdale, Garnett and Kemper (mortally wounded) - We are now camped near Hagerstown and waiting for the Yankees to attack us, we are afraid tho that they will not do so - in that case we will have to go after them - I have seen many strong positions in my life but never one the equal of the one the Yankees held at Gettysburg, we came near taking it even as it was we are very anxious to meet them on something like fair ground and we can give good account of ourselves I am satisfied - Between thirty & forty of Genl Ewells wagon train were captured and six or eight ambulances. I hear that their cavalry ran afoul of the trains of the other corps and captured a good many still I don't know about that. In addition to the Generals I mentioned, Genl Wade Hampton of the cavalry was severely wounded. The Maryland troops were engaged and suffered severely - I know of nothing definite concerning them. Give my best love to all at home I hope yet to get to Frederick before I get back to Virginia - I wish you would send me my pants by the first good opportunity. I don't care about bothering anybody with them, but I am in considerable need of them, one pair of these I have is worn out I am going to patch them up so they will render some service, and the others are going rapidly and have been completely spoiled in this rainy spell by taking color from the lining of my boots. so that anybody, judging by my pants, from my knees down would say I belonged to the cavalry, as they are perfectly yellow - However I hope soon to get a chance to have a pair of pants made up from the corduroy I purchased in Chambersburg - it is first rate material and will make me a very serviceable pair - I would like that cloth I left at home made up. I think on the whole a regular frock coat is the most serviceable of all. I will put the instructions to Mr. Gary on a separate piece of paper so that there can be no mistake. Did mother get the letter I sent from Chambersburg telling her of the dress I got for Beck - I will try to send it down to Richmond - We are having a very rainy spell, and in consequence the Potomac is very high, we cross it now in ferry boats and will have a pontoon bridge laid down in a day or two - We all hope they will come on and attack us here or anywhere else that Genl Lee may choose I would like very much to see the Richmond papers, I suppose we will begin to get some kind of a mail in a few days, I have not gotten a letter since we left Culpeper Ct.H. the 16th day of June - Kinlock is very well, he has gone on with Pickett's Division, which is guarding the prisoners. I don't know how far they are going, according to the present arrangement, prisoners are exchanged at city point - give my love to mother, Beck cousin Ellen Mrs. & D. Williams - Maryland is most too far from Richmond for me to turn up after a fight as I used to do when we were at Fredericksburg some of these days we will get down there again. If there is any real peace party in the North now is the time for them to speak, when their pride has been somewhat flattered by our unsuccessful attack of Gettysburg. A letter directed "thru' Genl Lee" would reach me. Mamie said she would write to mother and let her know how they were all getting along.
Ever Your Aff [affectionate] son
Geo. W. Peterkin
P.S. The sends his love to all and asks me to enclose a few postage stamps, he captured in a yankee mail near Washington. GWP
Danger Lewis wants you to send his boy Henry up by the first opportunity either to Genl Steratts Hd Qrs or to Audley -