I am through the kind Providence of God once more permitted to address you. I have passed through an engagement of four days unhurt whilst many a brave and true heart bit the dust. I wrote Sam a few lines yesterday, but for fear they might not reach you I will write today. …
I believe when I last wrote you we were near Frederick City, Md. We left there one week ago today and marched a mile on this side of Uniontown, Md., a distance of 30 miles. … It was necessary to reach this point, as the enemy was moving on the town with a large cavalry force, stealing horses, cattle and provisions of every kind. … We left Uniontown the next day at 4 p.m. and reached Gettysburg in the morning, marching 20 miles and traveling all night except for two hours. You can form a slight idea of the trials, privations and hardships soldiers have to endure when you think of us making marches under the scorching rays of a July sun, or it maybe heavy rain.
The battle, as you are aware, was commenced on Wednesday the 1st. We got on the field on the morning of the 2nd. The battle raged fearfully all afternoon, being most severe on the wings as the enemy’s design was to turn our flanks, but no turn. Our troops fought with a vengeance and were not to be driven. All their prisoners say their officers told them they had nothing but militia to fight and they would run, so they charged up close to our batteries and entrenchments and were slaughtered fearfully.
Our brigade was taken in on the left under a heavy fire of musketry. Just in the first of the action our brigadier general was shot and mortally wounded, and a few moments afterwards Col. Roberts was shot and instantly killed. I saw him just before he was shot. He was waving his sword and cheering his men on. At this time we were driving the rebs. Braver men than these never lived.
The 140th fought bravely. I did not see or hear of one man in the regiment showing anything other than a disposition and anxiety to fight. And they did fight, but on account of our officers being killed our position was not properly watched and the rebs flanked us. We were ordered to fall back and did so reluctantly, and at this time we sustained our heaviest loss. …
On Friday the 3rd the battle raged most desperately all day, the enemy making a desperate effort to break our lines at all points and escape, but all in vain. He was repulsed and driven at every point with heavy loss.
It evidently is the design of every officer and private to make this a sorrowful trip for old Lee and his army, and I trust we will. … I hope he may never reach Virginia again. We have to fight and whip the rebs sometime, and I’d rather do it here than any other place. Our fellows were engaged Sabbath and yesterday in hauling off the wounded and burying the dead. The larger portion of these were rebs. In some places they lay think on the ground. It is an awful sight to behold. …
But as I am very tired I will close. … I am anxious for the results of this campaign and hope and pray Providence grant us a complete victory. Hoping to be able to write to you soon again and also hear from you all, I am very sincerely yours,
Robert B. Porter
Robert would not know the results of the Gettysburg campaign or a complete victory, at least not in this life. Nine months later, at Spottsylvania, Va., he was gut shot and died two days later en route to a Washington hospital. He was buried along a road.
(Special thanks to the late Mary Kay Smith of Jamestown for sharing the collected letters of her great-uncle, Robert. B. Porter.)