Monday, August 8, 2011

Not "Good Enough"

The first event I ever attended as a reenactor was Brandy Station, Virginia. My good friend, Sean Pridgeon, rounded up gear for me and helped me out in every way you could possibly think of. I remember arriving at the event during the early evening hours. The sky was dark, and swollen clouds were drifting in our direction. Within an hour of arriving, the temperature dropped into the 40’s and I was soaked from the heavy rain. “What have I gotten myself into?”, I thought. That event was miserable, and yet, I was hooked on reenacting. In fact, all of the “miserable” moments I have experienced in reenacting are the ones that I cherish the most. They’ve helped me grow as a reenactor, and to further appreciate the history and lifestyle of the boys of ‘61-’65.

After McDowell in 2003, I took a break from reenacting. I was doing 2-3 events every month, and I was beginning to burn out. In June of 2011, I decided that it was time to hit the field again. I picked a small event 5 miles from my house (Jerusalem Mill, MD), and after talking about it, my friend Rance expressed interest in attending the event. Between Sean and myself, Rance was outfitted and ready to go. I explained to him that Sean and myself are of the “campaigner” mindset, and that we do some things differently. To my surprise, the event at Jerusalem Mill had a decent number of campaigners attending. We went through the day; drill, wait in camp, reconnaissance scenario, wait in camp, battle, etc. As we were sitting in the shade after the battle, Rance said something to me that really made me think; “Why would you want to bring tents to these events? We pack up in 5 minutes and then we’re on our way. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I think I tried answering with “I don’t know”, but I wasn’t satisfied with giving him that kind of response. I tried to explain how some reenactors basically ignore all of the history and documentation, but I couldn’t. Rance asked me one simple question, and I had no answer. Instead, it unlocked more questions in my own mind.

The Civil War is not a mysterious blip in American history. The documentation from 1861-1865 is incredible. Thousands of photographs, first-person accounts, illustrations, and original items are easily accessible. On top of that, countless books have been written about the Civil War. This leads me to my main topic - there is no excuse for reenactors to get so many things wrong.

I was portraying a private in the 4th Alabama at the 150th Manassas event in late July. Early war impressions can be difficult to judge, especially on the Confederate side. With that in mind, I decided to not over analyze the impressions that were on the field. Unfortunately, I saw things that I could not ignore. I was simply stunned; modern combat boots, tennis shoes, gray jeans, modern shotguns, paper kepis (the kind you find in a gift shop), WWII canteens, sunglasses, and my personal favorite, a Captain leading his men into combat with his sword raised in one hand, and texting someone on his cell phone in the other.


I’m not discovering anything that hasn’t been seen or heard before. I just want to understand. What mindset does it take to deem these inaccuracies as acceptable? Is it financial? Is it laziness? Ignorance? There has to be a reason.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I am not bashing or alienating mainstream reenactors. I am just curious. If there is someone out there that can help me understand, please leave me a comment below.

The most common answer I hear is that “Campaigning is too expensive”. I strongly disagree. I understand that you might pay more for gear that is correct, but it’s not an astronomical number. It’s not like you’ll be shelling out $5,000 for a good impression. Instead of blowing a few hundred dollars on an incorrect jacket and trousers, save that money for a good hat or jacket. Your impression doesn’t have to be put together in a few weeks. I have never, ever heard one of my reenacting friends say that they were satisfied with their impression(s). We are constantly adding and subtracting items from our impression(s), and it’s a never ending quest to “get it right”.

While some of it may be financial, I do believe that the majority of incorrect impressions are born out of laziness or ignorance. It drives me nuts when I see or hear a reenactor say “I’m out here to honor those boys, and to keep history alive” and they’re wearing a cowboy hat and slinging back a Coke inside their wall tent. “If they had it, they would have used it”. Yeah, but they didn’t have it. So don’t use it.

What would a soldier think of us? Let’s say, by an insanely ridiculous and totally unrealistic circumstance, that a soldier from 1861-1865 walked on to the field at an event. What would we look like to him? Would he be satisfied with our effort? Or would he see us as a bunch of cowboys running around making war look comical? Or would he walk back to camp and grab a slice of pizza?

Confederate Prisoners at Gettysburg
A Great Image of a Mid-War ANV Confederate Soldier

These are the questions that will never be answered. I don’t think that good impression(s) are impossible, nor is it a far-fetched idea that everyone should have a good impression. Take the time to research, and to find out what the armies had available during the time period of your next event. For example, wearing a Type III during an 1861 event is uncalled for and easily remedied. If you are reading this and have no idea how to move your impression forward, please feel free to contact me. Others, along with myself, have no problem helping someone improve their impression. It might be a few tweaks to your current outfit, or some advice regarding good vendors.

Let’s hope these questions do not go unanswered. Let’s abandon the “good enough” attitude. With the 150th’s upon us, let’s do our part and represent our history to the highest standard as possible.

Please feel free to contact me at

Monday, July 4, 2011

"We Must Now Return To Virginia" - July 4, 1863

July 3, 1863 - 11:00PM


Relatively speaking, of course. The town of Gettysburg was still buzzing with activity, but for the first time in almost 72 hours, the battlefield was still. July 3rd had been quite a day for both the Army of Northern Virginia, as well as the Army of The Potomac. Lee had risked everything, just as he had at Chancellorsville two months before. Only this time, he lost.

Lee knew this campaign ran the risk of losing a significant amount of fighting men. He certainly did not expect to lose some of his best commanders; Barksdale was dead, Hood was seriously wounded, Avery was killed, Archer was captured, Longstreet had been borderline-insubordinate, and Pickett lost all three of his brigade commanders - not to mention Pickett himself was emotionally devastated. The veteran line officers the men relied upon were also picked apart. The Army of Northern Virginia was seriously wounded by July 4th, 1863, but it remained to be seen if the wound was mortal.

Meade had only been in command of the Army of The Potomac for a few days by the end of July 3rd. He had held Lee in check, and apparently defeated the invader. Before he declared a total victory, he waited for Lee’s next move. To be honest, neither commander knew if the fighting would resume on July 4th, so neither victory nor defeat was immediately declared.

Although Meade had not declared an immediate victory, Lee was already planning his retreat shortly after the repulse of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack. Brigadier General John Imboden, a reliable cavalry officer, was ordered to Lee’s headquarters late on the evening of July 3rd. Imboden arrived, but Lee was not immediately available. Around 1:00AM on July 4th, Lee appeared in front of his headquarters. He was exhausted, and Imboden noted that Lee carried an “expression of sadness that I had never before seen upon his face.” Imboden also noted that Lee muttered “Too bad! Too bad! Oh! Too bad!”, seemingly to himself. Lee finally briefed Imboden on the task ahead of him. “We must now return to Virginia”, Lee said, “as many of our poor wounded as possible must be taken home.”

The Army of Northern Virginia’s route north went according to plan, except for losing contact with J.E.B Stuart. Retreating from Gettysburg would be another risky maneuver. His army was tired, lacked the proper ammunition, and would have a numerically superior army chasing it to the Potomac. Lee knew the consequences of defeat, and he took every precaution so that every commander would be on the same page.

Imboden was to take 2,100 cavalry and a 6-gun battery with him. Imboden mentioned that the force would benefit from more artillery, so Lee bumped another 17 cannon from different artillery battalions into Imboden’s force. Imboden had Lee’s orders; now it was time to execute them.

Imboden originally planned to leave Gettysburg early on July 4th. What Imboden hadn’t realized was the size of the convoy he would be protecting. It took nearly 7 hours for the wagon train to assemble. When it was ready to move out, Imboden was protecting around 12,000 wounded men in a column that stretched for an incredible 17 miles. The slow-moving column took off around 4:00PM, heading west on the Chambersburg Pike. Imboden placed the 18th Virginia Cavalry at the head of the column, along with a section of McClanahan’s artillery. More troopers and artillery were inserted every 1/3 of a mile in the transport column. The train moved all through the night. Imboden avoided Chambersburg, and took a road that lead to Greencastle, which was reached by day break on July 5th. Imboden recalled that “during this one night I realized more of the horrors of war than I had in all the two preceding years.”

Around 3:30AM on July 4th, Ewell’s II Corps supplies were moving south, using the Fairfield Road. Lt. General Ewell had personally met with Major John Harmon, his chief quartermaster. Ewell told him to get the supplies across the Potomac safely, or he “wanted to see his face no more.” Iverson’s Brigade, which had been completely destroyed on July 1st, was detached to protect the columns rear. By the evening of July 4th, J.E.B Stuart and his cavalry had branched out to screen the Confederate retreat.

Meade was anxious to intercept Lee’s retreating forces. He quickly dispatched his cavalry to meet the opportunity. Major General Alfred Pleasonton was the first to start out. Brigadier General Buford and his cavalry left Westminster, Maryland on July 4th, and moved towards the town of Williamsport to cut off the Confederate withdrawal. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division rode towards Emmitsburg, Maryland, and briefly encountered Ewell’s supply train. Kilpatrick, who had ordered an ill-advised cavalry assault shortly after the Confederate infantry attack failed on the 3rd, was looking for a way to redeem himself. He claimed that “Ewell’s large train was completely destroyed”, which was entirely not true. The most significant raid that day was by Colonel Pennock Huey, who reported the capture of 1,500 Confederates and 150 of their wagons.

While the bulk of both armies stared at each other throughout July 4th, a heavy rain began to fall. As one soldier stated, it seemed as if the heavens were attempting to “rinse the blood from the ground.” A truce was in place by noon, and both sides began collecting the wounded and burying the dead. By nightfall, neither army had made an offensive maneuver, and Lee felt confident that if he left Meade alone, that Meade would leave him alone.

After dark on July 4th, Lee began putting his infantry on the Fairfield Road. Lt. General A.P. Hill’s III Corps was in the lead. When Hill and his men reached the town of Fairfield, Longstreet’s I Corps began to withdrawal. Longstreet’s men faced awful road conditions along the way. Due to the heavy rains, Ewell’s supply column and Hill’s Corps had turned the roads into mud pits. On top of that, Longstreet’s men had the responsibility of guarding approximately 4,000 Union prisoners along the way. As the majority of the Army of Northern Virginia faded away from Gettysburg, the infantry in Ewell’s II Corps remained behind, hoping the Federals would stay put.

The Battle of Gettysburg was over. Lee’s invasion of the north had failed.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

“The Only Christian Minded Being on Either Side” - Steuart's Brigade at Culp's Hill on July 3, 1863

July 3 - 12:30 AM

The battlefield had been quiet for an hour or more. Brigadier General George Steuart and his men had been fighting since the late afternoon hours of July 2nd, and now they lay in the captured breastworks of the Union XII Corps. The fight had been a success, but not without cost. The topography presented on Culp’s Hill made for an extremely physical assault, and Union gunfire did not help their cause in scaling the steep inclines. Steuart’s Brigade, which included the 1st Maryland Battalion, 1st North Carolina, 3rd North Carolina, 10th Virginia, 23rd Virginia, and the 37th Virginia, now occupied a good portion of the Union breastworks. Around 11PM, the firing died out on Culp’s Hill. Morale was high. The Confederates had succeeded for the most part, and occupied Union lines. Sgt. Thomas Betterton of the 37th Virginia had even captured the colors belonging to the 157th New York. Steuart’s Brigade had little time to savor the victory.

Although most of the men did not know this at the time, the Baltimore Pike lay only a couple hundred yards away. The Baltimore Pike was the main artery for the Army of The Potomac at Gettysburg, and in case of defeat, would be their most viable escape route. Now, just after midnight and into the third day of combat, the Baltimore Pike was crawling with activity. The sounds of artillery being wheeled along the road and into the position, and the trample of thousands of feet could be heard by the Confederate troops on Culp’s Hill. In fact, the XII Corps units that were rushed off of Culp’s Hill during the afternoon and evening of July 2nd were now returning to their former positions. What the Federals didn’t know was that the Confederates were now within their former position.

The first regiment to wander into Steuart’s Brigade was the 111th Pennsylvania. Steuart’s men fired a volley, and the 111th Pennsylvania did not pursue the issue any further. Another regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts, literally walked into the 23rd Virginia. After a brief struggle and skirmish, the 2nd Massachusetts also decided that the effort spent was not worth it. The Confederate soldiers knew the Union soldiers would not sit still as morning approached, and the sounds of thousands of troops and artillery gave them a deep sense of what to expect in a few hours. As a soldier in the 1st Maryland later wrote, “The worst was to come.”

Around 3:30AM, Culp’s Hill erupted with cannon and musket fire. The Confederate troops were initially spared, as they could easily hunker down in the captured breastworks. The 1st Maryland and 3rd North Carolina took turns occupying the breastworks on the right, and many soldiers took cover behind huge boulders and thick trees. At this point, the 3rd North Carolina had fired nearly all of its ammunition. Some men had only one or two cartridges left. The men frantically requisitioned more ammunition off of the dead and dying, both Union and Confederate. By 4AM, the noise coming from Culp’s Hill was deafening. One Marylander wrote, “The whole hillside seemed enveloped in a blaze. Minnie balls pattered upon the breastworks…like hail upon a housetop. Solid shot went crashing through the woods, adding the danger from falling limbs of trees to that from erratic fragments of exploding shells. The whole hill was covered with smoke and smell of powder. No enemy could be seen.”

Entire trees were swept away from the amount of gunfire between the two lines. Many men were given the impression that a fight this fierce had yet to be seen during the war. Rifles soon became clogged from black powder residue, and soldiers were scrambling for new weapons that wouldn’t foul after two or three shots. Another problem was ammunition, as there were only so many dead or wounded bodies to take from. Lt. Randolph McKim of the 1st Maryland personally took a few men with him towards the rear in search of ammunition. In the dark, they fumbled their way over Rock Creek, found the ammunition, and returned with it carrying the cartridges in a blanket which had been slung over fence rails.

The intense firing eventually died down along the lines. Around 10AM on July 3rd, Steuart received orders to attack the Federal positions. After seeing the land between his brigade and the enemy, Steuart realized that any attack on Union positions was doomed. He complained to his division commander, General Johnson, but knew that his brigade must be committed to the assault. Major Goldsborough spoke his opinion, “Sir, I consider it murder; I take my men in under protest.”

Soon, the 900 men of Steuart’s Brigade were on the move. The brigade approached Pardee’s Field, a small clearing in the otherwise heavily wooded saddle of Culp’s Hill. As the men rushed into the clearing, a wall of gunfire greeted them. Men fell by the score. Those left standing could not resist the urge to stop and fire at their tormentors. As the situation seemed destined for failure, many of the men streamed towards the rear.

The 1st Maryland and the remaining portion of the 3rd North Carolina advanced into an explosive round of cannon fire. The Marylanders could see Virginians lying prone in the field to their left, as their officers swore and pleaded for their men to continue the assault. Major Goldsborough later wrote, “Never shall I forget the expressions of contempt on the faces of the men on the left companies of the Second (First) Maryland as they cast a side glance upon their comrades who had proved recreant in this supreme moment.”

The brigade started to break down. The losses mounted, and the men looked around for someone to lead them, or at least relieve them from the hell they were experiencing. Unfortunately, many of the officers had fallen early in the fight, including the 1st Maryland’s Major Goldsborough. Oliver Taylor of the 37th Virginia later wrote that the “Marylanders lay in heaps.” Sergeant George Pile, also of the 37th Virginia, recalled that the1st Maryland had been destroyed, and that he and one other member of his company escaped the battle unharmed.

Inevitably, the brigade fell apart and retired to the base of Culp’s Hill. The images of horror were abundant. Union soldiers watched a private struggling in the middle of Pardee’s Field after the firing had subsided. The Confederate had been shot in the stomach, and was pleading for someone to shoot him in the head and put him out of the incredible pain he was experiencing. No one could bring themselves to level their muskets at the wounded man. Then, almost methodically, the Confederate soldier reached for his weapon and began to load it. A cartridge was torn, the powder poured, and the lead Minnie ball inserted into the barrel. The soldier rammed the cartridge home; the clanging of his ramrod the only noise the Union soldiers could hear. Silently, the soldier cocked the trigger, primed his piece, then lowered the weapon. He slid the butt of the rifle towards his feet. With wide eyes the Union men watched, still unsure of the intentions of this desperate fellow. Slowly, the soldier inserted the barrel of his weapon into his mouth. With hundreds of eyes upon him, the soldier pushed his ramrod against the trigger, and which discharged the rifle brought an end to his suffering.

There were also scenes of companionship, loyalty, and heart break. A dog soon appeared through the smoke, heading towards the Union lines. He appeared to be looking for his master, his head low to the ground, moving from body to body. It wasn’t long before the Union troops noticed that the dog had been riddled with bullets. The dog continued on, searching for the human he adored. He took a few more steps, then fell over. Some Union soldiers, already overwhelmed by the events from earlier, openly wept over the courage and loyalty of this poor creature. General Kane, who commanded a brigade in Geary’s Division of the XII Corps, ordered him to be buried as “the only Christian minded being on either side.”

Steuart from distraught when he saw the results of the attack. Tears streamed from his eyes as he exclaimed “My poor boys! My poor boys!” Only 12 men returned from the 3rd North Carolina. The 1st Maryland Battalion lost nearly 50% of its men. Many of the men in the 1st Maryland reported holes in their clothing where bullets had ripped the fabric without harming the individual. Lt. McKim personally counted four tears in his coat, although none of them hit him.

Colonel John Futch, who lost a brother in the assault, wrote home, “I believe he is happy and no doubt better than any of us.” No one from Steuart’s Brigade would argue his closing comment; “We are living the worst life men ever have.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"This is My Last Battle" - Colonel Cross and His Brigade at The Wheatfield

July 2, 1863 - 9:00AM

Colonel Edward Cross commanded a brigade in Caldwell’s Division, belonging to Hancock’s II Corps. As his staff rode alongside him, Colonel Cross leaned over to his aide, Major Charles Hale, and said in an uncharacteristic low-tone, “Mr. Hale, attend to that box of mine at the first opportunity.” Major Hale quickly glanced towards his commander, nodded, then turned his attention back to the road. “Thank you, Mr. Hale.”

Cross’s Brigade was finally approaching Cemetery Hill. His brigade consisted of the 5th New Hampshire, 61st New York, 81st Pennsylvania, and 148th Pennsylvania. All in all, Cross had 853 men under his command. On their way to Cemetery Hill, Cross and his men were passing by a number of II Corps hospitals. Lt. Charles Fuller of the 61st New York joked with the surgeons; “ ‘We’ll see you again later!’ I tried to say this with a jaunty air, but down in my shoes I did not feel a bit jaunty.“ For Lt. Fuller and many of Cross’s troops, his playful exclamation turned into reality a few hours later.

As Cross’s brigade arrived on Cemetery Hill, he positioned his brigade in battle lines, but “stacked” upon each other. The first line was manned by the 61st New York, followed by the 81st Pennsylvania in the second line. The 148th Pennsylvania, because of its size, formed the next two lines, and the 5th New Hampshire held the rear. For most of the early afternoon, the men spent their time playing cards and writing to their loved ones. Others dozed off, catching up on the sleep that had been evading them over the last four weeks.

Around 1PM, the firing along the skirmish lines increased, especially around the Bliss Farm, which was located between the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, and the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge. Looking to their left, the men could see General Sickles III Corps marching forward towards the Emmitsburg Road. The move was so massive that Sickles’ left flank disappeared over a series of ridges. Inexplicably, Sickles had moved his Corps away from one of the highest vantage points on the battlefield; Little Round Top. Now, Hancock’s left flank was exposed. The situation was even worse for Sickles; the movement he made was unauthorized, poorly planned, and left both of his flanks open to attack. Sickles’ advance actually threw off the Confederate battle plan, but he did not know it at the time. Around 3:30PM, Confederate artillery opened on the Union left. Shortly after, musket fire erupted, and rolled northward as Confederate brigades were being launched en echelon; one brigade advancing, followed by the brigade to its left around 15-20 minutes later. A trickle of Union stragglers and wounded soon turned into a steady stream. Sickles was in trouble, and the closest support was located within Hancock’s II Corps. Cross eventually notices Hancock’s staff talking to Caldwell, his division commander. Cross knows what this means, and he orders his staff to mount up and for his men to be ready.

Caldwell’s Division has orders to move quickly to the south-west. The III Corps is getting hammered around Devils Den and the Peach Orchard, and Union troops around the Rose Farm have started to give way. Confederate troops are breeching the center of Sickles’ line, and Caldwell’s Division is to plug the gap. Colonel Cross traditionally wears a red handkerchief around his head in combat. Just before going in to combat on July 2nd, Cross removes a black handkerchief instead of the usual red. Before leaving for the front, General Hancock rode up to Colonel Cross and hinted towards promotion; “Colonel Cross, this day will bring you a star.” Cross shook his head, “No, General, this is my last battle.” Cross had a premonition of death for days before arriving at Gettysburg, and usually directed his comments towards Major Hale. Today, he was telling his Corps commander that he would not be returning.

This was Caldwell’s first time commanding a division during an engagement. Instead of sending the brigade in as a whole, he fed them into the fire in chunks, one brigade at a time. The brigade formed a battle line, from left to right; the 5th New Hampshire, 148th Pennsylvania, 81st Pennsylvania, and the 61st New York. Cross’s Brigade was in the lead, and they moved rapidly towards the fighting. Men sprinted through gullies, over rocks, through dense brush, and into a line of tree’s. Lying directly in front of them was a Wheatfield, the crops waist high and ready for harvesting. For a moment, all was silent on this portion of the Union line, except for a stray shell here and there. Cross and his men carried their momentum into the wheatfield. In fact, Cross’s advance was so fast, that a number of Confederate skirmishers had no time to react and simply threw their arms up in surrender. The 5th New Hampshire and 7 companies of the 148th Pennsylvania advanced into the woods surrounding the wheatfield. The rest of the brigade was exposed in an open field, which descended down towards another set of woods directly in front of them. Cross had deployed so fast that he did not send out skirmishers, which left his brigade exposed to a hidden enemy. Cross and his staff soon dismounted. Just inside the woods to Cross’s front lay a stone wall, and Confederate troops patiently waited for Cross and his men to attack. The air soon filled with the hissing and buzzing of bullets flying through the air. The men could hear the firing, and could see the heads of the wheat being clipped off by enemy fire, but they couldn’t locate the enemy just yet. Then the men started to fall. The 61st New York was hit the hardest. Among the wounded was Lt. Charles Fuller, who had recently exchanged pleasantries with the II Corps surgeons. He was initially shot in the left shoulder, and then again in the right thigh. He was able to utilize a tourniquet with his good arm to help reduce the loss of blood in his thigh wound, which probably saved his life. The 61st New York would eventually lose two-thirds of their men in the fight in and around the Wheatfield.

Up and down the line, the men in blue continued to fall. The effect of their fire was unknown, as they could only see the puffs of smoke erupting from the tree line. Cross knew that his men needed to move, and most certainly towards the Confederate positions and not the Union rear. He turned to Major Hale and the rest of his staff’ “Boys, instruct the commanders to be ready to charge when the order is given; or if you hear the bugles of the 5th New Hampshire on the left, move forward on the run.”

Colonel Cross drew his pistol, then wandered off towards the position of the 5th New Hampshire. As he was approaching, a bullet glanced off of his head. Stunned, the Colonel fell to the ground. Realizing that he had initially been spared, he removed the handkerchief, and bound the minor wound inflicted upon his head. Cross was approaching the 5th New Hampshire when he was struck. A bullet slammed into his abdomen near his navel, and tore through his stomach and portions of his intestines and kidneys before finally exiting near his spine. The Colonel fell, and for what must have seemed like an eternity, was left alone in woods near the 5th New Hampshire.

News of Cross’ wounding propelled Colonel Harman Boyd McKeen to commander of the brigade. Colonel McKeen was unfortunately put in a difficult position, as his brigade was being ripped apart. Also, the brigade had been fighting so hard, that most, if not all, of their ammunition was fired in 20 minutes. McKeen determined that the brigade was too exposed and too ineffective to go on; he ordered a withdrawal. Around 6:15PM, the brigade began to fall back, except for the 5th New Hampshire and 148th Pennsylvania; they remained in their positions, as the woods had protected them somewhat, and their casualties were not nearly as high as the other regiments. When Brooke’s Brigade entered the wheat field, the 5th New Hampshire and 148th Pennsylvania fought along side of them. Eventually, Sweitzer’s Brigade advanced beyond their position, and the 5th New Hampshire and 148th Pennsylvania finally left the field.

The brigade lost 330 men out of the 853 that entered the Wheatfield.

Lt. Charles Fuller of the 61st New York spent a horrendous night in the Wheatfield. The cries of the wounded seemed to amplify with every passing minute. Lt. Fuller was actually attacked during the early morning hours of July 3rd; not by Confederate soldiers, but wild hogs that had turned feral. Fuller later wrote that these hogs had been going around and tearing into the abdomens of the dead, and to his horror, the dying who were too weak to defend themselves. Fuller himself drew his sword and fended off 2 or 3 hogs that attempted to make a meal out of him. Fuller was eventually found and taken to the rear. His right leg was amputated above the knee, and he lost function of his left arm.

Colonel Cross was eventually found laying next to a tree in extreme pain. He was carried to the rear, where a surgeon told Cross that there was nothing he could do for him. Cross suffered immensely over the next few hours. Around 12:45 in the morning on July 3rd, Cross looked up to a member of his staff who was sitting beside him and said, “I think the boys will miss me.” With those words, Colonel Cross slipped away. The Colonel had realized his destiny, and he met it with all the courage in the world.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fame & Devastation: The Pettigrew - Iron Brigade Engagement

July 1, 1863 - 8:00AM

Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade (Reynolds’ I Corps) is forming on the roads just south of Gettysburg. The Iron Brigade has a reputation that follows them into battle; a reputation of being the best in the Army of The Potomac. The brigade is comprised of four regiments from the mid-west; the 19th Indiana, 24th Michigan, 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, and the 7th Wisconsin. On the morning of July 1st, Meredith’s brigade consisted of 1,829 soldiers and officers. The troops were on their way to support and relieve Buford and his battle weary troopers which were holding off Confederate attacks on the ridges to the west of Gettysburg.

When the brigade was 4 miles away from Gettysburg, the soldiers heard the deep booming of artillery. As the men marched on, the crackle of muskets filtered into the atmosphere, and the men realized that a significant fight was waiting for them. Around 10AM, the brigade reached the Codori House along the Emmitsburg Road. The brigade made a sharp left, and began running through the fields in a north-westerly direction, which put them on a direct route to McPherson’s Ridge. The officers shouted up and down the line, “Double quick, boys! Double quick!” During this nearly mile-long sprint, officers began to realize that their troops were rushing into battle with empty muskets. The only regiment that was loaded and ready were the boys in the 19th Indiana, who served on picket duty the night before. Colonel Morrow, commander of the 24th Michigan, temporarily halted his men so that they could load their weapons. The men stopped, pulled cartridges, then heard an order from another officer telling them otherwise. An officer from General Wadsworth’s staff was riding by and immediately revoked the order, and ordered Morrow to rush his men to Herbst Woods with all possible speed. The only option now was to have the men load while sprinting towards their objective.

The 2nd Wisconsin reached the crest of McPherson’s Ridge first. The 7th and 14th Tennessee fired into the Wisconsin troops as they poured over the ridge. Their Corps commander, General Reynolds, turned to the men of the 2nd Wisconsin and urged them on. “Forward men, forward, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of the woods!” Just then, a bullet slammed into the back of Reynolds’ head. He was dead before he hit the ground.

The rest of the Iron Brigade formed behind the 2nd Wisconsin. As they arrived, they found themselves enveloped in a dense smoke. Colonel Robinson, commander of the 7th Wisconsin, soon heard bullets flying over his head. He was hesitant to open fire. He knew the 2nd Wisconsin was somewhere in front of the rest of the brigade, but he could not identify the force as friend or foe. A quick glance towards his left revealed a Confederate battle flag, only 20 yards in front of his own lines. Robinson immediately launched an assault, and the Union infantry lunged into the thick smoke, disappearing among the enemy and deafening noise.

Further up the line, the 19th Indiana and the 24th Michigan overlapped the Confederate right flank of Archer’s line. The 24th Michigan advanced beyond the Confederate flank, and soon enveloped Archer’s right flank and rear. Within minutes, the Confederates gave way. Soldiers who thought they could make it to the rear attempted to run, while others simply threw their weapons down and made their way behind Union lines. Private Patrick Maloney made his way to the rear with a prize - he personally snagged General Archer. Unfortunately, Private Maloney would be killed later that day.

After pursuing the remnants of Archer’s brigade across Willoughby Run, the Iron Brigade fell back to its former positions in Herbst Woods. Around 11:30AM, the brigade was realigned, forming an obtuse angle, with the “dent” in the center of the line. The line officers immediately protested the formation, but were denied a request to reposition, as the ground must be held “whatever the cost may be.”

The 6th Wisconsin was originally ordered to fall in on the left flank of the 24th Michigan. As the 6th approached their portion of the line, another staff officer ordered the regiment to be a part of the division’s reserve. Colonel Rufus Dawes, the 6th’s commander, soon found his unit in the middle of a field, exhausted and uneasy about what role they were actually going to play. After a short rest, the men of the 6th watched helplessly as Cutler’s brigade, fighting directly in front of them, began to break and run to the rear. The 6th was ordered to advance. Almost immediately, Dawes was dumped to the ground after his horse was shot multiple times. He led his regiment by foot for the rest of the attack. When the regiment reached the fence along the Chambersburg Pike, the men went prone, and began firing at Confederates only 50 yards away. Mysteriously, Confederate troops were disappearing - not hit or vaporized, just the appearance of melting into the ground. Dawes ordered his men forward, as the enemy had simply disappeared. Flushed with victory, the men of Wisconsin climbed over the fence, and charged through the open fields. Then, from a depression in the ground, hundreds of Confederate muskets rose from the earth and blazed away at Dawes and his regiment. The Confederates had jumped into an unfinished railroad cut, and were using it as a trench. The 6th was being ripped apart with every step they took, but there was no turning back now. The men pushed on, and eventually found themselves on the lip of the railroad cut, staring into a pit of struggling humanity. “Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets!”, the Union soldiers shouted. Over 225 men and 7 officers of the 2nd Mississippi surrendered to Dawes and his men. The railroad cut was secure.

While Dawes was slugging it out with Confederate troops in the railroad cut, the rest of the Iron Brigade focused their attention towards Willoughby Run. A massive Confederate brigade was approaching.

Pettigrew’s Brigade was an all North Carolina brigade. It had 4 regiments - the 11th North Carolina, 26th North Carolina, 47th North Carolina, and 52nd North Carolina, totaling 2,581 effectives. It was the largest brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, mostly because the brigade had never seen combat. Of the 4 regiments, only the 26th had seen actual combat, and that had been a year before during the Peninsula Campaign in the summer of 1862. Pettigrew and his brigade were now fanning out to dislodge the Union troops on McPherson’s Ridge. Pettigrew’s men didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to clash with the toughest brigade in Meade’s army. To dislodge the Iron Brigade as your first combat experience was a tall order to fill, and seems nearly impossible to this day. But, the North Carolinians had numbers on their side, and a tactical blunder from the Union command. Biddle had orders to align his brigade on the left flank of the Iron Brigade. That would have extended the Union position another couple hundred yards to the south and west. Instead, Biddle formed his brigade to the left and rear of the Iron Brigade - 300 yards from the left flank of the Iron Brigade, which was held by the 19th Indiana. This presented a huge gap between the 2 brigades that could be exploited by determined Confederate troops. To make matters worse, Pettigrew’s Brigade was so huge that it even overlapped Biddle’s Brigade.

Around 2:00PM, the order to advance was given. The 26th North Carolina and 11th North Carolina ran into trouble first. On the other side of Willoughby Run stood the men of the 24th Michigan and 19th Indiana. The first shots from the Union line was high, and was relatively harmless. Colonel Morrow of the 24th Michigan wrote that the Confederates “advanced in 2 lines of battle…they came on with rapid strides, yelling like demons.” The 26th North Carolina started to shift to the right, a result of enfilade cannon fire striking it’s left flank. The terrain became increasingly difficult to maneuver in. Dense thickets, steep inclines, and rocks hidden in foliage disrupted the battle lines constantly. The 26th North Carolina splashed through Willoughby Run, followed by the 11th North Carolina. The Iron Brigade was not firing high anymore. Men began falling, and soldiers remembered the bullets as being “thick as hail stones in a storm.” A colonel riding behind the 26th North Carolina was cheering the men on when a bullet lifted the hat from his head. Without a pause, the colonel reached back and plucked the hat out of the air, returning it to his balding head. The Iron Brigade, clearly the culprits, gave out a long cheer when the rebel officer returned the hat to its former location.

The 26th North Carolina was moving rapidly. It closed in on the 24th Michigan, and the two lines stood only 20 paces apart at times, delivering volley’s at point-blank range. The North Carolinians break the first line of the 24th Michigan, but run into its second line only 20-30 yards to the rear. The 11th North Carolina was slugging it out with the 19th Indiana, which was stubbornly holding its ground. Eventually, the 11th North Carolina found the exposed flank of the 19th Indiana, and began to roll the Union line up. The 26th North Carolina and 24th Michigan were locked in a devastating struggle. Neither wanted to withdrawal and admit defeat. Casualties mounted. So far, 10 flag bearers had been killed or wounded in the 26th North Carolina. The same was true for the 24th Michigan. At one point, an officer in the 24th ordered the flag to be wrapped up and placed into its shuck to avoid further casualties. The 26th North Carolina wanted to keep its flag moving. Soon, an officer from Pettigrew’s staff grabbed the flag and began advancing. He took a few steps, then was riddled by 8 bullets. A Captain seized the flag as it was falling to the ground - he was shot in the face after holding it for a few seconds. The 26th North Carolina’s commander, Colonel Henry Burgwyn, raised the flag next. “Dress on the colors! Dress on the colors!” A private ran up to the Colonel, asking for the honor of carrying the flag. As Burgwyn transferred the flag to the private, a hail of bullets slammed into them. Burgwyn was severely wound, and the private’s face had been shot away. Burgwyn would eventually die later that day from his wounds. The 14th flag bearer for the regiment was Lt. Colonel John Lane. He, too, was severely wounded in the throat. The next flag bearer was extremely lucky; as soon as he grabbed the flag, the Iron Brigade broke for the rear. It took 15 men to advance a flag just over 50 yards. The fighting became so intense that men could not handle their weapons while reloading. The barrels were so hot that men couldn’t even touch them. To ram a cartridge home, soldiers were pounding their ramrods against rocks and trees.

Both brigades were wrecked. Pettigrew’s discontinued their pursuit of the Iron Brigade as fresh units arrived. The Iron Brigade made one last stand just outside of town, inflicting more damage on the southern troops. On July 1st, the Iron Brigade had fought 3 Confederate brigades in the span of 5 hours. The remnants of the Iron Brigade soon found themselves clogged in town, along with a good portion of the XI Corps, who were fleeing the fields north of town. Eventually, the survivors reached Cemetery Hill. The Iron Brigade, a shell of its former self, was soon transferred to Culp’s Hill, where it remained for the rest of the battle.

Of the 1,829 men that went into combat that day for the Iron Brigade, 1,153 of them were killed, wounded, or missing - a sobering 63% casualty rate. For the 24th Michigan, only 26 men and 1 officer assembled under its banner. Stragglers filtering in throughout the evening raised that number to 99 men and 3 officers.

For Pettigrew, of the 2,581 that went into combat that day, nearly 1,100 of them were killed, wounded, or captured. The 26th Carolina went into combat with 900 men and officers. During their assault, 588 of them were killed, wounded, or captured. The 26th sat out July 2nd, but was involved in Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. By the evening of July 3rd, only 67 privates and 3 officers remained from the original 900 that went into combat 2 days prior. The regiment took 83% casualties in 2 days of combat, and would never be the same.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Gettysburg Campaign (June 29, 1863)

With his army concentrated around Frederick, Maryland, Meade decided to thrust towards the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s army had reached as far east as Harrisburg, but the bulk of his army was concentrated around Chambersburg and Cashtown. If Meade was quick enough, he might be able to slide between Harrisburg and Chambersburg and split Lee’s army in two. A network of roads leading north would allow him to move more troops at a faster rate. These roads sliced through the Mason-Dixon line, and eventually terminated in a town called Gettysburg. From Gettysburg, another network of roads developed, this time leading west, northwest, north, northeast, and east. Lee was to the east and west of Gettysburg. Now was the time for Meade to make his move.

On June 29, 1863, Meade pushed his men further north. After a brief respite from the heat, the army was again subjected to miserable marching conditions as temperatures spiked to one-hundred degrees. The II Corps, many thought, were the lucky ones. It’s orders arrived late, and the II Corps hit the road around 8:00AM, four hours later than scheduled. Unfortunately for the men in the II Corps, it made up the lost time by marching 14 hours that day.

As the Army of The Potomac trudged north, Lee’s cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart, was creating a mess in central Maryland. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad was torn up, telegraph lines cut, and bridges were burned. Stuart had been out of contact with Lee for a number of days, and the Army of Northern Virginia was feeling its way through enemy territory with a sight line as far as the leading infantry column. Stuart was now “effectively ineffective”. Instead of probing for the enemy, Stuart was creating a name for himself in Maryland and Pennsylvania. His decisions in late June and early July of 1863 still ripple through history, and remain one of the many “what-if” scenarios of the Gettysburg campaign.

On June 30, Meade sent a message from his headquarters in Taneytown, Maryland, to Halleck in Washington, DC. Meade expected a major engagement with the Army of Northern Virginia at or near Gettysburg, and he wanted to notify Halleck and the rest of the war department. Buford, who commanded a division of cavalry, moved his brigades from Fairfield to Gettysburg. As he arrived, he encountered three regiments of Pettigrew’s Brigade. Pettigrew’s men were marching from Cashtown to Gettysburg on a reconnaissance, and soon turned back upon seeing Buford’s forces. Pettigrew reported his findings to General Hill and General Heth, but neither believed that a Federal force was nearby. Ignoring the information, Heth organized another reconnaissance towards Gettysburg scheduled for the morning of July 1st.

Scouts had been reporting to Lee that Meade was moving north, and he was moving fast. Lee realized that he needed to consolidate his army again. He called back his forces from York and Harrisburg, and issued orders to all Corps commanders to concentrate around Cashtown. Just like Meade, Lee recognized the importance of the network of roads leading to and through Gettysburg, and wanted to keep his army close to the town.

That evening, Buford camped just outside of Gettysburg, straddling the Chambersburg Pike. Aware of the Confederate presence, Buford threw out a picket line to the west and north west. They were positioned three miles away from the rest of Buford’s brigades, giving him ample warning and time to organize a defense if the Confederates intended to attack the next day.

Shortly before sunset, a thunderstorm blew in. Buford was worried that a fight would erupt in a few hours, and he would have no infantry support. Colonel Devin, a brigade commander serving in Buford’s Division, tried to reassure his commander by stating he would “take care of all that would attack his front during the ensuing twenty-four hours.”

Buford bristled at the comment.

No you won’t. They will attack you in the morning and they will come ‘booming’ - skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until supports arrive. The enemy must know the importance of this position and will strain every nerve to secure it, and if we are able to hold it we will do well.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Gettysburg Campaign (June 27, 1863)

By June 27, 1863, Hooker’s army had forded the Potomac River and regrouped around Frederick, Maryland. Lee had pushed his army well into Pennsylvania, and now occupied Chambersburg and Carlisle. Early’s Division was pushing eastward and closing in on York. Cashtown, Heidlersburg, Fayetteville, and even Gettysburg, had seen portions of the Confederate army march through their streets and demand supplies. In fact, on June 26, Confederate cavalry had clashed with the 26th Pennsylvania Militia just outside of Gettysburg. After a brief skirmish, the 26th ran from the field and left the door open for Confederate troops to filter through Gettysburg. Around 175 soldiers from the militia unit were taken prisoner during the fight. As the Confederates entered the town, a Gettysburg professor noted that the Confederates appeared to be like “so many savages from the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.”

Hooker had been angry with President Lincoln over the last few days. He believed that a significant portion of the garrison in Harpers Ferry should be folded into the Army of The Potomac. Lincoln disagreed. Harpers Ferry had been a key position since the war began, and both sides sought to control it. The Union garrison increased after Lee’s invasion of Maryland in September of 1862, in which Harpers Ferry was captured by Confederate troops. Hooker believed he needed these troops. Hooker was under the impression that Lee had an overwhelming force, just as McClellan thought during the Peninsula Campaign. Hooker repeatedly asked Lincoln for the troops from Harpers Ferry, and Lincoln denied him each time. Finally, on June 27, Hooker wrote to Lincoln, “I earnestly request that I may at once be relieved from the position I occupy.”

The majority of the officers in the Army of The Potomac approved, but were left with the most important question following a change in command; “who’s going to lead us now?”

The obvious choice was Major General John F. Reynolds, commander of the I Corps, and the army’s left wing. Reynolds had been one of the officers pushing for Hooker to be replaced. On June 2, 1863, Reynolds met with President Lincoln for a private interview. During this meeting, it is believed that Lincoln asked Reynolds if he would consider being the next commander of the Army of The Potomac. Reynolds replied that he would only consider it if he were given free reign with the army, and cut loose from the political ties in Washington. Lincoln had to deny his request. Reynolds, one of the brightest commanders in the Union army, respectfully declined the offer to lead the Army of The Potomac.

At 3:00AM on June 28, Colonel James Hardee prepared to deliver a message from President Lincoln. George G. Meade had just fallen to sleep when his tent flap flew open. Startled by the Colonel, Meade initially thought that he was under arrest, as he was no stranger to army politics and knew how to stir up trouble. Hardee gave Meade the message, informing him that Hooker had been relieved of command and that Meade was to assume command of the entire army. Major General Meade, who had fallen asleep as the commander of the Union V Corps, woke up as the commander of the Army of The Potomac.

Meade assumed command at Prospect Hall in Frederick, Maryland. Meade knew two things; he knew that Lee was somewhere in Pennsylvania, and he knew the position of the Union’s V Corps. Beyond that, Meade was in the dark. The questions were almost overwhelming, but one stood out above all the rest; “Where is the rest of the army”. Corps commanders have a great deal of responsibility in the Civil War. Their decisions affect thousands of lives, and the men put their trust, for better or worse, in their Corps commander. The Corps commander’s field of vision extends over his men, and then slightly beyond to whoever is on his right or left. And even that information is vague, usually reserved to a quick message informing him on which Corps his flanks fall on. Obviously, more than this is put into the hands of a Corps commander, but in the course of the day for a Corps commander, the thought process and leadership breaks down to “Corps first, army second”. Meade, who only hours before had the mindset of a Corps commander, is now thrust into the highest position in the Army of The Potomac. Meade knows little about his own army, and virtually nothing about his opponent. To add to the stress, Meade knows that politicians in Washington will be breathing down his neck to destroy Lee’s army (the preferable route), cripple his army, or at the very least drive Lee back down to Virginia.

Meade immediately sought Hooker for information on Lee’s whereabouts. Satisfied with the information, and sensing the urgency of rapid movement, he quickly put the entire Army of The Potomac on roads that only lead to the northeast. What his subordinates did not know was that Meade was actually rushing the army to his preferred position along Pipe Creek, Maryland. New to command, Meade wanted to establish a defensive position in case of a Confederate attack. The position along Pipe Creek extended along a series of hills, and covered the main roads leading to Baltimore and Washington. If attacked, Meade would hold the initiative by commanding a formidable defensive position. Meade did not disclose the orders to his commanders, and did not notify them of the position until the evening of July 1. The Pipe Creek Circular, ironically, would be issued after contact was made in the fields and woods north and west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.