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Subject: Gettysburg Day One. The Iron Brigade rss

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Brian Morris
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Today is the 150th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. That also means it is sadly the 150th anniversary of the death of the Iron Brigade aka "Those damn Black Hats". While the unit continued to exist physically after Gettysburg the truth is she suffered such horrific casualties in McPherson's Woods that the brigade was never the same.

The 24th Michigan was the youngest of the five Iron Brigade regiments and thus the largest. It had been mustered in on August 15 1862 with volunteers from Detroit Michigan. Many in the other regiments actually said that the 24th didn't deserve to wear the brigade's distinctive Hardee hats because they hadn't earned them yet. Nobody said that after July 1st. The 24th Michigan went into Gettysburg on July 1st with 496 men. Only 99 men answered roll on the morning of July 2nd. Five men died carrying the flag for the regiment and every man in the color guard was either killed or wounded. Her fellow Iron Brigade regiment the 2nd Wisconsin suffered similarly with a 77% casualty rate. All told the 24th Michigan and 2nd Wisconsin suffered the first and third most casualties of the civil war for the Union with the 1st Minnesota being second.

At Gettysburg the five regiments of the Iron Brigade fought for most of the afternoon against Henry Heth's division which was itself as large as a Union Corps. Falling back and reforming 6 times they were overwhelmed by the number of Confederates attacking. Because of their placement on the line they had to hold the longest as other regiments from the north retreated behind them to the safety of Cemetery Hill. Many soldiers made it to safety and were able to continue the fight due to the valor of these men.

So in honor of their sacrifice on a day when uncommon valor was a common virtue, I want to honor the memory of the men of the Iron Brigade who lost their lives 150 years ago today with a special emphasis on my favorite regiment the 24th Michigan.

Trailer for show on the 24th Michigan on C-Span 3



Survivors 24th Michigan 1889 Gettysburg reunion. Many of the men you see in this picture served as the honor guard for Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. At the end of the war when making the arrangements for Lincoln's funeral Stanton wanted a regiment that was highly decorated and from the west to escort Lincoln's body home to Springfield. He chose the 24th Michigan.



Don Troiani's painting of the 24th Michigan on McPherson's Ridge (I own a copy of this). Troiani is currently working on a new Iron Brigade at Gettysburg painting, No details yet but I have a spot already picked out on the wall for it. My educated guess is it's the 6th Wisconsin at the railroad cut. I hope I'm right.



Marker on Culps Hill marking the 24th Michigan's location on the morning of July 2nd. Only 99 men were there to answer roll call that morning.



Colonel Henry Morrow was the commander of the 24th Michigan at Gettysburg. After 5 men had died carrying the flag Morrow picked it up to rally his men (as seen in the Troiani painting). Struck in the head from a piece of shrapnel he was knocked unconscious. Morrow was sequentially captured by the Confederates and placed in the Lutheran Seminary which was being used as a field hospital by the Union until it was overrun. Deciding it was better to be a captured doctor rather than capture Colonel Morrow quickly changed professions. He ripped his officer insignias from his shoulders and began masquerading as a doctor. If anyone questioned him he threw a fit at them interfering with his tending to his patients. Soon Morrow had the run of the place. On July 3rd he actually watched Pickett's Charge from the seminary's cupola. When the Confederates retreated he again threw a fit when they tried to take him with them as a prisoner. He refused to leave his "patients" and thus the Confederates left him behind. He rejoined his regiment on July 4th much to the delight of his men.

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Pete Belli
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Good article.

A big private from the 2nd Wisconsin named Patrick Mahoney rushed forward during the fighting and grabbed Brigadier General James Archer, claiming the Confederate officer as his prisoner. Those boys from the Iron Brigade were tough.

Here is an epilogue: Archer was taken to Union headquarters, where he encountered Abner Doubleday. Archer and Doubleday had served together in the Old Army before the war. Without thinking, Doubleday extended his hand and said, "I'm glad to see you!"

Archer's reply was less cordial.

BTW, Private Mahoney was killed at Gettysburg.
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Michael Sommers
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How many of the 397 unaccounted for on 2 July later returned to duty?
 
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Brian Morris
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I met Jame's Archer's great grandson John Archer one night at a bar in Gettysburg about 10 years ago. It was at the Mineshaft which is a hang out for the battlefield guides. He would tend bar there every once in a while for the manager who was a friend. He's written several Gettysburg books and it is the only time in my life I have bought a book in a bar and had the bartender sign it.
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Brian Morris
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tms2 wrote:
How many of the 397 unaccounted for on 2 July later returned to duty?


Not sure to be honest but not a lot. Most of the unaccounted for were of course killed, wounded or captured. Many of the captured were captured because they were wounded and were sent too Andersonville where a good many died. Also most of the Union dead on July 1st died in areas soon controlled by the Confederates and their bodies looted. Thus most of the Union dead from July 1st were never identified.

The trouble identifying bodies due in part to the looting of corpses resulted in several later discovered Confederate soldiers being buried in the National Cemetery. Likely more are buried with the many unknowns.
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Ben Delp
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My Great Great Great Grandfather was in one of the regiments assigned to the Iron Brigade after Gettysburg. Don't worry, I won't tell him you said they were "never the same".
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Jack
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mrbeankc wrote:

Don Troiani's painting of the 24th Michigan on McPherson's Ridge (I own a copy of this). Troiani is currently working on a new Iron Brigade at Gettysburg painting, No details yet but I have a spot already picked out on the wall for it. My educated guess is it's the 6th Wisconsin at the railroad cut. I hope I'm right.



Don Troiani has done a painting of the Iron Brigade at the railroad cut-



The 6th Wisconsin takes the bloody railroad cut and Private Francis Waller from De Soto, Wisconsin captures the flag of the 2nd Mississippi.

It's the cover for a particular edition of the book In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg by Lance J. Herdegen and William J.K. Beaudot.

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Brian Morris
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Rats! That one completely slipped my mind Jack. Most of Troiani's Gettysburg stuff is super expensive except some of the pieces done towards the end of the series. I'm fortunate to own a couple of pieces I picked up years ago. My wife and I decorated our formal living room in a sort of civil war theme featuring several Troiani pieces.
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Jack
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mrbeankc wrote:
I'm fortunate to own a couple of pieces I picked up years ago. My wife and I decorated our formal living room in a sort of civil war theme featuring several Troiani pieces.


Lucky you! I would love to own some of his artwork someday. I've spent many Sunday afternoons in art galleries studying the detail in his prints. I would recommend Don Troiani's Civil War to any Civil War buff.
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Brian Morris
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I love Don's work. I met Don once but didn't know it was him. I was at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. My wife and I have an annual convention in Harrisburg and after set up for the convention on Friday I usually shoot down too Gettysburg for the rest of the day or go to the museum for the rest of the afternoon. This one time at the museum they had one of the museum cases opened and were allowing this guy to give a serious look over of one of the Confederate officer's coats. Museums don't normally open display cases for visitors. I thought it odd so I was watching when the guy calls me over asking if I wanted a closer look as well and points out some details about the coat like the buttons and lining. The guy knew his uniforms that was sure. About a year later I saw a picture of Don Troiani for the first time and realized he was the man at the museum that they opened the display case for.
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Rosecrans man
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I believe July 1 was the 2nd WI's last battle, as I recall.
 
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It's BGGers like Brian, writing these threads that reinforce my feeling that this is the best corner of the best community on the internet. The post is informative, a very enjoyable read and I appreciate your time and effort.
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Antonio B-D
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Petdoc wrote:
It's BGGers like Brian, writing these threads that reinforce my feeling that this is the best corner of the best community on the internet. The post is informative, a very enjoyable read and I appreciate your time and effort.


Quoted because a single thumb was not enough reinforcement.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Wonderful post with some great images. I first "met" the 24th Michigan in Catton's Glory Road and they remain a regiment I am fascinated with, such as the 13th Louisiana and 48th Pennsylvania.

You mentioned that the Iron Brigade "died" at Gettysburg and it seems half true. At the Wilderness they fell back in disorder, which was a first. Yet, the nature of the war in 1864 made elite brigades less potent in attack. A well placed and entrenched Civil War army was almost impossible to dislodge. Arguably the Irish Brigade kept up some of its fighting spirit, but after Cold Harbor the outfit was no longer elite, with the death of Colonel Patrick Kelly at Petersburg being the date of "death" for that splendid unit.

The Iron Brigade is briefly featured in my book on the Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864. I am just finalizing footnotes now and tying up some loose ends in terms of research. I will share my passage on their bloody attack on June 18.

"The story was no different farther south, although no unit suffered as badly as the 1st Maine. At 3:00 p.m. Warren and Burnside sent their men into a fruitless battle, attacking along the same lines they had struck at noon. Warren’s men attacked before Burnside could advance; but Warren failed to coordinate his corps, and the attacks lacked planning and purpose. On the left flank, the divisions of Cutler and Ayres advanced. Cutler’s men lunged forward and found Kershaw’s grizzled veterans waiting behind earthworks. Canister raked the men as they entered an open field, and from the south a salient at Rives farm allowed the Confederates to bring down flanking fire. The 76th New York went into the fight with some spirit. As they met the galling fire from their front the regiment broke. The attack was made all the more bitter since upon reaching a slight rise the men of the 76th New York could see the spires of Petersburg, a city so close yet so far away.

Among Cutler’s units was the famed Iron Brigade of the West, which lost 200 men in only fifteen minutes before falling back. Henry Matrau, a frontline officer in the brigade, called the Iron Brigade’s last attack a “disastrous and useless affair.” Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin was empathic when he said “in another hopeless charge there was enacted a horrid massacre.” Cutler’s men, having failed to get closer than 75 yards and after losing nearly one third of their strength, dug rifles pits and hugged the earth for cover. Morale plummeted and Dawes captured the low spirits in a letter to his wife: “The suicidal manner in which we are sent against the enemy’s entrenchments is discouraging. Our brigade was simply food for powder.” The brigade also suffered a personal tragedy. In Company A of the 6th Wisconsin, Jesse Pearson was killed in the attack. His brother William had died at Gettysburg and three days later Levi Pearson was mortally wounded by a Rebel sharpshooter. Thus ended the lives of the Pearson brothers.

While Cutler’s men were repulsed, Ayres and his men simply looked on, seemingly ignoring Warren’s attack order. Although Cutler believed that Ayres had simply not received the order to attack this was not true. Ayres had advanced with two of his three brigades, posting a brigade of regulars on the left and heavy artillery to their right. The heavies were led by the gallant Colonel J. Howard Kitching, and they lost over 150 men before halting. Ayres’s men then fell back to a nearby hill and started fortifying. Kitching was astonished by the speed with which his men dug in, describing them as being “head foremost into the dirt like moles.” Beyond this, Ayres made no effort. He was a practical soldier who had seen his share of fruitless assaults and he grimly told Warren that the Confederate lines were impregnable and that he would not waste the lives of his men."
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