Dedication of Monument
45th Regiment Infantry
October 10, 1888
Comrades, Friends, Ladies of the Regiment and Fellow Citizens:
To us, the survivors, the good fortune has been granted to gather today on this spot that means so very much to us so that we may witness the dedication of a monument in honor of our comrades of the 45th regiment, fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg. At the occasion of this solemn act, dear Ladies and Gentlemen, let me give a brief account of the regiment’s actions during the fierce three-day combat:
With golden rays the morning sun broke through on the first day of July 1863, and shone on the encampment near Emmitsburg where our regiment was preparing to march out of camp. Cheerfully and in perfect formation we marched; suddenly the not too distant thunder of cannons was heard; and advancing Union Cavalry reported to us that the enemy was pressing forward furiously. Now we proceeded for four miles at the quick-step; exhausted and breathless we reached Gettysburg.
Immediately, four companies under the command of the fearless Captain Irsch bravely went forward and pushed the enemy sharp shooters back for a third of a mile, thereby making it possible to hook up with the First Corps which had been heavily engaged for a while already. This was done in spite of the enemy’s twelve-pounder battery on Oak Hill that caused great devastation in our ranks but was attacked in turn by our brave skirmishers.
Finally, help arrives; along with the rest of our regiment under the command of the gallant Colonel Doebke, Dilger’s brave Ohio Cannoneers came dashing and quickly silenced the aforementioned enemy battery, as well as a second one.
Thereupon we advanced at the double-quick step, when suddenly several brigades of enemy infantry pushed back the right wing of the valiantly fighting First Corps, thereby threatening our left flank. The 45th quickly poured volley after volley into the enemy’s flanks and, charging after the retreating enemy, took several hundred prisoners. With a ‘hurrah’ we then advanced to McLean’s red barn; the valiant Sgt. Linder and his comrades took 60 prisoners, followed by an additional twelve who appeared from a nearby trench to surrender. Alas, in that very same hour the fortunes of war eluded us. Our bravely fighting First Division, flanked by Gordon’s and Dole’s famous Georgia veterans, is heavily threatened in the rear. Therefore, the bloody gains made had to be abandoned, fighting step by step, withdrawing to the college in front of the town. Meanwhile, our hard fighting left wing of the First Corps was outflanked by Heth’s and Pender’s North Carolina veterans streaming into town to the west of us. There we stood, still fighting stubbornly, between the college and the town, and Coster’s vulnerable, brave brigade of Steinwehr’s Second Division was powerless as well and could not stop the flood of the enemy’s attack from the east. Then General Schimmelpfennig’s bugler sounded the "Retreat at the Quickstep! Save yourself if you are able!" But the stubborn Captain Irsch, whose sharp eye had long recognized our calamity, shouted, "Comrades, it is too late for quick retreat; the situation calls for stubborn fight, imprisonment or death!" And as one we replied, "We will stand here and die fighting, or perish in prison!" So we advanced, the banner lifted high, through the streets congested with carriages, ambulances and refugees, towards the cemetery heights that promised shelter. At every western street corner enemy bullets pierced our ranks; so we turned against the enemy enabling our brothers to retreat under cover; and so the bloody street battle continued. When bullets began raining from the east as well, it meant saving the regimental colors. So Colonel Doebke and the brave Captain Corn led the head of the column into a protected alley by the church, while the gallant Major Koch fell to the ground badly wounded, and the rear guard reached the alley under heavy attack from east and west alike. Then the bad news from the head of the column: We are in a blind alley - men and colors must escape over fences to the nearby cemetery. Protected by Irsch’s heroic rear guard, under the leadership of valiant officers Lindemayer, Dietz, Hanf, Nitschke and the brave Ahlert, Leydecker, Gerson, Schlumpf and others, the charging enemy was repeatedly repulsed by taking shelter in houses and yards. For hours they continued to defy the enemy, capitulating only when no hope was left.
On July 2, the remnants of the regiment were subjected to heavy artillery- and infantry attacks.
At 8:00 o’clock in the evening we were ordered to assist the hard pressed Twelfth Corps on Culp’s Hill in order to relieve General Green’s valiant brigade, and repeatedly repulsed heavy enemy assaults resulting in heavy losses to our regiment.
The next morning, July 3rd, we handed over the entrenchments that were entrusted to us to Green’s worthy troops and resumed our previous position on Cemetery Hill.
Now the gallant General Schurz was in need of "volunteers" in order to eliminate the enemy sharpshooters in front of the town that were giving our cannoneers such a hard time; Sergeant Link, the bold, along with 20 fearless comrades, took over this task and was finally successful, but only after heavy sacrifices. This took place during the great storm, called "Pickett’s Charge," threatening death and defeat to us and ruin to the country.
Now undisturbed by the enemy’s sharp shooters, our artillery started to mow down Pickett’s valiant men with solid shot and canister; however, of the few volunteers but few returned , and they were all wounded.
On July 4 we were assured of the great victory; the enemy offered parole to the 45th prisoners, as well as to others; but this was denied since it was considered dishonorable to obtain ones freedom from the beaten enemy while still on the field of battle. It was also believed that the badly beaten enemy would be incapable of taking the prisoners across the Potomac, let alone all the way to Richmond, and that the victorious Army of the Potomac would capture the entire enemy force along with us, or at least force the enemy to release us on this side of the Potomac. But it did not happen that way; the same differing opinions and actions from the top that had brought so much calamity to our brave army before, robbed us of the fruits of the hard fought victory this time as well, thus passing up the opportunity to end the rebellion at once. While great masses of militia threatened the enemy from Harrisburg, with the Army of the Potomac in his back and French flanking him at Harpers Ferry, General Lee entrenched at Hagerstown and calmly waited until the rain-swollen Potomac allowed him to cross over with his 5,000 prisoners of war; and so the gallant men went to Libby Prison and Belle Isle, and later on to Macon, Charleston, and Andersonville where so many of them sacrificed their lives for the Union under most dreadful agony, or who now miserably waste away in both body and spirit.
After Gettysburg, the 45th Regiment was transferred to the 20th Corps under General Hooker and participated in the battles of Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Resaca, Kenesaw Mountain, the East Tennessee Campaign, the relief of Burnside, as well as many other lesser important battles and skirmishes, and can look back with just pride at its past.
May this magnificent monument forever demonstrate to future generations that sons of the German nation fell here as heros and good patriots, and that those who are born in a foreign country are capable to fulfill their duty to their adopted fatherland, and when necessary, bravely lay down their lives.
Comrades of the 45th Regiment, this monument must always remind us to defend the honor and good name of the regiment with the same ardor and spirit of sacrifice as our commander Irsch did. Furthermore, we want to sincerely thank the esteemed comrades, Captains Feldstein, Wehr and others for their kind participation.
"The duty now has been fulfilled,
"Our tribute been presented to the Fallen;
"The magnificent monument is now unveiled,
"Let us remember them once again with affection,
"Slumber on, dear comrades,
"May nothing disturb you in your sweet rest
"Until the graves in all the states will open up
"For the universal grand review;
"Then, just as we did 25 years ago,
"We will stand together again brave and true,
"Free from sorrow and earthly dangers
"To joyfully enter into the new life."
The monument dedication speech was delivered in the German language and appeared in its original form in New York at Gettysburg. This English translation was prepared by Ulli Baumann, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; October 2000.