The following is a lengthy article condensed from the chapter "Clash of The Titans" from my new book, Iron Men: Iron Will. This article is for the reading pleasure of the Gettysburg Discussion Group only and may not be used further without my permission. All information in this article is meticulously footnoted in the book.
Private Abram J. Buckles looked forward to the coming fight. Buckles thirsted for all the honor and glory he'd seen others get; impatiently he sought the chance to do his duty. He thought he knew how he should seek it. "I had always had a great anxiety to carry the flag of my regiment and did not know how I could get the place of color-bearer, unless by serving in the guard until I could see a proper chance to pick the flag up, should the color-bearer be killed or wounded," he later recounted. As Buckles drifted off to sleep that evening, with full stomach and singleness of purpose, he could not have dreamed what the next day would hold. There would be plenty of opportunity for glory in Pennsylvania-in whatever form it was defined.
Sergeant Major Asa Blanchard roused his men early on July 1. Blanchard was a deep-voiced, popular soldier--there was no one more positive, and at times even hilarious, in the regiment. From all indications, the regiment was in for a hard day, and Blanchard wanted the men ready when the time came to move out. The men were taking their own precautions. Privates William Roby Moore and William Level split everything they had right down the middle. Moore had a premonition that Level would be killed or wounded and he wanted his share of the utensils, blankets, food and supplies that they shared as tentmates. General Meredith had sent orders for the Nineteenth Indiana to fall in line of column as the Iron Brigade filed by. At 8:00 A. M., the column got under way, marching toward Gettysburg. First in column was the Second Wisconsin, followed by the Seventh Wisconsin. The Hoosiers were next in column, all 288 men and officers. The Twenty-Fourth Michigan followed; then the Sixth Wisconsin brought up the rear of the brigade.
The Nineteenth Indiana that marched down the Emmitsburg Pike was by now an experienced and battle-hardened regiment. It was led by experienced officers and fleshed out by the hardiest and bravest of the enlisted men, the rest having leeched out through storms of fire and as a result of their own inadequacies.
Shortly after commencing the movement on Gettysburg, the men could hear the deep-throated boom of artillery fire reverberating in the distance. The column sped up, without being ordered to do so. About a mile south of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade discharged all of its non-combatants and useless baggage. The column reached a little hill and finally the men could see all of Gettysburg in the distance, with batteries from both North and South blazing away at each other. As the Nineteenth reached the top of the hill, a stray shell burst in the air above them, causing the men to let out a hearty cheer. The Hoosiers had believed this fight was merely a cavalry skirmish. General Reynolds, though, had ridden forward and sent back word to General Wadsworth that Rebel infantry was present and driving down both sides of the Chambersburg Pike against General John Buford's cavalry. Another shell came whistling over the heads of the Hoosiers and exploded as General Wadsworth issued the order, "Deploy division, charge and drive the Rebels back!" The Iron Brigade now left the road and ran double-quick across the fields of ripening corn to the crest of Seminary Ridge. The division formed in lines of battle, the second brigade on the right side of the Chambersburg Pike and the Iron Brigade on the left of the road. Sergeant Major Asa Blanchard took his position on the left of the regiment and placed the guides for the left wing "as coolly as if on parade." Burlington Cunningham who had won the honor of bearing the flag by rescuing the standard on the field at Antietam, now held the furled banner. A staff officer rode by and told Cunningham "Do not unfurl the flag!" Cunningham could see the battle line forming, however, and could not restrain himself. He turned to Abe Buckles, who was color guard and told him, "Abe, pull the shuck!" With that, the flag swung defiantly into the breeze.
The regiment moved off Seminary Ridge and toward the next rise, McPherson's Ridge. As the men moved forward, they encountered Gamble's cavalrymen, who were starting to filter back from the line as that outmanned cavalry division started to give way to the pressure of the advancing Confederates. The cavalrymen cheered the Iron Brigade on, "We have got them now. Go in and give them hell!"
Hall's Battery of six guns had gone into action one hundred yards in front of McPherson's Ridge, and their firing slowed the advance of Brigadier General James Archer's Alabamans and Tennesseans. With General Reynolds exhorting them, "Forward men, forward, for God's sake!' the brigade advanced, loading their guns and fixing bayonets as they went. The Rebels unleashed a volley on the advancing Union troops, and Private Bill Level, true to Private Moore's premonition, went down immediately. Burlington Cunninghame went down with a wound that knocked him unconscious. Abe Buckles picked up the flag, fulfilling his fondest dreams, and led the regiment to the attack.
The brigade continued its advance and drove the Rebels up McPherson's Ridge. As they reached the crest of the ridge, they encountered stray solid shots coming from the Rebel batteries just beyond the crest of Herr Ridge. It was now around 11:00 A.M. The brigade rushed past General Reynolds at the crest of McPherson's Ridge and entered the woods below. Archers's Tennessee and Alabama troops entered McPherson's Woods from the west at the same time that Meredith's men entered it from the east. Archer's men came in screeching the Rebel yell, and got off the first volley at forty yards away. Many men went down, including General Reynolds, killed instantly by a bullet in the head. Archer's men also got a look at the enemy. They had seen Pennsylvania militia in the area in the past several days and half expected the men they faced in McPherson's Woods to be militia. When they saw their enemy they yelled, "There are those damned black-hatted fellows again. "Taint no militia, it's the Army of the Potomac!"
The Twenty-Fourth Michigan and the Nineteenth Indiana now found themselves outside the right flank of Archer's men in McPherson's Woods and far in advance of the brigade line. Seizing the moment, the Westerners now wheeled to the right and poured a terrific enfilading fire into Archer's shocked troops.
The fighting was brief and vicious. Archer's men began to fall back down the ridge to where the bulk of their brigade awaited on the banks of Willoughby Run. Abram Buckles now spied the fluttering flags of Archer's Brigade at the foot of the hill and impetuosly charged down the hill. Lieutenant Colonel Dudley yelled, "Come back here with that flag!" but Buckles ran on. The Nineteenth Indiana followed him and , without orders, continued firing at the Rebels. Archer's men broke and ran across Willoughby Run with the Hoosiers and the Twenty-Fourth Michigan in hot pursuit. The Iron Brigade pushed the gray-clads for another hundred yards before the officers of the regiments could get them under control. Archer's Brigade was almost destroyed. In addition to killing and wounding many, the Westerners captured several hundred Confederates, including General Archer himself. It was a smashing victory and blunted a Confederate attack that might have ended with the Rebels holding Cemetery Ridge at the end of day one, instead of Union forces possessing it.
The sidearms of the enemy field officers were handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Dudley. He gave the sword of a Rebel lieutenant colonel to Sergeant Major Asa Blanchard. Blanchard and Adjutant George Finney then escorted the prisoners back to the cavalry, which had re-formed in the rear of the Union line. Blanchard returned to the regiment and supervised the smashing of more than four hundred Rebel rifles over rocks, a task which took one and one-half hours to accomplish. The men then settled down to aiding their wounded and making coffee. Private James Stickley, Co. C, was badly wounded during the attack, but he refused to leave the field when his comrades came to his assistance.
By this time the Union line was increasing in strength, with the addition of General O.O. Howard's Eleventh Corps, which positioned itself on the right of the First Corps. Also adding strength was part of Rowley's Division on the left flank of the Iron Brigade. At 11:30 Biddle's Brigade of Rowley's Division took position on he left rear of the Iron Brigade, and Stone's Brigade spread out on the right rear. For some unexplained reason, Biddle's men were ordered down into the ravine by Willoughby Run. This movement left them exposed to Confederate artillery fire, which drove them from the field. Their withdrawal left the Iron Brigade's left flank dangerously exposed.
By now the Nineteenth Indiana had done some realignment of its own. The Twenty-Fourth Michigan was shifted to the right of the Nineteenth, and the Nineteenth was moved further to the left in the ravine at Willoughby Run, sheltered somewhat by the western edge of McPherson's Woods. It was in this position that the men went about destroying Rebel guns and drinking their coffee, in full view of the Confederates re-forming on Herr Ridge.
It was now nearly 3:00 P.M. and Colonel Williams could see a hkuge enemy flanking column of Lieutenant General A. P. Hill's men moving into position for attack. Concerned about his exposed status on the flank, the colonel sent Sergeant Major Blanchard to General Meredith to tell him that he intended to move two hundred yards back up the hill to the ridghe line. Meredith concurred and sent Blanchard on to General Wadsworth to inform him. Wadsworth wanted no part of the movement. He told Blanchard to tell Meredith that the woods must be held at all costs. Blanchard replied, "General, if that is what you want and the Iron Brigade can't hold it, who will?" Wadsworth responded, "Present my compliments to General Meredith and say to him that with the Iron Brigade in possession of McPherson's Woods, I have no fear for our left flank." It is doubtful that Wadsworth had been anywhere near the left flank. If he could have seen it dangling in the air, he most certainlly would have allowed the withdrawal. The Nineteenth Indiana was exposed, and an overwhelming Confederate force was moving towards it. These were the ingredients for a disaster.
At 3:00 P.M. the Rebels fired a signal gun and three long lines of Confederates advanced. Sergeant Major Blanchard was sent out to bring in Company B, who were about one-hundred yards in front of the main line as skirmishers. As Brigadier Johnston Pettigrew's and Colonel J. M. Brockenbrough's brigades emerged from the timber line, the Hoosiers automatically formed their battle line. Colonel Williams ordered the regiment to hold its fire until the Rebels had crossed Willoughby Run and then to fire low. As the full power of the Rebe lines could be seen, Colonel Williams yelled out, "Boys, we must hold our colors on this line or lie here under them!" For many soldiers, the latter part of the colonel's declaration would be fulfilled that day.
The full fury of Pettigrew's North Carolinians' attack came sweeping down on the flank of the Iron Brigade. The Nineteenth Indiana unleashed its first volley, which managed to melt away the first line of the Rebel advance. The second line of the enemy attack opened fire, and the Hoosiers started to drop from the massed Rebel volley. Private James Stickley, wh had earlier refused to leave the field when he was wounded , was struck down again, this time mortally.
In the act of encouraging his men, Lieutenant Richard Jones was killed instantly by a minie ball. The roar of rifles and artillery coupled with the high-pitched Rebel yell and the assorted commands of the Union officers added confusion to the desperate scene. Private Wes Payton was struck by a musket ball in the abdomen, turning him in a series of somersaults. His eyes bulged out and he called to his friend, Private Moore, "Robe, I'm shot!' He looked down, expecting to find a gaping fatal wound, and saw that the bullet had struck a brass button on his frock coat, saving his life.
Corporal Cunningham had recovered from his earlier wound to reclaim the regimental colors. The volley from the second Rebel line sent bullets flying at the colors, and Cunningham went down with a shot in the leg. He lay on the ground near Willoughby Run while three successiv lines of Brockenbrough's Virginians stumbled over him.
Abe Buckles snatched up the flag and started for the trees of McPherson's Woods. Another Rebel volley caught Buckles, and he went down with his arm shattered by a ball. The men shouted to Lt. Macy that the colors were down. Macy ordered one private to go get the flag, but the private refused. Macy ran back through the hailstorm of bullets toward the flag a Sgt. Blair, Co. K, also went to its rescue. Blair no sooner grabbed it when he was shot down. David Phipps picked it up, waved it three times and was felled by a Rebel bullet. By this time, Lt. Macy arrived. He had to roll Phipps off the flag to claim it. Macy then raced back up the hill in a cloud of bullets.
The scene along the entire Union line was a discouraging one. Shortly after the first Confederate line attacked, the Eleventh Corps gave way on the Union right flank. The left flank of the Iron Brigade was in peril because Biddle's Brigade was en echelon in their left rear, unable to protect the left of the Nineteenth Indiana. This led to the Nineteenth's being forced back, uncovering the Twenty- Fourth Michigan.
General Meredith now ordered his brigade to fall back two hundred yards to the top of McPherson's Ridge. The Indiana troops moved slowly back, halting and firing a deadly rain of bullets as they went at Rebels who were massed at this vulnerable point. The Confederates directed their charge up the slope of the ridge toward the 151st Pennsylvania, the right flank regiment of Biddle's Brigade. As Pettigrew's 26th North Carolina neared them, the Nineteenth Indiana wheeled to their left and poured a withering fire into the flanks of the North Carolinians.
A Rebel artillery shell exploded at the feet of General Meredith's horse, killing it instantly and sending up a piece of shrapnel to graze the general's head. The horse fell on the unconscious general, and Meredith had to be removed from the field. It was at this point, as the unit attempted to re-form the line at the top of McPherson's Ridge, that the casualties started to mount rapidly. Major Lindley was wounded severely in the hand, as was Captain Ives. Captain Shafer was injured and so was young Captain David Holloway. Allen Ogborn, Alexander Burke, Reuben Clark, Peter Foust and William Hoover were all mortally wounded on the west face of the ridge. Sgt. James Ferguson, Privates Andrew Beshears, Thomas Winset, Thomas Daugherty and Thomas Michener were all killed while blazing away at the hard-driving Confederates. Captain Adam Gisse and James Nash were seriously wounded, but both of the men refused to leave the field and boldly fought on.
Lt. Macy now made the crest of the ridge with the colors, and Lt. Crocket East was helping him put the flag back in the shuck, when East was shot and killed. While Macy attended to Lt. East, Joel Curtis picked up the flag and he, too, instantly went down. Lt. Macy yelled at Private Moore to pick up the flag. Moore reluctantly did so as he was busy loading and firing his rifle. A bullet found its way to his hand, breaking it and splattering blood all over. Colonel Williams ordered Moore to the rear,a nd as blood spurted, Moore tried to pass the colors to Private Joe Carter, a Virginian who was loading and firing. Carter, however, wanted no part of the folly of being the focal point for all of the Rebel marksmen. Lt. Col. Dudlely now raced into the fray and grabbed the flag. He too lasted but a few moments before he was shot below the right knee. This wound would cost the young officer his leg. As Dudley lay on the ground with the flag staff in his hand, Sgt. Major Blanchard ran to his aid, crying out, "Colonel, you shouldn't have done this. That was my duty. I shall never forgive myself for letting you touch that flag."
Lt. Macy had seen enough futility in the form of color bearers' deaths. He left Lt. East's lifeless form, picked up the flag, took it to Private Burr Clifford and told him to shuck the flag. Clifford threw down his musket and all of his equipment and started for the rear with the flag. He walked, twirling the flag around the staff as he went. He then stopped and placed the staff on the ground. Holding the staff in his left hand, he turned sideways to present a smaller target. Instantly a bullet struck the staff below his hand, and another struck his tall black hat. Another bullet pierced his pant leg below the knee and one more above the other knee. Two more bullets cut through the tail of his frock coat. Blanchard saw the wavering Clifford and told Lt. Col. Dudley, "It's down again, colonel, now it's my turn!"
Blanchard ran up and demanded that he be given the flag, but Lt. Macy yelled that there had been enough men shot with the flag. Blanchard turned to Colonel Williams and appealed to him to let him carry the flag. Colonel Williams ordered, "Let him have it." As soon as Blanchard had his hands on the flag, he tied the shuck around his waist, unfurled the banner and yelled, "Rally boys!" He was instantly shot in the groin; blood gushed from a severed artery. Blanchard fell against a tree and cried at his men, "Don't stop for me, don't let them have the flag. Tell Mother I never faltered." Lt. Macy reclaimed the flag and started to put it back into the shuck when Pvt. Clifford came up and took the flag.
The death of Blanchard was the culmination of the fight at McPherson's Ridge for the Nineteenth Indiana. The regiment slowly fell back to Seminary Ridge, stopping and firing as they went. At Seminary Ridge, General Wadsworth had formed a battle line and the men of the Nineteeth joined it. This line successfully stemmed the Rebel tide until Howard's Eleventh Corps gave way on its flank. The regiment now fell apart and it was every man for himself as the desperate remnants of the First Corps retreated back under relentless Confederate pressure and shelling toward Cemetery Hill where they were greeted by Major-General Winfield Scott Hancock. There were too few Hoosiers to be rallied by Hancock. Of 288 men who entered the first day's fight, 27 were killed outright, 133 were wounded and 50 were missing. Victory bells might be heard throughout the North on the Fourth of July, but they were soon to be joined by the mournful wails of farm families in Elkhart, Selma, Spencer, Muncie, Richmond and Winchester, Indiana as they learned the true cost of the victory.
Condensed From: Chapter Nine, Iron Men: Iron Will, "The Nineteenth Indiana Regiment of the Iron Brigade. " 393 Pages, 50 images, Charts, Rosters and Maps. By Craig L. Dunn, Published By: Guild Press of Indiana. Hardback $29.95 Softback $24.95
Copies may be ordered from the author at: Craig Dunn P.O. Box 749 Kokomo, Indiana 46903-0749 Please include $3.50 Shipping