Iverson's Brigade

Iverson's Brigade

Esteemed member Greg Mast contributes:

Following are some much-condensed notes I compiled more than a year ago about the destruction of Iverson's Brigade on July 1:

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson's Brigade, attached to Major General Robert E. Rodes's Division, arrived on a northern extension of Oak Ridge, north of Gettysburg, in the late morning of July 1. General Rodes seemingly was presented with an excellent opportunity to strike the Federals on McPherson's Ridge squarely in their unprotected flank.

[Snip: an unsatisfactory attempt to discuss O'Neal's attack and the pre-advance maneuvring of Iverson's Brigade, completion of which is deferred until after my next trip to Gettysburg.]

Iverson's advance was doomed by a display of extraordinary incompetence (or cowardice) on the part of the general himself. After ordering the advance and exhorting his troops to “give them hell,” Iverson did not go forward with his brigade but, according to Major Charles C. Blacknall of the 23rd North Carolina, took shelter behind a big chestnut log [that] intervened between him and the battle and . . . more than once reminded his staff that for more than one at a time to look over was an unnecessary exposure of person.”

The four Tar Heel regiments advanced over an open field on Oak Ridge in the following order, left to right: 5th N.C. State Troops, 20th N.C. Troops, 23rd N.C. Troops, and 12th N.C. Troops. Had a competent brigade commander (Iverson or otherwise) been with them to provide guidance, the North Carolinians could probably have smashed into the Federals' right flank and rolled up their line. Instead, the brigade drifted to the right, presenting its left flank to a stone wall, unaware that five enemy regiments huddled behind it. Furthermore, by neglecting to deploy skirmishers in advance of his line, General Iverson ensured that the Federals waiting in ambush would remain undiscovered.

The watchful enemy was impressed with the magnificent order” with which the North Carolinians advanced: perfect alignment, guns at right shoulder and colors to the front.” When the command was given, the Federals rose and delivered a short-range volley of shocking violence. Hundreds of men in the 5th, 20th, and 23rd Regiments dropped; survivors either drifted to the rear or sought meager shelter in a shallow swale in front of the wall. Incredibly, upon seeing some of his men pinned closest to the wall begin to wave handkerchiefs in token of surrender, the panic-stricken Iverson informed Rodes that one his regiments had gone over to the enemy!” The Tar Heels, taking casualties by the minute and sporadically returning fire, endured the carnage. "I believe every man who stood up was either killed or wounded," Lieutenant Oliver Williams of the 20th North Carolina remembered; Lieutenant George Burns Bullock of the 23rd North Carolina said it was the only battle "where the blood ran like a branch. And that too, on the hot, parched ground."

A subsequent advance by the Federals gathered in hundreds of prisoners. Survivors hugged the ground until renewed attacks by General Stephen D. Ramseur's Brigade, the 12th North Carolina, and elements of General Junius Daniel's Brigade overwhelmed the enemy. Next day a Virginia artilleryman, visiting the sight of Iverson's attack, recorded a "perfectly sickening and heart-rending" sight: "There were . . . seventy-nine North Carolinians laying dead in a straight line. I stood on their right and looked down their line. It was perfectly dressed. Three had fallen to the front, the rest had fallen backward; yet the feet of all these dead men were in a perfectly straight line."

I have abstracted the casualties of Iverson's Brigade at Gettysburg from the published CSRs of the four regiments in _North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster_. They are as follows (estimated regimental strengths on June 30, 1863, are from Busey and Martin _Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg_).

5th Regiment N.C. State Troops
Estimated June 30 strength: 503 officers and men
Killed in action, July 1-3: 39 men
Died of wounds after the battle: 30 men
Wounded in action: 66 men
Prisoners of war: 95 men
Wounded prisoners of war: 65 men
TOTAL: 295 men, 58.7%

12th Regiment N.C. Troops
Estimated June 30 strength: 232 officers and men
Killed in action, July 1-3: 6 men
Died of wounds after the battle: 6 men
Wounded in action: 31 men
Prisoners of war: 9 men
Wounded prisoners of war: 27 men
TOTAL: 79 men, 34.1%

20th Regiment N.C. Troops
Estimated June 30 strength: 395 officers and men
Killed in action, July 1-3: 35 men
Died of wounds after the battle: 9 men
Wounded in action: 27 men
Prisoners of war: 115 men
Wounded prisoners of war: 67 men
TOTAL: 253 men, 64.1%

23rd Regiment N.C. Troops
Estimated June 30 strength: 336 officers and men
Killed in action, July 1-3: 45 men
Died of wounds after the battle 19 men
Wounded in action: 42 men
Prisoners of war: 97 men
Wounded prisoners of war: 80 men
TOTAL: 283 men, 84.2%

The comparatively light casualties of the 12th North Carolina can be explained by its position on the brigade right flank. It became somewhat detached and evidently a further dip in the terrain afforded it some protection.
The number of men killed in this brigade, July 1-3, amounts to about 125, almost all of them on July 1; for obvious reasons the brigade saw limited service during the remainder of the battle. Those men were the occupants of Iverson's Pits. I'm not much of a necrologist, but I believe some of North Carolina's Gettysburg dead were returned here and reinterred at Oakwood Cemetery at Raleigh. I do not know if that includes any of Iverson's command.
This whole dismal affair was probably best characterized by Captain Vines E. Turner of the 23rd North Carolina, in his history of the regiment: "unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom. Deep and long must the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina rue the rashness of that hour."

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