16th Michigan

16th Michigan

16th Michigan
R D Winthrop says:


The 16th dispatched its largest company, which happened to be of 'independent sharpshooters' permanently attached to the regiment. The 16th was itself originally raised independent of state authority and was known as Stockton's Independent Regiment until commissioned as 16th.

I read an account in a Michigan MOLLUS some time back noting this detachment of sharpshooters and their absence during the fight. Don't recall if it is in OR (any help here?).

They did not rejoin the 16th until after the fight that night, which is why the regiment was closer to 150 on the ledge rather than the 250. I don't have any proof they joined Morrill, but if not where were they? Could Morril's fire have been as effective as it seems to have been (how many men did he have behind the stone 'wall'??). Or have I just missed out on something here -- is it established there were sharpshooters with Morrill? Anyone know what they were wearing (don't know for a fact, but don't believe the 16th wore greens).

My impression [from memory, may well be wrong] was that Oakes right-most regiments crossed over the larger hill, encountering sharpshooters and brushing them aside. These I expect may well have Berdans ... but I find it hard to place Berdan's people on LRT. I thought the bulk of them were out toward (?Willoughby's) woods ... memory again. Isn't there reference to them fighting alongside 17th Maine?

I thought the most interesting thesis of Ryan's article was that as the 16th had proved itself a fighting regiment, its placement on the flank was intentional. Losing the sharpshooters, however, would have depleted its firepower so much I can see a real flaw in this deployment. Interesting article with which I tend to agree.

By the way, there is a (undated) secondary source from a "special correspondent of the New York Tribune" in the Michigan AG's description of the 16th on LRT noting that Chamberlain did indeed order his downhill charge ... it seems a contivance, however, as some of the detail is a wee bit romantic (what else is new).

Is there any indication anywhere that there was a reporter anywhere near LRT? The inference from the Michigan AG version is that the correspondent was with Warren. Possible? Can anyone pin the Tribune reference??

Esteemed member kim crawford contributes:

I read your discussion archives recently, and a couple of statements about the 16th Michigan compelled me to add my two cents.

First, the 16th's company of sharpshooters and another company (these said to be the two largest companies) were detached from the regiment and sent as skirmishers to Big Round Top. The sources for this are from two "War Paper" accounts, one of which is the transcription of an officer's diary, and a Michigan sharpshooter's diary for July 2 which states: "Reached formed line of battle. Took position on the extreme left of our lines. And in the short space of five minutes lost a great number of men and officers."

It seems clear that these Michigan soldiers are near, if not alongside, the 20th Maine in the course of the battle -- Oliver Norton's denials not withstanding. Since the 16th Michigan is the smallest regiment on LRT, can we agree that the removal of two key companies is perhaps the compelling factor in the collapse of part of the regiment? Which brings me to the next point: the entire regiment did not withdraw or flee, as some have suggested.

Long before Norton's books were published, the 16th Michigan's last commander, Ben Partridge, wrote to the Adjt. General of Michigan, noting that Col. Welch "for some reason" withdrew with the colors during "during the hottest part of the battle in the p.m. towards night" (the writer also asked the AG not to put that in the history he was then writing). But Partridge went on to tell how he and several other officers of the regiment, who had not left LRT, "objected to moving away from the front" the next morning when ordered by Col. Rice; they stayed until Welch returned.

Of course, I accept that Welch's report is very likely a coverup about his role. I'm no fan of "what if" questions and do not wish to "clean up" Welch's conduct at LRT. My research on the 16th is ongoing, and I welcome any and all suggestions about archival and primary source material relating to the regiment.

Still, when I see the nearly worshipful status accorded the 20th Maine, and the way in which the 16th Michigan is "dissed," I have to wonder how things might have turned out had Dygert's sharpshooters and the second company been in line on the far right with their regiment, rather than on the left. If I were to argue that Michigan men helped Chamberlain to become a hero that day, I would be denounced as a crank and rightly so. But I think the letter writer was right who made the point that, yes, all the sergeants and privates and junior officers who were there that day contributed to the Union victory at LRT, and, yes, that does include members of the 16th Michigan.