Maine at Brandy Station

 

June 9, 2018, is the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle in North America. It was also the battle where the 1st Maine Cavalry felt that it “earned its spurs.” This excerpt from Maine Roads to Gettysburg tells a bit about the Maine horsemen’s experiences in June 1863.

The 1st Maine received orders to move out on June 8. Dust clouds visible in the distance showed that the Rebels were moving, too. The Maine horsemen bivouacked in the vicinity of Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock. That evening, the officers received an invitation to brigade commander Judson Kilpatrick’s headquarters. “General Kilpatrick loved a good, social time almost as well as a fight,” recalled Capt. Charles Ford of Company K. When the Maine officers arrived, they saw a mysterious object covered by a poncho near Kilpatrick’s tent. An aide whipped the poncho aside to reveal a vessel filled with whiskey punch. Realizing there were always “honorable exceptions” to their pledges of temperance, the Maine Puritans unbent enough to pass an hour of toasts, songs, and speeches. When it came time for the 1st Maine to offer a toast, an officer raised his glass and said, “Here’s hoping we will do as well at Brandy Station to-morrow as we are doing at the whisky station to-night.” Kilpatrick proclaimed it the best toast he had heard all evening.

Dawn had broken by the time the Maine cavalry finally saddled up and moved out on June 9. As they waited for their turn to cross the Rappahannock, they could hear artillery from somewhere upriver. Once across, they broke into a gallop down forest trails, the thudding hooves sending up clouds of dust that coated the whole command. Suddenly the horses emerged from the woods into a large field. In front of them was “a grand, moving panorama of war,” a chaotic confusion of charging horsemen and flashing sabers. “It was a scene to be witnessed but once in a lifetime, and one well worth the risks of battle to witness,” said regimental historian Edward Tobie. It was, in fact, the largest cavalry action to take place in North America.

The battle of Brandy Station had opened to the north—the sounds of firing earlier that morning had come from the area around Beverly Ford, where Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Federal cavalry division had surprised the Confederates in the predawn hours. They sent the Rebel cavalrymen dashing back in the direction of Fleetwood Hill, the eminence above Brandy Station where Jeb Stuart had his headquarters. The battle continued through the morning. Stuart managed to recover and rally, only to be surprised again by the sounds of battle to his south: Gregg’s division, including Kilpatrick’s brigade, had finally entered the fight.

Kilpatrick sent his first two regiments, the 2nd and 10th New York, charging forward toward the tracks of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad and Fleetwood Hill beyond. They collided with Rebel cavalry under Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, and came reeling back. If Kilpatrick had been nourishing dreams of winning glory and promotion on this field, they were rapidly fading. He displayed considerable agitation when he rode up to the 1st Maine and its commander, Col. Calvin Douty. “Colonel Douty, what can you do with your regiment?” he demanded.

“I can drive the rebels to hell,” Douty replied. He ordered his men forward.21

“Oh, it was grand!” wrote Tobie, “and many a man who was in that charge has at times fancied that if he were allowed to choose, he would say, ‘Let me bid this world good-by amid the supreme excitement of a grand, exultant, successful cavalry charge like this!’” As they galloped across the field, the Maine cavalrymen could see a little house on the hill, with an artillery battery in front of it. They headed in that direction, driving the enemy before them. The Rebels, Kilpatrick reported, “could not withstand the heavy saber blows of the sturdy men of Maine.”

On the other side of the railroad, the Maine men smashed into the 4th Virginia. Amid the dust clouds, sabers slashed, small arms cracked, horses whinnied, and men cursed. The Rebels broke and fell back. The 1st Maine regrouped and renewed its charge, energized by the frenzy of battle. The riders reached the top of the hill, charged past the battery there, and galloped so far that Rebel forces began to regroup in their rear. Douty had become separated from his men in the fight with the 4th Virginia, so Lt. Col. Charles H. Smith took charge of reforming the regiment and readying it for a dash back to safety. The Northerners wheeled their horses and fought their way through the reformed enemy lines. At one point Smith was leading his men directly toward the battery they had charged beyond, and he could see the enemy gunners frantically reloading. At the last minute, Smith and his men veered sharply to their right, and the battery’s fire tore through empty air. The regiment made its way back to its own lines, but with a loss of some 46 killed, wounded, and missing.

After a long day of combat, Union cavalry chief Alfred Pleasonton was satisfied with what he had accomplished, and he sent orders for his forces to withdraw around five o’clock. He had not defeated the Rebel cavalry, which had fought tenaciously after its unpleasant surprise, but he had demonstrated that the Union cavalry was now a force to be reckoned with. Lt. Colonel Smith believed the battle marked the 1st Maine Cavalry’s “christening” because it marked “the first time it was ever solidly engaged, and the first time it had ever tasted, in any satisfactory manner, the fruit of victory.”

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

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Notebooks, Not Guns

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The 10th Maine Battalion’s monument at Gettysburg is on the Baltimore Pike, near the park visitor center (Tom Huntington photo).

The remnants of the 10th Maine—which contained the 1st Maine within its regimental DNA—reached Gettysburg with Henry Slocum and the XII Corps. Not a single one of its soldiers fired a gun during the battle, although several of them contributed to the fight by wielding notebooks.

The two-year men of the 10th Maine had been mustered out in April, but some 240 or so still had time left on their enlistments. There were not enough for a regiment, so—amid much protest and grumbling—they were placed into three companies and designated as the 10th Maine Battalion and acted as the provost guard for the XII Corps. Its men served as guards, clerks, and orderlies—the kind of mundane tasks that kept the machinery of an army in motion, but rarely received mention in official reports. When the corps was on the march, the 10th Maine Battalion took up the rear, behind even the wagons with the hospital supplies. When the corps set up camp, the battalion pitched their tents near Slocum’s headquarters. “A detail into this guard would ordinarily be considered desirable by a soldier in search of adventure and a free and easy life,” noted regimental historian John Mead Gould.

In command was Capt. John D. Beardsley, who had joined Company D of the 10th Maine back in 1861. Many of the company’s soldiers were hardy lumbermen from Aroostook County, but there was also a contingent of British soldiers from New Brunswick. Beardsley was a bit of both. He had worked as a lumberman, but he had gained military experience in the provincial militia in New Brunswick. He was also handy with a broadsword. One of his men remembered that he “had a sabre as long as a scythe.” Beardsley had been captured at Cedar Mountain, but was exchanged.

July 1 found the battalion at Littlestown, about 10 miles from Gettysburg. The night before, Beardsley had received about 50 Confederate prisoners who had been captured near York; in the morning he took the rebel officers to a hotel in town and got them breakfast. Once corps commander Henry Slocum finally reached Gettysburg later that day, he established his headquarters at Powers Hill, south of town on the Baltimore Pike, and the 10th Maine Battalion established a line across the pike and went to work gathering up skulkers and stragglers. That night, 30 men were dispatched to escort Confederate prisoners away from the battlefield, which required an all-night march.

Late in the morning on July 2, Slocum asked for six volunteers from the battalion for “dangerous duty.” They were told to leave their guns behind but take notebooks and advance as far as the Confederate lines, taking notes about the local farms, houses, and springs. If captured, their cover story was to be that they were searching for provisions. The volunteers ventured around the right of the Union line on Culp’s Hill, hiking through woods and sometimes climbing trees to get a better view. Four of them were approaching one house when Sgt. James F. Tarr spied Rebels lurking on the other side. He pretended not to see them, and casually warned his men to get ready to run. At a signal they all broke for the woods as rifle fire erupted behind them.

The members of the 10th Maine Battalion “never claimed more than they performed at Gettysburg or anywhere else,” said regimental historian John Mead Gould. “They simply did what they were ordered to do,” and they did it “promptly and well.”

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

1st Maine Cavalry

As the fighting at Gettysburg headed for its climax on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, another battle took place behind the Union lines, a clash of the Union and Confederate cavalries that had been contending with each other ever since Brandy Station. The 1st Maine Cavalry, which had fought many pitched engagements as it followed Lee’s army north, could take little of the credit for this battle, though. They were little more than spectators.

Some Maine cavalrymen did play small but sometimes vital roles during the three days of battle as orderlies, riding about and delivering messages. It could be very hazardous duty: Pvt. Edward Cunningham of Co. L was killed on July 3 while attached to Abner Doubleday’s staff. The 1st Maine’s captain, John P. Carson, served as an orderly for John Reynolds and was reportedly at the general’s side on July 1 when Reynolds was killed. Sgt. Ebenezer Johnson also served as an orderly for the I Corps. One of his fellow soldiers remembered him as a “marked character, made so by the fact that he was equally at home in leading a prayer meeting or a charge upon the enemy.” At Gettysburg he did such sterling service that both Colonel Richard Coulter and General John Robinson singled him out for praise. Robinson said Johnson’s “chevrons should be exchanged for the epaulette. When we make officers of such men, the soldier receives his true reward and the service great benefit.”

The 1st Maine Cavalry’s brigade finally reached the vicinity of Gettysburg very early in the morning of July 2. The Maine cavalrymen participated in a little skirmishing that afternoon—nothing even close to the scale of the slaughter on the other side of Cemetery Ridge—and that night were ordered over to the Baltimore Pike to take a position near the artillery reserve. The next morning they returned to the right of the Union line, but weren’t sent in to the fight against Jeb Stuart and his Rebel cavalry until the fighting was nearly over.

“About three o’clock Friday the enemy attempted to turn our right and a smart cavalry fight took place,” William B. Baker, a sergeant in the 1st Maine Cavalry’s Co. D, informed his parents. “Our Regt. was in reserve till about four when the enemy made an attempt to take our battery. The 5th Michigan broke badly and scattered all over the fields but as the rebs advanced our guns opened with grape and quick it was I assure you. When we went up in front and to the right of our battery the rebs sent shell over us quite briskly. Lieut. Hall of Co. H was knocked from his horse by the force of one as it passed near him. He was not much hurt. We expected to charge but did not.”

Stuart realized he had been checked and moved his troopers back into the woods. Baltimore Pike was safe. This part of the battle was over.

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

 

In Memoriam: Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry was born in Rockland, Maine, and died at Chancellorsville.

On this Memorial Day weekend it seems appropriate to remember a soldier I wrote about in Maine Roads to Gettysburg who fell in combat during the Civil War. Hiram Berry’s road never reached Gettysburg—a Confederate sharpshooter killed him at Chancellorsville, not long after Berry’s division had shored up the Union lines following the rout of the XI Corps under Oliver Otis Howard (another Maine man). Berry’s death was a great loss to the Army of the Potomac. He had proven himself capable and dependable. Corps command was certainly a possibility. Berry’s biographer claims that some people even discussed the idea that Berry might one day command the army.

Berry was born on August 27, 1824, on the family farm in what is now Rockland. He grew up with a love of reading and of horses. When he was 21, Berry and another local man named Elijah Walker began working together as carpenters. Berry soon expanded his carpentry work into contracting and building and eventually become one of Rockland’s most prominent businessmen and its mayor. He married Almira M. Brown in 1845 and the couple had one daughter, Lucy.

When young, Berry had wanted to attend West Point. Berry’s mother, however, objected, so he joined a local artillery company instead. Later he organized the Rockland City Guards, a militia unit that wore flashy blue-and-gold uniforms with high bearskin hats. On August 31, 1858, the Guards served as an escort for Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi when the former secretary of war and the future president of the Confederate States of America visited Belfast. “With such troops as are now before me, we may defy the combined forces of the world and shout the song of freedom forever,” said Davis. (On the same trip to Maine, Davis also received an honorary degree from Bowdoin College.)

Berry was a Democrat, not a Lincoln Republican, but he traveled to Augusta to volunteer his services as soon as the war started. He returned home with the approval to raise a regiment, the 4th Maine. He led the brigade at First Bull Run. He commanded a brigade during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and earned the firm friendship of General Joseph Hooker when Berry arrived in the nick of time to support Hooker at the Battle of Williamsburg. The campaign took its toll on Berry, though. He fell ill, probably from malaria, and his hair started falling out in clumps. After recuperating in Rockland, he was back in the field for the Battle of Fredericksburg. That battle appeared to take a mental toll. Elijah Walker, who had taken command of the 4th Maine after Berry’s promotion, recalled how the general had approached him the morning after the battle, put his head on Walker’s shoulder, and wept so bitterly he could not speak. Two staff officers gently ushered Berry away. “One hour later he was in his saddle, directing his brigade, as cool and calm as though nothing had happened,” Walker said.

Before Chancellorsville, Berry received promotion to major general and command of Hooker’s old division in the III Corps. It was in that capacity that he was shot down on Sunday, May 3, 1863. A few days earlier he had told his quartermaster, James Rusling, that he didn’t expect to survive the battle. Hooker, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, rode up minutes after Berry died. “My God, Berry, why was this to happen?” he cried. “Why was the man on whom I relied so much to be taken away in this manner?” He had the body sent to the rear. Members of the 4th Maine, Berry’s old regiment, were marching by as the general’s corpse was being taken away. They insisted that the stretcher bearers stop and place their burden on the ground. Then each man filed by and “kissed the cold brow of the man they had loved and had first followed into battle, and then silently and tearfully took their places in the ranks.” Quartermaster Rusling ordered the construction of a coffin and had it draped with Berry’s headquarters flag.

Hiram Berry’s body was taken to Washington for embalming, and then by steamer to Portland, where it lay in state at city hall. From Portland, the steamer Harvest Moon took the coffin to Rockland. Berry returned home on a lovely spring day. Once the steamer came into view at the mouth of the harbor, a cannon fired from the city, and followed up with a shot each minute. Stores and businesses closed, and the citizens of Rockland flocked to the waterfront to await the Harvest Moon. An honor guard from the 7th Maine accompanied the hearse through the crowded but silent streets to the general’s home, where the body was placed in the parlor. His battle sword and a sword the 4th Maine had presented to him lay on a table next to the coffin. He was buried in Achorn Cemetery the next day. By then the bright spring weather had turned gloomy, “as through sympathizing with the mournful scene beneath.”

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The Long March to Gettysburg

 

The Maine regiments of the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps, the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine, contributed to the Union victory at Gettysburg with their feet more than with their guns. Along with the rest of John Sedgwick’s corps, they completed their epic 36-mile march to reach the battlefield just in time to provide much-needed support to the left of the Union line on July 2.

Before leaving Virginia in pursuit of Lee’s army, Lt. Col. Selden Connor, who was in command of the 7th Maine while its colonel was back in Maine recruiting, had some misgivings about the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Joseph Hooker. “The army is not very enthusiastic,” he wrote to his sister on June 5. “I’m sorry to say. I don’t believe they have confidence in their leader.” Once the VI Corps started north, though, Connor’s mood improved despite brutal marches that had left some men unconscious and even dead from sunstroke. On June 17 he told his sister that his soldiers were “gay as larks,” and had been singing a song about the regiment as they made their way through Virginia. It went:

Then clear the track you rebs,
Here comes the Seventh Maine;
Our Colonel is a fighting man
His boys are all the same.

“The Army of the Potomac isn’t dead yet,” Connor wrote.

The VI Corps, which included the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine regiments, did not see a lot of fighting at Gettysburg, although its mere presence on the field had been a plus for the Union cause. “By making long and rapid marches our corps arrived just in time to turn the battle of Gettysburg in our favor,” Connor reported to his father. “We were not heavily engaged,” he admitted, but skirmishing cost the regiment six wounded, three of them mortally—“more than the rest of the brigade together.” On July 5, Connor’s regiment moved out with some cavalry and an artillery battery to follow the retreating Rebels west to the town of Fairfield and get a sense of the situation there. General Sedgwick recommended to Meade against pursuing the Rebels through the mountains and passes beyond, so the army commander decided to move his army south through Frederick and then west across South Mountain to reach Lee’s army that way. While the rest of the army moved south, the 7th Maine formed part of the force under brigade commander Thomas Neill that shadowed the retreating enemy through the mountains to the town of Waynesboro.

MRGCover

Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

 

 

The Pictures and the Story

Gburg CoverA co-worker of my wife’s gave us this vintage Gettysburg souvenir booklet. Originally published in 1913, this is the fourteenth edition. It has tons of great photos of the battlefield taken by local photographer William Tipton in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

ME MonsMy favorite page is this one, which features the Maine monuments on the battlefield.

Cburg PikeThis image shows monuments along the Chambersburg Pike (Rt. 30). That’s John Buford to the left and John Reynolds to the right. It’s a little startling to view this scene without seeing the large tree that stands behind Reynolds today. The monument at the far right is to James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery, which saw hard fighting here on July 1.

1893 ReunionThis is the image that closes the booklet. It shows a gathering of generals, Union and Confederate, on East Cemetery Hill on April 29, 1893. The bearded man with his foot on the cannon is Oliver Otis Howard, who vigorously claimed credit for choosing Cemetery Hill as the place to post a reserve on July 1, thus establishing the core of the Union’s “fishhook” line. Notice his empty sleeve. Howard lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. The man with the mutton chop whiskers at the center is former Confederate general James Longstreet. Seated to Longstreet’s left is Daniel Sickles, who commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg. He, of course, lost his leg during the battle. “The dismounted gun, upon the breech of which Gen. O.O. Howard has placed his foot, is typical, let us hope, of a soil that will never again be deluged with the blood of fratricidal strife, and that not only the North and South will ever keep closed the gulf that divided them in the past, but also that the present gulf of race prejudice that separates the white man from the still morally enslaved man of color will also be bridged so that the calamities of a race war will be unknown,” read the photo caption. Howard, who headed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war, would certainly have agreed with that sentiment.

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Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

Feuding Artillerymen

At Gettysburg late in the day on July 2, Maine sea captain-turned-artilleryman Freeman McGilvery, from the army’s artillery reserve, set up batteries along Cemetery Ridge that kept attacking Confederates from piercing the Union line.

As it was with Adelbert Ames, McGilvery’s destiny seemed to lie at sea. Born on October 29, 1823, in the town of Prospect near the mouth of the Penobscot River, McGilvery, like all four of his brothers, grew up to become a sea captain. He had sailed the bark J. Merithew to California for the gold rush in 1849, and had been in command of the ship Wellfleet when the war began. He left the oceans for a landlocked role in the army, helping raise the 6th Battery of the Maine Light Artillery and becoming its captain in January 1862. McGilvery, a somewhat cantankerous man with dark hair and a thick mustache that merged into bristling muttonchop whiskers, made the transition to the artillery without difficulty. He demonstrated his command abilities that August at Cedar Run with “skillful and active management” of his guns, according to his division commander. At Second Bull Run, McGilvery’s battery fought a stubborn defense against the Confederates, losing two guns but helping slow the Rebels enough to allow Pope’s forces to escape.

McGilvery’s superiors recognized his abilities, for he received a promotion to major in the artillery reserve (and in the Maine Mounted Artillery). Lt. Edwin Dow replaced him in temporary command of the battery. By the time the Army of the Potomac reached Gettysburg, McGilvery was in command of the 1st Volunteer Brigade of the army’s artillery reserve. The reserve was a force of 21 batteries (106 guns) in four brigades. McGilvery’s brigade had four batteries: the 5th and 9th Massachusetts, commanded by Charles A. Phillips and John Bigelow, respectively; 15th New York, under Patrick Hart; and Batteries C and F of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery, combined into a single unit under James Thompson.

The story of how this former sea captain threw together an improvised artillery line that helped save the battle has been told before, but few know about the resentments, recriminations, and accusations that had been swirling about through Maine’s artillery units—much of it due to McGilvery’s intense desire for promotion. When McGilvery found Edwin Dow and the 6th Maine Battery in the late afternoon of July 2, it must have been an interesting encounter. McGilvery had been actively trying to prevent Dow from getting permanent command of the battery, and had accused him of public drunkenness. Dow had responded by demanding a court-martial for McGilvery. According to Dow, McGilvery had “harangued” the men of the battery and told them “that I could not be Captain if I went to hell for it.” He said McGilvery had whipped up the battery into a state of near mutiny and that he intended to press charges against him for “Conduct Prejudicial to good order and Military discipline, Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, and Exciting Mutinous Conduct in my Command.” The whole issue had turned into a storm of accusations, countercharges, and recriminations that eventually involved officers from other Maine batteries and reached all the way to Governor Abner Coburn.

The two men managed to put aside whatever differences they still had by the time they reached Gettysburg. After the battle, Dow had nothing but praise for McGilvery, saying he “was ever present, riding up and down the line in the thickest of the fire, encouraging the men by his words and dashing example, his horse receiving eight wounds, of which he has since died, the gallant major receiving only a few scratches.”

McGilvery was equally pleased with his performance, and justifiably so. “I have been told my services at Gettysburg were valuable and of course I am willing to believe it,” he wrote to the governor after the battle. He now felt he deserved promotion to full colonel.

MRGCover

Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The 19th Maine Prepares for Battle

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the 19th Maine was at Gettysburg, waiting to experience its first battle.

The regiment had left its camp near Fredericksburg on June 15 for the grueling march north. It suffered its first combat fatality 10 days later, when Jeb Stuart’s horse artillery lobbed a few projectiles its way outside the crossroads town of Haymarket, Virginia. One of the Rebel shells killed Company G’s Israel D. Jones. “In less than ten minutes from the time that Mr. Jones was chatting cheerfully with the man marching at his side, he was buried by the roadside and left to sleep his last sleep,” wrote John Day Smith in his regimental history.

The 19th Maine made its longest march of the campaign, 32 miles, on June 29, but was able to spend the next day relaxing and basking in the patriotic sentiment it found in the aptly named Uniontown, Maryland. On the morning of July 1, the regiment was assigned to guard the division’s trains during the day’s march. Rumors of fighting to the north began to move through the ranks, but it wasn’t until midafternoon that the soldiers heard the first sounds of the battle raging at Gettysburg. Then, “it became very evident that there was trouble ahead,” remembered Capt. Silas Adams. The regiment marched until 9:00 p.m., and then made camp on the Taneytown Road, south of the Round Tops. About 20 men from the 16th Maine shared their campsite that night. Adams remembered them giving “a very dismal account of the battle of the afternoon.”

Early the next morning, the regiment rose and made a short march to Cemetery Ridge. There they whiled away the long day. “All was silence in the early morning save the confused tramping of feet, and the rumbling of long trains of ambulances in the distance, as they uncoiled from their posts and moved along with the column,” remembered Hallowell native Charles E. Nash. “The thought that some of our number would occupy them, mangled and bleeding, before night, could not be repressed. The certainty was too apparent.”

And then the certainty became reality. John P. Lancaster of Company A had just sat down to eat a dinner of pork and hard bread out of his greasy tin plate when a cannonball came plunging out of the sky and severed the leg of a Massachusetts soldier near him. “I did not want any more pork that meal,” Lancaster remembered.

In the afternoon the men watched the III Corps advance to its new position far ahead of the Union line. Andrew Humphreys’ division was on the corps’ right, closest to the II Corps. Humphreys had hardly positioned his men alongside the Emmitsburg Road before James Longstreet launched his attack. From their vantage point on Cemetery Ridge, the men of the 19th Maine, waiting in reserve, could see that the III Corps was getting the worst of things. Throughout the afternoon various regiments and brigades were taken out of the line and sent to support other parts of the army. When Hancock sent John Caldwell’s men to the Wheatfield from their position south of the 19th Maine, he opened up the gap that McGilvery would defend so skillfully. As the afternoon went on, the 400 or so Maine soldiers began to feel isolated, as though they had been left alone on their portion of the line.

They finally received orders to move ahead to a position in front of Cemetery Ridge. The 1st Minnesota was off to the left some 300 yards or so. General Winfield Scott Hancock rode up so he could personally place the 19th Maine exactly where he wanted it. He dismounted and strode over to the man on the regiment’s far left, George Durgin of Company F. He moved him slightly forward and to the left. “Will you stay here?” Hancock asked Durgin.

“I’ll stay here until hell freezes over,” Durgin replied. That got a smile from Hancock. He ordered the rest of the regiment to form on Durgin, mounted his horse, and rode off.

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Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The Other Round Top

Many people remember how the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry defended Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, but the regiment’s actions late in the day don’t receive as much attention. In the evening, Col. Joshua Chamberlain volunteered to take his men and secure Big Round Top, the heavily wooded height to the south.

As I write in Maine Roads to Gettysburg:

In some ways this night climb was more nerve-racking than the blood and thunder on Little Round Top had been. The regiment had little ammunition and Chamberlain wanted to avoid a firefight that would give away his small numbers, so he had his men move forward with their bayonets attached. The little band crawled and climbed through the darkness. It was “rough scrambling,” Chamberlain noted. Ahead they could hear enemy troops crashing through the woods as they fell back. There was a full moon, but its light proved feeble in the dark woods. As the men of the 20th Maine reached the summit, some of the pickets advanced far enough to see the light from enemy campfires flickering through the trees. They fell back, and some of the Rebels pulled themselves away from their fires in pursuit.

“Who goes there?” one of the Mainers shouted.

“4th Texas,” came the reply.

“Alright come on, we’re 4th Texas,” a quick-witted Mainer replied, and the unfortunate Rebels from the Lone Star State emerged from the trees to find themselves facing leveled muskets and a Maine man behind each one. The regiment bagged some 30 prisoners, including Gen. Evander Law’s acting assistant adjutant. Ellis Spear remembered how one of the Southerners commented “on the fact that men from the two ends of the country should so meet, in the woods & dark.”

Once he reached the summit, Chamberlain sent for reinforcements. Fisher ordered two of his Pennsylvania regiments to climb Big Round Top and provide support on the 20th Maine’s right. The Pennsylvanians stumbled and thrashed their way up the dark hill. Alerted by the noise, enemy soldiers fired a volley into the night. Chamberlain said the Pennsylvanians “started like antelopes & went down the way they had come up on, & never stopped till they were behind the line on Little Round Top again.” Chamberlain sent a messenger to Rice requesting he send either the 83rd Pennsylvania or the 44th New York for support. He felt he could depend on regiments from his own brigade. Leaving pickets at the summit, he withdrew the rest of the regiment back to level ground until reinforcements arrived from the 83rd Pennsylvania. Then he moved his men back up the steep slope.

There the men of the 20th Maine settled in for a long and uncomfortable night. Overcome by fatigue and illness, Spear fell asleep sitting against a tree. He woke in the middle of the night shaking and shivering with a feverish chill. He found a soldier sleeping on the ground, crawled next to him to share his blanket and body warmth, and fell back asleep.

The 20th Maine had secured Big Round Top without suffering any casualties, but as morning began to brighten the eastern sky, Lt. Arad Linscott decided to grab a musket and see if he could annoy Rebels he heard moving on his front. One of them shot Linscott instead, and the young lieutenant fell with a mortal wound to the thigh. Later that morning the regiment was relieved by the First Brigade and moved back down the mountain. It took up a position somewhere to the left of the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The men sat down to wait and see what would happen next.

MRGCover

Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The 4th Maine in Devil’s Den

During the fight on July 2 in Devil’s Den, the 4th Maine helped push Rebels back from the guns of James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery, but the 124th New York to the right had been decimated, its colonel and major both dead, and had been forced to retreat. The 4th Maine had to follow suit. “Our flag was pierced by thirty-two bullets and two pieces of shell, and its staff was shot off, but Sgt. Henry O. Ripley, its bearer, did not allow the color to touch the ground, nor did he receive a scratch, though all the others of the color guard were killed or wounded,” reported Col. Elijah Walker. Capt. Edwin Libby remembered how Ripley defiantly waved the flag at the advancing enemy—but defiance wasn’t enough. The soldiers of Ward’s brigade on this part of the line were forced to retreat, ceding Devil’s Den to the Rebels.

John W. Lokey of the 20th Georgia later recalled an encounter with a wounded sergeant of the 4th Maine somewhere among the boulders of Devil’s Den. The Georgia regiment belonged to Henry Benning’s brigade, which had followed Robertson’s into the maelstrom. Lokey had just clambered up on the rocks to take aim at the Yankees when a bullet went through his right thigh. “I felt as if lightning had struck me,” he said. Lokey was attempting to hobble to the rear when he came across a wounded Yankee. The man identified himself as a sergeant in the 4th Maine (historian John Michael Priest identified him as Zuinglas C. Gowan of Company E). Lokey asked for assistance. The Mainer had the Rebel throw his arm around his neck so he could hold him up. The two enemies then stumbled out of harm’s way through a storm of bullets that “were striking the trees like hail all around us.” They were behind Rebel lines, so the Union soldier knew he would be taken prisoner. “If you and I had this matter to settle, we would soon settle it, wouldn’t we,” he said. Lokey replied that they would probably come to terms pretty quickly. After the unlikely duo reached a place of relative safety, Confederate soldiers took the Maine man to the rear. “If he is living, I would be glad to hear from him,” Lokey wrote years later. 

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