The 16th Maine

At Gettysburg, the 16th Maine Infantry served in Gabriel Paul’s brigade of the I Corps. During the fighting on July 1, the advancing Confederates began to overwhelm the I and XI Corps, forcing them to retreat towards Gettysburg. Division commander Brig. Gen. John Robinson rode up to the 16th Maine’s colonel, Charles W. Tilden. “Take that position and hold it at any cost,” Robinson ordered. He wanted the 16th Maine to delay the Confederate advance long enough to give the rest of his division time to retreat.

“All right, General, we’ll do the best we can,” Tilden said. Robinson wheeled and spurred his horse, which jumped over a stone wall and carried the general toward Gettysburg.

Tilden turned back to his men. “You know what that means,” he said.

“Yes, the regiment knew what it meant,” remembered Frank Wiggin, then a sergeant in Co. H. “It meant death or capture, and every man realized it perfectly.” Robinson was going to withdraw his division, and he wanted the 16th Maine to serve as a last-ditch defense and buy time for the rest of his men. Wiggin compared the situation to a pair of shears, with the two blades closing in on the I Corps, and the 16th Maine sent into the pivot point to keep the blades from snapping closed until the rest of the division could escape.

The 16th Maine’s last, desperate stand did not last long—probably no more than 20 minutes. As the Rebels pushed closer on two sides and the surviving men of the 16th Maine realized they were most likely going to die or be captured, thoughts turned to keeping the regimental flags from falling into enemy hands. “We looked at our colors, and our faces burned,” wrote adjutant Abner Small. “We must not surrender those symbols of our pride and our faith.” Captain S. Clifford Belcher, a Bowdoin College graduate who had just started practicing law in Belfast when he joined the 16th Maine, received the approval of the other officers and ordered the staffs broken, the flags torn to shreds, and the pieces distributed to the men in the regiment. The soldiers hid them away beneath their shirts or in their pockets. “These fragments were carried through Southern prisons and finally home to Maine, where they are still treasured as precious relics more than a quarter century after Gettysburg,” Small noted in 1889.

Total losses that day were around 80%, (11 dead, 59 wounded, and 164 captured). What remained of the regiment stumbled back through the town of Gettysburg and the relative safety of Cemetery Hill.

Col. Tilden was one of the men taken prisoner. Before capitulating, Tilden thrust his sword into the ground and snapped it in two. Taken back to Virginia, Tilden was one of the 109 men who managed to use a tunnel to escape from Richmond’s Libby Prison in early 1864. He returned to his regiment-only to be captured a second time. And he managed to escape once more.

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2nd Maine Battery

To celebrate the publication of Maine Roads to Gettysburg, I am going to kick off a series of blog posts highlighting the monuments to Maine units and soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. As Selden Connor, formerly of the 7th Maine, said at the 1889 gathering of veterans to dedicate the monuments, “In proportion to the number of her troops in the action, no one of the eighteen states whose regiments flew the stars and stripes on this hard-fought field contributed more than Maine to the victory. At whatever point the battle raged, the sons of the Pine Tree State were in the melee.” You can provide a good overview of the three days of fighting by telling the stories about Maine at Gettysburg and connecting the dots.

So let’s do that. I will start with a Maine unit that was in the thick of things on the morning of July 1, 1863: The 2nd Maine Battery, under the command of James A. Hall of Damariscotta.

As I write in the book, “Capt. James Hall and the 2nd Maine Battery had no idea what the day had in store for them when they left Marsh Creek with the rest of the I Corps early on the morning of July 1. Hall, a stolid-looking 27-year-old redhead with a bushy walrus mustache and hazel eyes, had entered service with the battery as a lieutenant back in November 1861. He advanced to command when the unit’s original captain, former Maine adjutant general Davis Tillson, was promoted. On July 1 Hall had six three-inch ordnance rifles in his battery, with 127 men and officers reporting for duty.

Hall reported personally to Maj. Gen. John Fulton Reynolds, who posted the battery in an advanced position along the Chambersburg Pike to shell Confederate artillery to the west. Hall wasn’t happy to have his guns so exposed, and his fears were soon justified when Rebel troops appeared on his right, rising up from the unfinished railroad cut. With their infantry support falling back, Hall and his battery were forced to make a fighting retreat.

The boys fought like the d____ never better,” Hall later told John Hodsdon, Maine’s adjutant general. “You may judge when I tell you that many of our horses were not shot but bayoneted that it was a close and desperate struggle for our guns two of which they actually had hold of at one time. I have seen hard fighting before and been badly smashed up, but I never saw a battery taken from the field and its guns saved in so bad a state as the Old Second came off that day.”

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The 2nd Maine Battery marker on Cemetery Hill.

The battery’s main monument in on the Chambersburg Pike, where it fought on July 1. There’s a smaller position marker on Cemetery Hill, where it fought on the afternoon of July 2, until the recoil from a shot shattered an axle and the battery had to move back to make repairs.

MRGCover

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

Here Today . . .

Bayard

Brigadier General George Bayard (Library of Congress).

While in Princeton, New Jersey, recently, I stopped by the historic Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Some famous people are buried there, including the 22nd and 24th presidents of the United States. (They are both Grover Cleveland. He served non-consecutive terms.) Aaron Burr reposes there, too. Burr, of course, was a vice president of the United States and the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. For that act, he has become a character in a famous musical.

I stopped by those two graves, but I was most interested in someone less notable. George Dashiell Bayard was a cavalryman in the Civil War. By the time of the Fredericksburg campaign in December 1862 he had risen to brigadier general and commanded a brigade of cavalry in the VI Corps, part of Maj. Gen. William Franklin’s Left Grand Division. Bayard was killed at Fredericksburg, but not in any grand cavalry charge. He was reclining against a tree at Franklin’s headquarters south of town on December 12 when a Confederate artillery shell hit the ground and ricocheted into him. He died two days later. “His loss is universally regretted,” said General George Gordon Meade.

I had encountered Bayard before while writing Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. Bayard had offered to give Meade’s son a position on his staff, but the elder Meade had declined, saying he thought it best that the young man received some combat experience before becoming a staff officer. In a letter, Meade had reminded his wife about Bayard, telling her she might remember him “from the protuberance on his cheek, produced by an arrow wound.” (Before the war, Bayard had fought Native Americans out west.)

I ran into Bayard again while researching Maine Roads to Gettysburg. Artilleryman Charles O. Hunt of the 5th Maine Battery encountered Bayard riding along the lines near Fredericksburg just days before the general died. “He was a young looking man, no more than twenty-six or twenty-eight, I should think,” Hunt wrote. “I liked his looks very much. He came sauntering along singing ‘Then let the wide world wag as it will, we will be gay and happy still.’ The only mark of any rank whatever about him was his brigadier’s buttons, which were on a very ordinary looking coat, which was anything but military. His pants were like a private’s, and his hat an old black felt. Poor fellow. I did not think then that he would so soon be shot.”

Bayard rests among other members of the Bayard family at the cemetery in Princeton, not far from Burr’s grave. I’m glad there was a cemetery map available at the entrance, because I doubt I would have found him. The crossed sabers on his obelisk would have provided a clue to his location, but the inscription on his tombstone has largely worn away and it’s nearly impossible to decipher his name. Here today, gone tomorrow.

MRGCover

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