Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"I have seen enough of the horrors of war."

Capt. Edwin Brown of the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade was exhausted on the eve of the battle of Antietam. He wrote to his father after the fighting at Gainesville and Second Bull Run: "I have seen enough of the horrors of war, imagination cannot picture it, it is too horrible to write about, I am weary, worn out. I don't weigh over 115 pounds, and would like to seek repose with my family & friends. I have been on every march. In every place of danger, that my Co. & Regt. have. I have been broken so much of any rest, have had such hard fare that I am tired and thin. I tried to get leave of absence for one week to rest in Washington but was refused. What the end will be I can't tell. Probably a fit of sickness...." Brown was shot and killed in the Miller farmyard the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Iron Brigade Supports Us

One incident always talked over during the Iron Brigade reunions was an incident involving Battery B of the Fourth U.S. Artillery which supported the Black Hats during the hard fighting at Antietam on September 17, 1862. One of the brigade chaplains, a pious man who was "always at hand when the boys were double shooting, sleeves rolled up, working their guns to the best." As the churchman watched, one gunner stepped back before firing, calling out to his comrades, "Now boys, give 'em hell!" The clergyman stepped in to reprimand the gunner. "How do you expect to have the support of Divine Providence when you use such language!" The gunner gave the chaplain a long and hard look. "To hell with the Divine Providence, the Iron Brigade supports us," he said. or at least that is how the story was told long after the war.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Brawner's Farm or Gainesville?

The first fight of what became the Iron Brigade was fought August 28, 1862, just outside Manassas Junction, Virginia, in the opening of the battle of Second Bull Run. It is now commonly called Brawner's Farm. But a century or more ago a veteran of the Black Hats would have looked at you in puzzlement if you asked about the fighting using that name. In the 1860s it was known as Gainesville to the Federals and sometimes Groveton to the Confederates. My friend the late Alan Nolan used Brawner Farm for the first time in 1961 in his outstanding book on the Iron Brigade as a way to correctly locate the action. A look at the reunion ribbons of the Iron Brigade, however, clearly identify the 90-minutes of fighting as Gainesville. I am sometimes conflicted when hearing someone doing a living history impression talk about "Brawner's Farm" as putting the battle in the wrong century. What is one to do?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Capt. Werner von Bachelle and his Faithful Dog

They found Capt. Werner Von Bachelle of the Sixth Wisconsin dead on the turnpike next to the cornfield. His company was on the roadway and was caught in the first flurry of bullets from the Confederates. He was hit several times and fell. When the company dropped back into the corn, the officer's large pet dog refused to leave him. Later, they found the captain on his back, "his feet crossed and arms folded, his cap drawn forward over his eyes, like a soldier taking his rest, his body riddled with bullets, his field glass across his shoulder shattered into innumerable pieces, and his faithful dog...lying across his body dead." Said Col. Edward Bragg: "He was a soldier of fortune and died as he desired--a soldier in the front line of battle." The dead of the Sixth regiment were buried under "a locust tree on the right of the pike and in the field proximating the church, well up to the front, but close toward the wood, Captain Bachelle with is feet to the south, on one side of the tree, and the enlisted men in a trench dug with a battery hoe on the reverse side. The captain's dog was placed beside him in the grave. Von Bachelle's body was later removed to the National Cemetery at Sharpsburg, Maryland. For reasons not explained, he was buried with a group of officers, and not with his Wisconsin men. It is not known if his dog was moved with him. Lest we forget.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Iron Brigade of the West is Named

Exactly how the famous name was attached to Gibbon's Brigade remains unclear. Gen. George McClellan said after the Civil War that he was responsible when he said "They must be made of Iron!" while watching the Black Hats fight up the National Road at South Mountain on this very day 150 years ago. A brigade of New York regiments said later that it was the original "Cast-Iron Brigade" for a description given the unit following a hard match of 50 miles in two days. The name was somehow "stolen" by the Wisconsin and Indiana boys, they said. The Western men, however, never believed there was any confusion with the New Yorkers and that it was Little Mac who named them. Capt. Jerome Watrous of the 6th Wisconsin said the name "Iron Brigade" was first publicly attached to Gibbon's Brigade by a correspondent for a Cincinnati newspaper. The "print" was with McClellan watching the Black Hats at South Mountain and probably overheard the description from officers discussing the fighting. "The last terrible battle has reduced this brigade to a mere skeleton there being scarecely enough members to form half a regiment," the reporter wrote in a dispatch printed September 22, 1862, five days after the bloodletting at Antietam. "The 2nd Wisconsin, which but a few weeks since, numbered over nine hundred men, can now muster but fifty-nine. This brigade has done some of the hardest and best fighting in the service. It has been justly termed the Iron Brigade of the West."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Memoir of Richard Larsen

Wisconsin's Civil War community lost one of its own a few days back with the passing of Dick Larsen. He was active in a couple of organizations and was a key figure in the reprinting of Quiner's The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union. It is hard to image a world without Dick Larsen in it. He was such a powerful life force—a man of honesty, intelligence, laughter, and straightforward decency. How I would enjoy our wide-ranging conversations on a dozen topics. Sometimes we were serious, but more often we laughed, mainly at ourselves. His interest in history was always compelling. I tried to find a word or phrase to describe him and the one that comes to mind is from Wisconsin lumbering days—a time in which he had an interest. In those days, when the logs were floated down river to the mills, the piney camp boys wanted men around them they could count on because the work was exceedingly dangerous. Dick was one those kind of men—a “man to ride the river with.” I will miss him.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Old 6th Wisconsin - 2nd place North-South Skirmish Assoc. Nationals

This photo of the old 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade after winning a second place at the North-South Skirmish Association national musket matches is probably from the late 1960s. My, my.... Western boys raising hell.

Monday, September 3, 2012

He fought the whole Rebel Army by himself at Second Bull Run

If you asked in the old Iron Brigade regiments for the soldier “who fought the whole rebel army all by himself at Second Bull Run,” the Big Hats would smile, and point to Pvt. James Sullivan of the 6th Wisconsin. “Mickey, of Company K,” was on the skirmish line in the woods in the early fighting. When the line was pulled back, Sullivan was left “pegging away” at the rebels. Finally stopping to pull more cartridges from the lower portion of his box he discovered that he was all alone facing the Confederate line. He dodged back through the woods to find his regiment where he angrily “doggoned” Sgt. John Ticknor for leaving him behind. Ticknor said simply, “Get down Mickey or you will get yourself killed.” Afterwards, Col. Edward Bragg always liked to single out Sullivan to others as “the soldier who held back the Confederate advance all by himself at Second Bull Run.”