Tuesday, July 2, 2013

To all appearances they saved the field

The survivors of the Iron Brigade watched the fighting of July 2, 1863, at Devil's Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard from their lines on Culp's Hill at Gettysburg.    “We could plainly see that our troops were giving ground,” said a Wisconsin officer. “Our suspense and anxiety were intense. We gathered in knots all over the hill watching the battle…. As the sun was low down a fine sight was seen. It was two long blue lines of battle, with twenty or thirty regimental banners, charging forward into the smoke and din of battle. To all appearances they saved the field.” Suddenly, in the fading light, about 7 p.m., the rebel yell went up in front of Culp’s Hill and the far right of the Union line was attacked by forces under the command of Confederate General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. Another attack centered on Cemetery Hill, but it flared sharply and quickly stalled when it was not supported. Johnson’s men were more successful on the far right of the Union line. Most of the Culp’s Hill defenders from the Union Twelfth Corps, had been sent to the left and only a brigade of New Yorkers under General George S. Greene remained in position. Greene insisted on constructing defensive works proved the difference, although a portion of the abandoned Federal works on the lower part of Culp’s Hill were occupied. Just as the lines on the far left were firing volley after volley, an officer came looking for Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin with orders to report to Greene. The 6th Wisconsin and the 14th Brooklyn were sent to the right to assist in repelling an attack. In the brush and darkness, Wisconsin Color bearer I.F. Kelly remembered struggling in the brush, darkness, and trees with his 11-foot flag staff. The first mounted officer Dawes encountered in the darkness was Greene, who took a card from his pocket and wrote his name and command, handing it to the young officer. He told Dawes to take his regiment into the breastworks hold. Dawes ordered, “Forward—run! March!” As the 6th Wisconsin reached the line, rebels in the dark rocks rose up and fired a volley. Greene was unaware the Confederates were occupying the breastworks and the rebels were just as surprised by the arrival of the Wisconsin men. After the volley, the Confederates went back down Culp’s Hill. “This remarkable encountered did not last a minute,” said Dawes. “We lost two men, killed—both burned with the powder of the guns fired at them.” One of the wounded was Color bearer Kelly, struck by a spatter of lead off a rock that cut his neck. The wound bled freely. Soldiers around him found a rag and wet it from canteens before wrapping it around his neck. The 6th Wisconsin remained in the line until midnight when they were relieved by troops of the Twelfth Corps who returned to the works after supporting the far left of the Union line. The Wisconsin and New York regiment returned to their original positions without further incident.

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