Return to Home Page Second Wisconsin
McPherson's Woods

Photos Iron Brigade Positions Gettysburg 1863

These are summaries of the battles. For first hand news reports, note the dates and check our "From the Front" section for more detail.

June 12th, break camp, march to Deep Run, twenty miles. June 13th, by Morrisville and Spotted Tavern to Liberty, above Bealton Station, twelve miles. June 14th, march to Warrentown Junction, thence along the Orange and Alexandria road to Kettle Run. About dusk, make coffee, cross Broad Run after midnight and reach Manassas Junction about sunrise, form line and stack arms, rest about four hours; then to Blackbird's Ford, reaching Centerville Heights about noon, where we pitch tents. Distance marched thirty miles.

June 20th, march up the railroad to Guilford Station, three miles. June 25th, by Frankville to Edward's Ferry, cross the Potomac, march through Poolville and Barnesville, sixteen miles. June 26th, march over Sugar Loaf Mountain, cross the Monocacy at Greenfield, through Adamstown on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, over the Catoctin Mountains to Jefferson in Middle Valley, Md. Distance fifteen miles.

June 27th, march up the valley through Middletown, camping ten miles above. Distance eight miles.

June 28th, early in the afternoon long roll is beat, fall in and march over the Catoctin Range to Frederick City, nine miles.

June 29th, march northward by Lewistown and Mechanicsville to Emmittsburg, twenty-four miles. Gen. Hooker was today relieved and Gen. Meade succeeds to command.

June 30th, march about eight o'clock to March's Creek and bivouac in line of battle, eight miles.

The Army of the Potomac seems to be mad clean through. The Iron Brigade, on the 31st of June, marched in the following order: First, Second Wisconsin; second, the Seventh Wisconsin; third, the Nineteenth Indiana; fourth, the Twenty-fourth Michigan; and fifth, the Sixth. The Iron Brigade was, as the rest of the army, mad clear through.

The division of General Wadsworth which so heroically fought on the 1st day of July, was composed of the First (or Iron) Brigade under General Meredith, and Second Brigade, under General Cutler of Wisconsin. All the descriptions of this great battle, accord to the division of Wadsworth, the honor of having done the heaviest fighting.

General Reynolds' corps was ordered to move to Gettysburg on the 1st of July, the division of General Wadsworth being in advance. Firing was heard when within a mile of the town, the rebels having attacked Buford's cavalry. They were about eighty rods ahead, the cavalry and light artillery contesting the advance of the rebels, who were endeavoring to gain a high eminence commanding the road by which Reynolds was approaching.

" 'Taint no militia. It's the Army of the Potomac." Archer's Corps [New!]

"At an early hour, Wednesday, July 1, the men partook of their frugal meal of hardtack and coffee. The Pennsylvania line had been reached and passed , and the forces of the enemy must be reached very soon, but we did not suspect that the foe was within a few hours' march.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful season of the year. The fields were either green with grass or yellow with the golden grain.

Nature had put forth her loveliest colors. Here and there an old Pennsylvania farmer and the women and children would greet us loyally and pleasantly as we passed by, little dreaming that they were living near a spot that was destined soon to be the battleground of one of the greatest battles of the century.

The Iron Brigade marched along the Emmitsburg turnpike, and when within sight of Gettysburg we could see General Buford's cavalry dismounted, fighting with the enemy's infantry, west of the town. General Reynolds had gone forward to confer with General Buford, when, as we reached a point about a mile from town, a staff officer came dashing up to General Meredith and directed him to form his brigade in line and charge the enemy in McPherson's Woods. The brigade formed in line on the double quick, in order - the Second and Seventh Wisconsin, Nineteenth Indiana and Twenty-fourth Michigan (the Sixth Wisconsin being held in reserve to be used whenever required); the men loaded and fixed bayonets while on the move.

The Brigade passed rapidly over the undulating ground between the Emmitsburg road and a rail fence that ran parallel to our lines a few hundred yards from McPherson's Woods. We were delayed at this fence a few moments caused by this obstruction, and the terrific fire of the enemy which made great gaps in our line. Then the brigade pulled itself together and with a cheer, dashed forward.
Wm H. Harries, read Oct. 8, 1895

At this time, Wadsworth's division moved on and entered a field a short distance to the left of the Gettysburg Seminary, the Iron Brigade in the advance, in the following order: the Second and Seventh Wisconsin, Nineteenth Indiana, Twenty-fourth Michigan, and Sixth Wisconsin. An order was given to double quick in line, loading and fixing bayonets as they went. As they came to the brow of a hill, the Second Wisconsin, under Colonel Fairchild, discovered in their front, a body of the enemy who were advancing rapidly to a very advantageous position.

These immediately opened fire, and gave the regiment a tremendous volley, which cut down thirty percent of their numbers. Lieut. Col. Stevens, of the Second, fell soon after the regiment got under fire, mortally wounded, and Col. Fairchild received a ball in the left are, which compelled him to leave the field. The brigade pushed forward, driving the enemy before them, who soon broke and fled, and the division held the position.
Wisconsin in the War, Quiner

As we reached the edge of the timber, the enemy's lines began to waver and then break; General Archer, whose brigade was in front, evidently refused to be borne to the rear with his troops and was taken prisoner together with about two hundred and fifty of his men." .

(There are as many versions of the number of Archer's men that were captured as there are accounts, ranging from 250 to 1000. There is no disagreement about Archer's reaction at being greeted by West Point classmate, General Doubleday, when being escorted to the rear after being captured by Pvt. Patrick Maloney, Co. G, Second Wisconsin. "Good morning, Archer, how are you? I am glad to see you." Archer replied "Well I am not glad to see you by a damned sight." Private Maloney's glory was short lived. He was killed later that day in the retreat to Cemetery Hill.)

The division soon fell back across Marsh Creek and took position.. Here the First Division, General Wadsworth, formed in line of battle, Robinson's division on the right, and Doubleday's on the right. The Sixth Regiment, in the early part of the day, had been detached as a reserve to the line of the division, and was not with the brigade until late in the afternoon.

"When General Archer's Brigade broke to the rear, some of his men would occasionally dodge behind trees and fire and while this was going on General Reynolds rode up to the edge of the grove with his aides, Riddle and Wadsworth, and" (turning to urge on the Second, he was shot behind the right ear and fell dead.
"The death of General Reynolds was a sad blow to the army. While it is not possible to see how his inspiring gallantry could have overcome the numerical majority of the enemy on this first day of the great battle, there is little doubt that his skill and courage would have added materially to our strength and that his fiery impatience would have hastened the arrival of reinforcements...

....there was a lull in the fighting which lasted about two hours. This time was occupied by us in re-forming our little line of battle.

The enemy attacked the position of the First Corps early in the afternoon, having been heavily reinforced, and came on in overwhelming numbers, determined to crush the inconsiderable force, which was now commanded by General Doubleday, he having succeeded General Reynolds, The two brigades of Wadsworth's division fought for nearly two hours, until the rebels were seen flowing around both flanks, when they were ordered to retire; this they did in good style, contesting every inch of the ground till they reached the battery, where they again stood and fought as long as they had any ammunition.

The Nineteenth Indiana was placed on the left of the brigade which was also the extreme left of the First Corps. The Twenty-fourth Michigan on it's right, the Seventh Wisconsin next and the Second Wisconsin on the right of the brigade. In the meantime the enemy was reinforced by the arrival of General Ewell's Corps, and the first two divisions of the Eleventh Corps came to the assistance of the First Corps.
Two-thirds of Lee's army then confronted the smallest corps in the Army of the Potomac and part of another placed on the right of the line. This was the position when, at half past one o'clock, the general attack was made upon the combined corps of Hill and Ewell. They came down upon us in two lines of battle, their right overlapping the Union left by a quarter of a mile. Their bearing was magnificent and their alignment seemed to be perfect; in some instances their colors were advanced several paces in front of the line. Pettigrew's Brigade came on opposite of the Iron Brigade.
Lieut. James Stewart in command of Battery B fired shell until they appeared on the ridge east of Willoughby's Run; then he poured into them canister with terrible effect. The old brigade could keep the enemy back in front, but they kept getting around out flanks until we were obliged to fall back to prevent being surrounded. I think it was six times that we re-formed our little line and made a heroic time each time before reaching the town, but the struggle was so unequal that we were finally compelled to give way and retreat to Cemetery Heights, south of town."
"...I know that when I passed up the street leading to Cemetery Hill, the rebels had appeared at each end of the cross streets, and it was like running a gauntlet as the bullets came from both sides. At Cemetery Heights the artillery having a good position, our troops naturally concentrated, and a stand was made which the rebels did not seem to care to contest, and the first day's battle at Gettysburg was ended.

They then fell back through the town to Cemetery Hill, leaving their dead and wounded; not however, till they were nearly surrounded, and there was danger of capture. The brigade reached the hill and took position near the point of the ridge, where they threw up breastworks. General Meredith had been wounded in the afternoon, and the command of the Second Regiment devolved on Captain G.H. Otis, of Company I. Lieutenant Colonel Callis, of the Seventh Regiment, was also severely wounded.

Late in the evening the Iron Brigade, then reduced to the size of a very small regiment, was placed in position on Culp's Hill to the right of the Baltimore Pike." 1st Lieut Cornelius Wheeler, paper April 5, 1893

The Second Wisconsin lost 233 of 302 engaged.

The Sixth, on being detached, moved to the support of the right of the division. While doing so, the enemy succeeded in turning that flank, and were pressing rapidly in pursuit of the broken line. Advancing at a double quick, the Sixth reached a fence about forty rods from the enemy, and opened fire, which checked the rebels, and caused them to take refuge in a railroad cut, from which they commenced a murderous fire on the regiment. Two New York Regiments formed on the left of the Sixth, and they charged together on the rebel position, under a terrible fire. When they reached the railroad cut, the rebel regiment threw down their arms and surrendered, their commanding officer giving up his sword to Lieutenant Colonel Dawes, who commanded the Sixth Regiment, Colonel Bragg being absent under medical treatment. The colors were captures by Corporal Asbury Waller, of Company I, of the Sixth, by rushing into the midst of the rebels and snatching their flag from the color bearer, and bearing it off, though being severely wounded. Waller was afterwards taken prisoner, but he preserved the rebel flag between his blankets. In this charge the regiment lost 160 men killed and wounded. Reorganizing his shattered regiment, Lieutenant Col. Dawes moved forward to the support of a battery in his front , which position he held until the enemy had pressed back the lines on the two flanks , when he fell back to the support of the brigade battery. During the day, the Sixth Regiment saved the New York One Hundred and Forty-seventh volunteers from capture, by charging down upon the enemy who were pursuing it, and in conjunction with the Fourteenth Brooklyn, drove the rebels from the field. The regiment was ordered to retire to Cemetery Hill, where it was reported to Colonel Robinson, commanding the Iron Brigade.

The Seventh Wisconsin bore its share in the battle with characteristic gallantry, and suffered severely. During the action, Captain Hollon Richardson, who was acting on General Meredith's staff, seized the colors of a Pennsylvania regiment, and attempted to rally them back into the fight, but it was in vain, and although he made a conspicuous mark by this action, he retired unharmed.

The Second Brigade, General Cutler, opened the battle a few moments before the Iron Brigade, and suffered severely, the General having three horses shot out under him.

In the battles of the 2d and 3d, the Iron Brigade did not become engaged with the enemy's infantry, but supported a battery on those two days.


July 3rd dawns upon the army about the same position as the night before. Gettysburg. Most unmercifully punished, thwarted in every point and worsted in every encounter, they fall back to gather their remnants and prepare to evacuate the Key Stone State. We lay down in laurels of victory.

July 4th the enemy are reported on retreat, and a portion of our army march out in pursuit. July 5th we advance to the Emmetsburg road, and toward eve pitch tents. In three or four days we have marched about 10 miles. July 6th, march to Emmetsburg, ten miles. July 7th, through Adamsville and Lewiston across Catoctin Mountain at Hampberry and camp, twenty miles. July 8th, through Middletown to Turner's Pass in South Mountain, where we take position on the west slope and entrench, seven miles. July 10th, march down to Boones borough and again entrench a position on the Hagerstown road, five miles. July 12th, march to Funkstown, and after changing position for the second time, finally halt on the west bank of the Antietam River, having come upon the rebels, and a skirmish follows; four miles.

July 14th, the enemy has retreated to the south side of the Potomac; we move to Williamsburg and camp, four miles. July 15th, by Keedysville to Campton's Gap, eighteen miles. July 16th to Petersville, four miles. July 18th, cross the Potomac and camp at Waterford, Va., ten miles. July 19th, to Hamilton, eight miles. July 20th, to Middleburg, fifteen miles. July 22nd, to White Plains, nine miles. July 23, via New Baltimore, to Warrenton, eleven miles. July 25th, to Warrenton Junction and camp.

August 1st, break camp, march to Beverly Ford. August 2nd, cross on pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River below the railroad and bivouac in line of battle. In this position we remain until Aug. 7th, when we recross the river to go into camp on the riverbank near the pontoon bridge. Whole distance marched, eight miles.

Sept. 16th, again strike tents, march through Brandy Station and Stevensburg to Poney Mountain and pitch tents, 12 miles. Sept. 17th, 1863, on this day the citizens of Wisconsin and Michigan residing in Washington present the old Iron Brigade with a beautiful silk stand of colors. On this occasion we have a grand festival. Sept. 24th, break camp and march to the Rapidan, taking up position at Martin's Ford.

Oct. 11th, march to Stevensburg at Kelley's Ford. Oct. 12th, cannonading in direction of Brandy Station, toward which point we march rapidly. Oct. 14th, midnight, we receive marching orders, move rapidly to Warrenton Junction, form a line of battle, break ranks and make coffee, march along railroad stopping at Bristow Station. Distance twenty-five miles.

Oct. 14th, march over the plains of Manassas and prepare for action. Cross Bull Run at Blackburn's Ford, bivouac on Centerville Heights. Distance ten miles. Have a fight, capture five cannon, nearly five hundred prisoners. Oct. 15th, take position behind entrenchments on Warrenton Turnpike. In the evening make a demonstration at Blackburn's Ford. At an early hour we advance upon Warrenton turnpike, through Gainesville and Hay Market and bivouac.

Our cavalry, under Kilpatrick, advance, become closely embarrassed in a position about Bucklin's Mills and are compelled to fall back through our infantry picket line. The Iron Brigade is called out to check the enemy's advance, which they decline, but succeeded in capturing a number of our pickets, thirty of whom were from the Huckleberry Seventh. Late in the evening we move back of Haymarket and bivouac in the open plains. Distance twelve miles. Oct. 20th, on the afternoon we break up and march through Thoroughfare Gap.

The Second Wisconsin and the Nineteenth Indiana guarding the trains. It is one o'clock at night when we camp at the foot of Blue Ridge near the village of Georgetown. Distance fifteen miles. Oct. 24th, march out seven A. M. by Gainesville and Bristow Station; heavy rain.

When we camp at night the Iron Brigade is about played out. Distance twenty-five miles. Right here Col. Fairchild visited the Iron Brigade. We send a detail to the battlefield of Gainesville to bury the remains of our dead comrades killed there in August, 1862, and lying exposed.

Nov. 2nd we are again called on to exercise the elective franchise. The polls are opened at all company headquarters. Quite a spirited political contest ensues, but the result, well, that is best shown by an examination of the returns. Nov. 5th, march to Catlet's Station, Iron Brigade the rear guard. It is near midnight when we go into camp. Distance seven miles.

Having read bits and pieces about John Burns, I was gratified to recently run across two accounts printed by contemporaries that give "the whole story." I hope you enjoy them.

This was but a moment, for that respect,
Which clothes all courage, their voices checked:

And something the wildest could understand,
Spoke in the old man's strong right hand,
And his corded throat and lurking frown

Francis Bret Harte

A little known fact of thesmallnew.gif (926 bytes) Battle of Gettysburg

Is that the famed Iron Brigade had a 6th regiment/battalion/detachment known as the "Brigade Guard" on July 1, 1863 during its infamous "Last Stand". Formed by the politician ‘Long Sol’ Meredith to control foraging and meet MG Wadsworth’s Circular Order of June 20th, this ‘Guard’ was composed of roughly 130 men from all 5 Black Hat regiments, as follows:

2nd WVI 33 30 Pvt. 1 Cpl. 1 Sgt.
    1- Captain, Guard Officer of the Day
6th WVI 17: 15 1 1
7th WVI 23: 20 1 1
    1- First Lieutenant
19th IN 22: 20 1 1
24th MI  33: 29 2 1
    1- 2nd Lieutenant

On the morning of July 1, 1863 roughly 100 men and 2 officers fell in as the Brigade Guard, marching LAST in the Brigade column behind the 6th WVI. Commanding was harmonica playing Lt. Loyd Harris of Prairie du Chien, WI.

As the Black Hats joined the battle on McPherson’s Ridge, the 6th WI was
formed into a reserve column of companies, and the Guard was formed into two companies of 50 men. The 6th was then double quicked forward and formed battle line, and the two guard companies were sent to the flanks of the 6th WVI, under the express orders of Major Rufus Dawes, CO of the 6th WVI.

So when the 6th charged the Railroad cut and captured the flag of the 2nd MS, they not only had the Red Legs of the 14th Brooklyn and Cutler’s brigade with them.....they also had another 80+ effectives (we don’t want to double count the 6th WVI soldiers that were in Guard....) from the Iron Brigade Guard, for a total battalion strength of about 425 men.

This courageously successful action by a single regiment having such an effect on the outcome of a major battle has not received the publicity of say, the 20th Maine’s fight at LRT. And the Eastern press (read that NYC newspaper reporters) stressed that Col. Fowler of the 14th Brooklyn ordered the charge!! But, It would be good and right to honor these Badger warriors for their relatively unknown accomplishments in this the 135th Anniversary of the battle along with the 150th year Anniversary of Wisconsin’s Statehood.
R. J. Samp

John Burns of Gettysburg

"Lancaster, April 14, 1885

Received your note of inquiry some days ago, but the changeable weather of this winter has so disturbed me that I have not been able to answer sooner, and now prevents my writing with pen and ink.

Old John Burns came to the Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers of the Old Iron Brigade at Willoughby's Run, west of Gettysburg, on the 1st of July, 1863, after we, the Iron Brigade, had captured Gen. Archer's brigade in the first charge in the morning about ten o’clock. The man came up and asked me if that was my regiment. I answered, yes.

He had and old flint lock gun in his hands and came to a present arms and said, " Can I fight in your regiment? I replied, "Old man, you had better go to the rear, you may get hurt." He replied, "Hurt, tut, tut, I've heard the whistle of bullets before." I insisted on his going to the rear. He insisted on fighting.

I then said, "Where's your cartridge box? He patted his pants pocket and said, "There's my bullets, and here's my powder horn," pulling and old-fashioned powder horn from his blue swallow-tail coat pocket,"and I know how to use them." "Well, old man, if you will fight, take this gun," and handing him a nice silver-mounted rifle we had captured with some of Archer's men, I gave him the cartridge belt.

He declined to wear the belt, but filled his pockets with ammunition. At this time nothing but skirmishing was going on in our front and he got restless, went toward the skirmish line and to it and fought nobly until I called the skirmishers in and made preparations to get out of that little end of a V, as we were flanked on right and left.

We fought our way out as best we could, and in this move John Burns was wounded three times and I lost sight of him and was shot my self, and John Burns and I were left on the battlefield badly wounded, where I lay forty-three hours.

Burns told me afterwards his friends took him off home after the rebels had advanced over him and through the town.

General John B. Callis

The Hero of Gettysburg

The following thrilling narrative was related by B. D. Beyea, who spent several days on the battle-field in search of the body of Captain C. H. Flagg, who fell in that terrible fight:

"In the Town of Gettysburg live an old couple by the name of Burns. the old man was in the war of 1812, and is now nearly seventy years of age; yet the frosts of many winters have not chilled his patriotism, nor diminished his love for the old flag under which he fought in his early days. When the rebels invaded the beautiful Cumberland Valley, and were marching on Gettysburg, old Burns concluded that it was time for every loyal man, young or old, to be up and doing all in his power to beat back the rebel foe, and , if possible, give them a quiet resting-place beneath the sod they were polluting with their unhallowed feet. The old hero took down an old State musket he had in his house, and commenced running bullets. The old lady saw what he was about, and wanted to know what in the world he was going to do. "Ah," said Burns, "I thought some of the boys might want the old gun, and I am getting it ready for them." The rebels came on. Old Burns kept his eye on the lookout until he saw the Stars and Stripes coming in, carried by our brave boys. This was more than the old fellow could stand. His patriotism hot the better of his age and infirmity. Grabbing his musket, he started out. The old lady hallooed to him: ,Burns, where are you going? O, says Burns, I am going out to see what is going on. He immediately went to a Wisconsin regiment, and asked them if they would take him in. They told him they would, and gave him three rousing cheers.

The old musket was soon thrown aside, and a first-rate rifle given him, and twenty-five rounds of cartridges.

The engagement between the two armies soon came on, and the old man fired eighteen of his twenty-five rounds, and says he killed three rebels to his certain knowledge. Our forces were compelled to fall back and leave our dead and wounded on the field; and Burns, having received three wounds, was left also, not being able to get away. There he lay in citizen's dress and if the rebs found him in that condition, he knew death was his portion; so he concluded to try strategy as his only hope. Soon the rebs came up, and approached him saying: Old man what are you doing here? I am lying here wounded, as you see, he replied. Well but what business have you to be here? and who wounded you? our troops, or yours? I don,t know who wounded me; but I only know that I am wounded, and in a bad fix. Well what were you doing here?- what was your business? If you will hear my story, I will tell you. My old woman's health is very poor, and I was over across the country to get a girl to help her; and coming back, before I knew where I was, I had got right into this fix, and here I am. Where do you live? inquired the rebels. Over in town, in such a small house. They then picked him up, and carried him home and left him. But they soon returned, as if suspecting he had been lying to them, and make him answer a great many questions; but he stuck to his old story, and they failed to make anything out of old Burns, and then left him for good.

He says he shall always feel indebted to some of his neighbors for the last call; for he believes some one had informed them of him. Soon after they left a bullet came into his room, and struck in the wall about six inches above where he lay on his sofa but he don't know who fired it. His wounds proved to be only flesh wounds, and he is getting well, feels first-rate and says he would like one more good chance to give them a rip.

March of the 5th Wisconsin to Gettysburg