Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863
The Nineteenth Indiana marched to Pennsylvania in 1863 as a veteran regiment in the famous Iron Brigade. Along with the Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin, and later the Twenty-fourth Michigan, the Hoosiers saw action at Gainesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. None of the fighting, the veterans said later, prepared them for what they called the "four long hours" of July 1, 1863, at Gettysburg, where the Iron Brigade was all but wrecked.
The brigade ran into the infantry fighting at mid-morning on a hot day and enjoyed early success in the open fields northwest of Gettysburg, knocking back two Confederate Brigades. “It those damned Black Hats!” the Confederate called on seeing the Western men and their famous headgear. By afternoon, however, the Confederates were advancing in heavy lines to seize the town. The Iron Brigade was strung out in defensive position above Willoughby Run on McPherson’s Ridge. The Nineteenth Indiana was on the left with the Twenty-fourth Michigan, Seventh Wisconsin and Second Wisconsin extending the line to the north. The Sixth Wisconsin was detached and posted elsewhere. The Union line was outnumbered and overlapped.
By mid-afternoon, the outnumbered Hoosiers were fighting for their lives, bending back under a heavy flank fire, and disappearing “like dew before the morning sun.” The Nineteenth Indiana carried two flags—a blue regimental presented by the ladies of Indianapolis and a national color requisitioned when a complementary national flag from 1861 was retired. Sgt. Burlington Cunningham, already once wounded, was carrying the national banner when hit a second time. Nearby, Color Corporal Abe Buckles also went down. Lieutenant Colonel William Dudley grabbed the national flag and was shot in the right shin—a wound that would cost him his leg. In the noise and smoke, Sgt. Maj. Asa Blanchard came up to take the flag, saying: “Colonel, you shouldn’t have done this. That was my duty. I shall never forgive myself for letting you touch that flag.” Eight Indiana color bearers were now down and half the regiment killed or wounded.
Under heavy fire from two advancing Confederate brigades, the Indiana flag—now in the hands of another man—fell yet again. Before Blanchard could reach it, however, Color Corporal David Phipps, who was carrying the Indiana regimental, scooped up the fallen national and was waving it with one hand. Then Phipps was wounded and fell on both flags. “The flag is down!” someone shouted and Captain William W. Macy yelled to a nearby private to “Go and get it!” “Go to hell, I won’t do it,” said the soldier.
Macy, Lieutenant Crockett East, and Color Corporal Burr Clifford rolled the Phipps off the flags. Aware the bright silk was attracting bullets, East furled the banner and got it into its case and was trying to wrap the tassels when he was shot and killed. Macy and Clifford finally got the two flags in the cases only to be confronted by an angry Blanchard, who demanded the flags. “No, there’s been enough men shot down with it,” said Macy, but Blanchard appealed to Colonel Samuel J. Williams and the colonel told Macy to turn over the flags. In a swirl of bullets, Blanchard stubbornly unfurled the national colors and tied the case around his waist, calling in a loud voice “Rally boys!” He was waving it when a bullet severed an artery in his thigh and he fell in a gush of blood, dying almost immediately. Clifford then picked up the national color and made a run for the town and safety.
The Iron Brigade line was soon swept away and the surviving Black Hats made their way through Gettysburg to the Federal rally point on Cemetery Hill. Their stout fighting delayed the Confederates long enough to allow Union forces to secure the defensive positions that would win the battle over the next two days. But the holding action came at terrible cost. The Iron Brigade marched to Gettysburg with 1,883 men and by dusk only 671 rallied around the flags. In the Nineteenth Indiana, of the 288 carried into the fight, only 78 were still in ranks—a loss of almost 73 percent. --- Lance J. Herdegen Chair, Wisconsin Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission