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Chapter 9: famous divisions and brigades.

Within the corps organizations there were certain divisions and brigades which also achieved distinction, sometimes greater than that of the corps to which they belonged. Prominent among these was the famous division of the Pennsylvania Reserves--the only division of three years men in the Union Armies which was composed entirely of troops from one State.

Pennsylvania Reserves.

The Reserves included thirteen regimlents of infantry, divided into three brigades. The Thirteenth Reserves was the celebrated regiment known as the Bucktails, or First Pennsylvania Rifles. In addition to the infantry, two other regiments were organized in connection with the division,--the First Pennsylvania Cavalry and the First Pennsylvania Light Artillery--but after a few months they were detached, and the division proper included only the three brigades of infantry. The Reserves were prominently engaged at Dranesville, Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, Charles City Cross Roads (Glendale), Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and in the Wilderness campaign. At Fredericksburg the division made a gallant fight, the losses being unusually severe in proportion to the number engaged. The division was commanded in turn by Generals McCall, Reynolds, Meade, and Crawford. It was attached, originally, to the First (McDowell's) Corps, but while on the Peninsula it served in the Fifth Corps. At Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, it was again in the First Corps. After Fredericksburg it was ordered to Washington to rest and recruit its shattered regiments, but it rejoined the Army on the Gettysburg campaign, when it was assigned to the Fifth Corps, in which it remained until mustered out.

The casualties in this division do not amount to the heroic aggregate shown by some other divisions, but the percentage of loss was heavy; the regiments became reduced in numbers, received but few recruits, and did not re-enlist. Governor Curtin requested the War Department to furlough the regiments,--a few at a time — promising that the State of Pennsylvania would return them to the field with full ranks; but the Government refused. Many of the men, however, reenlisted, and when the division returned home at the expiration of its three years, these reenlisted veterans, together with the recruits, were organized into two regiments,--the One Hundred and Ninetieth and One Hundred and Ninety-first Pennsylvania--which served until the war ended. The battle of Bethesda Church, June 1, 1864, was the last action in which the Reserves, as a division, were engaged.

Two of the Reserve regiments served in West Virginia during the early part of 1864, distinguishing themselves at the battle of Cloyd's Mountain. The eleven remaining regiments were formed into two brigades, constituting Crawford's (3d) Division, Fifth Corps.


Sykes's Division.

Another division remarkable for superiority in discipline and efficiency, was Sykes's Division of Regulars. The regular troops of the United States Army-serving in the Army of the Potomac were formed into one division of two brigades, under command of Major-General George Sykes, who was succeeded in 1863 by General Romeyn B. Ayres. This division included the Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Fourteenth, and Seventeenth United States Infantry. The regiments were small, seldom having over eight companies to a regiment, and often only three. At Gaines's Mill, and at Gettysburg, they sustained a terrible percentage of loss. The division became so reduced in numbers that it was withdrawn from the field in 1864. The largest losses in the division occurred in the Fourteenth Infantry; but that might have been due to larger numbers. The Regular Division was, undoubtedly, the best officered of any division in the Army, the officers being selected solely with reference to their ability. In addition to those from the National Military Academy, a large number were promoted from the ranks.

Attached to the division of Regulars was an additional brigade, composed of volunteer regiments, which had demonstrated by their discipline and efficiency their fitness to be associated with the Regulars. Conspicuous among the volunteer regiments thus attached to the Regular Division was the Fifth New York, or Duryee Zouaves--General Warren's old regiment.

Hancock's Division.

But the hardest fighting and greatest loss of life occurred in the First Division of the Second Corps,--Hancock's old division — in which more men were killed and wounded than in any other division in the Union Army, east or west. Its losses aggregated 2,287 killed, 11,724 wounded,1 and 4,833 missing; total, 18,844. This division was the one which Richardson — its first commander — led on the Peninsula, and at whose head he fell at Antietam; the one which, made the bloody assault on Marye's Heights; which, under Caldwell, fought so well in the Gettysburg wheat-field; which, under Barlow, surged over the enemy's works at Spotsylvania; and which, under Miles, was in at the death in 1865. Within its ranks were the Irish Brigade, and crack regiments like the Fifth New Hampshire, the One Hundred and Fortieth Pennsylvania, and the Sixty-fourth New York. Over 14,000 men were killed or wounded in this division during the war; yet it never numbered 8,000 muskets, and often could muster only half of that. After the charge on Marye's Heights it numbered only 2,800.

Close to it, however, in point of loss stands Gibbon's (2d) Division2 of the Second Corps, and Griffin's (1st) Division3 of the Fifth Corps.

The heaviest loss sustained by any division in any one battle, occurred in Getty's (2d) Division, Sixth Corps, at the Wilderness, where that divison lost 480 killed, 2,318 wounded, and 196 missing; total, 2,994.

Gibbon's Division, at Gettysburg, lost 344 killed, 1,197 wounded, and 101 missing; total, 1,642, out of 3,773 engaged — a loss of 43.5 per cent.


Vermont Brigade.

The greatest loss of life in any one brigade during the war occurred in the Vermont Brigade of the Second (Getty's) Division, Sixth Corps. The regiments composing this organization, and their losses were:--

  Killed or Died of Wounds.
2d Vermont Infantry 224
3d Vermont Infantry 206
4th Vermont Infantry 162
5th Vermont Infantry 213
6th Vermont Infantry 203
11th Vermont (1st H. Art'y) 164
Total (during the war) 1,172

Its hardest fighting occurred at the Wilderness, May, 5-6, 1864, in which action it lost 195 killed, 1,017 wounded, and 57 missing; total, 1,269. Within a week it lost at the two actions of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, 266 killed, 1,299 wounded, and 80 missing; a total of 1,645, out of the 2,800 effective men4 with which it crossed the Rapidan, and a loss of 58 per cent. This loss fell on the first five regiments, as the Eleventh did not join the brigade until May 15, 1864. The brigade also distinguished itself by valuable services rendered in the minor actions of Banks's Ford, Va., and Funkstown, Md.

It acquired a distinctive reputation, not only by its gallantry but by reason of its being composed entirely of troops from one state. State brigades were rare in the Union Armies, the policy of the Government being to assign regiments from different states to the same brigade. Carroll's Brigade (Second Corps) contained, at one time, regiments from seven different states. In the Confederate Army an opposite policy prevailed, and, so far as possible, regiments from the same states were grouped in brigades. Another thing which enabled the Vermont Brigade to win its prominent place in history was its continuous, unbroken organization. It was formed at the beginning of the war with five regiments which served together through the entire war. When their term of enlistment expired, in 1864, they re-enlisted, and thus preserved the existence of the brigade. The only change in the organization was the addition of the Eleventh Regiment (1st Vt. H. Art'y) which joined in May, 1864, it having served previously in the forts about Washington. This feature of a continuous organization is an important one in view of the fact that it was the only one, out of two hundred or more brigades, which served through the war without being broken up, or reorganized. The same five regiments of the old Vermont Brigade which picketed the Potomac in 1861, marched together at the Grand Review in 1865. It was commanded successively by General Wm. F. Smith, formerly of the Third Vermont; General W. T. Brooks; Col. Henry Whiting, Second Vermont; and General Lewis A. Grant, formerly of the Fifth Vermont. At one time the Twenty-sixth New Jersey, a nine months regiment, was attached to the brigade for a few months, but it was a temporary arrangement only. The “old” Brigade should not be confounded with the Vermont Brigade (Stannard's) which was so prominently engaged at Gettysburg. This latter organization was in the First Corps, and was composed of nine months troops, Gettysburg being its only battle.


Iron Brigade.

Equally good fighting was done by the famous “Iron Brigade of the West,” First Division, First Corps. Its record is, also, a heroic one.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
2d Wisconsin Infantry 238
6th Wisconsin Infantry 244
7th Wisconsin Infantry 281
19th Indiana Infantry 179
24th Michigan Infantry 189
Total (during the war) 1,131

In proportion to its numbers this brigade sustained the heaviest loss of any in the war. The brigade proper contained only the five regiments mentioned; and, yet, its aggregate of losses is exceeded in only one instance. At Manassas, under command of General Gibbon, the first four regiments named lost 148 killed, 626 wounded, and 120 missing; total, 894, out of about 2,000 engaged. At Gettysburg, General Meredith commanding, the five regiments were engaged, losing 162 killed, 724 wounded, and 267 missing; a total of 1,153 casualties, out of 1,883 engaged, or 61 per cent. Most of the missing at Gettysburg were killed or wounded. The Iron Brigade was also hotly engaged at South Mountain, Antietam, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania. It was organized in August, 1861, at which time it was composed of the three Wisconsin regiments and the Nineteenth Indiana. In October, 1862, the Twenty-fourth Michigan was added. The Second Wisconsin and Nineteenth Indiana did not reenlist, and so were mustered out, respectively, in June and August, 1864. During the Wilderness campaign the Seventh Indiana was attached to the brigade, but it was mustered out in August. The First New York Sharpshooters' Battalion was also attached to the brigade at one time, joining it in the fall of 1863. In February, 1865, the brigade was broken up, the Twenty-fourth Michigan having been ordered to Baltimore. The Sixth and Seventh Regiments remained in the First Brigade, Third Division (Crawford's), Fifth Corps, while the Sharpshooters' Battalion was assigned elsewhere. General John Gibbon commanded the Iron Brigade at Manassas, South Mountain, and Antietam; General Meredith, at Gettysburg; and General Cutler at the Wilderness. Cutler was succeeded in 1864, by General Edward S. Bragg,--formerly Colonel of the Sixth Wisconsin--an officer of marked ability and an intrepid soldier.

There was another organization, in the Army of the Potomac, known as the Iron Brigade, and it was in the same division with the “Iron Brigade of the West.” It was composed of the Second United States Sharpshooters, the Twenty-second, Twenty-fourth, Thirtieth, and Eighty-fourth New York, forming Hatch's (1st) Brigade, First Division, First Corps. But the Twenty-second, Twenty-fourth, and Thirtieth New York were two years regiments, and were mustered out in May, 1863, thereby breaking up the organization. The Eighty-fourth New York (14th Brooklyn) was an exceptionally fine regiment, while the other regiments in the brigade made a reputation, also, as efficient commands. It seems strange that two brigades in the same division should adopt like synonyms; but, in justice to Hatch's Brigade, it should be stated that it was the original Iron Brigade, and that Gibbon's Brigade was not known by that title until after Antietam, at which time it was so designated by a war correspondent, who was apparently unaware of his lack of originality.


Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade was, probably, the best known of any brigade organization, it having made an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. The remarkable precision of its evolutions under fire;5 its desperate attack on the impregnable wall at Marye's Heights; its never failing promptness on every field; and its long continuous service, made for it a name inseparable from the history of the war. It belonged to the First Division of the Second Corps, and was numbered as the Second Brigade. The regiments which properly belonged to the Irish Brigade, together with their losses, were:--

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
63d New York Infantry 156
69th New York Infantry 259
88th New York Infantry 151
28th Massachusetts Infantry 250
116th Pennsylvania Infantry 145
Total (during the war) 961

The Irish Brigade lost over 4,000 men in killed and wounded; it being more men than ever belonged to the brigade at any one time. With the exception of the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, the regiments were small. At the start they were not recruited to the maximum, but left New York with about 800 men each. The three New York regiments became so reduced in numbers that, at Gettysburg, they were consolidated into two companies each; the One Hundred and Sixteenth Pennsylvania had been consolidated into four companies.

The brigade, which was organized in 1861, consisted originally of three New York regiments, which selected numbers corresponding to those of certain famous Irish regiments in the British Army. The One Hundred and Sixteenth Pennsylvania and Twenty eighth Massachusetts were added in the fall of 1862. Each of the five regiments carried green flags, in addition to the national colors. While on the Peninsular and Antietam campaigns, the Twenty-Ninth Massachusetts was attached to the brigade, but after Antietam it was detached and its place was taken by the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts. In September, 1864, the remnant of the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery was added; but it was detached in February, 1865, and the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery took its place. In July, 1864, the One Hundred arid Sixteenth Pennsylvania was transferred to the Fourth Brigade. But the Irish Brigade was composed, substantially, as above; and, each of the regiments having reenlisted, its service was continuous and unbroken. It was commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thos. A. Smyth6 (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

Mention should also be made of the following named brigades, and their losses:-- [119]

First Jersey Brigade.

First Division, Sixth Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
1st New Jersey Infantry 153
2d New Jersey Infantry 96
3d New Jersey Infantry 157
4th New Jersey Infantry 161
10th New Jersey Infantry 93
15th New Jersey Infantry 240
Total (during the war) 900

the Excelsior Brigade. (Sickles').

Hooker's (2D) Division, Third Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
70th New York Infantry 190
71st New York Infantry 88
72d New York Infantry 161
73d New York Infantry 156
74th New York Infantry 130
120th New York Infantry 151
Total (during the war) 876

the Philadelphia Brigade.

Gibbon's (2D) Division, Second Corps.

This brigade was commanded at Gettysburg by General Alex. S. Webb, and was the one which so successfully withstood the brunt of the attack made by Pickett's Divisioni:--

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
69th Pennsylvania Infantry 178
71st Pennsylvania Infantry 161
72d Pennsylvania Infantry 193
106th Pennsylvania Infantry 104
Total (during the war) 636

The gallant little Iowa Brigade (Belknap's) of the Seventeenth Corps:--

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
11th Iowa Infantry 93
13th Iowa Infantry 119
15th Iowa Infantry 126
16th Iowa Infantry 105
Total (during the war) 443


Custer's famous Cavalry Brigade, which sustained the highest percentage of loss of any brigade in the mounted service:--

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
1st Michigan Cavalry 164
5th Michigan Cavalry 141
6th Michigan Cavalry 135
7th Michigan Cavalry 85
Total (during the war) 525

the “star” Brigade — Heckman's.

Eighteenth Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
25th Massachusetts Infantry 161
27th Massachusetts Infantry 137
23d Massachusetts Infantry 84
9th New Jersey Infantry 96
55th Pennsylvania Infantry 208
Total (during the war) 686

In each of these brigades there were, at times, slight changes, unnecessary to specify here, as they were but temporary arrangements; the brigades proper were organized as stated. Then there was the Maryland Brigade; the Second Jersey Brigade; the Eagle BrigadeMower's, of the Sixteenth Corps,--which carried the live eagle; Wilder's Lightning Brigade, composed of mounted infantry; and several crack brigades whose total losses, as brigades, cannot well be stated, owing to the many changes in their organizations.

Here are three fine brigades, with rosters showing their organizations as they stood October 20, 1863, at the time the Army of the Cumberland was reorganized. The losses credited each regiment were incurred during their entire term of service, during which they served in other brigades and corps. These brigade organizations were not continuous and unchanged like those previously cited; they are mentioned in this connection becaust they were noted brigades.

Steedman's7 (1ST) Brigade.

Sheridan's8 (2D) Division, Fourth Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
36th Illinois 204
44th Illinois 135
73d Illinois 114
74th Illinois 83
88th Illinois 103
22d Indiana 153
21st Michigan 83
2d Missouri 91
15th Missouri 115
24th Wisconsin 111
Total (during the war) 1,192


Willich's9 (1ST) Brigade.

Wood's (3D) Division, Fourth Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
25th Illinois 83
35th Illinois 109
89th Illinois 133
32d Indiana 171
68th Indiana 39
8th Kansas 105
15th Ohio 179
49th Ohio 202
15th Wisconsin 94
Total (during the war) 1,115

Harker's (3D) Brigade.

Sheridan's (2D) Division, Fourth Corps.

  Killed and Died of Wounds.
22d Illinois Infantry 147
27th Illinois Infantry 112
42d Illinois Infantry 181
51st Illinois Infantry 115
79th Illinois Infantry 85
3d Kentucky Infantry 109
64th Ohio Infantry 114
65th Ohio Infantry 126
125th Ohio Infantry10 118
Total (during the war) 1,107

The greatest percentage of loss in any brigade, in any one action during the war, occurred at Gettysburg, in Harrow's (1st) Brigade, Gibbon's (2d) Division, Second Corps. Its loss, as officially reported, was:--

  Killed. Wounded.11 Missing. Aggregate.
19th Maine 29 166 4 199
15th Massachusetts 23 97 28 148
1st Minnesota 50 173 1 224
82d New York (2d N. Y. S. M.) 45 132 15 192
Total 147 568 48 763

The four regiments took 1,246 officers and men into action — a loss of 61 per cent.12

At Stone's River, the Regular Brigade (15th, 16th, 18th, 19th United States Infantry), of Rousseau's Division, Fourteenth Corps, lost 94 killed, 489 wounded, and 47 missing; total, 630, out of 1,566 engaged.

1 Including the mortally wounded.

2 Formerly Sedgwick's.

3 Formerly Morell's.

4 Adjutant General's Repert, Vermont; 1864.

5 “A sever and well-sustained musketry contest then ensued, continuing until the ammunition was nearly expended, after which this brigade (Meagher's Irish Brigade), having suffered severely, losing many valuable officers and men, was relieved by the brigade of General Caldwell, which until this time had remained in support. Caldwell's Brigade advanced to within a short distance of the rear of Meagher's Brigade. The latter then broke by companies to the rear, and, the former by companies to the front, and in this manner passed their respective lines.” --[Hancock's Offical Report.--Antietam.]

6 Killed while in command of another brigade.

7 Known, also, as Kimball's; and Opdycke's.

8 Afterwards, Newton's Division.

9 Willich was wounded at Resaca, and succeeded by Col. William H. Gibson.

10 Transferred subsequently to the First Brigade.

11 Including the mortally wounded.

12 The Iron Brigade, also, lost 61 per cent, at Gettysburg; but the loss includes 267, captured or missing.

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