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The Color Episode of the one hundred and Forty-Ninth regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers.

In the first days fight at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.

Paper read before the Lebanon county Historical Society, October 18, 1907, by J. H. Bassler, late Captain of the Color Company.

The Reverend J. T. Lumpkin, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, enjoys the highest regard and confidence of our people generally. To know him is to love him. So gentle and unassuming is he, it seems difficult to picture him in your mind's eye in a position so fraught with daring and imminent peril. As his so admirable qualities enlisted the spontaneous praise of the enemy, so his intrinsic worth, commands us.—Editor.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Henry G. Brehm, Color Sergeant of the 149th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, who, in the first day's fight at Gettysburg, was detached with his colors and guards to deceive the enemy and draw away from the regiment a destructive enfilading battery fire. He was never recalled; and his heroic efforts to save his colors against hopeless odds, after the brigade was flanked out of its position, and his escape practically cut off, stands unparalleled in the history of that great battle.


Justice to as gallant a little band of soldiers as ever faced the enemy, demands that Bates' history, and the official reports of Lt. Col. Dwight and Lt. Col. Huidekoper, in their reference to the colors of the 149th, P. V., at Gettysburg, be thoroughly investigated and subjected to the lime light of facts, in order that the cloud, which, through the false claims of others, obscures the heroism displayed by the bearers and guards of those colors, may be [267] finally dispelled, and the desperate fight of these Lebanon County boys to retrieve the errors of their superiors and save their colors from capture be spread upon the pages of history, and entrusted to the care of the Historical Society of their native County. Brehm, Friddell and Lehman were from Myerstown; Spayd, from a farm, south of town; Hammel, from a farm, east of town; and Hoffman, from Newmanstown.

As captain of the Color Company in that fight, it devolves upon me to see to it that my men are not robbed of their well earned laurels by antagonistic claims unsupported by evidence.

The proper place for a record of our color affairs would have been the regimental history. But the comrades, who were successively appointed to write it, passed away before either of them had made a fair start. There is no one of my regiment left who is willing to assume the task. The most I can do before joining the innumerable army that has gone before is to preserve from loss the facts relating to the Color episode and lay bare the falsity of opposing claims.

That I delayed this task so long in hopes that it would be performed by another is owing to the fact that it involves the censure of Lt. Col. Dwight, a gallant soldier, and one to whom I am indebted for many favors.

A ruse to escape an enfilading battery fire.

That war is hell, as expressed by General Sherman, is perhaps never more fully realized than when a regiment of soldiers is exposed to an enfilading artillery fire. It was such an ordeal that faced my regiment after being placed in position (about 11 A. M. July 1st, 1863), at the apex of a right-angle in our line of battle. About two-thirds of the regiment lay along the McPherson lane, facing west, and the rest were aligned along the south side of the Chambersburg pike, facing north.

A gentle rise in the surface immediately west of us, known as McPherson's ridge, screened us from view from the next elevation, beyond Willoughby's run, where were stationed the confederate batteries of Pegram and McIntosh; the former of twenty guns and the latter of fourteen. [268]

The enemy's infantry, which had been heavily engaged with Meredith's and Cutler's brigades a great part of the forenoon, were now making new dispositions and awaiting reenforce-ments. In the meantime the infantry fire was confined to the skirmish lines, while the artillery fire passed over our heads.

Close on to I P. M. the scene changed. The enemy's re-enforcements were now arriving on the field. The first intimation we had of it was the fire of one of their batteries (Carter's) stationed on Oak hill, north of us. The crash of a shell through the tops of the old cherry trees along the lane admonished our Commander that we were exposed to an enfilade fire which might do us great damage. He at once swung our left out on the pike in line with the right, and ordered a left side-step movement to bring as much of the regiment as possible into the shelter of the dry ditch on the southern edge of the pike, in which we then lay down. We were now comparatively safe from the battery on Oak hill, but, unfortunately, the enemy to the west got a glimpse of our left before we lay down, and shrewdly guessing our position, at once commenced to drop shells into our ranks over the crest of the ridge.

With those thirty-four guns on our flank the regiment was in danger of annihilation, should the enemy concentrate their fire upon us.

It was now that Roy Stone, commanding the brigade, conceived the idea of using our colors to deceive the enemy and draw their fire away from the regiment. Accordingly, Color Sergeant Brehm, having been quietly instructed by an orderly of Col. Dwight's, marched in a northwesterly direction and planted the colors behind two rail piles, forming a right-angle, one side facing west and the other north.

This breastwork had been made as a safe guard against lurking enemies, by pickets of Buford's cavalry, who occupied the ground the night before. The rails had been carried together from a fence that formed the eastern boundary of a field of wheat, extending from the summit of the ridge down its western slope, and from the pike to an old R. R. cut north of it.

The colors were now some fifty yards north of the pike, a [269] little to the left of the left front of the regiment, and about one hundred and fifteen yards south of the R. R. cut where it had its greatest depth.

In this position our flags were plainly visible over the standing wheat, to the battery west of us, but the rail piles and the men lying behind them were hid from their view; and, evidently thinking that the regiment had changed front, they now diverted their fire in that direction. Stone's ruse had succeeded.

Half an hour or so later, we were approached from the north-north-west by Daniel's brigade, of North Carolinians, and our regiment was ordered across to the cut to meet them.

It is not my object to describe the battle, but only to tell the story of our colors. Suffice it to say that up to about 3:15 P. M. the regiment did heavy fighting on that part of the field, including charges and counter-charges and several changes of front, and, incredible as it may seem, it fought without its colors during all that time; and when the brigade was forced out of its position in the vicinity of the McPherson farm buildings by Brockenbrough's and Scales' Confederate brigades, the latter enveloping its left flank, our precious standards still remained planted in their isolated position.

The deep R. R. cut to the north had proved a barrier to the advance of the enemy from that direction. But at an early stage of the fight the right of Daniel's brigade crossed the R. R. bed west of the cut and advanced obliquely up through the wheat field. Had its advance not been checked, our colors would then have been captured, unless its custodians had made a timely escape to the regiment.

Some may think that now was the time for Brehm to run. Not so in the judgment of men noted for their thorough study of the fight. There is ground for belief that it was of great service to our cause that Brehm stuck to his post. True, he might then have left with a good excuse and saved the flags; but the results attained by his remaining, far outweigh in importance the loss of the colors. This is what Stone believed after reading Daniel's report, and such was the view taken by Col. Batchelder, who stands pre-eminent as the historian of the battle. [270]

I was introduced to the Colonel while attending the G. A. R. encampment at Gettysburg, in 1881, my first revisit to the battlefield. He questioned me minutely about our color affair, and my queries in return elicited the fact that he had investigated it before to some purpose by consulting Confederate reports and interviewing prominent officers on that side; and he expressed high admiration of Brehm's conduct and firmness under such trying circumstances.

We must remember that Daniel's brigade had just arrived on the field, and that they naturally supposed that our colors represented a regiment of Federals lying concealed in the upper edge of the wheat field, and whose right flank was protected against attack by the cut north of it. When the right of that brigade made its aforementioned advance, how could they help thinking but that the supposed regiment was waiting to strike them in flank and rear at the opportune moment. Fronting them were companies A, F and D of the 150th, a body of men so small compared with theirs, that they must have supposed their object, was to draw them into a trap.

The tide of battle was turned by the daring charge of the gallant Wister when he hurled those three companies upon the astonished foemen. All honor to those brave Bucktails! They have our unbounded admiration! It was one of those critical moments pregnant with far-reaching results. Had Brehm then flinched, and fled with his colors, the illusion that had cast a spell over the enemy would have been instantly dispelled; and we can well imagine the piercing ‘rebel yell’ that would have followed, and the onward rush of the Confederates; firing with fresh courage and enthusiasm the rest of their line, north, northwest and west of our little brigade.

To think of it! Daniel's brigade of four regiments and a battery; Davis' brigade of three regiments (the fourth was absent at the time); all veteran troops and renowned fighters—and how many more of Heth's regiments south of the pike I cannot tell—opposing our brigade of three regiments, and these depleted by the absence of Company D of the 149th at Division headquarters, and Company K of the 150th in Washington, guarding the Presidential premises. Had the Rebs not been [271] deceived as to our numbers, they would then in all probability have swept the ‘Key Point,’ as Gen. Doubleday called our position; and how could our Corps commander have retrieved such a disaster, hard pressed as he was at all points.

Was it chance, or destiny, that blinded Brehm and his men to the nearness of their capture at this important juncture? If the proximity of the enemy was unnoticed because they were then engaged in one of their ‘hot discussions’ over their peculiar position, and what was best to do, it was a most fortunate co—incidence. If—as Stone quotes Nicholson of the Battlefield Commission to say—every minute then gained was worth a regiment, Brehm's firmness was of priceless service. Let us honor then the intrepid Sergeant and the devoted little band that stood by him so nobly, though some of them, if not all, thought their chief should act on his own authority and return to the regiment.

In the final advance of the Confederate line, towards 3 P. M., there was one part of the enveloping semi-circle that did not move on with the rest. This was Davis' brigade, stationed down along the wheat field, west of our colors. This brigade had lost heavily in the forenoon and was instructed to follow in rear of the first line in the final onset.

Just then there was no line of Confederates in front of Davis, and all he needed to do to carry out his orders, was to delay marching, until, by the contraction of the semi-circle, further east, the right of Daniels' brigade connected with the left of Brockenbrough's.

This accounts for the fact that our colors were not driven back or captured, at, or before, the time that the two Bucktail regiments were flanked out of their position at McPherson's, and fell in on the left of the 143rd P. V., which had changed position and was now facing west, south of the pike. Our line was then about 100 yards east of the McPherson buildings. I was lying at the time in the southeast corner of the McPherson barnyard, disabled by a wound received about an hour before, in the field north of the pike. Though unable to shift my body I could turn my head, sufficiently, to get a view of part of the meadow east of the McPherson lane, but could not see our line. [272]

It was then—at 15 to 20 minutes after 3 P. M.—that the dash on our colors took place, and I will let the surviving actors in that drama tell the story in their own language, in the following affidavits, the originals of which were sent to Captain Ralph E. Gamble, U. S. A., stationed at San Juan, Porto Rico, who lost seven blood relatives out of my regiment in the first day's fight, and is engaged in the commendable work of writing its history in that eventful battle. To aid him in elucidating the facts of our Color episode, is one of the objects of this paper.


To Whom it May Concern:
I hereby certify under oath that in the first day's fight at Gettysburg, July 1st, 1863, I was bearer of the State flag; that while my regiment, the 149th P. V., was lying in line of battle in a dry ditch on the south side of the Chambersburg pike, north of the McPherson barn, and subjected to a destructive, enfilading fire from Confederate batteries to the westward, the colors, both State and National, were ordered out into the field north of the pike, to deceive the enemy and draw their fire away from the regiment; that we took a left oblique direction until we had cleared the left front of the regiment and planted the colors behind a rail pile, or rather two rail piles, forming a right angle, one side facing an old railroad cut and the other side facing a wheat field, covering the west slope of the McPherson ridge; that in the subsequent movements of our troops none came very pear to us; that we were undisturbed during the progress of the battle until finally a squad of Confederate soldiers made a dash on us out of the wheat field, and, that while being startled to our feet by the rebel yell, I collided with Color-Sergeant Brehm and was pushed over on my knees, my flag being tilted over the rail pile, and that it was immediately laid hold of by an enemy on the other side, while another enemy on top of the rails was aiming his gun at me: that I grabbed the barrel of said gun and turned it aside; that my assailant was shot and the flag-staff wrenched from my grasp at the same time. When I got to my feet the Confederates were all around us; I saw a rebel stretched on his [273] back and Sergeant Brehm on top of him; I saw a Confederate in the act of striking him with the but of his gun and another picking up the flag. I saw that I was not yet a prisoner and started to go to the regiment for help; that when I got near the pike I saw that the Confederates occupied the ground where recently we had seen our regiment; that I changed my course and got by the left flank of the enemy, but before getting far was disabled by a gun shot wound through my leg.


Subscribed and sworn to before me this 4th day of March, A. D. , 1907; and I hereby certify that the contents of the above declaration were fully made known to him before swearing, and that I have no interest, direct or indirect, in the prosecution of this claim.

Luther G. Witt, Notary Public.

Dear Sir and Comrade:—I hereby respectfully refer Capt. Gamble to my statement in your ‘Reminiscences of the First Day's Fight at Gettysburg,’ a copy of which you told me you had sent to the Captain. I now reiterate under oath, that excepting the first advance of our regiment to the railroad cut, and later on the dash at us of a squad of Confederates out of the wheat field, after, as subsequent events proved, our regiment had been flanked out of its position near the McPherson buildings, there was no movement of troops, of either our own or of the enemy, so near to us as to attract our attention. Of course, we were crouching behind the pile of rails to shield ourselves from the aim of the rebel sharpshooters and it was only at intervals that one of our number would rise to take a hurried survey of the long semi-circle of Confederates to the north, northwest and west. I further reiterate that after I had rescued the State flag from the foeman who had wrenched it from the grasp of Corporal Franklin W. Lehman, and made a dash for our regiment, I noticed before reaching the pike that the Bucktails had left, and that the ground was occupied [274] by men in gray; that I then changed my course hoping to get around their flank, but was presently disabled by a gunshot wound in the right thigh, and that very soon after the colors were taken from me.

H. H. Spayd, Late Color Bearer 149th Regt. Pa. Vol.

Sworn and subscribed to before me a Justice of the Peace in and for said County of Schuylkill, this 6th day of May, A. D. , 1907.

My commission expires on the 1st Monday of May, 1912.

To complete the above account I will quote from Comrade Spayd's statement as set forth in my pamphlet, in which he says, when he was startled to his feet by the rebel yell, the first thing he noticed was Corporal Franklin W. Lehman, bearer of the State flag, on his knees with his colors stretched across the rail pile and a rebel pulling at them on the other side. Frank held on with his right hand and with his left had hold of the barrel of a musket in the hands of an enemy on the top of the rails and was pushing it aside. Spayd instantly shot down Lehman's assailant, then clubbed his musket and flung it with all his might at the Confederate on the other side, who had just plucked the flag from Lehman's hand and was drawing it across the rails. The blow stunned the foeman; he dropped the flag; the next instant it was in Spayd's possession, and he was making for the regiment at the top of his speed.

soldiers' home, N. D. V. S., Central branch, May 11th, 1907.
To Capt. J. H. Bassler,
Dear Comrade:—Below find my sworn statement to be sent by you to Capt. Gamble, to assist him in getting at the facts regarding the loss of our colors at Gettysburg. After being detached from the regiment and being posted to the left of its left front (to deceive the enemy in regard to the position of the regiment), we then took shelter behind two rail piles placed together so that one faced north and the other west, and felt easy enough at first, though the shells dropped around us [275] in a lively manner, for we expected to be recalled to the regiment shortly, but as the time lengthened and the fighting got rather close to us we felt very uneasy about the colors and there was a hot discussion among us, some arguing that we had better return to the regiment without orders. ColorSer-geant Brehm, however, refused point blank, as his idea of a soldier's duty was to stick to his post as long as he was able unless sooner relieved. He at last agreed though that I should go and report that there was great danger of the colors being captured unless they were ordered back to the regiment at once, but in the confusion of battle I could not immediately find either General Stone or Colonel Dwight, and before I succeeded the Bucktails were on their retreat back towards Gettysburg and I followed, seeing it impossible to return to Brehm without falling in the hands of the enemy. I had failed in carrying-out my orders, but whenever the brigade made a fresh stand I remained with them and did the best I could in helping to check the enemy.


Fred. Hoffman, 149th Color Guard, Gettysburg.

Sworn and subscribed before me this 11th day of May, 1907.

John J. Martin, Notary Public, in and for Montgomery Co., Ohio.

The above is an exact copy of the original except the spelling and punctuation.

To aid the historian in sifting the facts regarding the colors of the 149th P. V., in the first day's fight at Gettysburg, from a mass of contradictions, I hereby testify that when lying in the southeast corner of the McPherson barnyard, the Confederates already being along the lane east of the barn, I saw Color-Bearer Brehm, with his flag, run obliquely through the meadow east of the lane; that he evidently entered said meadow at its northwest corner where the lane connects with the pike; that soon after he was out of sight, a Confederate came into view, having our flag, and in hurrying to the rear, passed near me; that sometime after the storm of battle had swept by, Color [276] Guard John Friddell, (now dead), came to me on his way to the pump to fill his canteen; that he was very pale and weak from loss of blood issuing from a wound in his chest; that he gave me a thrilling account of a fight with a squad of rebels that dashed upon them from the nearby wheat field; that when startled by the rebel yell they had barely time to jump to their feet when the enemy was right by them; that one of them laid hold of the National flag in the hands of Brehm, saying ‘this is mine;’ that Brehm said ‘no by G—it isn't,’ seized him by the throat and threw him on the ground, but the Sergeant went down too on top of him; that evidently the rebels had not expected any resistance, and so, in the anxiety of each one to get one of our flags, they were unprepared for the hot reception given them and which gave our men the advantage; that in a few seconds, the guard having shot the majority of their assailants, and clubbed others, Brehm was on his feet again with his colors and running at the top of his speed for the regiment, and that he (Friddell) and another comrade (Hammel) were following close behind; that they got near the Confederates along the lane before discovering, amid the smoke of battle, that they were men in grey; that Brehm dashed right through their line, but himself and comrade were shot down in the lane in a struggle with the enemy.

Further, that in a heavy thunderstorm late in the afternoon of July 4th, my clothes were completely soaked by the rain; that I was lifted out of a pool of water by a wounded comrade, aided by two Confederates (who had taken shelter from the rain under the fore-bay of the barn), was carried into the horse stable, stripped of my wet clothes and then placed on clean hay and covered with a blanket, presented for the occasion by Capt. F. B. Jones; that, then and there I was greeted by a comrade, who while lying on the field of battle, not far from the rail pile, had witnessed the fight over the colors, and characterized it as the most gallant imaginable, saying it was over quicker than he could describe it, with three of the enemy stretched on the sod, and our men bounding away for their regiment; but that the foe being then in possession of the ground around the McPherson buildings, they were all shot down. [277]

To my great regret, I neglected noting down the name of this comrade, as I was very weak then and my water soaked diary was not within my reach.

J. H. Bassler, Late Captain Co. C., 149th Regiment Pa. Vol's.

Sworn and subscribed before me this fourth day of June, A. D. , 1907.

H. S. Gockley, Justice of the Peace, Myerstown, Pa.

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