History – A Perfect Storm of Shot and Shell
The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Gustav Person, it is not owned by The Fighting Fourth, and is reproduced for educational purposes only.
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, the 10 companies of the 4th U.S. Infantry were spread along the West Coast from Puget Sound to the Gulf of California in small far-flung garrisons. After distinguished service in the Mexican War (1846-48) and garrison duty along the Great Lakes from Mackinac to Plattsburgh, the regiment had embarked on the steamship Ohio at New York City for its long, arduous journey to the West Coast where it arrived in August 1852. The companies, garrisoning posts much like modern forward operating bases, guarded the coast, escorted new settlers, and fought Indians. Company H, commanded by Captain Ulysses S. Grant in the early 1850s, occupied Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory. (1)
With the outbreak of hostilities, Army authorities quickly realized that the main body of the regular army would be needed in the Eastern Theater to form a reserve force and to train the multitude of state volunteer forces that were hurriedly being raised to suppress the rebellion. The regiment returned to the East Coast by sea and a disease-ridden march across the Isthmus of Panama. It arrived at New York and then traveled by train to the camps of the Army of the Potomac around Washington, D.C., by November 1861.
This article is divided into two parts. The first part describes Company H, 4th U.S. Infantry during the early period of the war and its desperate fight in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863. The second part is based on an intensive study of the relevant regimental returns, muster rolls, and service and pension records of every officer and enlisted man assigned to the company on that memorable day. It provides a remarkable demographic and human interest story of a regular Infantry company in the third year of the Civil War. Attempts have been made to tie the experience of these Civil War Infantrymen to modern practices.
In the spring of 1862, the available regular Infantry regiments in the capital area were formed into two brigades in the 2nd Division of the V Army Corps, commanded by Major General George Sykes who had commanded the regular battalion during the 1st Bull Run in July 1861. They accompanied the Army of the Potomac to the James Peninsula in March 1862 and later fought in the Seven Days battles in June and July. Returning to northern Virginia that summer, the regulars fought at 2nd Bull Run and later at Antietam on 17 September. They were heavily engaged at Fredericksburg in December, and then went into winter quarters around Falmouth, Va. After service at Chancellorsville in April/May 1863, they returned to their winter camps while their main opponent, General Robert E. Lee, made plans for his second invasion of the North. By the late spring of 1863, the 4th Infantry, through casualties and attrition, had been consolidated into four companies (C, F, H and K), commanded by Captain Julius W. Adams Jr., who acceded to command of the battalion-sized regiment on 31 May. Adams, the son of a former West Point cadet and commander of the 67th New York Volunteer Infantry during the war, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) in June 1861. After commissioning, he remained at the academy (along with George Armstrong Custer, who was under arrest) to train the incoming class of cadets in leadership and Infantry tactics. On 27 June 1862, he survived a serious groin wound sustained at Gaines’ Mill, Va. (2)
With the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia headed toward Maryland and Pennsylvania, the 4th Infantry left its winter camp on 4 June and marched west eight miles to Banks Ford on the Rappahannock River to provide a picketing force. They remained there for nine days before receiving orders to pursue the Confederates. The regiment crossed the Potomac River at Edward’s Ferry.
When the Battle of Gettysburg started on 1 July, the V Corps arrived in Hanover, Pa., in the late afternoon after a hot, tiring march of 15 miles from Union Mills, Md. Sykes, now elevated to command the corps, received a peremptory order from army headquarters to bring his corps to Gettysburg without delay. He decided to keep the troops on the road for a few more hours. They finally went into bivouac around midnight, but reveille sounded in the camps at 3 a.m. The troops were soon on the march again after a quick breakfast and arrived near Gettysburg around 7 a.m. They occupied an assembly area on Powell’s Hill, southeast of the town. Since leaving camp at Falmouth, the regulars had marched an incredible total of 195 miles. (3)
The 4th Infantry, along with the 3rd, 6th, 12th, and 14th U.S. Infantry Regiments, formed the 1st Brigade of the 2nd Division. On 28 June, Colonel Hannibal Day arrived to take command of the brigade. At almost 60 years old, he had graduated in the USMA class of 1823. Day was originally commissioned in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He served in a number of operational and administrative postings until 7 June 1862 when he was appointed as the colonel of the 6th Infantry. However, for a number of recent years his questionable health had kept him from an active field command. (4)
Around 1 p.m. on Thursday, 2 July, the regulars moved to a new assembly area behind the center of the Union line where the soldiers dozed, lounged, and talked. Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet launched his sledgehammer attack on the Union left flank at 4 p.m. that afternoon. The Confederates stormed through the Peach Orchard and the Rose Farm and decimated the Union III Corps. Portions of the Union II Corps and all of V Corps were directed to the south to save III Corps from destruction and restore the threatened flank. The 2nd Division of V Corps set off at double-quick time, cross-country over fields and fences, and panting with the exertions of recent days. While Brigadier General Stephen H. Weed’s 3rd Brigade was rushed onto Little Round Top, the two brigades of regulars deployed on the north slope of that key terrain feature. Colonel Sidney Burbank, commanding the 2nd Brigade of regulars, formed his brigade into a single line of battle with the 2nd Infantry on the right, followed to the left by the 7th, 10th, 11th and 17th Infantry Regiments. Day’s 1st Brigade formed in column behind the 2nd Brigade with the 3rd, 4th and 6th Infantries in the first line, followed by the 14th Infantry in the second line, and the 12th Infantry in the third line. (5)
The regulars were ordered into the Wheatfield to support John C. Caldwell’s 1st Division of the H Army Corps. They set off down the slope of Little Round Top at double-quick time and crossed Plum Run, an ankle-deep marshy area about 50 yards wide. The 2nd Brigade mounted Houck’s Ridge at the east side of the Wheatfield, while Day’s brigade adopted a supporting position in Burbank’s rear along the west slope of the valley. As they moved forward, the regulars received considerable fire from Confederate snipers firing from Devil’s Den on their left flank. The 17th Infantry refused their left flank to provide covering fire. After sheltering momentarily behind the stone wall on the crest of the ridge, the 2nd Brigade then passed through a thin strip of Rose Woods before executing a half-left wheel into the open Wheatfield when Caldwell’s division and Schweitzer’s brigade of the V Corps withdrew from the field after running out of ammunition. (6)
Attempting to stem Longstreet’s onslaught, Burbank’s brigade was opposed by two Confederate brigades. A heavy firefight ensued, creating great noise, smoke, and rampant confusion. When two further Confederate brigades entered the fight on the regulars’ right flank and rear, it was quickly realized that they could not hold their position. The noise was so loud that some of Burbank’s men did not hear the order to fall back, and the Wheatfield was now swarming with Georgians and South Carolinians inspired by the prospect of victory. By this time, both brigades were receiving fire from three directions in ” …a perfect storm of shot and shell.” The hell in the Wheatfield was remembered by an officer in the 11th Infantry as ” … almost a semi-circle of fire,” and ” … the slaughter was fearful.” (7)
The regulars had spent less than an hour in the Wheatfield fight. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel William F. Fox, New York’s official historian of the battle, ” …they moved off the field in admirable style, with well-aligned ranks, facing about at times to deliver their [volley] fire and check pursuit. Recrossing Plum Run Valley, under a storm of bullets that told fearfully on their ranks, they returned to their original position. In this action the regulars sustained severe losses, but gave ample evidence of the fighting qualities, discipline, and steadiness under fire which made them the pattern and admiration of the entire army.” (8)
The regulars fought their way back 250 yards across the swampy ground, having lost a total of 53 officers and 776 men out of 2,500 engaged in the fight. Day’s brigade, which had occupied a relatively safe supporting position in the initial action, still lost 25 percent of its men. Most of these losses occurred during the withdrawal from the Wheatfield sector. For the 4th Infantry, Adams reported that 10 enlisted men were killed and two officers and 28 enlisted men were wounded. Unquestionably, the regulars’ superior discipline and professionalism served them very well in this extremely difficult situation. Less-disciplined troops would have undoubtedly folded under the considerable Confederate pressure. A notable absence was the lack of effective artillery support ordinarily coordinated by the regulars’ commanders. The Confederates now controlled all of the Wheatfield and Houck’s Ridge. The regulars remained in their original positions on Little Round Top throughout the rest of the battle, skirmishing periodically with the enemy. On 5 July, the entire V Corps left its positions at Gettysburg and set off in pursuit of the Confederates, who were now on their way back to Virginia. When the regulars finally ended the campaign at Warrenton, Va., on 27 July, they had marched a total of 320 miles since 1 June. The Gettysburg Campaign was thus an excellent example of the Infantry’s ability to maneuver over long distances. (9)
The 4th U.S. Infantry was a regiment in name only when it approached Gettysburg at the end of June 1863. Reduced from 10 to just four companies, its total strength was just 230 enlisted men and 32 officers. counting the regimental staff and band. In actual numbers, there were only 179 enlisted men that could be counted as present for duty. (10)
In response to manpower shortfalls, army headquarters in January 1862 diverted 26 recruits intended for the 9th U.S. Infantry, which was stationed in the Pacific Northwest, to the 4th Infantry. Later that year, the Adjutant General approved plans that allowed regiments to reduce some companies to cadre-strength and transfer the privates to other companies. As a result, the 4th Infantry disbanded Companies D and E in July 1862, and four more companies (A, B, G and I) in March 1863. Another 77 men joined the regiment after a short-lived policy that allowed regular army commanders to recruit directly from state volunteer regiments. (11)
Infantry companies were authorized three commissioned officers. Captain Samuel Sprole was assigned to command Company H on 11 June 1863 but was still on sick leave and missed the battle. First Lieutenant Thomas A. Martin had been under arrest for undetermined causes earlier that spring. He took temporary command of the company in June but was dismissed from the service on 25 August 1864. Second Lieutenant George W. Dost was a long-service enlisted man prior to commissioning on 19 February 1863. He continued to serve in the army after the war but was cashiered in 1874. Second Lieutenant George Williams was temporarily attached to the company from Company I. He was wounded at Gettysburg and later received a brevet promotion to captain for gallantry in the battle. (12) After treatment at a hospital in Annapolis, Md., Williams was medically retired on 11 November 1863. (13)
At the time, fully authorized strength for a regular army infantry company was 82 enlisted men. When Company H departed its winter camp on the Rappahannock River on 4 June 1863, it numbered 67 Soldiers, but not all finished the march. Over the next 29 days, the men covered an average of more than 12 miles per day on nine separate occasions. The longest marches were made during the six days leading up to their fight on 2 July when they averaged 18 miles per day. The heat, fatigue, and combat stress had a significant impact on these Soldiers. (14)
Soldiers in the Civil War received no formal training for recognition or prevention of heat injuries, and they typically applied completely ineffective or counterproductive remedies to treat men downed by the heat in the field. One preventive measure involved wetting leaves and placing them inside the soldier’s cap to “keep the heat from the brain.” On 17 June, the company marched about 17 miles from Manassas Junction to Gum Springs, Va., where they stopped to rest. Second Lieutenant Gerhard L. Luhn, a sergeant who had recently been commissioned into the 4th Infantry, kept a diary during the march to Gettysburg. He recorded that day as “very warm” and that a lieutenant colonel had died of sunstroke. That information was confirmed by an entry in the Register of Deaths of Volunteers for 1863. (15)
On 26 June at about 8 a.m., the company left its camp at Aldie, Va., marched through Leesburg, and crossed the Potomac River before halting in Maryland about 12 hours later, having covered more than 25 miles–all in constant drizzling rain. Three men were left sick in Frederick, Md., following this march. All were probably heat casualties. One of the soldiers, Private Pratt Day, was hospitalized in Frederick until early September and then transferred to Fort Columbus in New York harbor where he died on 6 October 1863 from the effects of sunstroke incurred while on the march to Gettysburg. (16)
Army regulations required commanders to conduct musters and inspect their men every two months. Luhn recorded that the regiment strictly observed this requirement by mustering its four companies “by moonlight” on the evening of 30 June following a 25-mile, 13.5-hour march. The total enlisted strength for the company stood at 54 men. Nine men had completed their five-year enlistments in June and received discharges. (17)
Based on an extensive examination of the service records of these 54 men, more than two-thirds were immigrants. Typical of other regular army units at this point in the war, the vast majority (26) were from Ireland. Another six hailed from Germany and three from England. The other two immigrants came from Canada and France. Sixteen men claimed birth in the United States. New York was home to the most with nine while Pennsylvania provided three. One man each claimed his birthplace in Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, and one man’s place of birth could not be determined from available records. (18)
More than 20 different civilian occupations were noted on the enlistment forms: the majority of the men (16) were unskilled laborers; seven men worked in construction; six were shoemakers; and another five were farmers. The most educated men in the company were Private William Hamilton, who listed his occupation as a druggist (pharmacist), and First Sergeant John Rowlands and Private Leon Dandelooy, who were both clerks before the war. Dandelooy often worked as a clerk in the regimental headquarters. (19)
The core of the company was composed of 44 “Old Army” regulars from various companies of the 4th and 9th Infantry Regiments–men who served together in California, Oregon, and Washington Territory prior to the war. They were experienced Soldiers with an average age of about 30 with just over six years in service. Three Soldiers had been in the army at least 15 years. Another three were approaching the end of their second five-year enlistment. At least one had fought in the Mexican War. These veterans would bear the brunt of the company’s casualties at Gettysburg. (20)
The other 10 men in the company had either been recruited from volunteer units in late-1862, or recently enlisted. As a group, they averaged only about 7 and a half months in uniform. They tended to be younger, had minimal training or combat experience, and shared no common bonds with the “Old Army” veterans. All four of the men who “went over the hill” on the march to Gettysburg were from this group. (21)
While total enlisted strength stood at 54 on paper, just 43 Soldiers marched with Company H onto the field at Gettysburg–barely 50 percent of authorized strength. Two Soldiers were on detached service (temporary duty), and eight more were sick in various hospitals. Another Soldier, Private Richard Bears, probably the luckiest man in the regiment, received his discharge papers in camp at Union Mills, Md., on the morning of 1 July. He did not reenlist. (22)
Four soldiers in Company H were killed in action on 2 July, and nine others were wounded that day. Of the wounded, four died of their wounds before 15 August 1863. Below is a summary of the men from Company H killed and wounded at Gettysburg. (23)
From Hanover, Germany, Private Christian Abert had been in the army for almost 15 years and was at the end of his third enlistment when he was killed. He had served in three separate regiments in Texas, California, and the Washington Territory. Private Peter McManaman from County Mayo, Ireland, was among the oldest soldiers in the unit at 42 and had served 14 years. Like Alpert, he first enlisted in 1848 but served his entire time in the 4th Infantry. Both are buried in the regulars’ section of the Gettysburg National Military Park Cemetery. (24)
Private Christian Engers was a cabinet maker from Prussia and had been in the army for nine years when he was killed. He initially enlisted in 1854 in the 2nd U.S. Infantry and served in Minnesota; he then reenlisted in 1859 into Company I, 4th Infantry at Fort Steilacoom in Washington. Engers was one of the 37 privates transferred into Company H in March 1863. Private Roger McDonald, a shoemaker from Ireland, enlisted in the 9th Infantry in early 1860 and was among the group transferred into the 4th infantry in January 1862. Both are buried at Gettysburg. (25)
Private William Becker, a carpenter from Marburg, Germany, was shot in the left chest on 2 July and died of his wound about a week later. Becker presents an unusual case. He enlisted in 1852, but deserted in July 1853 along with 15 other men in California. Becker probably didn’t find his fortune in the gold fields, but remained a fugitive for seven years before surrendering on 21 November 1860 at Fort Vancouver. He was tried by court martial, sentenced to one year at hard labor, and transferred into Company H to make good the time he lost to desertion. His service record indicates that his subsequent service was honorable. Private Michael Carroll was shot in both legs on 2 July and died of his wounds on 5 July. He had about nine years in the army when he marched into the Wheatfield. Carroll, from Tipperary, Ireland, had served in the 4th U.S. Artillery and the 9th Infantry before his transfer to Company H in early 1862. (26)
Private William Hamilton was wounded in the left leg and died on 22 July from complications following amputation. A pharmacist from Maryland in civilian life, Hamilton was called a “hospital steward”–an unofficial company medic–by his fellow Soldiers. Corporal Richard Patterson was wounded in the right arm on 2 July. He was treated on the field and evacuated to a general hospital in Germantown, Pa. Medical records indicate he contracted an infection there and died on 15 August. His comrades, engaged in pursuing Lee’s army back to Virginia, did not find out about his death until September. (27)
Private David Dunbar was the first man wounded in the entire regiment, according to Lieutenant Dost. Dunbar was shot in the left leg; the bullet fractured “both shin bones, leaving the leg entirely useless,” according to a surgeon’s report. After treatment in a number of hospitals in the army medical system, Dunbar was transferred to the General Hospital at Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York harbor where was discharged for disability in January 1864. He died on 23 June 1926 at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington. D.C., and is buried in the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery nearby. Corporal Martin Kenna was 40 years old with almost 10 years in the army when he was wounded. Kenna survived and was later promoted to sergeant. Private George Farnham received a shell wound, causing a severe bruise to his left foot, but was able to return to duty in late-July. Records do not reveal how Private Eugene Mahoney was wounded but only that he was discharged in 1864 at the end of his five-year enlistment. (28)
On 14 August, the 4th Infantry embarked at Alexandria, Va., on the steamship WP Clyde to New York City to help quell the on-going draft riots. Company H had more than 40 men on its rolls from September 1863 to April 1864 when most were attached to Company K. In the spring of 1864, the regiment was transferred to Virginia to participate in Grant’s Overland Campaign. Assigned to Brigadier General James Ledlie’s brigade in the IX Army Corps, the regiment lost 12 men killed in action, 35 wounded, and 35 missing by the end of May 1864. The following month, the 4th was posted as headquarters guard for Grant at City Point, Va., where it would remain for the remainder of the war. (29)
DONALD MCCONNELL GUSTAV PERSON
- Lieutenant James A. Leyden, “The Fourth Regiment of Infantry,” The Army of the United States, eds. Theophilus F. Rodenbough and William L. Haskin (1896; reprint New York: Argonaut Press, 1966), 460-63.
- Mary Elizabeth Sergent, An Unremaining Glory: A Class Album for the Class of June 1861 (Middletown, NY: Prior King Press, Inc., 1997), 14-15; Roger D. Hunt, Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels in the Civil War, New York (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2003), 25-26; Frederick Phisterer, comp., New York in the War of .the Rebellion 1861 to 1865, 2nd ed. (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1890), 426; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1903), 2:13.
- Brigadier -General Romeyn B. Ayres’ Report, 28 July 1863, in U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.-C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), Series 1, Vol. XXVII, Part I, 634-36.
- Timothy J. Reese, Sykes’ Regular Infantry Division, 18611864 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1990), 235; Heitman, Historical Register, 1:92, 362.
- Reese, Sykes ‘Regular Infimuy Division, 241-42.
- Harry W. Pfanz, Gettywburg: The Second Day (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 297-98; Major Arthur T. Lee’s Report, 4 July 1863, in OR, 646.
- Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day, 300; J. David Petruzzi, The Complete Gettysburg Guide (New York: Savas Beatie, 2009), 98; Major Lee’s. Report in OR, 646; Bradley M. Gottfried, The Maps of Gettysburg (New York: Savas Beatie, 2007), 180.
- Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day, 301; New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga, Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, Printers, 1900), 1:55.
- William H. Powell, The Fifth Army Corps (1895; repr., Dayton, OH: Press. of Morningside Bookshop, 1984), 536; Gottfried, The Maps of Gettysburg, 180; Captain Julius W. Adams’ Report, 17 July 1863, in OR, 639; Brigadier General Ayres’ Report in OR, 636.
- Record Group 94 (RG 94), Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, June 1821–December 1916, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), microfilm publication M665, rolls 1-244, 297-300; Records of the Adjutant General’s_ Office, 1780s-1917 and Record Group 391 (RG 391), Records of the United States Army Mobile Units, 1921-1942, NARA, Washington, D.C.; Letter, New York Governor Edwin Morgan to Secretary of War Edwin_ Stanton, 27 October 1862, in OR, Series III, Vol. II, 845; Ibid., General Order No. 38, 10 February 1863. According to the Muster Rolls, nine of these 77 men transferred to the regiment were assigned to Company H on 20 December 1862.
- Thos. M. O’Brian and Oliver Diefendorf, comps., General Orders of the War Department Embracing the Years 1861, 1862 & 1863 (Derby & Miller, 1864), 1:408.
- Heitman, Historical Register, 379-80, 693, 1040.
- Ibid.; RG 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Pension Application Files Based on Service in the Civil War and Spanish-American War (CW Pension Files).
- RG 391, Records of the Infantry Regiments Raised Prior to the Civil War, Muster Rolls, of the 4th ‘U.S. Infantry Regiment, Records of the United States Regular Army Mobile Units, 18211942, NARA.
- CW Pension Files; Letter in pension file for Miles F. Newberry, Invalid Pension Application 686936, and Invalid Pension Certificate 971040; RG 94 Regimental Returns; Autobiography of Gerhard Luhn 1831-1930 (Gerhard Luhn Collection #3954, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, 1000 E. University Ave. Dept. 3924, Laramie, WY); Volunteer Army Death Registers, Record for Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard Gleason, 25th New York Volunteers, 17 June 1863.
- RG 391, Muster Rolls for 1 May–30 June 1863.
- Gerhard Luhn Autobiography: RG 391 Muster Rolls, 1 May–30 June 1863; RG 94, Regimental Return for 30 June 1863.
- RG 94, Regimental. Returns; Ancestry.com, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-19.14 (database-on-line), Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (NARA) microfilm publication M233, 81 rolls. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, RG 94.
- RG 94, Enlistment Register. The occupations of three men could not be determined.
- RG 391, Muster Rolls for 30 May–1 June 1863; RG 94, Enlistment Register.
- Ibid., RG 94, Regimental Return for 31 ‘July 1863.
- CW Pension Files.
- CW Pension Files.
- RG 94, Regimental Returns, RG 3.91, Muster Rolls.
Donald McConnell is a retired Army Military Intelligence officer, now working for the Department of Defense. He is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and the National War College in Washington, D.C. His current projects include compiling the personnel records of enlisted men in the “Old Army” regiment from 1860-1865 and researching the staff and operations of the Bureau of Military Information–the Army of the Potomac’s intelligence organization during the Civil War.
Gustav Person is a native New Yorker with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Queens College in New York City. He served three years on active duty with the U.S. Army and 26 years in the New York Army National Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1999. After discharge from active duty, he worked for 30 years in the New York State Division of Parole, retiring in 2002 as an area supervisor. Since March 2003, he has worked as the installation historian at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Both authors are members of Sykes’ Regulars, a living history organization dedicated to studying and portraying the role of regular army Infantry regiments during the Civil War.