Posts Tagged ‘Iron Brigade’


 Quartermaster Captain James S. Drum, 19th Indiana Regiment

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, James Drum moved to Indianapolis as a boy, where he’d become a merchant and enroll in the National Guards, a Capitol City Militia unit. His first official military assignment was in the Commissary at Camp Morton, but he desired a more active assignment and was given a commission as a 1st Lieutenant in the 19th Indiana. Promoted to Captain in early 1863, Drum was transferred to the Commissary Department and assigned to a post in Nicholasville, Kentucky, where he would die of disease later that year.



On Many a Bloody Field: Four Years in the Iron Brigade, by Alan D Gaff

Photo courtesy of the Indiana State Library


Henry Matrau, CO G, 6th Wisconsin Regiment

“We had an awful hot time at Gettysburg but it does seem that I was the luckiest fellow in existence. There were men falling in every direction around me & the best-hearted fellow in our company was killed right close to me, so near that he nearly fell on me.”

Matrau’s description is in line with most other accounts of the 1st day of Gettysburg. Nearly all literate survivors of the battle would write to someone about their experience, but few would go into gory detail.

Only a veteran can describe the real horror of combat, and every veteran needs only one shot fired at them to understand that civilians will never understand, never empathize, never see how war really is. This effect was multiplied in the days before mass media, when a propaganda song was all that was needed to convince a town that war brought all those involved in it absolute glory.

How does one sit down and compose a letter, and themselves, after spending nearly an entire day killing the enemy and watching those around them die or become maimed?

“My dear Mother,” wrote Major Rufus R Dawes to his mother on September 5, 1862. “I have tried in several ways to send you word of my safety. We have had a terrible ordeal. We were in battle or skirmish almost every day from August 21st to 31st. Our brigade has lost eight hundred men; our regiment, one hundred and twenty-five. The country knows how nobly our men have borne themselves. I have been at my post in every battle…”

Dawes, even in mentioning the losses in terms of numbers, keeps the horror of war masked behind cold figures and the gallantry of the regiment.

Many, including Dawes, would credit a higher power with their survival. Some would skim right over the details of battles, especially after having seen a lot of it, begging excuse for the omission. After the battle of Weldon Railroad, Matrau would write his parents, “… I take this opportunity to tell you that we had another battle, or, rather, a series of battles, scince (sic) I wrote to you and that your unworthy son, by the watchful guidance of Providence, is still left alive and well. I will not go into a regular detailed acct of the battles for I hav’nt (sic) the room or time…”

Although it is possible, probable even, that Matrau hadn’t the room or time, it is even more likely that he hadn’t the words to describe what he’d seen and done that day.


Letters Home, Henry Matrau of the Iron Brigade, Edited by Marcia Reid-Green;

Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Rufus R Dawes

 “Until the Sanitary Commission came along we were in a horrible condition.  I do not care to describe my own.


Sgt. William H Harries, CO B, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

Harries, a LaCrosse Wisconsin native, was 19 years old when the Iron Brigade went into the Cornfield at Antietam. Shot in the left breast, Harries removed himself from the action, finding medical attention in the rear of the battle line. He would survive the wound and return to the 2nd Wisconsin, mustering out as a 1st Lieutenant when his enlistment expired in June of 1864. He’d serve the rest of the war as a Captain in the Veterans Reserve Corp.

34 years later, Harries would chronicle his experience at Antietam in “In the Ranks at Antietam,” the text of which appears below.  The text and spelling remain as written.

“General Hooker crossed Antietam Creek on the afternoon of the 16th by the bridge in front of Keedyville and the ford below it. The Iron Brigade crossed at the ford. After crossing we turned sharply to the left, feeling our way until the skirmishers became actively engaged, when we halted after dark and bivouacked on the ridge, Doubleday’s Division resting with its right upon the turnpike. While getting into position we could hear the commands given by the officers of the enemy’s troops. The combatants slept on their arms that night, well knowing that the morning would bring bloody work. I slept very little…I felt certain that there would be desperate fighting in the morning and that many of my comrades would fail to answer at roll call when the morning sun had again sunk behind the western hills. I realized that I might be among the killed…When we woke up in the morning of the 17th, Doubleday’s Division faced south from the Poffenberger farm and beheld a beautiful landscape with gently rolling fields and woods, of which the prominent point appeared to be the little Dunkard church with its brick walls covered with a coating of whitewash, situated on the west side of the Hagerstown turnpike, and backed by the foliage of the west woods.
The cornfield that was soon to be deluged in the blood of blue and gray was on the east side of the turnpike and between Doubleday’s troops and the Dunkard church….
The brigade moved out just as day was dawning in close column by division, the Sixth Wisconsin leading, followed by the Second Wisconsin, Seventh Wisconsin, and Nineteenth Indiana. I was in the first division of the Second Wisconsin. We were hungry, ragged, and dirty. Before starting we pulled up our belts a notch or two. As we had very little to eat the day before and no breakfast at all, this was an easy thing to do. The brigade marched towards the D. R. Miller house and after proceeding about ten rods and before we were deployed, a battery of the enemy opened fire on us. When I saw the battery moving into place, I thought it belonged to our own forces, The first and second shells it threw, exploded above us, but the third, which I think was a percussion shell, struck and exploded in the rear rank of the last division of the Sixth Wisconsin, killing two men and wounding eleven, one of whom had both arms taken off. As I passed to one side to avoid stepping on the killed, the voice of Colonel Bragg of the Sixth Wisconsin rang out, “Steady on the right, Sixth.” We then were deployed in line of battle, marching steadily forward, and when we reached the corn field we halted and began firing at the enemy. We had not been firing very long when a Minie bullet struck me in the left breast. I at once dropped my gun and started for the rear, going back as far as the Poffenberger farm, where I lay down at the side of the house on this farm which was opposite to that from which the enemy’s shots were coming. In a short time the ground about me was covered in wounded. Here the surgeon of our regiment slapped a handful of lint on the wound, cut the shirt and wrapped me with a roll of bandage…
Sometime in the afternoon I was taken from the stone house to a small frame house still farther in the rear, where all the wounded of my company were collected together. I was placed on a blanked with Sergeant Uriel P. Olin, who died some time during the night. He was left by my side until morning when he was taken out and buried…
On the 18th we were taken to a barn in Keedysville, every other place in the village that could be used being already occupied, and from there in a few weeks we were taken to Frederick.
The barn that I was in at Keedysville contained about sixty wounded, all but two or three belonging to the Iron Brigade. Until the Sanitary Commission came along we were in a horrible condition. I do not care to describe my own; suffice to say that I felt like a new creature when I got on a clean shirt.”


Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle: Papers Read Before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1892-1897, Fourth Series.

Company B, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (LaCrosse Light Guard) Facebook page


                                        Major General John Fulton Reynolds, Commander of I Corps.

Reynolds, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania native, was nominated to West Point by future President James Buchanan in 1837 where he’d graduate 26th in a class of 50 in 1841. He would serve in the war with Mexico, earning the respect of his peers and those he’d lead in the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista.

Following the Mexican War, Reynolds would accept assignments to duties in Maine, New Orleans, and New York. In 1855, he’d be assigned to Fort Orford, Oregon, where he would participate in the Rogue River Wars and the Utah war with the Mormons in 1857 and 1858.

He was the Commandant of Cadets at West Point from September 1860 to June 1861, while also serving as an instructor of artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics.

Early in the Civil War, following orders that would contradict one another, Reynolds would be assigned to a board that interviewed and examined volunteer officers, determining their value as military leaders. After a short stint in this position, he’d be assigned to command the Pennsylvania reserves.

In early 1862, Reynolds would be named as the military Governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the battle of Gaines Mill, he’d be captured by the Rebels and held at Libby Prison. He was eventually exchanged for Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman.

During the Chancellorsville campaign, Reynolds would clash with his commander, General Joseph Hooker, over strategy and the position of his corps. Following the battle, a Union disaster, Reynolds would join the chorus of General Officers calling for the replacement of Hooker.

On the morning of July 1st, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the left-wing of the Army of the Potomac, with operational control of I Corps, III Corps, and XI Corps, as well as General Buford’s Cavalry division. As I Corps was approaching the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where General Buford’s dismounted cavalry was engaged with elements of Harry Heth’s forces, Reynolds rode ahead of his men and reconnoitered with Buford, who gave him the details of the situation. After placing the men of Cutler’s Brigade in position near the Chambersburg Pike, Reynolds found the leaders of the Iron Brigade, under General Solomon Meredith, and moved them into a position in the Herbst Woods. “Forward men, for God’s sake, forward… and drive those men out of those woods!” Moments later, a Rebel bullet would enter the back of Reynolds’ skull, killing him instantly. The General was 42 years old.

At the time of his death, General John F Reynolds was considered by many in the Union army to the best field officer in the Army of the Potomac. Well loved by his men, many would insist that he should have been promoted to command the entire army over General George G. Meade, who had received the command a few days before the battle of Gettysburg. Whether or not Reynolds would have had more or less success than Meade is still a constant issue of debate. The bullet that killed him not only robbed the General of the chance to prove himself further, but also cemented in a stellar reputation, stopping any future endeavors that may have damaged that reputation. Among Civil War historians, Reynolds remains among the most respected officers to have worn the blue federal suit of the Army of the Potomac.


“For God’s Sake, Forward! General John F. Reynolds,” by Michael A. Riley, 1995

“Towards Gettysburg: A Biography of General John F. Reynolds,” by Edward J. Nichols, 1988

“Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign,” by Lance J. Herdegen, 2008

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. It is public domain.

Black Iron Mercy.  My first manuscript... a 99,000 word work of historical fiction.

The Rebel found Arlis’ eyes with his own, dulled and gray from blood loss. “Kill me, Yank!” he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Arlis was utterly sick of killing, having just charged with the rest of the Sixth Wisconsin on an unfinished railroad cut outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He looked at the Rebel, who lay wounded and bleeding beneath a bramble next to the cut. The Reb’s right leg was stuck beneath him, the foot pinned under his backside, and it was this image more than the gruesome wounds in the man’s gullet which alarmed Arlis, the position obviously uncomfortable even under the best of circumstances.
“Matthew: Five, seven,” Arlis said, acknowledging the man’s words. He knelt down and lifted the Rebel’s right hip slightly, pulling the trapped foot from beneath him, straightening the man’s leg into a position of comfort…

By the time Arlis Jenkins had gone to war, he’d become all too familiar with death. At the age of ten he’d already lost a sister to disease and a brother to a storm… and while he struggled with his own agony and that of his surviving sister, Rachel, he watched helplessly as his parents wallowed in their despair, forever changed, forever distant, forever lost. Now, nearly ten years later, as death and destruction rages all around him, he’s lost the only girl he’s ever loved and Rachel too, while his mother sits in a rocker at a hospital for the insane in Milwaukee, choosing to starve herself to death rather than allow God to force her to bury her last remaining child.

“Black Iron Mercy” is a 99,000 word historical novel about hardship, love, loss, war, coping, and the strength of spirit. A lifetime of passion and ten months of research went into the manuscript before a word was put to paper. Although Arlis is fictional, many of the principals were real people, and when a writer takes liberties with the lives of real people then that writer has a dire responsibility to get it right.