THE REGIMENTS THAT STOOD IN THE FIRE

What Happened in July 1861
John C. Breckinridge,  Kentucky Senator
Judgment Call: Judge Jack Tenner
Ballard’s Staff Ride at Bull Run

 


The First Minnesota and the Thirty-Third Virginia

 

The First Minnesota Regiment arrived behind Ricketts’s gun line just as his cannoneers were shot down by the fusillade of the Thirty-Third Virginia. The Minnesota men ran forward thirty yards, stopped, fired a volley and then came at the Virginians with the bayonet, grappling with them about the guns, and pushed them back into the open space which is now a parking lot. Here, for fifteen minutes the two regiments, their numbers dwindling as men were shot and stabbed, fought each other like mauling lions.

 

The First Minnesota suffered forty-two men killed, one hundred eight wounded, and fifty missing. Its loss was the heaviest of all the Union regiments on the field. A year later, at the battle of Antietam, the regiment went into the West Woods with Sedgwick’s division and again suffered heavy casualties. At Gettysburg, on the second day, Minnesota closed a dangerous gap in the Union line, charging against a Confederate brigade in which it lost 215 of the 262 present in the ranks, including its colonel and all but three of its field officers. On the third day, the remnant of the regiment charged into the 28th Virginia which had breached the Union line, capturing its colors. Two soldiers in the ranks received the Medal of Honor for their exploits that day. The First Minnesota was mustered out of service on April 29, 1864. A number of soldiers reenlisted to form the 1st Minnesota Battalion which returned to Virginia and served until Appomattox.

 

First Minnesota Volleying


In its charge across the parking lot toward Griffin’s two guns, and in the subsequent brawl with the First Minnesota, the Thirty-Third Virginia Regiment lost 45 men killed and 101 wounded. Under Stonewall Jackson the Thirty-Third Virginia fought at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. After Stonewall’s death, it became part of Ewell’s corps and fought at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Courthouse, where it was overrun and captured. Those that escaped to fight on, continued to Appomattox where only 14 men were left at the surrender.

 

Company A, Thirty-Third Virginia



The Sixty-Ninth New York and the Fourth South Carolina

Late in the struggle for Ricketts guns, the Sixty-Ninth New York Regiment came up the Sudley road and charged onto the plateau and slammed into the Fourth South Carolina that was lying behind a wood fence near Mrs. Henry’s demolished house. The South Carolinians held the fence for a short time, but the wild rush of the hurrahing Irishmen, with huge billowing Green flags waving behind them, caused them to fall back to the pine trees. As they gave up the ground, some of the men in blue began wrestling several of Ricketts’s guns off the hill, getting one of them as far as the Sudley road. For a moment, it seemed as if the 69th had won the battle, the plateau apparently cleared of rebel force. But Jackson’s guns came into play, showered the Irishman with canister. Still, they came, almost charging right up to the guns. In the midst of the carnage that ensued, Meagher, who would command the Excelsior Brigade at Antietam, was thrown to the ground when his horse was killed under him. Leaping up with his sword in his hand, he cried out to his now faltering regiment—“Look, boys at that flag! Remember Ireland!” And the regiment lurched forward only to be driven off the hill as the Fourth South Carolina countercharged with the support of Eighth South Carolina. The Sixty-Ninth sustained thirty-eight dead, fifty-nine wounded, and ninety-five missing in the action. The Fourth South Carolina: Eleven dead, Seventy-nine wounded, six missing.

 

 

The Parking Lot Where Lincoln’s Butcher’s Bill Was Highest


The Second Wisconsin


While the 69th NY Regiment was falling back from the fire of Jackson’s guns, the Second Wisconsin, another of Sherman’s regiments, dressed in gray, came over the crest of the hill and moved toward the Henry House. As they reached it, the 79th NY coming up the road behind them, fired upon them as the rebels, lying in the pine woods and out on the plateau under cover of the dead artillery horses, tumbled them down with sniper fire. Both sides fired furious fusillades at each other, the Wisconsin men being shot down by friends as well as foes. On one side there were shouts of “Give it to em, boys!” On the other, shouts of “Kill them! Mow them down the Abolition sons of bitches!” After fifteen minutes of bearing the maelstrom, the Second Wisconsin moved sullenly off the field. They left behind scattered across the earth, twenty-four dead, sixty-five wounded, and twenty-three others were nowhere to be found.


A year later, the Second Wisconsin was part of the Iron Brigade and attacked Jackson’s right flank at Brawner’s Farm, the evening of August 29, the engagement resulting in Richard Ewell losing a leg which the surgeons amputated in the field. At Gettysburg, on the first day, the Second Wisconsin was in the front rank, running past the Seminary, fixing bayonets as they went, and crashed into Archer’s brigade of Heth’s division. In the exchange of fire, the regiment’s colonel was shot and taken to the rear, replaced by the lieutenant colonel who was mortally wounded. Here, about 1,000 of Archer’s men, including himself, were captured. The Second Wisconsin fell back to the ridge where Reynolds formed his corps to receive the renewed attack of the enemy and held their position for several hours, until the line collapsed from the pressure Ewell brought to bear against its right flank. In the battle, the Second Wisconsin lost 233 men of 302 engaged.

 

 

Company E, Second Wisconsin Volunteers

Reduced to less than 100 men by the time it reached Spottsylvania Courthouse

the regiment was credited with sustaining the greatest percentage of loss

of any regiment in the Union armies.

 

The Fourth Alabama

 

Its ranks decimated during the fight at Matthews Hill, the Fourth, though thoroughly wasted by the struggle, came together at the call of Bee and joined the fray at Henry Hill, just as Bee was mortally shot. The regiment’s casualties were the second highest: forty dead, one hundred fifty-nine wounded. The Fourth fought in Virginia and Tennessee and was present at Appomattox. At the surrender 223 men answered the last roll call.

 

The Eighth Georgia Regiment, Company E

This regiment lost 41 killed and 159 wounded, fighting in the front yard of the Matthews farmhouse.


Unknown Reenactors
Eigth Georgia
Graphic by Dan Troniani

Lincoln’s “pets:” The Eleventh New York Volunteers

The regiment was mustered into service on May 7, 1861 and mustered out in April 1862. It had been organized by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth in New York City from the members of the fire department. Its sole experience in action occurred when it was ordered to ascend the Henry Hill and support Ricketts guns. It did climb the hill, but almost immediately after arriving it discharged one volley at rebel masses approaching the guns and then ran back down the hill. It lost its colonel mortally wounded and forty-eight privates were killed, one hundred and eight wounded. The regiment spent the remainder of its enlistment (one year) at Newport News and then mustered out in New York. It left most of its flags behind in a trash heap.



The Fire Zouaves at Bull Run

 

The “Fire Zouaves” of New York City

 

Joe Ryan

What Happened in July 1861
John C. Breckinridge,  Kentucky Senator
Judgment Call: Judge Jack Tenner
Ballard’s Staff Ride at Bull Run


Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan Original Works

@ AmericanCivilWar.com



 
About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.
 

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