Friday, July 2, 2010

A Bit of History: July 2, 1863

The 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment fought, relatively unbloodied, at
Bull Run
and Chancellorsville
One month after Chancellorsville they may have saved the Union.
From First Minnesota :

The Charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg
July 2-3, 1863
During the second day (July 2,’62), the Confederates had broken through Sickles’ position. With a failed attempt at rallying Sickles’ men, General Winfield S. Hancock had ordered the First that was held in reserve nearby to counterattack and fill the gap in the Union line until reinforcements could arrive. During the attack, three companies ‘C’, ‘F’, and 2nd Minnesota Sharpshooters Co. ‘L’, totaling some 73 men, had been detached.7 Out of the 262 men remaining that attacked to delay the rebs and restore the Union position, 215 were killed, wounded, or missing. Earlier in the day, Col. Wm. Colville had been relieved of arrest and resumed command the regiment. Gen. W.S. Hancock whose order “Colonel, do you see those colors?” (pointing at the advancing Confederate forces) “Then take them!”, later stated:
“I had no alternative but to order the regiment in. We had no force on hand to meet the sudden emergency. Troops had been ordered up and were coming on the run, but I saw that in some way five minutes must be gained or we were lost. It was fortunate that I found there so grand a body of men as the First Minnesota. I knew they must lose heavily and it caused me pain to give the order for them to advance, but I would have done it (even) if I had known every man would be killed. It was a sacrifice that must be made. The superb gallantry of those men saved our line from being broken. No soldiers on any field, in this or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism.”
Bruce Catton stated in Glory Road:
“The whole war had suddenly come to a focus in this smoky hollow, with a few score westerners trading their lives for the time the army needed…They had not captured the flag that Hancock had asked them to capture, but they still had their own flag and a great name…”
Lt. Col. Joseph B. Mitchell in his Decisive Battles of the Civil War stated:
“There is no other unit in the history of warfare that ever made such a charge and then stood its ground sustaining such losses.”
     The attacking Confederate forces consisted of Wilcox’s Brigade , Anderson’s Division, A.P. Hill’s Corps. Wilcox had begun the days fighting with some 1,800 men in his unit although it is not known exactly how many were left at the time of the action with the First Minnesota. There are also indications that the 39th and 11th New York Regiments began the attack on the left of the First, while the 19th Mass. and 42nd New York were on the regiments right. In all these instances these supporting units fell back before completing the charge so that the First went in on its own. The First Minnesota has the distinction of sustaining the highest regimental losses in any battle, in proportion to the number engaged, in the Civil War. [83% -ed]

     On July 3rd the First found itself on the receiving end of Pickett’s charge. Co’s ‘C’ and ‘F’ had rejoined by this time and another 45 men became casualties. Thus by the end of the battle 64 men had been killed and 160 men wounded for a total of 224 casualties. By the end of July, Regimental strength stood at 175 men, but this included some of the slightly wounded who had returned to duty by this time. On top of such losses for the battle the First did manage to share in the glory of the Union Victory. Pvt. Marshall Sherman of Co. ‘C’ had captured the 28th Virginia’s colors and Cpl. Henry O’Brien spurred on the men with the colors and it’s shattered staff. Both would later receive the Medal of Honor for their feats.
From Suite 101: US Civil War :

The First Minnesota's Immortal Charge

Three of Wilcox's five regiments -- perhaps 11,000 men -- were in front of the First Minnesota's path. So the Northern unit was outnumbered four or five to one.
But Hancock needed time to rush in reinforcements -- "five minutes time," he'd write later. So he ordered Colvill and his men to charge the larger Rebel force.
“Every man realized in an instant what that order meant; death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of the regiment, to gain a few minutes’ time and save the position and probably the battlefield," wrote Lt. William Lochren of the First Minnesota.
The regiment went sweeping forward with fixed bayonets in a charge that could in all fairness be called suicidal.
"I would have ordered that regiment in if I had known every man would have been killed," Hancock wrote. "It had to be done."
The Alabamans were disorganized and winded after charging nearly a mile, and the sudden attack by the small group of Minnesotans caught them off guard. The Confederates were momentarily thrown back; but they regained cohesion, and then delivered staggering fire into the Yankees.
The First Minnesota was virtually destroyed within minutes. Only 47 soldiers made their way back to the ridge. Colvill was seriously wounded, one of 215 casualties.
"They had not taken the Alabama flag, but they had held on to their own,' Historian Shelby Foote wrote. "And they had given Hancock his five minutes plus five more for good measure."
Hancock succeeded in bolstering the Union line with reinforcements in that 10 minutes, and the Alabamans were forced to retreat.
"There is no more gallant deed recorded in history,' Hancock wrote of the First Minnesota's charge.
By suffering casualties at the rate of one every two seconds they stopped the Confederate advance and forced Lee into the desperate gamble:
Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Lee. The first day's fighting was so encouraging, and on the second day's fighting he came within an inch of doing it. And by that time Longstreet said Lee's blood was up, and Longstreet said when Lee's blood was up there was no stopping him... And that was that mistake he made, the mistake of all mistakes. Pickett's charge was an incredible mistake, and there was scarcely a trained soldier who didn't know it was a mistake at the time, except possibly Pickett himself, who was very happy he had a chance for glory.
...William Faulkner, in "Intruder in the Dust", said that for every southern boy, it's always within his reach to imagine it being one o'clock on an early July day in 1863, the guns are laid, the troops are lined up, the flags are out of their cases and ready to be unfurled, but it hasn't happened yet. And he can go back in his mind to the time before the war was going to be lost and he can always have that moment for himself. 
-Shelby Foote in Ken Burns' "The Civil War"
Kinda makes this stock market stuff seem a bit sordid in comparison.