Saturday, May 28, 2005

Remembering the Union 3rd Corps

On Day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union Major General Daniel Edgar Sickles was not happy. His friend, Major General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker had been relieved of command just 5 days earlier. During the Federals' movement into Pennsylvania, the new commanding general, George Gordon Meade, had rebuked Sickles for his slowness in marching his men to where General Meade wished them to be. Now, on July 2nd 1863, Meade ordered Sickles to position his Corps on the ground to the left of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock's Second Corps, extending the Union line down to Little Round Top.

Gazing over the fields, the dissatisfied Sickles wanted his men elsewhere. His orders would place his Corps along the section of Cemetery Ridge lowest in elevation of any in their line, forty or so feet lower than a ridge he could see out to his front. The position he preferred would follow the Emmitsburg Road south, bend back through a peach orchard, and end at a cluster of boulders known as the Devil's Den, just southwest of Little Round Top. Without the authorization to do so, he would move his men forward.

During what Confederate General James Longstreet would later call "the best three hours' fighting ever done by any troops on any battle-field", Sickles' Corps would be savaged by the Southern assault to come later that day. As the Confederates surged forward, Major General Sickles would have his right leg blown apart by a Confederate artillery round as he strove to save his crumbling line. Game to the end, Sickles' men carried him from the field smoking a cigar in part to maintain the morale of his retreating men.

For his actions that day, Sickles has received much criticism. Perhaps this is justified. His men however, often seem relegated to the status of also-rans during each re-telling of this epic battle. With talk of the Wheatfield, the Irish Brigade often takes center stage. Colonel Strong Vincent, Lieutenant Hazlett, Brigadier General Weed, Colonel Patrick O'Rourke, and Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, occupy much time when discussing the Union left. Consideration of the ground further up Cemetery Ridge elicits glorious discussions of Colonel Willard's charge against Confederate Brigadier General William Barksdale or of the 1st Minnesota's grand display of valor, courage, and supreme sacrifice. All rightfully so.

But what of the men of the 3rd Corps? What of their contribution to the Union cause on this most destructive of these three days of battle? The 3rd Corps' 141st Pennsylvania would suffer horrendous losses during the struggle to hold their ground. In his official report, the regiment's commander, Colonel Henry Madill, would claim the loss of 72% of his men. His comment that, "Among the severely wounded, and who have since died, were the color-bearers and all of the color guard" underscored the savagery. In all, they would suffer 149 casualties of their original 209 men.

Although the 141st PA would endure perhaps the highest percentage of casualties, other regiments would tally greater numbers. Suffering the greatest loss, the 26th Pennsylvania, fighting near the Codori Farm would go into battle with 365 men. When the mantle of night decended, they would count 30 men killed, 176 wounded and 7 missing, or a total of 213 casualties (58% of their men).

Other regiments sacrificed likewise. The 20th Indiana counted 156 casualties. The 68th Pennsylvania suffered 152. The 40th New York lost 150 and the 11th New Jersey, 153. This grim ledger would go on as no 3rd Corps regiment was spared. The 115th Pennsylvania claimed the lowest total loss at 24 men.

The 3rd Corps Artillery similarly bore the weight of battle. Battery B, 1st New Jersey Light notes on their monument near the Peach Orchard that they "Fought here from 2 until 7 o'clock, on July 2, 1863, firing 1,300 rounds of ammunition." This was no quick rout. The men of the 3rd Corps fought and fought hard.

According to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, during the three days that became the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union 3rd Corps would suffer 593 men killed, 3,029 injured, and 589 missing or captured. As Colonel Madill correctly noted, some initially counted as injured would later die from their wounds. Some of the missing also certainly rested with the dead. The 3rd Corps did not fight on Day 1 and few of their men were in harms way on July 3rd. Therefore, most of the loss represented in these figures, some 4,000+ casualties, resulted from hard, determined fighting on that one day, July 2, 1863. The men of the 3rd Corps did their duty, striving to hold their ground. Over 600 would die; thousands would never again be whole. The men of the 3rd Corps earned their place at the Table of Honor.



All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

GettysBLOG said...

A moving tribute to a grand unit of men. Ill used? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, they fought with skill, and valor, deterring the enemy from achieving its objective.