Then they charged forward with fixed bayonets. The Union flag unfurled and fluttered in the breeze made by the forward rush. It was a desperate attempt…
No, this isn’t the story of the 20th Maine. (You can read my thoughts on that here.) This is the story of the 27th Indiana Infantry at Gettysburg. One of the fictional soldiers in Blue, Gray & Crimson is in the 27th Indiana, so warning! This may contain a slight spoiler to the story. (Don’t worry I’m not giving away any key point to the plot, just some historical details!)
The Regiment: Fighting Record & Fun Facts
Mustered into the service on September 12, 1861 (exactly 5 months after the start of the Civil War), the 27th Indiana Infantry consisted mostly of farm boys from the countryside or young men from small towns. Prior to Gettysburg, the regiment fought at Battle of Front Royal, Battle of Newtown, First Battle of Winchester, Battle of Cedar Mountain, Battle of Antietam, and Battle of Chancellorsville. They also had their fair share of roundabout marching and “boring” life in camp.
Some of the regiment members were exceptionally tall; one man was 6 ft. 10 in.! (Remember the average height of the Civil War soldier was 5 ft. 8 in.) A couple of these Indiana soldiers found General Lee’s Special (Lost) Orders 191 during the Antietam Campaign, which provided valuable information to the Union generals.
The 27th had a fierce fighting record going into Gettysburg. They had held the cornfield at Antietam, a highly contested piece of ground. They had stopped a Confederate advance at Chancellorsville, giving other Union regiments time to reform. By the end of the war, the 27th would be in the top 20 regiments with highest losses.
Gettysburg: A New Testing of Courage
So the men of the 27th were experienced fighters by July 1863. As part of the Union XII Corps, they took a position on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd and worked on building fortifications throughout that day.
In the early evening, with Union lines collapsing to the south, commanding generals were grabbing any available troops and hustling them down to the fighting. The brigade the 27th belonged to was ordered down to the Peach Orchard area. But somebody forgot to give them good directions and they got lost, therefore arriving too late to be thrown into that fight. In the twilight, the men turned around to march back to Culp’s Hill.
But there’d been some excitement in their absence. The Confederates had attacked and now had taken up residence in the fortifications. Night fighting increased in the darkness, but eventually faded. Regiment commanders plotted a counterattack.
The Charge: Heroic…But Unsuccessful
The next morning (July 3) the shooting began at daybreak. Union troops partially regained the lost ground, but the 27th and other regiments in the same brigade found themselves in the woods along Rock Creek, sort of northeast of Spangler Spring.
Across the creek, Confederate sharpshooters sniped at the regiment, until the Union commander convinced some artillerymen to lob a few shots that direction. The day progressed with Confederate attacks on other parts of the Culp’s Hill line. In front of the 27th Indiana, some Confederate regiments had set up a line across an open meadow and behind a stonewall.
Some Union commanders still hadn’t figured out that front attacks rarely worked and ordered two regiments into the field to drive away the Rebels. The chosen regiments were the 2nd Massachusetts and the 27th Indiana. The men from Massachusetts went first, the Indiana soldiers followed, rushing into across the open meadow.
The 27th charged farthest into the field. (Today, there is a stone marker showing their location). They held their line, exchanged fire with the Confederates. The Union flag changed hands almost constantly as flag-bearer after flag-bearer was shot. Eventually, seeing the hopelessness of success, the officers withdrew the regiment.
The rest of the day passed with skirmishing for the 27th. They did not repulse Pickett’s Charge, but rather maintained their position in the Culp’s Hill area. However, their difficulties that day were not over. The Confederates sniped at anyone venturing into the open field, making it impossible to remove or aid the wounded. This was a terrible situation for the injured men, and it must have been equally horrible for the survivors to see and hear their comrades pleas for aid and be unable to give relief or comfort.
After The Battle: Forgotten?
On the night of July 3, the Confederates retreated from the Culp’s Hill area. The wounded of the 27th Indiana were removed to nearby XII Corp field hospitals. The dead were buried.
And then the regiment departed with the rest of the Union army in a futile pursuit of Lee’s Confederates.
Years later the veterans of the regiment would return and dedicate memorials and position markers for their regiment, but this unit has been almost forgotten, except in the detailed texts.
That’s changing. I don’t want this regiment to be “lost and forgotten.” Here’s a sneak preview from the book:
“Our regiment got farther into the field. The fire was dreadful. I saw our flag, torn with bullets, fall from the bearers’ hands as they were shot, but I thought that flag was worth fighting for.” ~Sergeant Edward Morten, 27th Indiana Infantry
P.S. What do you think? A new regiment of heroes? I’d like to hear your opinions!