10th Virginia: “We Almost Whipped The Yankees”

“I’m Harold Cooper, a private in the 10th Virginia Infantry,” he added with pride. “And we almost whipped the Yankees.” ~Harold Cooper, from Blue, Gray & Crimson

Many Confederate regiments could have said “we almost whipped the Yankees” after the fighting at Gettysburg, but a soldier from the 10th Virginia Infantry would’ve had special bragging rights. They had occupied a Union position for hours!

One of the fictional soldiers from Blue, Gray & Crimson served in the 10th Virginia Infantry and today, I’d like to share a little history about his regiment.

Shenandoah Valley areaMen From The Valley

I’ve written about the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia before, but today we actually get to talk about a regiment from that area. In the spring of 1861, Confederate regiments were organized at Harper’s Ferry, and the 10th Virginia was one of them. The men of the regiment came from the central/northern counties of the Valley.

The men’s pre-war occupation was farming or working in a small town. The most of the people of the Shenandoah Valley did not favor secession of the Southern states, but when the war started, they enlisted to defend their state and families, and most Shenandoah soldiers were adamant that they were not defending slavery.

Into Battle

The Battle of First Manassas (July 1861) was the 10th Virginia’s first large battle, and afterward they were transferred to the Shenandoah Valley military district to serve under General “Stonewall” Jackson. They fought in the Valley Campaign, and then joined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Seven Days Campaign, Cedar Mountain, and Second Manassas. They missed Antietam (Sharpsburg) because they were on detached duty elsewhere, but fought at Fredericksburg at the end of 1862. In 1863, the 10th battled at Chancellorsville and then marched northward with the rest of General Lee’s army.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, the 10th was commanded by Colonel Edward T.H. Warren and was in Steuart’s Brigade, Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Second Corps. The regiment came to Gettysburg as a “veteran” regiment; they were battle experienced and enthusiastically hoping for one more battle before ultimate victory.

Confederate Infantry, Tom's Farm Re-enactment 2014Culp’s Hill

Although part of Ewell’s Second Corps, the 10th Virginia was not in combat on July 1, 1863. Their division arrived late and eventually maneuvered into position near Culp’s Hill, which was the Union’s right flank.

Most of July 2nd passed with skirmishing elsewhere on the battle lines and preparation on an assault. The position in front of the 10th was not going to be easy to capture. The hill was densely wooded, large boulders hid in the trees, and there was a creek in the assault line. Artillery support would be almost non-existent because of the wooded area. The soldiers may have heard their Union enemies digging fortifications and chopping down trees to make their position more secure.

The infantry waited. And they continued to wait, while the sound of battle came from the Union’s left flank.

Twilight Attack

The 10th Virginia was on the far left of the Confederate attack line as they moved toward Culp’s Hill on the evening of July 2. The attack was quite successful, partial because about 2/3 of the Union defenders had been moved to a different part of the battle area (see 27th Indiana: Bayonets & Flags). By dark, the 10th was in the Union fortifications, but fighting continued. It became disastrous as other Confederate soldiers accidently exposed the 10th to friendly fire. Confusion and terror continued throughout the night.

Detail of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg

Detail of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg

Morning Battle

In the morning of July 3rd, Union troops counter-attacked. Steuart’s Brigade eventually reformed and launched a new attack. The 10th was ordered away from the main unit to clear an area of flank skirmishers, and they were semi-successful. The regiment organized behind a stone wall (side note: different stonewall than the one the 27th Indiana charged; the 10th is facing the 20th Connecticut at this time). Colonel Warren reported that only 50 soldiers remained with him at this point; casualties had been heavy.

Ultimately, the Confederate attacks on Culp’s Hill did not succeed – though from the 10th Virginia standpoint their battlefield was “secure.” They remained in position throughout the day, but retreated under the cover of darkness.

Gettysburg Aftermath For The 10th Virginia

The 10th Virginia lost about 25% of its men at Gettysburg. The wounded who were within the Confederate lines were cared for by surgeons in gray and some were probably taken back to Virginia on the retreat. The injured soldiers outside of the Confederate lines became prisoners and were taken to Union field hospitals. The dead were probably left unburied on the battlefield and would have been interred by Union soldiers or civilians. Confederate soldiers were not buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery, so the fallen of the 10th Virginia would have remained buried on the battlefield, until the Confederate dead were removed and reburied in the South.

Why The 10th?

Honestly, because they were in the exact and correct area of the battlefield, and I needed a Confederate regiment in my story. But it’s a little more than that.

I’d met a re-enactor who encouraged me to research his regiment. And as I read about the unit, I was impressed by the “fighting record” they brought to the field. I was also intrigued by the hard-to-document fight that occurred when the regiment was sent to combat the skirmishers on the far flank. Then, of course, they’re from Virginia…and The Valley – so that was definitely a deciding factor because of the fictional character’s background…and I love Virginia.

The 10th may not be my “ultimate favorite Confederate regiment” but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed studying their military achievements, motivations for fighting and their courage. I hope you’ve enjoyed “meeting” a new regiment at Gettysburg…and remember “they almost whipped the Yankees!”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite Confederate regiment at Gettysburg? In a comment, shout out their name and their general fighting area at Gettysburg.

Beyond The 20th Maine

I have something to confess. I committed sacrilege in the Gettysburg historical community. How? I didn’t write about (or even mention) Colonel J. L. Chamberlain or the 20th Maine regiment in my book.

gettysburg-1993-12I know, it seems unbelievable. And for your information, I have seen the movie Gettysburg, I have stood at the 20th Maine position on Little Round Top, and – being a young woman who’s not blind – I’ve swooned (a little) over The Colonel’s photos. So how did the un-imaginable, “horrifying” act of sacrilege happen?

Well, let me share three things I learned while reading a good-size stack of Gettysburg military books. And at the end of the article, I’ll share the regiments of the soldiers who interact with the civilians in my story.

1. The 20th Maine Was Not The Only Regiment At Gettysburg

We know this. (Or at least we think we do!) But I just LOVE – that’s sarcasm, there folks – how Every. Single. Book. published since about 1994 mentions the 20th Maine and the crucially dramatic fight on the Union’s left flank. It’s everywhere; the children’s books, the YA books, the large 3 inch thick history books. Chamberlain, Chamberlain, Chamberlain, 20th Maine, 20th Maine, 20th Maine.

However, the interesting thing? Chamberlain himself acknowledged that without the rest of the brigade – gracious, without the rest of the Union army – the battle wouldn’t have been won. (See I have read his writings!) Little Round Top wouldn’t have mattered if the 1st Minnesota hadn’t kept the Rebels off Cemetery Ridge. Little Round Top wouldn’t have mattered if the XI Corps hadn’t held onto to Cemetery Hill. And hey, why don’t we ever hear much about the units on Culp’s Hill, which was the right flank of the Union line? If they’d collapsed, Chamberlain would’ve really been in a mess. (Though he’d probably have said something like “Bayonet them both ways” – apologies to General Forrest for misusing his quote.)

So, there were hundreds of regiments holding the Gettysburg line. Many played a significant role in the defensive battle. And yes, there were other bayonet charges!


I’ve circled Culp’s Hill on the map

2. The Union’s Right Flank Was Far More Significant Than Most Of Us Realize

If you’d asked me when I was 14 about the Union right flank at Gettysburg, I could’ve told you it was on Culp’s Hill…and not much else. After all, most of the action was on the left flank with the 20th Maine, right? Wrong. Here’s what I learned later on –

Culp’s Hill (see map) was very important to the Union line. It was guarding their escape route, down Baltimore Pike. (Fortunately, General Meade never had to issue escape orders.) It was also guarding the rear of the Union position.

One startling reality for the Culp’s Hill fighting is that it lasted significantly longer than left flank conflict. Artillery fire toward the right flank began in the late afternoon of July 2, then faded off after a couple hours; the attacks disintegrated into confused night fighting, paused, and then exploded for another six hours of battle in the morning of July 3.

Keep in mind that artillery wasn't real effective on Culp's Hill - so this tree was shot down by bullets. This photo gives a dramatic example of how metal was flying through the air during this infantry fight.

Keep in mind that artillery wasn’t effective on Culp’s Hill – so this tree was probably shot down by bullets. This photo gives a dramatic example of how metal was flying through the air during this infantry fight.

3. The Culp’s Hill Conflict Is Unique At Gettysburg

As I’m writing this, I’m imagining the confused looks after that last heading, so let me explain. Culp’s Hill was densely wooded. True, the undergrowth had been cleared in previously years, so it was fairly “open”, but let’s just say it’d be hard to see the forest for the trees. All those trees meant something very significant – it was next to impossible to use artillery on this part of the battlefield. Culp’s Hill is an infantry – and infantry only – fight. No cavalry, limited, ineffective artillery. That’s very unique in the Gettysburg battle. (**Note: there was artillery around the Union right flank area, but as far as the attacks actually on Culp’s Hill, it is insignificant.)

Another interesting development in the Union right flank lines is the intentional order to build fortifications. Okay, yes, all across Gettysburg battlefield men piled up fence rails or stones for some shelter. But, on Culp’s Hill, the generals actually gave orders for the men to dig and build fortifications. This is one of the first times in Civil War history that trenches are built during a battle. Unfortunately for the Union soldiers the entrenching tools (handy shovels and big axes) were in the supply wagons, which were still a long distance away, so they had to use their cups, plates, and bayonets to construct their shelters!

So…Culp’s Hill (like other places at Gettysburg) evolves into its own unique conflict and it really deserves more study and “limelight.”

The Lucky Regiments

I didn’t write about the 20th Maine in Blue, Gray & Crimson. I decided it was time for new regiments to get some attention or glory. How about the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, 27th Indiana, or 10th Virginia?

Since the book isn’t due for release for a few more l…o…n…g weeks (Yes, I’m having trouble waiting too!), I thought I’d introduce you to the real regiments featured in the story. Hopefully, you’ll enjoying “meeting” the real units of the fictional characters who interact with the civilians.

So unfurl your Union flag and polish those bayonets because next week we’re making a bayonet charge with the 27th Indiana Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think? Time for some new regiments to have their recognized moment of glory? Or shall we continue watching the 20th Maine’s charge on replay?

(Where is my Gettysburg DVD anyway…that still sounds like an interesting way to spend the evening!)

Mad at me about my tirade about Chamberlain? Okay, here’s my four part series on that hero; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4