The 27th Indiana: Bayonets & Flags

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No Copyright Infringement Intended. (http://www.history.army.mil/html/bookshelves)

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.

27th Indiana Monument at Gettysburg (http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/indiana/27th-indiana/)

27th Indiana Monument at Gettysburg (http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/ union-monuments /indiana/27th-indiana/)

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.

This is the 27th marker in the meadow. The photo looks toward where the Confederate lines would have been. (http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/indiana/27th-indiana/)

This is the 27th marker in the meadow. The photo looks toward where the Confederate lines would have been. (http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/indiana/27th-indiana/)

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

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think? A new regiment of heroes? I’d like to hear your opinions!

 

 

 

 

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!

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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