Well now, it is July 1, and the big day has arrived to begin the sesquicentennial celebration of the great Battle of Gettysburg. I am sure there is great excitement today in Adams County, but I will be content to be at Antietam. I will be connecting with two groups, as our Battlefield Guides organization is pleased to cover many of the Park duties while the bulk of our Rangers are helping at Gettysburg.
I will openly confess that I am far from an expert on Gettysburg. There is so much to know and learn, and I’ve not done this work in great depth. Someday, I will. Until then I’ve got plenty to do to continue to grow in understanding the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam.
But on this first day of Gettysburg, I will include here a few Abner Doubleday items … returning to these pages again in two days for some more information.
Without doubt, this day was Doubleday’s finest day in the War. Upon the death of John Reynolds, he found himself in command of the 1st Corps. His men fought exceedingly well though much outnumbered. They were compelled to fight an orderly retreat to Cemetery Hill.
A humorous story from the first day involved the capture of Confederate General James Archer. The following is an excerpt from the February 1891 issue of The North American Review, where Doubleday contributed an article (along with several other veteran commanders) entitled “Gettysburg Thirty Years Later.”
Reynolds hastened forward with the nearest troops at hand—two small brigades of Wadsworth’s division—and directed me to bring up the remainder of the corps as soon as possible. Having withdrawn the pickets and put the other two divisions en route, I galloped ahead and reached the field just as the contest began between Cutler’s Brigade on the right against Davis’s Confederate brigade. Meredith’s brigade was still on its way a quarter of a mile to the rear. In the meantime I had sent an aid to ask for orders, and received this message from General Reynolds in reply: “Tell Doubleday I will hold on to this road, and he must hold on to that one.”
This was the last order he ever issued. Archer’s Confederate brigade, however, which formed the right of the attacking column, did not advance by the lower road, but attempted to take possession of a piece of woods between the two roads. Reynolds imprudently rode in there, almost unattended, to reconnoiter. As he turned his head to the rear to see how near we were, one of the enemy’s sharpshooters must have seen him, and put a bullet through his neck, killing him instantly. As Meredith’s men came on, I made a short address to them, telling them that this was the decisive battle of the war and that the result would decide whether the Confederate President or Abraham Lincoln was to rule the country. I urged them to take the wood and hold it at all hazards. Full of the memory of their past achievements, they replied: “If we can’t hold it, where will you find the men who can?” They went forward enthusiastically, entered the grove, and not only overpowered Archer’s brigade, but captured him and the greater portion of his men. While this was going on, I had gone almost down to the stream on the left to see if any enemies were approaching along the more southern road. As there were none in sight, I returned, and the prisoners were brought up to me. I said, somewhat inconsiderately, to General Archer, who had been an old comrade of mine in Mexico: “I am glad to see you, Archer!” To which he angrily replied: “I am not a damned bit glad to see you, sir!”
Of course, when Doubleday is speaking of Solomon Meredith’s Brigade, this is referencing three-fourths of Gibbon’s Brigade from Antietam – the Wisconsin 2nd, 6th, and 7th. Also now with this so-called “Iron Brigade” were the 24th Michigan and 19th Indiana. I have recently read where a scholar wrote that they were not given this name until after the War, but Doubleday twice references them as such in his official report, writing …
The Iron Brigade, led by the Second Wisconsin in line, and followed by the other regiments, deployed en echelon without a moment’s hesitation, charged with the utmost steadiness and fury, hurled the enemy back into the run, captured, after a sharp and desperate conflict, nearly 1,000 prisoners–all from Archer’s brigade–and reformed their lines on the high ground beyond the ravine.
The Second Wisconsin, in this contest, under the gallant Colonel Fairchild, was particularly distinguished. It accomplished the difficult task of driving superior numbers of rebel infantry from the shelter of the woods, and to it also belongs the honor of capturing General Archer himself. He was brought in by Private Patrick Maloney, of Company G. It is to be lamented that this brave Irishman was subsequently killed in the action.