My New York Times Disunion article The Iron Brigade was posted today.
The Brigade caught my attention when I was researching my Wisconsin ancestors. I thought, maybe… Alas, no. They arrived from Denmark in 1871, missing out on all the “fun.” Still, my fascination with the Iron Brigade persisted. When at Gettysburg this July, I visited the places they fought, especially on the northwest side of town, where the action took place on July 1.
Dawes’ memoir account of the action at the railroad cut combines valor, “fearful excitement”–and humor:
My notice that we were upon the enemy, was a general cry from our men of: “Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets!” Running forward through our line of men, I found myself face to face with hundreds of rebels, whom I looked down upon in the railroad cut, which was, where I stood, four feet deep. Adjutant Brooks, equal to the emergency, quickly placed about twenty men across the cut in position to fire through it. I have always congratulated myself upon getting the first word. I shouted: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” An officer in gray, with stars on his collar, who stood among the men in the cut, said: “Who are you?” I said: “I command this regiment. Surrender, or I will fire.” The officer replied not a word, but promptly handed me his sword, and his men, who still held them, threw down their muskets. The coolness, self-possession, and discipline which held back our men from pouring in a general volley saved a hundred lives of the enemy, and as my mind goes back to the fearful excitement of the moment, I marvel at it. The fighting around the rebel colors had not ceased when this surrender took place. I took the sword. It would have been the handsome thing to say, “Keep your sword, sir,” but I was new to such occasions, and when six other officers came up and handed me their swords, I took them also. I held this awkward bundle in my arms until relieved by Adjutant Brooks. I directed the officer in command, Major John A. Blair, of the second Mississippi regiment, to have his men fall in without arms. He gave the command, and his men, (seven officers and two hundred and twenty-five enlisted men) obeyed. To Major John F. Hauser I assigned the duty of marching this body to the provost-guard.