The 24th Michigan Infantry at Gettysburg
The 24th Michigan Infantry was organized in the summer of 1862 and joined the Iron Brigade in October of that year after the brigade had been reduced from casualties suffered at the battles of Brawner’s Farm, South Mountain, and Antietam. The regiment was under the command of Colonel Henry A. Morrow (pictured at left), a Wayne County Michigan Judge and Mexican War veteran who proved to be a very capable field commander.
The Iron Brigade regiments were all heavily engaged on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg July 1st, 1863. The 24th Michigan participated in the repulse of the Alabama and Tennessee regiments of Brigadier General James J. Archer’s Brigade of Lt. General A.P. Hills Corps along Willoughby Run and the Herbst Woods also referred to as the McPherson Woods). This was the action in which the Union 1st Corps commander, Major General John Reynolds was killed. Later, the 24th was forced to withdraw after Confederate attacks were renewed by the brigades of Brigadier Generals John Brockenbrough and James Pettigrew, again of A.P. Hill’s Corps. In particular, the 24th fought against the 26th North Carolina Infantry of Pettigrew’s Brigade. The 24th’s regimental historian recalled that the withdrawal was contested every step of the way, and that six separate lines of battle were formed. The Iron Brigade finally withdrew to Culp’s Hill, where it spent the remainder of the three day battle.
Colonel Morrow was wounded and captured, but escaped on July 4th. Here are some excerpts from his after action report:
At an early hour on July 1, we marched in the direction of Gettysburg, distant 6 or 7 miles. The report of artillery was soon heard in the direction of this place, which indicated that our cavalry had already engaged the enemy. Our pace was considerably quickened, and about 9 a.m. we came near the town of Gettysburg, and filed off to the left, leaving it on our right. We crossed an insignificant branch, and were moved forward into line of battle on the double-quick. The cavalry immediately in our front was hotly engaged with the enemy, and the brigade was ordered to advance at once, no order being given or time allowed for loading our guns. I halted my regiment for this purpose, but was directed by a staff officer–I think he belonged to the staff of General Wadsworth–to move forward immediately without loading, which I did. The order to charge was now given, and the brigade dashed up and over the hill and down into the ravine, through which flows Willoughby’s Run, where we captured a large number of prisoners, being a part of General Archer’s brigade. The cavalry in the meantime had taken position on our left flank, In this affair the Twenty-fourth Michigan occupied the extreme left of the brigade, the Nineteenth Indiana being on our right.
I here lost my color-bearer, Abel G. Peck (a brave and faithful soldier), several of my color-guard, and many of my men.
After advancing to the crest of the hill beyond the run, we were halted, and threw out skirmishers to the front and also to the left, near a brick house.
We now received orders to withdraw to the east bank of the stream, which was done. The brigade changed front forward on first battalion, and marched into the woods known as McPherson’s woods, and formed in line of battle, the Nineteenth Indiana being on the left of the Twenty-fourth Michigan and the Seventh Wisconsin on its right. In executing this movement, my lieutenant-colonel and adjutant were severely wounded, and did not afterward rejoin the regiment, the former having lost a leg, and the latter being severely wounded in the groin. The line of the Twenty-fourth Michigan curved a little backward on the right, that wing being thrown back, so as to connect with the Seventh Wisconsin. Skirmishers were immediately deployed in front, and became at once engaged with the enemy.
The woods were shelled, but I have no casualties to report as occurring at this time. I sent officers several times to the general commanding to report the condition of the line, and suggesting a change of position, as it was, in my judgment, untenable. To these reports of the condition of our line, I received answer that the position was ordered to be held, and must be held at all hazards.
The enemy advanced in two lines of battle, their right extending beyond and overlapping our left. I gave direction to the men to withhold their fire until the enemy should come within short range of our guns. This was done, but the nature of the ground was such that I am inclined to think we inflicted but little injury on the enemy at this time. Their advance was not checked, and they came on with rapid strides, yelling like demons. The Nineteenth Indiana, on our left, fought most gallantly, but was overpowered by superior numbers, the enemy having also the advantage of position, and, after a severe loss, was forced back. The left of my regiment was now exposed to an enfilading fire, and orders were given for this portion of the line to swing back, so as to face the enemy, now on this flank. Pending the execution of this movement, the enemy advanced in such force as to compel me to fall back and take a new position a short distance in the rear.
In the meantime I had lost in killed and wounded several of my best officers and many of my men. Among the former were Capt. William J. Speed, acting major, and Lieutenant Dickey, a young officer of great promise. Charles Ballare, my second color-bearer, was killed here.
The second line was promptly formed, and we made a desperate resistance, but the enemy accumulating in our front, and our losses being very great, we were forced to fall back and take up a third position beyond a slight ravine. My third color-bearer, Augustus Ernest, of Company K, was killed on this line. Maj. E. B. Wight, acting lieutenant-colonel, was wounded at this time and compelled to leave the field.
By this time the ranks were so diminished that scarcely a fourth of the forces taken into action could be rallied. Corpl. Andrew Wagner, Company F, one of the color guard, took the colors, and was ordered by me to plant them in a position to which I designed to rally the men. He was wounded in the breast and left on the field. I now took the flag from the ground, where it had fallen, and was rallying the remnant of my regiment, when Private William Kelly, of Company E, took the colors from my hands, remarking, as he did so, “The colonel of the Twenty-fourth shall never carry the flag while I am alive.” He was killed instantly. Private Lilburn A. Spaulding, of Company K, seized the colors and bore them for a time. Subsequently I took them from him to rally the men, and kept them until I was wounded.
We had inflicted severe loss on the enemy, but their numbers were so overpowering and our own losses had been so great that we were unable to maintain our position, and were forced back, step by step, contesting every foot of ground, to the barricade. I was wounded just before reaching the barricade, west of the seminary building, and left the field. Previous to abandoning our last position, orders were received to fall back, given, I believe, by Major-General Doubleday.
The command of the regiment now devolved upon Capt. Albert M. Edwards, who collected the remnant of it, and fell back with the brigade to Culp’s Hill, which it held for the two succeeding days.
Shortly after I was wounded, Captain Edwards found the colors in the hands of a wounded soldier, who had fallen on the east side of the barricade. He was reclining on his right side, and was holding the colors in his left hand. I have not been able to ascertain the name of this brave soldier in whose paralyzed hands Captain Edwards found the flag. Captain Edwards describes him as being severely wounded, and he is, therefore, probably among our dead. His name may forever be unknown, but his bravery will never die.
Captain Edwards behaved very gallantly at this time in rallying the men under a murderous fire.
The field over which we fought, from our first line of battle in McPherson’s woods to the barricade near the seminary, was strewn with the killed and wounded. Our losses were very large, exceeding, perhaps, the losses sustained by any one regiment of equal size in a single engagement of this or any other war.
From the report of Col. Henry Morrow, 24th Michigan Infantry, in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XXVII, Part 1.
As Morrow stated, the regiment’s losses were very high, as they were for all five Iron Brigade regiments. The 24th Michigan went into action with 496 officers and enlisted men and suffered 363 total casualties, with 69 killed, 247 wounded, and 47 missing. Twenty five of the 247 died from their wounds, making a total of 94 killed and mortally wounded. The 363 total casualties were the most numerically of any Union regiment at Gettysburg. Ten men carried the regimental colors that day, five of whom were killed and two others wounded. The regiment was not engaged on the final two days of the battle while deployed on Culp’s Hill.
The price was heavy, but the 24th Michigan and the 1st Corps helped give the Army of the Potomac time to concentrate on the high ground south of Gettysburg and establish a solid defensive position the Confederate army would be unable to break.
Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage
by Noah Andre Trudeau
History of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan of the Iron Brigade by O.B. Curtis
The Iron Brigade: A Military History
by Alan T. Nolan
The Maps of Gettysburg : An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863
by Bradley M. Gottfried
Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 by William Fox