General George Stannard and the 2nd Vermont Brigade at Gettysburg
Vermont native George Stannard joined the Union war effort immediately after hostilities began in 1861. Stannard was an officer in a Vermont militia unit at that time, and in June of 1861, he was named lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Vermont Infantry. He fought at First Bull Run and the Peninsula Campaign with the 2nd Vermont, and was promoted to Colonel and given command of the newly formed 9th Vermont Infantry in July of 1862. In September of 1862, Stannard and the 9th Vermont were part of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). The garrison was under the command of the incompetent Colonel Dixon Miles, who surrendered it to General Stonewall Jackson. Stannard and the 9th Vermont were among the over 12,000 Union soldiers who became prisoners of war.
Stannard was exchanged and in March 1863, was promoted to Brigadier General. He was also assigned as commander of an all Vermont brigade consisting of the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th Vermont Infantry regiments. All five regiments had been organized in October 1862 with an enlistment term of nine months. This brigade, called the 2nd Vermont Brigade, was part of the 22nd Corps and assigned to the defenses at and near Washington D.C. By the last week of June, 1863, the regiments each had just two to four weeks left in their enlistments, and had not seen any significant action.
That was about to change. General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was marching north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, and on June 25th, the 2nd Vermont Brigade was ordered to join General Abner Doubleday’s division of the 1st Corps, which at that time was concentrating in Maryland before heading north to Pennsylvania. The brigade marched over 125 miles before arriving a few miles outside of Gettysburg on June 30th, where the brigade was assigned to guard the 1st Corps supply wagon trains. The next morning, Stannard was ordered to leave two regiments to guard the trains and march his other three to Gettysburg. The 12th and 15th regiments remained behind to guard the trains while the 13th, 14th, and 16th marched on, arriving late in the afternoon on the 1st of July. Most of the fighting had concluded for the day, and the brigade was deployed on the south end of Cemetery Hill.
The next day, the 13th Vermont went into action. Five companies were sent to guard an artillery battery, and the other five companies were ordered forward to the Union center on Cemetery Ridge, where Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps was fighting Major General Richard Anderson’s Confederate division. Anderson’s troops had captured a Union artillery battery, and Hancock asked Colonel Francis Randall, the 13ths commanding officer, if he would be willing to recapture the battery. Hancock cautioned that it was a very hazardous task, and would not order it, but would allow the regiment to volunteer for the duty. Randall answered he’d be willing to try. The five companies of the 13th charged with fixed bayonets into the 3rd and 22nd Georgia Infantry regiments of Brigadier General Ambrose Wright’s Division, surprising the Georgians, scattering some and capturing others. The 13th surged forward and recaptured the battery, impressing Hancock.
On July 3rd, the 2nd Vermont Brigade was on the left flank of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The 14th and 16th regiments were advanced ahead of the main Union line to take advantage of better cover; the 13th Infantry remained on the main line. The brigade watched as the assault known as Pickett’s Charge unfolded before them. The Virginia regiments of Brigadier General James Kemper’s brigade marched toward the 2nd Vermont Brigade’s position. When the Virginians were close enough, the Vermonters fired into their advancing ranks, becoming the first Union infantry to engage the Confederates.
Kemper’s brigade took casualties but continued on and executed a change in direction by about 45 degrees to close a gap in the Confederate line. This maneuver exposed the right flank of Kemper’s brigade, and Stannard decided to take advantage of the situation. He ordered the 13th to pivot to the right 90 degrees so that it’s line was facing directly at the Confederate right flank. The 16th then formed its line on the left of the 13th. Stannard held the 14th Infantry in place. The Confederates saw the Vermonters reforming and fired into them, but the two regiments pressed on and successfully performed the maneuver. When the two regiments were in place, they were within 100 yards of the Confederates, and as the Rebels closed in on the stone wall marking the main Federal line, the 900 or so Vermonters opened fire to great effect. The 14th Vermont also poured in fire from its position.
With his right flank taking severe fire and serious casualties, Kemper had the 11th and 24th Virginia regiments turn and face the 13th and 16th Vermont line. These regiments fought it out until the main assault was repulsed and the Confederates retreated.
The main body of the assault was in retreat, but the 2nd Vermont Brigades’ fighting wasn’t over. Two more Confederate brigades were approaching the Union left. The five Alabama regiments of Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox and three regiments of Floridians under Colonel David Lang had gotten a late start in their assault, and kept advancing even as the mass of Confederates on their right were in retreat. Union artillery concentrated fire at the two relatively isolated Rebel infantry brigades The 16th Vermont, joined by part of the 14th Vermont, turned around, facing in the opposite direction from their previous fighting. Again, the Vermont troops opened fire on the flank of the advancing Confederates, inflicting heavy casualties, particularly on the Florida regiments which were the closest to the Federals. Fighting continued until Wilcox realized that his assault was useless with the main body of the Confederates retreating, and ordered his men to pull back, ending the fighting.
General Stannard wrote this after action report on the 2nd Vermont Brigade’s fighting at Gettysburg:
HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., THIRD DIV., FIRST ARMY CORPS,
Gettysburg, Pa., July 4, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to report that the Second Vermont Brigade, under my command, marched from the line of the Defenses of Washington, upon the Occoquan, on the 25th ultimo, under orders to report to Major-General Reynolds, commanding the First Army Corps. The brigade joined that corps at this place on the evening of July 1, after an exhausting march of seven days’ duration. The distance marched averaged about 18 miles per day. The men marched well, with no straggling. Rain fell on every day of the seven, and considering the condition of the roads, the distance traveled (from the mouth of Occoquan to Gettysburg) could not have been accomplished in less time.
We reached the battle-ground in front of Gettysburg too late in the day to take part in the hard-contested battle of July 1, and my tired troops upon their arrival were placed in position in column by regiments on the front line, in connection with the Third Army Corps. Before reaching the ground, the Twelfth Regiment, under command of Colonel Blunt, and Fifteenth Regiment, under command of Colonel Proctor, were detailed, by order of General Reynolds, as guard to the wagon train of the corps in the rear. I was detailed, per order of Major-General Slocum, as general field officer, and met Major-General Meade, in company with Major-General Howard, near my command about 3 a.m. of the 2d instant. The Fifteenth Regiment rejoined the brigade in the morning, but was again ordered back on the same duty about noon.
On the morning of the 2d instant, we were allowed to join the First Army Corps, and reported to Major-General Doubleday, agreeably to previous orders, and were placed in the rear of the left of Cemetery Hill. After the opening of the battle of July 2, the left wing of the Thirteenth Regiment, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Munson, was ordered forward as support to a battery, and a company of the Sixteenth Regiment was sent as a support to the skirmishers in our front. While stationing them, Capt. A. G. Foster, assistant inspector-general of my staff, was seriously wounded by a ball through both legs, depriving me of his valuable services for the remainder of the battle.
Just before dark of the same day, the lines of our army on the left center having become broken under a desperate charge of the enemy, my brigade was ordered up. The right wing of the Thirteenth Regiment, under Colonel Randall, was in the advance, and, upon reaching the break in the line, was granted by Major-General Hancock, commanding upon the spot, the privilege of making the effort to retake the guns of Company C, regular battery, which had just been captured by the enemy. This they performed in a gallant charge, in which Colonel Randall’s horse was shot under him. Four guns of the battery were retaken, and two rebel field pieces, with about 80 prisoners, were captured by five companies of the Thirteenth Regiment in this single charge. I placed the Sixteenth, under command of Colonel Veazey, on picket, agreeably to orders, extending to the left of our immediate front. The front thus established was held by my brigade for twenty-six hours.
At about 4 o’clock on the morning of the 3d, the enemy commenced a vigorous artillery attack, which continued for a short time upon my position. During its continuance, I moved the Fourteenth, under command of Colonel Nichols, to the front of the main line about 75 yards, which was done at double-quick in good order. I then, with permission from my immediate commander, selected a position to occupy, if attacked with infantry, some distance in front of the main line.
At about 2 p.m. the enemy again commenced a vigorous attack upon my position. After subjecting us for one and one-half hours to the severest cannonade of the whole battle, from one
hundred guns or more, the enemy charged with a heavy column of infantry, at least one division, in close column by regiments. The charge was aimed directly upon my command, but owing apparently to the firm front shown them, the enemy diverged midway, and came upon the line on my right. But they did not thus escape the warm reception prepared for them by the Vermonters. During this charge the enemy suffered from the fire of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth, the range being short. At the commencement of the attack, I called the Sixteenth from the skirmish line, and placed them in close column by division in my immediate rear. As soon as the change of the point of attack became evident, I ordered a flank attack upon the enemy’s column. Forming in the open meadow in front of our lines, the Thirteenth changed front forward on first company; the Sixteenth, after deploying, performed the same, and formed on the left of the Thirteenth, at right angles to the main line of our army, bringing them in line of battle upon the flank of the charging division of the enemy, and opened a destructive fire at short range, which the enemy sustained but a very few moments before the larger portion of them surrendered and marched in–not as conquerors, but as captives. I then ordered the two regiments into their former position. The order was not filled when I saw another rebel column charging immediately upon our left. Colonel Veazey, of the Sixteenth, was at once ordered to attack it in its turn upon the flank. This was done as successfully as before. The rebel forces, already decimated by the fire of the Fourteenth Regiment,
Colonel Nichols, were scooped almost en masse into our lines. The Sixteenth took in this charge the regimental colors of the Second Florida and Eighth Virginia Regiments, and the battle-flag of another regiment. The Sixteenth was supported in this new and advanced position by four companies of the Fourteenth, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Rose.
The movements I have briefly described were executed in the open field, under a very heavy fire of shell, grape, and musketry, and they were performed with the promptness and precision of battalion drill. They ended the contest in the center and substantially closed the battle. Officers and men behaved like veterans, although it was for most of them their first battle, and I am content to leave it to the witnesses of the fight whether or not they have sustained the credit of the service and the honor of our Green Mountain State.
The members of my staff–Capt. William H. Hill, assistant adjutant-general; Lieuts. George W. Hooker and G. G. Benedict, aides-de-camp; Lieutenant [Francis G.] Clark, provost-marshal, and Lieut. S. F. Prentiss, ordnance officer–executed all my orders with the utmost promptness, and by their coolness under fire and good example contributed essentially to the success of the day.
There were 350 killed, wounded, and missing from my three regiments engaged; of the missing, only 1 is known to have been taken prisoner.
I am, with much respect, your obedient servant,
GEO. J. STANNARD,
Brig. Gen. of Vols., Comdg. 3d Brig., 3d Div., 1st A. C.
Lieut. Col. C. KINGSBURY,
Jr., Assistant Adjutant-General.
Despite initial concerns over how well and how hard they would fight with their enlistments nearly finished, the nine months men of the 2nd Vermont Brigade had fought as well as any seasoned veterans, and had made a significant contribution to the Union victory at Gettysburg. Within three weeks, all the regiments in the brigade had been sent back to Vermont, and by mid August, all were mustered out of service.
A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederic Dyer
Brigades of Gettysburg: The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg by Bradley M. Gottfried
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears
The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edwin B. Coddington
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXVII Part 1.
Pictorial History of the 13th Regiment Vermont Volunteers by Ralph Orson Sturtevant
A Short History of the 14th Vermont Regiment by G.G. Benedict