The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry was mustered into service in June of 1861 and saw extensive fighting at the First Battle of Bull Run. Later in 1861, the 6th and 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana Infantries were mustered in and brigaded with the 2nd Wisconsin, forming a unit that would eventually be called the Iron Brigade.
The Iron Brigade saw extensive action at the battles of Brawner’s Farm, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. The 24th Michigan was added to the brigade during the Fredericksburg Campaign in late 1862.
In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia took the war into Pennsylvania, and on July 1st, Lee’s Confederates and the Union Army of the Potomac clashed in the first day of the three day Battle of Gettysburg. That morning, Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalrymen, fighting dismounted, fought a delaying action against Major General Henry Heth’s division, which was approaching Gettysburg from the northwest. Buford’s outnumbered force held the line until Union infantry reinforcements could arrive. The first reinforcements to arrive were the regiments of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of Major General John Reynold’s 1st Corps–the Iron Brigade.
The Iron Brigade marching column was led by the 2nd Wisconsin, under the command of Colonel Lucius Fairchild. The 2nd Wisconsin went into action immediately without waiting for the 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, or 24th Michigan (the 6th Wisconsin was ordered to the railroad cut on the right of the position, and would do its fighting there). The 2nd advanced on the run into Herbst Woods attacking the 7th and 1th Tennessee infantry regiments of Brigadier General James Archer’s brigade. The Tennesseans fired a lethal volley at the 2nd Wisconsin, doing serious damage and stopping the advance. At about the time the 2nd Wisconsin and the Tennessee regiments engaged, General Reynolds was shot and killed. With the Tennesseans on their front, the men of the 2nd Wisconsin were also confronted with enfilading fire from the 13th Alabama Infantry, on the opposite end of Archer’s line.
The 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan then moved into position, and the four regiments attacked, driving Archer back and capturing many Rebels in the process. One of those captured was General Archer himself, who was taken prisoner by Private Patrick Maloney of the 2nd Wisconsin. Maloney was killed in action later in the day.
Though the Iron Brigade had checked the advance of Archer’s Brigade, Confederate reinforcements soon arrived. Virginians of Colonel John Brockenbrough’s brigade attacked the right side of the Iron Brigade’s line, which included the 7th Wisconsin on the right and the 2nd Wisconsin to its left. North Carolinians under Brigadier General James Pettigrew were to the right of Brockenbrough, and attacked the 24th Michigan and 19th Indiana. The Wisconsin regiments held against the Virginians, but Pettigrew’s 11th North Carolina Infantry began to turn the brigade’s left flank, forcing the Federals to begin a retreat.
It was a stubborn, fighting retreat back to Seminary Ridge, and eventually back through Gettysburg. The fighting had slowed the Confederate advance enough to enable more Federal Corps to reach Gettysburg and set up a defense on favorable ground at Cemetery Ridge. The Iron Brigade was deployed on Culp’s Hill on the northern end of the Union line. Though there was fighting on Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg, it was not in the 2nd Wisconsin’s area and the regiment was not engaged.
Colonel Fairchild was wounded during the fighting, and Major John Mansfield took over command of the regiment. Mansfield, who himself was wounded that day, filed this after action report:
BEVERLY FORD, VA., November 15, 1863.
SIR: In reporting the part taken by this regiment in the battle of Gettysburg, I have the honor to state:
The regiment formed a part of the First Brigade of Wadsworth’s division of the First Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, and on the morning of July 1, 1863, it had the right, and approached Gettysburg from the Emmitsburg pike. About 10 a.m., when near the town of Gettysburg, the brigade was filed into the field on the left and west of Gettysburg, in the direction of and left of Seminary Ridge. Here the Federal cavalry were in line with a battery, actively engaged with the enemy’s advancing infantry. By order of the division commander, through Colonel Kress, his acting aide-de-camp, this regiment was thrown forward into line of battle in front of the cavalry, and ordered to advance, to repel an assault of the enemy’s infantry upon the battery.
The field officers, Colonel Fairchild, Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens, and Maj. John Mansfield, immediately dismounted, and, taking their proper places in line, advanced the regiment up a
gentle slope, and when on its crest we received a volley of musketry from the enemy’s line, from which many officers and men fell, among them Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens, mortally wounded. The advance of the regiment was steadily kept up under the direction of Colonel Fairchild, slightly obliquing to the right into a piece of timber skirting the ridge and extending several hundred yards to the right and front of our position.
After pushing the advance for about 50 yards into this timber, in the face of a most terrific fire of musketry, Colonel Fairchild received a severe wound in the left arm, shattering his elbow. Being so completely disabled, and suffering from loss of blood, he was taken to the rear, when Major Mansfield assumed command of the regiment.
Mansfield continued to advance the regiment to near close quarters, when the line of the enemy in our immediate front yielded, a portion seeking cover in a deep excavation, the balance seeking refuge behind trees and a slight elevation of the ground, from which they attempted to reform their broken lines. I ordered a charge upon this last position of the enemy, which was gallantly made at the double-quick, the enemy breaking in confusion to the rear, escaping from the timber into the open fields beyond. In this charge we captured a large number of prisoners, including several officers, among them General Archer, who was taken by Private Patrick Maloney, of Company G, of our regiment, and brought to me, to whom he surrendered his sword, which I passed over with the prisoners to Lieut. D. B. Dailey, acting aide-de-camp on the brigade staff. I regret to say that this gallant soldier (Private Maloney) was killed in action later in the day.
After this disposition of the prisoners, the regiment was formed in line in the open field beyond the timber. Here the balance of the brigade was formed on our left. We were soon faced to the rear, and retired about midway through the timber, where we were ordered to lie down. We remained in position some two hours or more, when the enemy were discovered emerging from the timber beyond the field we had just left, in two lines, with a heavy line of skirmishers.
The front line of the enemy, with skirmishers, advanced directly to the front, while the second line advanced obliquely to the left. In a short time the enemy’s skirmishers and our own became actively engaged, which continued with great spirit for a time, when it was discovered an attempt was being made to flank our position by the second line. An order was given to fall back toward Seminary Ridge, then directly in our rear, and in which was placed and at work the Fifth Maine Battery.
This movement was made in good order, firing as we retired. About half the distance from where we commenced to retire to this new position, I faced the regiment to the front, and again moved to meet the advancing columns of the enemy, when I discovered the enemy closing in upon our left. I again faced to the rear, and took up a position on the ridge referred to, on the right of the brigade already in position. At this time and point the battle raged with great fury, near the close of which I received a severe gun-shot wound in my left leg, near the knee-joint. Being unable to remain standing, I was taken to temporary shelter, when almost immediately the brigade and regiment fell back to Cemetery Hill.
The casualties to the regiment resulting from this day’s fight, for the numbers engaged, are believed to be unparalleled in the history of the war, and are here given as follows:
Casualties. Officers. Men. Total.
Engaged 29 273 302
Killed 2 25 27
Wounded. 11 142 153
Missing 6 47 53
Total. 19 214 233
Left for duty. 69
From such a record I may be spared from making what seems the usual commonplace remark, “that both officers and men behaved well.” No such record as here made can be shown excepting by a cool indifference to danger and long continued and stubborn resistance, resulting from hard-earned experience and thorough discipline.
I desire to call the attention of the general commanding to Lieut. Henry B. Harshaw, acting adjutant, for his ready and active assistance on several occasions during the trials of the day. Also to Corporal [Rasselas] Davidson, of Company H, and Corpl. Paul V. Brisbois, of Company G, for gallantly seizing (one the State, the other the National) colors of the regiment, after their respective bearers had been shot down in a storm of bullets, and carrying them undismayed throughout the remainder of the battle, and bearing them in safety and in triumph off the field.
Major, Commanding Regiment.
Capt. J. D. WOOD,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., First Brig., First Div., First Corps.
The 2nd Wisconsin sustained 77% casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg. Colonel Fairchild arm wound was serious and resulted in amputation. While recovering, he was promoted to Brigadier General, but with the loss of his arm, he did not resume command of the regiment and ended his military career later in the year. Fairchild returned to Wisconsin, where he was elected Secretary of State, and in 1866, Governor of Wisconsin. Major Mansfield was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and retained command of the regiment.
Brigades of Gettysburg: The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg by Bradley M. Gottfried
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
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XXVII, Part 1