The 16th Michigan Infantry on Little Round Top at The Battle of Gettysburg

The 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division of the Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Colonel Strong Vincent, is remembered for its role in defending Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863. The 20th Maine Infantry is the most famous of the four regiments in the brigade, in part because of the memoirs of its commanding officer, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as well as the writings of other historians. The 20th Maine was on the left flank of the defensive line on Little Round Top, and was essentially the end regiment of the Union Army’s line at Gettysburg that day. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine held the line against repeated Confederate attempts to turn the Union left flank, ending in the regiment’s famous downhill bayonet charge.

Little Round Top in July 1863

Although the 20th Maine was the most famous, the three other regiments in the brigade—44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania, and 16th Michigan infantries—also were important to the defense of Little Round Top. If there had been Confederate breakthroughs anywhere along the line, it could have been disastrous for the Federals. But the line held, with some timely help in the form of reinforcements from the 140th New York Infantry of the Fifth Corps’ 2nd Division.

The brigade was deployed from left to right with the 20th Maine on the left, with the 83rd Pennsylvania on its right, with the 44th New York on the right of the Pennsylvanians, and the 16th Michigan on the right flank of the line. The attacking force of Confederates consisted of the 4th, 15th, and 47th Alabama Infantries of Brigadier General Evander Law’s Brigade, and the 4th and 5th Texas Infantries of Brigadier General Jerome Robertson’s Brigade. Both brigades were in Major General John Bell Hood’s Division of General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps. The 4th Texas was on the left flank of the Rebel attackers, with the 5th Texas, 4th, 47th, and 15th Alabama regiments from left to right.

Attack on Little Round Top by Edwin Forbes

The 16th Michigan in Action on Little Round Top

Two companies of the 16th Michigan were deployed away from the line as skirmishers, leaving about 150 Michiganders on the line. The five Confederate regiments, moving up the steep slope, closed in on the Union line, with the 4th Texas and perhaps elements of the 5th Texas attacking the 16th Michigan’s position. This attack was repulsed, as was a second assault. The two Texas regiments were then reinforced by the 48th Alabama of Law’s Brigade, and a subsequent Rebel attack put more pressure on the 16th Michigan. After stopping an attack by the 5th Texas on its front, the 44th New York fired into the flank of the 4th Texas, helping the 16th Michigan, but not stopping the advancing Confederates.

The right of the 16th Michigan began to give way under the weight of the 48th Alabama and 4th Texas attack. But there was also confusion in the 16th’s ranks, which led to some men withdrawing. Exactly what led to this is unclear; Lieutenant Colonel Norval Welch, commanding the 16th, claimed a mistaken order was issued, from higher up the chain of command, which was ignored by most, and blamed Lieutenant William Kydd for leading the color guard and no one else to the rear. Whether an order was mistakenly issued, or misinterpreted, about 45 men withdrew, despite what Welch stated. This was not insignificant considering the regiment had only about 150 at the outset of action, and that number had been reduced by casualties.

Col. Strong Vincent USA

Colonel Vincent saw what was happening to his brigade’s right flank, and personally raced to the position to help shore up and direct the defense. While doing so, he was shot and mortally wounded, dying on July 7th. With Vincent down, Colonel James C. Rice of the 44th New York took over brigade command. But before the flank was over run, more help for the U.S. troops arrived as over 500 men of the 140th New York Infantry reinforced the right flank. That, along with the decisive actions on the Union left by the 20th Maine, finally compelled the exhausted Confederates to withdraw down the hill.

Lieutenant Colonel Welch filed this after action report on the 16th Michigan Infantry on Little Round Top:

Near Emmitsburg, Md.,
July 6, 1863.

Lieutenant: In reply to circular of this date from brigade headquarters, as to the part this regiment sustained in the action of July 2 and 3, I have the honor to report:

The regiment, under my command, lay with the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, closed in mass, near and in rear of Gettysburg, to the left of the main road, during most of the day. The brigade was commanded by Col. Strong Vincent, Eighty-third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.

About 4 p. m. we moved rapidly to the extreme left of our line of battle, and went into position on the left of the brigade, at that time circling the crest of a high rocky hill. After deploying two of my largest companies as skirmishers—Brady’s Sharpshooters from the left, and Company A from the right—I was ordered at double-quick to the right of the brigade, and to take my position on the right of the Forty-fourth New York. Before this could be accomplished, we were under a heavy fire of the enemy’s infantry. We succeeded, however, in securing our places after some loss.

We remained in this position nearly half an hour, when some one (supposed to be General Weed or Major-General Sykes) called from the extreme crest of the hill to fall back nearer the

Lt. Col. Norval Welch 16th Michigan Infantry

top, where a much less exposed line could be taken up. This order was not obeyed, except by single individuals. From some misconstruction of orders, and entirely unwarrantable assumption of authority. Lieutenant Kydd ordered the colors back. None left with them, however, but three of the color-guard. They followed the brigade colors to where Colonel Vincent, after being wounded, had been carried, where they
remained all night, joining the regiment in the morning with 45 men, who had left the field during and after the fight. All the remainder of the regiment retained their position until relieved.

The two companies sent out as skirmishers numbered about 50. The number of muskets taken in line was about 150; the number killed and wounded 59—31 killed. Several wounded have since died.

On the 3d, we took up a new line farther to the right, at the left of the brigade, and remained on our arms for twenty-four hours.

Captain Elliott and Adjutant Jacklin behaved with their usual gallantry. Captain Partridge, Lieutenants Borgman (wounded). Woodruff, Forsyth, Cameron (wounded, with arm amputated). Swart, Graham, Salter, and Captain Chandler, behaved nobly and handled their men with coolness and valor. Lieutenants Browne, Company E, Jewett, Company K, and Borden, Company F, died, bravely defending the flag they had sworn to support and that they loved in their hearts, and emulating the bravest. I had no truer or purer officers, and their loss cannot be replaced.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Regiment.

Lieut. George B. Herendeen,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

The 16th Michigan casualty figures were revised and reported as 23 killed, 34 wounded, and three missing, for a total of 60.

Approximate position of the 16th Michigan at Little Round Top Gettysburg NMP. The large castle shaped monument on the right is for the 44th New York; the white monument below it and to the right is the 16th Michigan monument.


Brigades of Gettysburg by Bradley M. Gottfried

Gettysburg: The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz

Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau

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 27, Part 1.

“On to Gettysburg” by Ziba B. Graham. In War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Michigan Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume 1.

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