The 19th Maine Infantry was known for its coolness under fire from its first skirmishes, perhaps even when they got their nickname as the “Frying Pan Regiment” after an incident in which they tried to cook bacon in a frying pan supported over the fire with live artillery rounds.
Our story picks up in mid-June 1863 when the regiment finally broke camp from Falmouth where they had spent a miserable winter and in which they were based for the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, losing men mostly to sickness. They were headed for Gettysburg. After his success at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, General Lee was taking the war to the North with the invasion of Pennsylvania, and the Union Army, including the 19th Maine, was in pursuit.
The 19th Maine was commanded by Colonel Francis Heath. General William Harrow had taken over command of the First Brigade and Major-General Hancock command of the Second Corps. While on the march, the North changed command of the Army of the Potomac from General Hooker to General Meade.
Their march took them through the Bull Run battle field where human skeletons were still sticking up through the ground, the 19th bringing up the rear of the Army. Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry raided the rear at Haymarket and the 19th lost its first casualty to war. The Army covered 200 miles between June 13 and arrival at Gettysburg on July 1st. Lee’s 72,000 man army was well into Pennsylvania when they turned back to meet the 83,900 man Union Army, both sides racing to get the most favorable ground at Gettysburg. Each side had about 10,000 cavalry.
The 19th was often covering 20 miles/day. On June 29th they marched thirty two miles to reach Uniontown with a forced march on June 30 to arrive at the battlefield on the evening of July 1. Here they took up position left of Taneytown Road, near the southeastern base of Round Top. Fighting had been going on west of town during the day while Major General John Buford was trying to delay Confederate troops and to allow Meade’s army to arrive and settle into strategic positions. The Sixteenth Maine who had been fighting the first day returned to camp with the 19th Maine - about 25 men, all that was left of the 16th who were nearly annihilated the first day - and they recounted their story to the 19th.
George’s brigade moved to the battlefield in the morning of July 2nd, the second day of battle, and was stationed in reserve behind Webb’s Brigade and Hall’s Brigade on the left flank of the Union “fish hook”. They were about 300 yards behind the Codori House and barn.
|June 2011. I walked the fields of the Codori farm, not knowing that a century and a half earlier my second great grandfather had fought on this ground|
“The Confederates knew we were there, would strike in our midst, killing or wounding a number of men. All we could do was to lie there and guess where the next one would strike or who the next victim would be... Sickles’ Right Division (Third Corps) under General Humphreys, extended along the Emmittsburg road toward the Codori house...We watched with intense interest the progress of the battle and soon saw that it was a losing fight on part of the Third Corps. Through the smoke we could see the approach of the coming storm. Humphreys’ Division was breaking up and coming toward us, yet stubbornly holding on and contesting every foot of ground. At last being overpowered by weight of numbers, Humphreys’ line came back in confusion, -- a broken, disorganized mass. Colonel Heath walked rapidly along in front of the Regiment, cautioning the men to lie still and permit the retreating men to pass over us. Our right extended well up the ridge, but there was no infantry connection on our left except the First Minnesota, some sixty rods away... Two batteries joined us on the left...We lay upon our faces, hugging the ground. Nearer and nearer came the retreating soldiers of Humphrey’s Division. Some of them were wounded and some of the wounded were being brought back by their comrades. They were all of them in a hurry. These men were not particular where they stepped in walking over us, they only seemed intent upon getting to the rear and out of the reach of their relentless pursuers. Yet there were many brave spirits among these routed troops. Some called out to us, ‘Hang on, boys, and we will form in your rear’. Others informed us that we were whipped and all was lost.”
About this time General Hancock rode up, placed a man from the Regiment where he wanted the 19th to stay, saying “Will you stay here?” to which the soldier replied “I’ll stay here, General, until hell freezes over”, the usual attitude of the 19th, and the Regiment prepared to face the enemy head on.
“The enemy was about thirty-five yards from our lines when Colonel Heath gave the order to rise and fire. The Nineteenth had about 400 men in line of battle when the Regiment rose and delivered its deadly fire into the faces of the Confederates. They were staggered and halted...The Battery which joined up upon our left commenced firing the moment the front was clear of the Third Corps...The First Minnesota was stationed sixty-five rods to our left. This Regiment (1st Minnesota) charged across the ravine, checking and driving back the Rebel brigade... this renowned charge of the First Minnesota in its great loss has never been equaled in modern warfare.
While the 59th New York and the 7th Michigan repulsed the charge of the Confederates, these regiments did not attempt to follow them as they retreated across the Emmittsburg road...The First Minnesota and the Nineteenth Maine were the only regiments in our Division that undertook to follow the Confederates across the Emmittsburg road. The Minnesota boys charged as far as our Regiment did, but owing to the fact that the Emmittsburg road did not run parallel with out line of battle, they did not reach that road.
During the progress of the battle, Colonel Heath received word that the enemy had made its appearance on our right flank. He ordered the Regiment to fall back, and it did so in perfect order. The distance the Regiment fell back did not exceed two or three rods, when they faced the enemy again and, in perfect alignment, began firing again...We heard the ringing order of Colonel Health to fix bayonets. Then the order to charge was given and the Regiment started forward and down across the plain, like a tornado let loose. The Rebels fell back rapidly and our Regiment advanced nearly to the Emmittsburg Road, capturing many prisoners, two stands of colors, three pieces of artillery and four caissons (recaptured) ... We had no infantry connection immediately upon our right or left. Just as we were ordered back, our attention was attracted by loud cheering in the rear... When the Regiment reached the place from which we had charged with the three guns and the four caissons coming from the direction of the enemy, the whole line went wild with cheers over the brilliant charge and capture by the Nineteenth Maine.”
Colonel Nash would later write,
The Nineteenth Maine was placed beside a battery, to support it, and to hold its portion of the line, as the Third Corps had been driven back across the field, and was retiring in haste. The enemy was completely frantic with victory, and advanced impetuously....our fire was deadly; every shot had apparently done its duty. And when, with bayonets fixed, the command “Forward” was given, onward dashed all that was left of the Nineteenth, while cheer upon cheer rose far above the din, the enemy hiding behind rocks and bushes to escape the fury of the charge”.
A Regimental monument to the 19th Maine stands at the place of this charge.
19th Maine Inf'y Reg't.
1st Brigade, 2d Division, 2d Corps
In the Evening of July 2d this Regiment at a position on the left of Batt'y C, 5th U.S. helped to repel the enemy that had driven in Humphreys' Division, taking one battle flag and re-capturing four guns.
On July 3, after engaging the enemy's advance from this position, it moved to the right to the support of the 2d Brigade and joined in the final charge and repulse of Pickett's Command.
Effective strength. July 2d. 405;
Killed & mortally wounded 65; Wounded not fatally, 137; Missing 4.
July 3, early morning. Four companies of the Regiment were sent to a skirmish line, advancing some to the right toward the Union center, still near the Codori house on Emmittsburg Road. They had not eaten for 24 hours and had no breakfast nor water on this hot day. The remaining companies, including Company A with George, waited on the battle line, somewhat protected by ground works that had been constructed. And wait they did, as all was quiet except for fighting over on Culp’s Hill. By plan, about 1:00 PM the Confederates opened up with “the most terrific cannonading ever witnessed on this continent”, 138 Confederate artillery guns turned on the Second Corps in Lee’s attempt to break through the Union line. “The very earth seemed to tremble as if in the convulsions of a mighty earthquake. It is impossible to describe the horror and suffering of this hour”.
About three o’clock, the guns silenced and 15,000 Confederates emerged from the tree line ahead to cover the three quarters mile to the Union line, a line of infantry about a mile long, Pickett’s Charge, “one of the most inspiring sights ever seen on a field of battle”, headed for the center of the Union line where our George and the 19th were waiting. Given the distance and open terrain exposure to artillery fire, Confederates fell by the thousands but continued to advance, breaking the Union line at “The Angle”. The 19th met Pickett’s Charge, and then moved on the double quick toward the captured angle of the wall, “massed, many deep, around the hapless Confederates who had penetrated our lines...the contending forces hopelessly mingled, fought with desperation”, brutally hand to hand and with rifle butts.
The Second Corps bore the brunt of casualties at Gettysburg, more than any of the other Corps. Of the 405 officers and men of the 19th Maine, 65 died and 137 wounded, and 4 missing - 53% of the Regiment.
Only minor skirmishing occurred the following day, July 4th, as Lee’s Army withdrew and began their retreat south.
On the 5th, the 19th Maine and other regiments began the gruesome task of burying the dead on the battlefield. Five hundred were buried on the Codori farm. Twenty foot long ditches were dug and Confederates soldiers dragged into mass graves, piled one on top of another. Union soldiers were buried in separate graves and each grave marked, if known.
About five o’clock on July 5th, the 19th left the battlefield. On July 29th, Captain Charles Nash of the 19th Maine wrote,
“Eleven months ago the Nineteenth Maine was one thousand strong. Today its ranks number 258. Some who were then with us are reposing on the banks of the Rappahannock; others are asleep on the stained and ever memorable field at Gettysburg. Only a few are left.”
Our George Studley, perhaps a sergeant by now, was one of the surviving two hundred fifty eight. He has nearly two years of fighting yet to go.
Next installment: The next two years
Source: The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Maine Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865, John Day Smith.
Recommended film: Gettysburg gives an excellent account of the battle at Gettysburg