Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade played key role in Battle of Gettysburg
They were badly outnumbered and the only significant fighting force standing in the way of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, but the Iron Brigade refused to concede the field of battle.
“The Iron Brigade was not going to give any ground that day, and for the North Carolinians and the Virginians who they later faced, they will never forget the fight they had with the Iron Brigade that afternoon,” said John Heiser, a historian for the National Park Service.
The Iron Brigade was made up of men from Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. They were some of the toughest soldiers in the Army of the Potomac.
“I think maybe it is the hardiness of being in the wilderness, which — let’s face it — Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan that’s all kind of the wilderness from the 1830s and 1840s and it is that rough, tough background that these men bring with them here to the east and maybe sets them apart from everybody else,” Heiser said.
With little support, the Iron Brigade initially engaged a brigade from North Carolina on the McPherson farm a half-mile west of Gettysburg.
“Where they were put on July 1 is a position to be totally annihilated,” Heiser said.
The Iron Brigade suffered heavy casualties, but refused to give ground.
“It doesn’t stop them. They drove the Confederates back and take prisoners including James Archer, who was a brigadier general in the Army of Northern Virginia,” Heiser said.
With the majority of the Army of the Potomac a full day’s march away from Gettysburg, the role of the Iron Brigade played an important role in history. Had the Confederate Army been allowed to march into Gettysburg and claim the high ground, it might have been able to push further into the north and change the course of the Civil War.
While the Iron Brigade prevented the advancement of the Confederate Army on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, it paid a heavy price.
“It is truly the last fight of the Iron Brigade, because never again will they be the same strength and the same force that they are, the same numbers,” Heiser said.