23 March 2011

Green Troops; The 13th Vermont

The 13th Vermont was part of the Second Vermont Brigade. As a 9 month Regiment it had spent its duty, guarding the defenses of Washington. The men of 13th were un-tested in battle and only a few days from the end of their enlistment, when the order came to march for Gettysburg. Many of these young green Green Mountain Boys wouldn’t be returning home.

Gen George J Stannard
The 9 month men of the 13th were called the “Paper Collar Brigade” because their uniforms looked so new to the more seasoned Union soldiers. Formed with 5 other Vermont regiments as part of the Militia Act of July 1861, the men who made up the 13th were recruited from Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille and Washington counties. The 13th were sent to camp in Brattleboro, VT, where they were given equipment including muzzle loading Springfield rifles. Under Colonel Francis V Randall the 953 men and officers were mustered into service 3 October 1862. The 13th was sent to Washington DC where they went into camp on East Capital Hill 13 October 1862. The men from Vermont settled into picket and guard duty, protecting the approaches to the Capital.
Orders came to the Second Vermont Brigade of which the 13th Vermont was a part, on 25 June 1863 to join Union General Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac. The men marched for 7 days, averaging 18 miles a day. Many of the men marched on worn out shoes as the quartermasters didn’t want to waste boots on men about leave the army. They ate well along the way, as Lieutenant Edwin Palmer said of getting food, the “hardtack has played out, whilst green backs last.”
The men of the Second Brigade were ordered on 30 June 1863 to do guard duty for the I Corps wagon trains. At 9 am on 1 July 1863 General George J Stannard, the Brigade commander received orders to march the 13th, 14th and 16th regiments to Gettysburg. By 3 pm the men could hear sounds of battle as they marched along the Emmittsburg Road. Arriving on the field about sunset, there was confusion as to where the men were to go into position. “Private Ralph Sturtevant of the 13th said, “General Stannard swore like a piper…because so much moving about when the boys were all out from the long day’s hard march.” The 13th finally settled in, to the left of General John Buford’s cavalry in a clover field.
On the morning of 2 July 1863 the men of the 13th started their day with coffee made from muddy water. They scrounged for food as the 13th didn’t receive rations. Orders came mid morning for half of the regiment to set up in support of a battery on the hill, the other half moved south and formed up behind the II Corps. As Confederate General James Longstreet’s enechelon attack moved toward the Union II Corps line on Cemetery Ridge, the 22nd Georgia, part of General Ambrose Wright’s brigade found a gap. Union General Winfield Scott Hancock ordered the men of the 13th forward to plug that hole. The 13th was going into battle for the first time. Ordered to charge, stop the Confederate attack and re-take 4 cannon lost earlier by Weir’s Battery, Colonel Francis Randall led his men out. Randall’s horse was shot from under him, but his men continued on, charging “down the sloping hill, over the dead and dying, shouting, firing into the foe.” The Green Mountain Boys of the 13th pursued the retreating Confederates all the way to the Peter Roger’s house on the Emmittsburg Road. They re-took the 4 guns of Weir’s Battery and 83 prisoners. As the 13th returned to Cemetery Ridge, Hancock said, “That was well Done! Give me Vermonter’s for a charge.”
They spent the night on the field, where the men slept on their arms. The mortally wounded Confederate General William Barksdale was carried through their line in the darkness to a field hospital, in the Union rear.
The morning of 3 July 1863 found the 13th to the left and rear of the Vermont 14th, among Hancock’s II Corps. General Stannard asked for volunteer’s to move out about 45 yards in their front to throw up a barricade of fence rails and stones. These volunteers were led by Sergeant George H Scott of the 13th’s Company G, and were under fire from Confederate sharpshooters the whole time.
When the great cannonading of 3 July 1863 began, many of the Vermont Second Brigade were killed or wounded, owing to their advanced position. When Pickett’s Charge began the 13th was ordered into their breastworks, with the 14th on their left extending into the Plum Run Valley. As Confederate General James Kemper’s men came into view, they began a series of left obloquies that opened Kemper’s right flank to the 13th Vermont. General Stannard ordered the 13th into the meadow, where they changed front from the West to the North, using orderly Sergeant James Scully of Company A as the pivot. Colonel Randall ran along his line from left to right yelling orders to his men. The Confederates watching this maneuver knew the 13th would devastate their flank. The men of the 13th loaded their guns as they completed their change of fronts; close enough for hand to hand fighting, they opened fire on Kemper’s men.

Lieutenant Stephen Brown
The 13th took 243 prisoners. Including one captured by Lieutenant Stephen Brown. Brown had been arrested for leaving the march to search for water and had, had his sword taken away. He was released in time for the fight, but hadn’t gotten the sword back, so he entered the fight carrying a hatchet. It was with this hatchet swinging over his head that he captured a Confederate officer. The officer surrendered himself and his sword to Lieutenant Brown.
About 9 pm the 13th Vermont was ordered from the field. They moved to the rear near the Taneytown Road. It was here that the men learned that Generals Hancock and Stannard were wounded. The 13th itself had lost 11 men killed, 81 with wounds, and 23 missing.
They spent the next few days burying the dead, and tending to the wounded. On 6 July 1863 the 13th marched with the rest of the army in pursuit of the enemy. In a hard rain they crossed Catoctin Mountain into Maryland the night of 7 July 1863. Near Middletown, Maryland the next day the men of the 13th received their orders to go home.