Civil War Talk Radio: January 16, 2009

Note: Since there was no new episode yesterday I decided to post one of the two CWTR episodes I had missed from January.

Air Date: 011609
Subject: The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg
Book: Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign
Guest: Lance J. Herdegen

Summary: Lance J. Herdegen, author of  Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, discusses the Iron Brigade’s important role at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

Brett’s Summary: Gerry opened the show by mentioning that, as always, donations can be sent to  He also mentioned the ongoing fight against Wal-Mart near the Wilderness battlefield.

Those Damned Black Hats! had been available for two months at the time of this episode.  Author Lance Herdegen is semi-retired and is a lecturer in history at Carroll University in Wisconsin.  He is also a historical consultant for the Museum of the Upper Middle West in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Gerry, a former museum employee, questioned Mr. Herdegen about his museum experiences.

Talk moved to the origins of the Iron Brigade.  The four original regiments were the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin and the 19th Indiana.  The 24th Michigan joined after the battle of Antietam.  They were the only all Western brigade in the Army of the Potomac, and they became famous for their tall black Hardee hats.  Herdegen mentioned Alan T. Nolan’s book on the Iron Brigade from 1961, entitled appropriately enough, The Iron Brigade.

Herdegen made the point that today we are able to know more about the battle of Gettysburg than any one individual who was there and witnessed it from their perspective.  As a former UPI reporter, he tends to be distrustful of official reports, looking at them from a critical eye.

The Black Hat Brigade first fought at Brawner’s Farm in late August 1862.  In the next several weeks, they also fought at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam.  When the 24th Michigan first joined the brigade, they were met with a cool welcome, according to the author.  He went on to state that the regiment finally earned its place in the brigade at Gettysburg.

The 2nd Wisconsin was formed from militia companies and fought at First Bull Run.  The 6th and 7th Wisconsin regiments, along with the 19th Indiana, were a part of the second wave of recruits after that battle.  The 2nd Wisconsin was a louder regiment, while the 7th Wisconsin was a regiment of farm boys.  Herdegen’s point was that these regiments had their own personalities.  Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery was also initially assigned to the Black Hat Brigade as well.  The battery topped off its roster by recruiting some men from the brigade.  It had one of the highest casualty rates of any battery in the Civil War.  Prior to Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac’s artillery was reorganized and the battery was no longer assigned to the brigade.

The Iron Brigade had almost a year of training prior to their first combat.  They had been assigned to Irvin McDowell’s I Corps of the Army of the Potomac which was left behind in Fredericksburg during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.

At Gettysburg they went into combat with 1880 men and officially had 670 left on the evening of July 1.  Herdegen mentioned he fed less than 500 men on Culp’s Hill that evening.  The fight wrecked the brigade, and soon after the battle they lost their western identity.  Herdegen believed that the fighting in McPherson’s woods on July 1 was some of the most desperate of the war.  The fighting in the woods and fields was also muddied by the heavy smoke accumulation.  This type of stand up fight was the last of the war for the Iron Brigade, which always fought behind trenches from that point forward.

The third and last portion of this episode began with a discussion of the death of John Reynolds, the I Corps commander.  That same volley took down a significant number of men in the 2nd Wisconsin.  Herdegen postulated that in the confusion of the battle Reynolds may have been accidentally shot by his own men.  He is not saying it definitely happened that way, but he wanted to raise the possibility in the book.  He believed Reynolds deserved the credit for deciding to fight at Gettysburg.

All of the regiments other than the 6th Wisconsin, which was held in reserve, were involved in this initial infantry fight.  The 6th Wisconsin was later involved in driving back Davis’ Mississippi Brigade at the railroad cut.

Interestingly, Herdegen had not planned to write another book on Gettysburg after he initially wrote In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg, but people sent him so many letters and other pieces of information that he almost felt obligated to write the new book.  Herdegen mentioned the men of the brigade were very literate and left a lot of letters behind.  Gerry complimented the author on his skill at providing tactical detail but also placing the fighting into context.

Some of the wounded spent the battle in Gettysburg as wounded prisoners, being freed after the Confederates retreated.  Herdegen found it fascinating that these men were allowed to wander around the town, observe the battle, and speak with their Confederate captors.  He mentioned that those who were “no longer combat effective” were essentially left alone to do their own thing.  He found the mutual respect of the two sides to be fascinating.  At the same time, there are always some instances of brutality in the heat of battle.

After the battle, the brigade and the entire Army of the Potomac were pretty badly beaten up and worn out.  A new 100-day regiment was added to the brigade after Gettysburg, which did not go well at all.  In 1864 drafted and bounty men were added and the brigade had lost its identity.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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