The Red Legged Devils of the 14th New York

by John McGuire on September 20, 2012 · 0 comments


Here is an excerpt from the History of the 14th Regiment.

When revile sounded the morning of July 1st the regiment awakened to a blood red sunrise, the prophecy of a hot summer day.  At 7 A. M. an aide galloped hurriedly to Colonel Fowler’s tent with orders.   Moments later came the clear command of the bugles to pack up.  The whole division was soon on the march.   Gen. Reynolds had given orders to Gen. Wadsworth to march his division of the First Army Corps forward as rapidly as possible as the enemy was advancing in great force and the battle was joined.

The 14th was five miles from Gettysburg.   The men pushed forward along the Emmitsburg Turnpike.  Upon reaching a point two miles from Gettysburg at a turn in the road they beheld a panorama of the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge spread out before them.  At the same instant the sound of artillery fire was borne to them on the morning wind.   Whitish puffs of smoke dotted the faces of the distant hills.  Every man’s veins swelled and pulsed with the thought of what well lie ahead.

The regiment left the Emmitsburg pike near the Condon house.  The entire division closed ranks and marched to a point opposite the Lutheran Seminary.   Here Gen Reynolds met Gen Wadsworth and moments later the 14th received orders to load.   With this evolution performed, the command, while the two Generals rode off together towards the firing line swung off on a double quick towards the Seminary.   Upon reaching it they passed around in front of it and forward about 400 yards.   They formed in line of battle on the ridge as dismounted cavalry passed through their ranks.

The Red Legged Devils from Brooklyn and the Ninety-fifth New York formed left of the brigade and on the left of the Chambersburg pike and an unfinished railroad cut.   A house and garden separated them from the right wing.  The Seventy-sixth New York, the 147th New York and the fifty-sixth Pennsylvania were on the right of the railroad cut.  On the left of the 14th was a Wisconsin Brigade…   The right of the Wisconsin brigade was a cluster of trees, now known as Reynolds grove.  The 14ths left was near the woods although not very close to the Wisconsin troops.

As the line of battle formed Confederate sharpshooters concealed in the woods to the left of the 14th suddenly poured a volley into the Union line.  General Reynolds who was dutifully placing the commands and forming the lines fell dead just left of the 14ths position;   some of the boys of the Brooklyn regiment saved his cap and equipment.

At this moment the battle was joined in earnest.   The bullets began to whiz viciously along the entire front.  Confederate artillery shells began to burst closer as the gunners gauged their distance. The body of sharpshooters who killed Gen. Reynolds was quickly dislodged from the woods.   The men of the 14th were still engaged on their front when they suddenly received fire from their rear.

This volley came from the Brigade of Confederate General J. R. Davis.  Davis, with the assistance of other Rebel troops had driven in the 76th New York, the 147th New York and the 56th Pennsylvania and part of Hall’s battery, capturing a piece of artillery.   Davis’s men were advancing through the railroad cut to the right and the rear of the 14th and the 95th after their success with the other Union units.   The banks of the railroad cut were higher along the 14th’s line of battle, but sloped down to the rear where Davis’s brigade made its attack.

The simultaneous attack on rear and front caused the Red Legs to fall back towards the left a short distance, but the battle hardened regiment had been in serious predicaments before.

Colonel Fowler ordered the command, the 95th and the 14th to change front on tenth company.   Although under intense fire they calmly executed the maneuver.   The command retreated until on a line with the enemy and then changing front forward on the right to face the Confederates in the railroad cut.  At this moment the enemy changed front facing Colonel Fowler’s line.   The 14th with the 95th on its right advanced to a point near the Chambersburg pike and lay down for a few minutes.  The Sixth Wisconsin at this juncture was deployed to aid the two New York regiments.   Just as the reinforcements joined his command Colonel Fowler ordered a charge.

By this time the command had warmed to its work and rushed forward with a cheer.  They rushed up the three foot high embankment into a murderous hail of musket bullets.   The balls came so thick and fast they sounded like the steady humming of machinery.   For an instant as the full force of this murderous fire broke along their front the line wavered, but another loud cheer from the ranks spurred them onward…

As they met Davis’s brigade the Confederate line wavered for a moment and then Davis’s brave Mississippians stiffened once again.   A fierce hand to hand fight ensued with clubbed muskets the Confederates defended their colors and the captured Union cannon with the ferocity of wild cats.

But on this first day of July 1863 the New York regiments would not be denied: the blood of the Red Legged Devils was up.  Some of the hottest work went on at the edge of the railroad cut and the Confederates were finally driven down into it.  As the enemy retired into the cut Colonel Fowler ordered the Sixth Wisconsin to flank him, a movement that was promptly executed, but this ended the struggle.   Nearly all of Davis’s brigade threw down their arms, yielded their battle flags and passed through the ranks of the 14th to the rear as prisoners.

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