Rufus Dawes Gettysburg Battle Report

Iron Brigade / 6th Wisconsin

The Rufus Dawes Gettysburg battle report while leading the 6th Wisconsin of the famed Iron Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg is a must read as his heroic actions and those of his regiment should not be forgotten. He was a Lt. Colonel at the time of the battle and his decisive actions helped buy the Union army time on the critical fight on day 1.


July 1, 1863

HDQRS. SIXTH WISCONSIN VOLUNTEERS, July 17, 1863.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report as follows of the operations of the regiment under my command during the action of July 1, near Gettysburg, Pa.:

On the morning of July 1, as the brigade moved forward, in support of the Second Brigade of this division, to engage the enemy, I received an order to move my command forward rapidly and form it on the left of the line of the brigade. Without checking from a double-quick, the regiment formed into line, the men loading as they marched, and moved forward rapidly and steadily toward the position assigned.

Before reaching my position in the line of battle, I was ordered to halt, and hold my men in reserve. At this juncture, the brigade guard (2 officers and 100 men, under command of First Lieut. Lloyd G. Harris, of the Sixth Wisconsin), by direction of General Solomon Meredith, reported to me for duty in the impending battle. I divided the guard into two companies, placing the first on the right flank of the regiment, under command of Second Lieut. Levi Showalter, of the Second Wisconsin; the second on the left, under command of Lieutenant Harris. I now received a second, order to advance, which I was proceeding to execute when, by command of Maj. Gen. A. Doubleday, commanding the corps, the regiment was again halted (my left resting on the Fairfield road), and detached from the brigade as a general reserve to the line of the division, now hotly engaged throughout. In a very few moments I received an order from Major-General Doubleday to move at once to the support of the right of the line of the division (Seventy-sixth New York, Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania, and One hundred and forty-seventh New York), which was being forced back and outflanked by the enemy. I marched by the right flank double-quick toward the point indicated, Before reaching a position where I could be of service, the enemy had succeeded in turning the flank, and, flushed with victory, was pressing rapidly in pursuit of our retreating line, threatening the rear of the First Brigade (Meredith's Iron Brigade), engaged in the woods on the left. I filed to the right and rear, to throw my line in front of the enemy, and moved by the left flank forward in line of battle upon his advancing line. My men kept up a steady double-quick, never faltering or breaking under the fire, which had become very galling. When my line had reached a fence on the Chambersburg turnpike, about 40 rods from the line of the enemy, I ordered a fire by file. This checked the advance of the rebels, who took refuge in a railroad cut (an unfinished railroad cut through the ridge west of the seminary), from which they opened a murderous fire upon us. I immediately ordered the men over the fence, with a view to charging the cut. The Ninety-fifth New York and Fourteenth Brooklyn here joined on my left.

My men continued firing and advancing steadily. I ran to Major Pye, of the Ninety-fifth New York Volunteers, commanding, as I supposed, the line on my left, and, requesting him to move forward with me, immediately gave the order to charge. The men of the whole line moved forward upon a double-quick, well closed, in face of a terribly destructive fire from the enemy. When our line reached the edge of the cut, the rebels began throwing down their arms in token of surrender.

Adjt. Ed. P. Brooks, with promptness and foresight, moved a detachment of 20 men in position to enfilade the cut from the right, when the entire regiment in my front, after some murderous skirmishing by the more desperate, threw down their arms.

Maj. John A. Blair, commanding the regiment (Second Mississippi Volunteers), upon my demand, surrendered his sword and regiment to me. I directed him to have his men fall in without arms, and move to the rear, in charge of Maj. John F. Hauser, of this regiment. Major Hauser informs me that by direction of General James S. Wadsworth, commanding division, he placed in charge of a cavalry guard 7 officers and about 225 men. The battle-flag of the regiment was captured before the surrender by Corpl. F. Asbury Waller, of Company I,* and has been forwarded, in obedience to orders, to army headquarters.

The loss sustained by my command in this charge was not less than 160 men killed or wounded.

After this capture of prisoners, by direction of General Wadsworth, I took position in a piece of woods on the right of the railroad cut near the seminary, where I remained about thirty minutes and reorganized my shattered regiment. I was then ordered forward to occupy the next crest in front, in support of a battery on the left of the cut I had previously charged. The enemy opened fire on my advancing line from a battery of six guns, killing and wounding several men. I took possession of the crest, where I remained until the battery had retired and the enemy had pressed back our line on my right and left, when I moved back under cover of the railroad cut, and, by direction of General Wadsworth, took position again in the wood, in support of four pieces of Stewart's battery (B, Fourth U. S. Artillery), where I remained until ordered by General Wadsworth to retire in good order beyond this city (Gettysburg). Faced by the rear rank, and moved (my right near railroad embankment) steadily back in line of battle over the open field to the city, almost directly toward the lines of the enemy, who had completely outflanked us on the Eleventh Corps front, and already gained possession of a portion of the city. There was much confusion; the streets were crowded with retiring troops, batteries, and ambulance trains. The men were almost prostrated with over-exertion and heat. The rebel sharpshooters (Ewell's troops) occupied the streets on our left, and their lines of battle almost completely encircled the city; but by great exertion, on the part of the officers the regiment preserved its integrity, and the men, assembling around their colors, gave in the streets hearty cheers for the old Sixth and the good cause. I moved to Cemetery Hill, and by direction of General Wadsworth, in open field on Culp's Hill, reported for duty to Col. W. W. Robinson, now commanding the brigade.

The loss of the regiment on July 1 was: Officers, 2 killed and 5 wounded; enlisted men, 27 killed, 106 wounded, and 24 missing.The loss sustained by the brigade guard in the charge upon the railroad cut I cannot give. Both officers commanding, Lieutenants Harris and Showalter, were disabled by wounds received in the charge.

I can only say that the men of the Sixth most nobly sustained their history in this desperate struggle.

Capt. John Ticknor, of Company K, was instantly killed while cheering his men on to the charge. This officer rose from the ranks, winning his captaincy for coolness and efficiency in command of skirmishers at South Mountain, and was distinguished for bravery upon every battle-field of the regiment. A good officer, a brave man, a genial, whole-souled companion, Ticknor will be sadly missed from our circle.Second Lieut. Orrin D: Chapman was also killed at the railroad cut. He was in command of Company C. He had but lately been commissioned. He was always a faithful, obedient soldier, and as an officer brave and efficient.

The officers, without exception, behaved, as on many battle-fields before, with devoted courage, each holding his own life and safety of less account than the good conduct of his men and regiment.

To Major Hauser and Adjutant Brooks I am much indebted for assistance in maneuvering the regiment throughout the battle. I cannot speak too highly of the bravery and efficiency in action of each of these officers.

Without reflection upon other officers of the line, I feel it due to their conspicuous bravery and good conduct that I should mention Capt. Rollin P. Converse and Lieut. Charles P. Hyatt, of Company B, and Lieutenant Goltermann, of Company F. Captain Converse commanded the party who brought safely from the field and saved from capture the gun of the Second Maine Battery that had been abandoned to the enemy. We recaptured this piece in a charge at the railroad cut.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. R. DAWES, Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers.

July 4, 1863

HEADQUARTERS SIXTH WISCONSIN VOLUNTEERS, July 4, 1863.

SIR: I have the honor to report that the accompanying battle-flag of the Second Mississippi Volunteers was captured by the regiment under my command under the following circumstances:

Shortly after the opening of the action on the morning of July 1, the regiment was, by command of Major-General Doubleday, detached from the brigade, and ordered to the support of the right of the line of the division, which was being forced back and outflanked by the enemy. I moved as rapidly as possible on the advancing lines of the enemy, joining with the Ninety-fifth New York and Fourteenth Brooklyn on my left. A brisk fire was opened throughout the line, which soon checked the enemy and forced him to take refuge in a railroad cut. I ordered a charge upon the cut. The men moved forward, well closed and upon a run. When our line reached the edge of the cut, the rebels ceased firing and threw down their arms. At my demand. Major [J. A.] Blair, commanding the regiment in my front, the Second Mississippi, surrendered his sword and regiment.

The battle-flag was taken before the surrender by Corpl. F. Asbury Waller, of Company I, and sent to the rear in charge of Sergt. William Evans, of Company H, who was badly wounded. The sergeant was taken prisoner by the enemy and held for two days in Gettysburg; but with the assistance of some ladies of the city, whose names I have not learned, he successfully concealed the colors, and, finally, when the enemy retired, brought it safely to the regiment.

R. R. DAWES, Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers.


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