Iron Brigade / 6th Wisconsin
Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes was an officer in the Union army during the American Civil War. He led the 6th Wisconsin Regiment as part of the famed Iron Brigade. It was made up of 420 volunteers from the western frontier, one of the toughest regiments in the Union army. The brigade developed a reputation as a fearsome fighting force and performed admirably at many battles including the bloody Battle of Antietam.
Dawes had heroism in his blood as his great-grandfather was William Dawes, the man who rode with Paul Revere to warn the patriots about the arrival of the British prior to the American Revolution.
On July 1 during the Battle of Gettysburg, he led a counterattack against Confederate troops from Mississippi under General Joseph R. Davis. Dawes and the 6th Wisconsin led a relentless assault even though they were outnumbered 2-1. He trapped many Confederates in a railroad cut just west of town and fought until many lay dead or wounded. Close to 200 Confederate troops were captured - one of the few successes of the Union army on Gettysburg day 1.
The 6th Wisconsin lost roughly half of their men in the assault and were positioned on the Union right flank the following day. There they built breastworks and awaited the Confederate assault they knew would be coming.
Late in the day on July 2 after a fierce attack by the Confederates on Culp’s Hill, the Union troops organized a counterattack on the lower breastworks that had been captured. Dawes and the 6th Wisconsin along with the 84th & 137th New York, charged down the hill and attacked the Confederates “who were completely surprised at our sudden arrival, rose up and fired a volley at us, and immediately retreated down the hill,” recalled Rufus after the battle.
Rufus Dawes would survive the battle and the war and went on to become a Congressman, author and businessman. He raised 4 sons who all achieved prominence including Charles W. Dawes who served as Vice President under Calvin Coolidge from 1925-1929. He was always at the center of controversy as he and Coolidge did not get along and his fiery oratories directed at other heads of government cost him popularity.
Dawes will always be remembered for his bravery and leadership in battle and proved to be one of the most successful commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Rufus Dawes Gettysburg battle report
The 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 help buy the Union army time on the critical fight on day 1.
Read his Gettysburg battle report here
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