The date was March 4th, 1861 and Lincoln had just taken office when the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter. From this point on we were no longer a unified country, but a country divided by interests. Many men from Michigan were just itching to get into the heap of battle and finally make our country whole again. By September 1861, a total of 761 officers and enlisted men formed together to create a hardy and courageous group of men. (Turner, 1905) The 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
The 16th Michigan Volunteers was mustered on September 8th, 1861 under the command of Colonel Thomas B.W. Stockton. The governor of Michigan at the time did not give permission to create this regiment, so Colonel Stockton received it straight from the War Department. The urge to join the war was too much for Colonel Stockton to let the governor stop him. He received no state funding and the regiment was initially given no numeric designation from the state, hence the nickname “Stockton’s Independent Regiment.” (Civil War in the East, 2017) By late September they were attached to Fitz-John Porter’s Division, under the 3rd brigade. (Harvey, 2017) The original field grade officers were Colonel Stockton, Lieutenant Colonel John Reuhle and Major Norval Welch. (Turner, 1905) Major Welch would later become an important part of their regiment. The line officers were a total of 33, 11 Captains, 11 First Lieutenants, and 11 Second Lieutenants. Over the course of the war they would lose men and have to recruit more.
Battling for a Unified Nation
They took part in the peninsular campaign under the command General McClellan. The first battle they saw was the Siege of Yorktown on April 5th, 1862, but they saw no casualties. Their first battle where they saw casualties was the Battle of Gaines Mill, where they saw a total of 165 casualties and 56 captured, including Colonel Stockton. (Civil War in the East, 2017) He would not return to them until September 1862, but would take command of the 3rd brigade, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Norval Welch in command of the regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Welch would stay in command until his death on September 30th 1864. (Jernigan, 2017)
The battle of Gaines Hill would be the most casualty-inducing battle of the war for them, but not the most important. Other significant battles they were a part of were the Battle of Malvern Hill, the Second Battle of Bull Run; where they suffered 96 casualties, the battle of Antietam; ironically they suffered no casualties here because they were put into a supporting position (Turner, 1905), the Battle of Fredricksburg, the battle of Middleburg and Upperville, the battle of Gettysburg, the battle of the wilderness, the siege of Petersburg, and the battle at Appomattox court house. (Turner, 1905) They were a part of many other engagements, but these are the significant one’s in their timeline. The 16th Michigan saw most of the biggest battles of the Civil War, but they played the most crucial role in the battle of Gettysburg; where they made their mark on history.
On the day of July 2nd, 1863, the 16th Michigan arrived at Gettysburg with only 3 hours of sleep under their belt. (Graham, 1863) Most men at the time didn’t get more sleep than that. The 3rd brigade was under the command of Colonel Strong Vincent, while the 16th Michigan was commanded by now Colonel Norval Welch. Colonel Strong Vincent was ordered to hold the top of Little Round Top by his superiors as that spot was vital for artillery fire down into the valley at the bottom of little round top. If the Union could hold that hill, they would be able to stop any incoming confederates marching thought the valley from the south. Little Round top and Big Round Top were on the southernmost flank of the union, so they had to hold that spot in order to protect the rest of their forces. Colonel Vincent had orders to “sacrifice every man of the Third Brigade” (Graham, 1863) to hold Little Round Top. Strong Vincent’s brigade consisted of 4 regiments, the 20th Maine, 83rd Pennsylvania, 44th New York, and the 16th Michigan. 1 extra regiment was attached to him, the 140th New York, for a total of 5 regiments fighting for Little Round top. (Civil War Trust, 2009) At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg the 16th Michigan had detached two companies to Big round top, leaving them 150 men to help defend their section of little round top. (Congress, 1889) They had less than half the men of a regular regiment, which was an average of 380. They would be outnumbered in any engagement. The 16th Michigan was tasked with defending the right flank of 3rd Brigade. The Fifth U.S. Artillery, “Hazlett’s Battery,” was strategically paced to the right of the 3rd brigade to fire down upon the confederates, particularly Confederate General Hood’s Division. Once the Third Brigade was put into position, First Lieutenant Graham of the 16th Michigan stated,
“Hood’s men could be seen coming up the side of Round Top from the valley of Plum Creek” (Graham, 10)
After the Confederates were repulsed multiple times from their left and center attacks, General Hood sent the 4th and 5th Texas, along with the 48th Alabama to attack the right flank. (Norton, 1901) They had to climb up through rocky terrain and crevices to get to the top, but they were able to get to a fighting position on the Unions right flank. The 16th Michigan was positioned just 60 feet from the top of the rocky cliff and began to take fire. They were gravely outnumbered. The fighting quickly turned into bayonets and musket clubbing.
“An almost hand-to-hand conflict raged for fully half an hour, when the Texans sought shelter behind the big boulder at the base of the mountain.” (Graham, 1863)
The 16th Michigan started to suffer many casualties and reinforcements were nowhere to be seen. Colonel Vincent attempted to rally the 16th Michigan by climbing on top of a rock and yelling “don’t give and inch!”, but was shot and fell, which became a mortal wound. (Norton, 1901) Just as the 16th Michigan began to succumb to the Enemy’s forces, the 140th New York came in to reinforce and fought off the confederates to hold Little Round Top.
“Again they charged, but by this time General Warren had brought up the 140th New York under Colonel O’Rorke of the Third Brigade of the second Division, Fifth Corps. It was comparatively a new regiment and strong in numbers. They came at an opportune time and hurled themselves against the enemy, losing in killed and wounded over a hundred men in the first ten minutes.” (Graham, 1863)
After the 140th New York supported the 16th Michigan in repulsing General Hood’s troops, there were 2 more attacks. Both of them unsuccessful. The day after they were relieved by the second division in their corp and moved to defend an area half a mile up cemetery ridge. There, the 5th Corps saw little to no fighting, but artillery shells were frequent. (Graham, 1863) Total casualties for the Third brigade was 491 officers and men, among those were Colonel Vincent, First Lieutenant Hazlett, and Colonel O’Rorke. As for the 16th Michigan, they suffered 60 casualties during the fight of Little Round top. (Graham, 1863)
A monument now stands in commemoration of the gallant fighting of the 16th Michigan that took place upon Little Round top. It says, “SIXTEENTH INFANTRY. 3RD BRIG., 1ST DIV. 5TH CORPS.” On it has a rifle below the Maltese Cross Symbol of the Fifth Corps. The Michigan State Seal is carved onto a bronze tablet on the front.
2 Graham, Ziba B. On to Gettysburg, ten days from my diary of 1863, a paper read before the commandery of the State or Michigan, Military order of the loyal legion of the U. S., by Ziba B. Graham, late 1st Lieut. 16th regt. Mich. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. War papers Michigan commandery. Vol. 1, no. 23.
3 United States, Congress, United States War Dept. “The war of the rebellion, a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.” The war of the rebellion, a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, 1st ed., vol. 27, ser. 1, GPO, 1889. 1.
4 Turner, G. H. (1905). Record of service of Michigan volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865; record of the Sixteenth Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Vol. 16). Kalamazoo: Ihling Bros. and Everard.