The 24th Michigan Infantry Unit was an integral part of the Union victory at Gettysburg. Along with other Iron Brigade units the 24th helped stopped an advance by Confederate General Archer as well as capturing General Archer. Without the defensive effort provided by the 24th, the Battle of Gettysburg may have gone down as a Confederate Victory.
The 24th Michigan Infantry Unit was brought together in Detroit in the summer of 1862 and joined the existing Iron Brigade (consisting of units from Wisconsin and Indiana) on October 8, 1862. The name “Iron Brigade” was bestowed upon these Midwestern units by General McClellan who pointed out that these units, “were like iron,” at the Battle of South Mountain. The unit was under the command of Colonel Henry Morrow who served in the Mexican War and was a judge between wars. Prior to the 24th joining, the Iron Brigade was severely weakened after battles at Antietam and Brawner’s farm and numbered less than 1000 men. The brigade commander John Gibbon requested reinforcements preferably from a Western state, in return he received exactly what he wanted with Michigan’s 24th Infantry Unit. The formation of the 24th was conducted by the governor of Michigan at the time. Governor Blair initially called for six regiments to be formed, one from each congressional district. However, due to a strong anti-war rally in Detroit, only one large regiment would be formed. This regiment would be comprised of entirely pro-war men and experienced veterans who were chomping at the bit to defeat the Confederacy. It must be emphasized that these men did not receive any sort of compensation for their combat duty, they were strictly a volunteer regiment. The age gap of the 24th was large with the youngest member, Willie Young, serving as a drummer at the age of thirteen. The oldest member of the 24th claimed to be 44 however, upon his death it was discovered that he was actually 70 and had died his hair to appear younger and be able to serve. This age gap would prove advantageous as experienced men would serve as drill sergeants in training, showing men new to war how to be effective soldiers, those with experience would also often serve as officers in battle. The regiment would also serve inadvertently as a sort of recruiting method as a large number of men who witnessed the training of the 24th would go on to enlist. The 24th was comprised of over 1000 men divided amongst 10 divisions. This would be the largest the 24th would be in terms of manpower, as the North had a policy of creating new divisions instead of reinforcing existing ones with new soldiers. The Confederacy would adopt the opposite policy of reinforcing existing divisions. This would prove advantageous as new soldiers would fight alongside veterans and learn how to be more effective in battle. The 24th would be led by experienced commanders however and this would be useful in mobilizing the regiment as there would be no question of ranks which would allow the unit to move to combat sooner. By the time the 24th had finished training and was preparing for real war they began to look more like a regular army as opposed to a volunteer force. On August 29, 1862, the 24th Michigan Infantry was finally called in and began the journey to become heroes in battle. The Iron Brigade’s uniform differentiated from the traditional uniform dawning a black Hardee hat, this earned them the nickname, “the black hats”. The rest of the ensemble was much more dressed up than other Civil War fighters, as the Iron Brigade soldiers wore white gloves, white leggings, and different jackets. The other regiments of the Iron Brigade had already seen battle and the 24th still had to earn the right to adorn the same uniform as well as earn their respect. However, thanks to the 24th’s efforts, the Iron Brigade was an integral part of the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 24th Michigan Infantry Unit was comprised of solely Michigan volunteers. Most men of the 24th were from Wayne county as well as surrounding counties. These men fought with honor for the Iron Brigade sharing pride with their Midwestern brethren. Prior to fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg the regiment had only seen action at Fredericksburg and Port Royal. During the battle at Port Royal, the 24th was able to capture several prisoners and push the Confederate forces back. But the true story of the legacy of the 24th Infantry Regiment was written on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The 24th was in reserve prior to the skirmishes that took place before the true Battle at Gettysburg. Under the command of Major General Reynolds they were soon rushed to reinforce Captain John Buford’s cavalry unit on the Cashtown road. Buford’s forces were holding back Confederate General Henry Heth’s units, but were outnumbered. The Iron Brigade reached McPherson’s Ridge just east of where the Confederate units were located. As they came over the ridge, they were only roughly 40 yards from Confederate General James Archer’s brigade. As a firefight began the Union forces realized they were outnumbered, in a quick move the 24th performed a Jominian shift and moved to the left of the Confederates. The fighting was brutal, as the gap between the lines shrunk hand to hand combat ensued. However, due to the element of surprise the Iron Brigade was able to push the Confederates back as well as capturing their leader General Archer. During the same battle Major General Reynolds would be killed by a sniper with General Morrow taking his place as acting commander of the Iron Brigade. The Union now controlled the area known as McPherson’s Woods and would defend it from incoming Confederate advances. This skirmish would mark the beginning of infantry fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg. Now in a defensive form, the 24th was located in the center with one unit to their left and two to their right. The Iron Brigade knew the importance their position had and knew it must be held long enough or else the entire Army of the Potomac could be defeated. At approximately 3pm the Confederate onslaught began across the field in front of the Iron Brigade. Union General Meredith was injured very early in the attack and was carried from the field with Colonel Robinson taking place as acting leader of the Union forces. Soon the Nineteenth Indiana, the one unit located to the 24th’s left, began taking fire from their exposed left flank causing them to readjust, this caused the 24th to be in the middle of a crossfire. The Union was finally overrun by an overpowering Confederate force with the 24th being the last unit to retreat to the other side of McPherson Woods. Once the Iron Brigade had reached the East side of McPherson Woods they quickly were met by the rebels again. After hours of holding this new line the Union was once again overrun causing them to retreat further back. The remaining Iron Brigade fighters retreated to a ravine further East. At this third position the remainder of the field officers except Colonel Morrow would either be wounded or dead. Almost 75% of the 24th was dead or wounded at this point, the 24th would sustain one of the highest casualty rates of any unit at Gettysburg. The Iron Brigade made a request to retreat to Cemetery Hill, but it would be denied as the Union was still reinforcing the location and needed more time. As the Confederates received fresh battalions the Iron Brigade was forced to retreat to an open field west of the Lutheran Theological Seminary. This position would not be held long as once again the Iron Brigade was overrun by the rebels causing them again to retreat further east. The 24th being low on ammo after fighting the Confederates for hours began stripping ammo off of the deceased. The 24th had enough munitions and spirit to mount one last defense before being forced to retreat to Cemetery Hill whether or not their allies were ready. The last rally point was just in front of the Seminary. The Confederates began storming the field in front of them from the west and the north. The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was the first true combat the 24th had seen as a member of the Iron Brigade but their unhindered courage showed the rest of the units the ferocity they fought with. At this last position Colonel Morrow would be hit in the head and then dragged from the battlefield. Among other field officers only one captain and two lieutenants remained after the mighty defensives posted by the Iron Brigade. The Iron Brigade was beginning to be overrun when friendly artillery began firing on the incoming Confederate forces. Finally, orders came to fall back to Cemetery Hill, the Iron Brigade had bought the Union enough time to reinforce the hill. The Iron Brigade continued to hold the position as long as they could until eventually both of their flanks collapsed and they were forced to fall back towards Gettysburg. Amidst the retreat, Buford’s cavalry which had been saved by the Iron Brigade earlier in the day helped to keep the Confederates back as the foot soldiers continued their retreat. As the Iron Brigade proceeded through Gettysburg they were met by Confederate soldiers from the north chasing the eleventh corps who had been forced to retreat to the town. While in Gettysburg Colonel Morrow received aid from a local and was soon captured by the Confederates. Later in the day Morrow would write his post combat report illustrating his view of the days activities. In his report he would recognize the gallantry his soldiers had shown throughout the entire Confederate onslaught. He also pointed out how under his orders the Iron Brigade would wait until the enemy was within close range to open fire. This was done in an attempt to save ammo as well as causing the enemy to continuously search for cover once they had reached an open area. In his report he also points out the number of men who were killed while carrying the company colors. While Colonel Morrow was on the battlefield he lost five men who were bearing the company flag. Throughout the remainder of the day ten total men would carry the company colors with five of them dying and two of them being removed from the field due to their wounds. Whenever one man would fall carrying the Iron Brigade flag another would undoubtedly grab the staff and hold the flag high until his probable death. Finally, the 24th reached Cemetery Hill on the other side of the town, once reaching the position the reinforcements on the hill looked in awe at the remnants of the 24th. The front the Iron Brigade fought on was some of the bloodiest at Gettysburg, with the 24th suffering an 80% casualty rate, as well as the 2nd Wisconsin suffering a 77% casualty rate. The 26th entered battle with 800 men and ended the day with a mere 92 soldiers, sustaining an 88.5% casualty rate, the highest of any at the Battle of Gettysburg. The only regiments that sustained a higher casualty rate were the allied 1st Minnesota regiment and the unit opposing the Iron Brigade, the 26th North Carolina. No man from the highly diminished 26th North Carolina reported for duty again after the severe losses on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. In falling back to Cemetery Hill the Iron Brigade made 6 separate stands in an attempt to stop the enemy advance. Once the 24th had reached Cemetery Hill only 99 of the 496 men who had started the day remained. Upon reaching Cemetery Hill the 24th was put under the command of General Hancock who deemed the current location to be ideal for a successful defense. From here the 24th was ordered to support artillery batteries on Culp’s Hill. The 24th would spend the remainder of the Battle of Gettysburg here supporting the artillery batteries that were aimed to fire on the west side of Gettysburg. The Iron Brigade’s courage and skill in battle earned them a compliment from the Confederate General who opposed them, A.P. Hill was quoted saying, “I never knew troops to fight better than those who opposed me today.” Meanwhile a newspaper pointed out the effectiveness of the Iron Brigade, specifically the 24th,
“It was to the Iron Brigade more than any other that the nation owes its salvation at Gettysburg and we say not more than history will verify, that of all the heroic regiments the Twenty-fourth Michigan stands preeminent for its devotion and valor. Against the overwhelming hordes of the enemy, it stood for hours, a wall of granite, which beat back, again and again, the resolute but baffled foe.”
In later years historians would argue that Pickett’s charge on the third day of Gettysburg was the deciding feature of the Union victory at Gettysburg. However, upon closer examination it can be seen that the Iron Brigade’s struggle on the first day was the greatest. An authority on the regimental losses at Gettysburg states, “This Corps did some of the best fighting of the war. It fought that day with no other protection than the flannel blouses that covered their stout hearts.” The Battle of Gettysburg was one the most deadliest of the the 19th century, the only single battle that comes close was the Battle of Waterloo. A close comparison can also be drawn between the two battles in terms of casualties with roughly 50000 in each conflict.
The 24th Michigan Infantry Unit was assembled on August 15, 1862. On December 13th, 1862, the 24th would fight their second battle at Fredericksburg. It was here that they would begin earning the respect of their Iron Brigade brethren after attacking a Confederate artillery battery firing on the Iron Brigade’s position. On April 28th, 1863 the 24th helped with the Fitzhugh’s crosing of the Rappahannock river. The 24th was not part of the crossing, however they held a position to defend the crossing. After this they fought at Gettysburg. After experiencing high losses at the Battle of Gettysburg the 24th would return to the helping the Rappahannock river chasing fleeing Confederate forces. The regiment would soon take part in the Battle of the Wilderness suffering close to 100 casualties. With limited numbers remaining the 24th considered to be a successful force among Union divisions moved to Petersburg. Going into Petersburg with 120 soldiers and ending that campaign with 82 troops remaining. The 24th fought hard to defend Petersburg from the Confederate attack. With most casualties being chalked up to enemy artillery and snipers. The last battle the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment would fight would come at the battle of Dabney’s Mills. After this confrontation the unit would be sent to different areas to serve as guards at miscellaneous cities and forts. They were also honored with the deed of escorting President Lincoln’s funeral procession in Illinois. On June 30, 1865 the regiment was removed from Federal Service.
1.Mark. “The 24th Michigan Infantry at Gettysburg” (2013)
2.Smith, Donald “The Twenty-Fourth Michigan” (1962) Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
3.Curtis, O.B. “History of the Twenty-Forth Michigan of the Iron Brigade, known as the Detroit and Wayne County regiment” (1891) Detroit, Michigan
4.Plymouth Historical Museum Brief History of Company C, 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment (n.d.)
5.Roscoe, Andrew History of the 24th Michigan Infantry. (2016)
6.Harvey, Don & Lois 24th Regiment Michigan Volunteer Infantry (n.d.)
7.Hawks, Steve Official Report for the 24th Michigan (2019)