“We struck them hard, Iron Brigade fashion.” Color Sergeant Abram J. Buckles at the Wilderness
by Phil Spaugy
By the time the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan on May 4, 1864, Sergeant Abram J. Buckles of Company E, 19th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry (one of regiments of the famed Iron Brigade of the West) was a hardened combat veteran of three years of some of the most intense fighting ever witnessed in the American Civil War. Wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Groveton in late August 1862, and yet again in the shoulder while bearing the regimental colors on of July 1st during the fighting west of Gettysburg, “Abe” as he was known to his pards in the 19th Indiana certainly had a compete understanding of the terror and horror of combat. Regardless of this realization, Abe soldiered on, exposing himself even further by volunteering to be one of the members of the color guard of his regiment.
One hundred and fifty years ago yesterday, while performing his duties as color sergeant of the 19th Indiana, Abram J. Buckles was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The following, as related in the book “Deeds of Valor” is his account of this action:
ABRAM J. BUCKLES was a sergeant in Company E, Nineteenth Indiana Volunteers, which, with the Twenty-fourth Michigan, the Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin, formed the Iron Brigade, so-called, an organization composed of young farmers, lumbermen and sailors. A sturdier lot of soldiers it was impossible to find in the Union Army. This brigade was engaged in the battle of the Wilderness, where it sustained its enviable reputation. The Nineteenth Indiana especially gave a good account of itself, and one of its members, the aforementioned Sergeant Buckles, became a Medal of Honor hero on that memorable occasion. Though wounded in the shoulder at Gettysburg, he remained in active service. As to the fighting at the battle of the Wilderness and the incident which links his name to the struggle, Sergeant Buckles says:
“My regiment was on the first line, and, after executing some hurried movements on the morning of May 5th, was finally drawn in line of battle on the edge of the great wilderness. We were on the first line and were among the first engaged. Expecting an attack momentarily, we had thrown up a formidable line of breastworks, and the exertions thus made had started some loose bones in my shoulder. I sat down, stripped my clothes back and with a small pair of pincers I carried I pulled the fragments of bone out. Just then we got the order to advance and away we went down into the dense woods, and almost immediately striking the enemy’s line of battle, we struck them hard, Iron Brigade fashion, and drove them back until we reached a cleared place, where our line stopped to reform. Meanwhile the Johnnies crossed the clearing and posted themselves in a dense thicket. Up to this time I had been unable; because of the bushes and trees, to unfurl my colors, but on coming into the clearing I loosened its folds and shook the regiment’s flag free to the breeze. From their covered position the enemy had begun to pour a withering fire into us, comrades were dropping at every hand and delay was fatal, while retreat was never dreamed of. The only possible safety lay in a charge, and believing that a short, quick rush with such a line as we had, a heavy one, would force the Confederates to fly, I ran to the front. Waving the flag above my head, I called on the boys to follow. To a man they responded, and together we dashed toward the troublesome thicket. We were going in fine style when I was struck, shot through the body. I fell, but managed to keep the flag up until little John Divelbus, one of the color-guard and as brave a man as ever lived, took it out of my hands, to be killed a few minutes later. I believed I had received my death blow, but I realize now that instead I won the Medal of Honor.”
Like many Civil War Medal of Honor winners, Abram would not be issued his medal until December 4, 1893. The accompanying citation simply stated: “Though suffering from an open wound, carried the regimental colors until again wounded.”
Even though the 19th Indiana failed to “veteranize” in the fall of 1864, Abe did sign up for three more years and received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 20th Indiana Volunteer Infantry regiment.
On March 25, 1865, while serving on the skirmish line near Petersburg, Virginia, Abe Buckles received his fourth and final wound of the war, this time a severe wound to his right leg which necessitated the amputation of that limb.
For Abe, the war was finally over.
Aged well beyond his 19 years, Abe was discharged due to his wounds on May 15, 1865. Undaunted by his maimed body (the wound suffered at the Wilderness while carrying the colors would not heal completely until the early 1870’s), he showed the same resolute courage demonstrated while carrying the 19th’s colors through many a battle. Abe returned home to Muncie, Indiana, and by December of 1865 he had married Miss Louisa Conn, and soon after obtained a teaching certificate and began teaching school. By 1875, he had entered the legal profession, and like many veterans of the war moved west to explore new the opportunities. He settled in Solano County, California where he would become both a respected jurist and esteemed member of the community. Abram was an active member of the Solomon Meredith G.A.R Post 176 in Fairfield, California, which was named after the former colonel of the 19th Indiana and the commander of the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg. He attended many of the G.A.R reunions and encampments not only on the West Coast, but several times making the long trip back east for the gathering of the “Old” 19th regiment and the Iron Brigade. He also served as commander of the California Division of the G.A.R..
This gallant old soldier, Medal of Honor recipient, and color bearer of the 19th Indiana passed away at the age of 68 on January 15, 1915 and is buried in Suisun-Fairfield Cemetery in Solano County, California.