Reflections on July 1st, 2013 and the “Last March of the Iron Brigade” – One Year Later
by Phil Spaugy
The post below was first published on my Facebook page on July 2nd, 2013. Even after the passage of a year, the memories of this day still stir very strong emotions in me.
After a good night’s rest I want to share with you some of my thoughts and emotions of the events of July 1st.
Accompanied by our good friend Frank Mittler III, my wife Amy and I started the day by traveling west of Gettysburg to participate in the First Shot commemoration event that had been organized by renown authors J David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley. Amazingly the weather was much like it was July 1st 1863, overcast with drizzle warm and humid. JD’s descriptions of the events of the morning of July 1st were concise and well delivered. It was a great start to what would be a memorable day.
Amy then dropped Frank and I off at the Codori Farm so we could participate in the NPS “Last March of the Iron Brigade” event. The purpose of this event would be to retrace the two plus mile march of the brigade from the Emmitsburg Road to McPhersons Ridge, where the Iron Brigade went into battle. Headed by Gettysburg NPS historians Scott Hartwig, and Dan Welch the march was to be lead by one of the premier living history groups in existence today, the Liberty Rifles, dressed and accoutered as a full company of the 2nd Wisconsin. My plan was to be in uniform with my haversack and canteen and to simply fall in behind the Liberty Rifles and carry the regimental color of the 19th on the march, once we reached McPhersons Ridge to honor the brave men of the 19th and the Iron Brigade by pulling the shuck of the colors much like Abe Buckles did 150 years ago to the day.
After we are dropped off, I was approached by 2 young men in uniform with “19’s” on their Hardee hats. They introduced themselves as Jeremy Brandt and Dale Zartman and asked if the shucked colors I was carrying were of the 19th, I said yes they were the regimental and that I also had the National color in the car. They said they would be honored to help carry the colors, so I called Amy, she turned the car around and dropped of the National and we were set. Soon we were joined by 2 other living historians whose names I have regrettably forgotten, however one of them was a young man who had traveled from Australia for the BGA reenactment and this event.
As we waited to start, the crowd continued to gather and as the numbers swelled to more than 500 we were all amazed and knew that this was going to be something very special.
Now I must mention something. I am not a living historian, nor re-enactor. As a member of the North South Skirmish Association for the past 35 years, I participate in live fire events with Civil War firearms, an activity I dearly love. N-SSA members as a whole don’t march too much or for that matter very well, and like me tend to be older [ I am 59] and like me are not to be in the best of physical condition. When we shoot in our skirmishes oft times we don’t wear our wool uniform blouses, just our period shirts. So here I am little old, a bit overweight and not in shape getting ready to march with some of the finest equipped, very fit men I could ever image ! Did I feel a bit out of place? You bet. Was I glad I was with going on the march with these boys? Why hell yes!
We formed up and stepped off and just like 150 years ago, the fifes and drums started playing “The Campbells Are Coming” as we started across the fields, followed by the growing crowd of more than 800 people. Pretty soon we fell into route step and the clock started turning back to 1863. At intervals we would halt, while Scott and Dan would speak on the Iron Brigade and what was happening 150 years ago. In the distance we could hear the thumping of artillery as there were artillery demos going on in different areas of the park….and time kept going spinning backwards.
During these halts, the boys shared their hardtack and parched corn with me, pipes would be lit, and talk would begin about how damn lucky we were to be doing this event to honor the Brigade.
When we arrived in the swale between Seminary and McPhersons Ridge we halted and our captain told us that we would move into line of battle and double quick to the top of the ridge. I had not planned on having to run, but as the 2nd shook itself out into line of battle, our little color guard moved to the left, I turned to my young Australian friend and yelled as loud as I could, ” Abe, pull the shuck” and with great style and grace he did and the colors of the 19th once again flew on the field of Gettysburg.
Now came the order to charge…..and to be honest, it was hard to run with my eyes tearing up and my 59 year old legs tiring quickly so I stumbled a bit, but with the help of my new pards we made it to the top of the ridge….to the cheers and applause of the hundreds of people gathered there.
After we got to the top of the ridge, we were simply mobbed by people who want to see and touch the colors or have their photo taken with them. Many of these people had ancestors who had fought and in some cases died in during the action of July 1st and we along with the colors were a very tangible connection for them of their family’s sacrifice. They thanked us over and over, but in turned we thanked them for being there to honor the men who had sacrificed so much for what they believed in.
After as the crowd started to thin…our little color guard moved down to the 19ths monument to render honors to the regiment, and once again people flocked to the colors to pay their respect. We then returned back to the top of the ridge to rest and reflect a bit. Then a most amazing thing happened. My new pards asked me to lead them to the Reynolds monument to render honors. I explained to them that my grasp of the correct commands was shaky at best, but they helped me through it and it was yet another very memorable event in a day full of great events and memories.
We then carried the colors back to the final position of the 19th on Seminary Ridge, and paused a bit to reflect. My pards wanted me to accompany them as they retraced the retreat through town to Cemetery Hill and then to the Iron Brigades final position on Culps Hill, but I declined. I was done. Physically and emotional drained. And I don’t think I have ever felt so good in my life !
So there you have it. The best of days, one where I met new “Pards” who are some of the finest most dedicated living historians one could hope to know, we drank from canteens and ate hardtack on the march, smoked pipes during the halts in the advance and heard the distant booming of artillery as we made our hurried march, I held our colors as they were un-shucked and saw them unfurl into the gentle breeze as we advanced up McPhersons Ridge. I had the great honor of meeting descendants of the men of the Iron Brigade and watched the expressions on their faces as our presence and even more so the colors of the 19th helped them connect over 150 years with their ancestors.
I would like to think that as they looked down on us, those “Boys of 61” who wore the Black Hats of the Iron Brigade of the West were proud of what we did on our march and that we honor their memory so. And I hope they noticed throngs of cheering people of the ridge, who traveled from every part of the world to honor their great sacrifice and know that those Boys of ’61 who wore the “Tall Black Hats” are not nor never will be forgotten.
Yes my friends, it was a good day….a very good day.
Follow the link below for the National Park Service video of this event: