A Buckeye “Black Hats” Birthday – July 4th, 1863

by Phil Spaugy

The following letter from Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes of the Iron Brigade’s Sixth  Wisconsin Infantry was written to his  fiance, Mary Beman Gates, on his 25th birthday, July 4th, 1863. Dawes the great grandson of William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere on the night of April 18th, 1776 and was born on July 4th, 1838 in Marietta, Ohio.

JULY 4th, 6 P. M.

What a solemn birthday. My little band, now only two hundred men, have all been out burying the bloody corpses of friend and foe. No fighting to-day. Both armies need rest from the exhaustion of the desperate struggle. My boys until just now have had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. No regiment in this army or in any other army in the world ever did better service than ours. We were detached from the brigade early on the first day and we operated as an independent command. I saved my men all I could and we suffered terribly to be sure, but less than any other regiment in the brigade. We captured a regiment. I don’t know as we will get our just credit before the country, but we have it with our Generals.”
I went in person taking the captured battle flag to General Meade, at headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. The object of this visit was to obtain, if possible, permission to send the battle flag to the Governor of Wisconsin to be retained at the capitol of Wisconsin as a trophy. In this effort I was unsuccessful, and I brought the flag back. As I passed along from General Meade’s headquarters to Culps’ Hill, carrying the rebel battle flag loosely folded over my arm, I took my course over the ground where General Pickett made his charge. Many wounded Confederate soldiers were still lying on this ground. A badly wounded Confederate sergeant who had lain upon the ground during the night, called to me in a faint voice: “You have got our flag!” It was a sergeant of the second Mississippi regiment. The men of this regiment who had escaped from the railroad cut and other casualties on July first, had taken part in this attack. This man informed me that the commander of his regiment at the time of its surrender was Major John A. Blair, and he gave me many particulars in regard to the history of the regiment. No introductions took place at ‘the railroad cut. I do not know whether this sergeant survived his wound. I did all in my power to secure for him aid and attention.

The Iron Brigades position on the northern face of Culps Hill. It was near here that Lt. Colonel Dawes wrote his letter.

The Iron Brigades position from the evening on July 1st until July 5th, 1863 was on the northern face of Culps Hill. The 6th Wisconsin was in line near the top of this image. It was near here that Lt. Colonel Dawes wrote his letter.

Source – Service with the Sixth Wisconsin by Rufus Dawes.