Organized at Camp Randall, Madison, Wis., and mustered in July 16, 1861. Left State for Washington, D.C., July 28. At Harrisburg, Pa., till August 3, then moved to Washington. Attached to King's Brigade, McDowell's Division, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1862. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to April, 1862. 3rd Brigade, King's Division, Dept. of the Rappahannock, to June, 1862. 4th Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Army Corps, Army of Virginia, to September, 1862. 4th Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to June, 1863. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Army Corps, to March, 1864. 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 5th Army Corps, to August, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps, to September, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps, to July, 1865.
SERVICE.- Camp on Meridian Hill and duty in the Defenses of Washington, D.C., till March, 1862. Advance on Manassas, Va., March 10-16. Advance to Falmouth April 9-19. Duty at Falmouth and Fredericksburg till August. McDowell's advance on Richmond March 25-29. Operations against Jackson June 2-11. Reconnoissance to Orange Court House July 24-27. Reconnoissance to Frederick's Hall Station and Spottsylvania Court House August 5-8. Thornburg's Mills (or Massaponax Church) August 5-6. Battle of Cedar Mountain August 9. Pope's Campaign in Northern Virginia August 16-September 2. Fords of the Rappahannock August 21-23. Action at Gainesville August 28. Battles of Groveton August 29; Bull Run August 30; Chantilly September 1 (Reserve). Maryland Campaign September 6-22. Battle of South Mountain, Md., September 14; Antietam September 16-17. At Sharpsburg till October 30. Advance to Falmouth, Va., October 30- November 22. Battle of Fredericksburg December 12-15. "Mud March" January 20-24, 1863. At Belle Plain till April 27. Expedition to Heathville February 12-14. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Operations at Pollock's Mill Creek April 29- May 2. Fitzhugh's Crossing April 29-30. Battle of Chancellorsville May 2-5. Gettysburg, (Pa.) Campaign June 11- July 24. Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3. Pursuit of Lee to Manassas Gap, Va., July 5-24. Duty on line of the Rappahannock and Rapidan till October. Bristoe Campaign October 9-22. Haymarket October 19. Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8. Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2. Campaign from the Rapidan to the James River May 4-June 15, 1864. Battles of the Wilderness May 5-7; Laurel Hill May 8; Spottsylvania May 8-12; Spottsylvania Court House May 12-21. Assault on the Salient, "Bloody Angle," May 12. North Anna River May 23-26. Jericho Ford May 23. On the line of the Totopotomy May 28-31. Cold Harbor June 1-12. Bethesda Church June 1-3. Before Petersburg June 16-18. Siege of Petersburg June 16, 1864 to April 2, 1865. Weldon Railroad August 18-21, 1864. Boydton Road, Hatcher's Run, October 27-28. Dabney's Mills, Hatcher's Run February 5-7, 1865. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Lewis Farm, near Gravelly Run, March 29. Boydton and White Oak Roads March 30-31. Five Forks April 1. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. March to Washington, D.C., May. Grand Review May 23. Moved to Louisville, Ky., June 17. Mustered out July 2, 1865.
Notes.-The regiment left Wisconsin July 28, 1861, proceeding to Washington, where it was assigned to the brigade which was destined to fill such a glorious place in the annals of the war. The Sixth had the advantage of a year's drill and discipline before it was called upon to face the enemy in a general engagement, its first battle occurring at Manassas- August 28th and 30th- where it lost 17 killed, 91 wounded, and 11 missing. The regiment lost at South Mountain, 11 killed, 79 wounded, and 2 missing; and at Antietam, three days after, 26 killed and 126 wounded. Under command of Colonel Dawes, it won merited distinction at Gettysburg in the battle of the first day; all histories of that field mention the manoevre-and the part taken in it by the Sixth- by which a part of a Confederate brigade was captured in the railroad cut. The Casualties at Gettysburg were 30 killed, 116 wounded, and 22 missing. Upon the reorganization of the Army in March, 1864, Wadsworth's Division was transferred to the Fifth Corps, and with it the Iron Brigade under General Cutler. The regiment lost at the battle of the Wilderness, 8 killed, 40 wounded, and 15 missing; at Spotsylvania, 10 killed, 68 wounded, and 5 missing; at Hatcher's Run (Dabney's Mills), 13 killed, 81 wounded, and 7 missing; at Gravelly Run, 5 killed, 34 wounded, and 32 missing. Major Phillip W. Plummer was killed at the Wilderness.
History of the Regiment.
Formation of the Lemonweir Minute Men.
The crash of Confederate cannon against Fort Sumter on August 12th, 1861 causes President Abraham Lincoln to call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the southern rebellion. At this time, Rufus Dawes of Marietta, Ohio is visiting his father in Juneau County, Wisconsin. Inspired by patriotic fervor, the twenty-two year old draws up a pledge and is the first to sign it. The pledge reads:
We, the undersigned, agree to organize an independent military company, and to hold ourselves in readiness to respond to any call to defend our country and sustain our government.
That same day, April 25th, 1861, Dawes obtains forty-eight other signatures, including that of thirty-two year old Juneau County Prosecutor John A. Kellogg. Kellogg eagerly agrees to help raise the company. Within five days, one hundred signatures are collected and the signers meet at Langworthy Hall in Mausten, the county seat, to organize. Dawes is elected Captain, Kellogg is First Lieutenant and John Crane is Second Lieutenant. One member of the company suggests the title Lemonweir Minute Men, after the peacefully flowing river in the beautiful little valley from which most of the volunteers come. The men agree-it will remind them of home.
The Muster Roll is completed and forwarded to Wisconsin Adjutant General William L. Utley. On May 2nd, Utley returns commssions for the officers bearing the signature of Governor Alexander W. Randall. Some of the one hundred patriots begin to have second thoughts as the muster day comes near so Dawes has the following poster printed up:
Boys, Rally!! Rally!!!
Enlistments wanted for the Lemonweir Minute Men!
Headquarters L.M.M., Mausten, June 17th, 1861.This company is ordered by the commander in chief to hold itself in readiness to be mustered in to the service on Monday, June 24th. Men are wanted to complete the full compliment of one hundred and one. Come forward, boys, and place your name on the roll.
R.R. Dawes, Captain
Across the state, other companies have been raised under similar circumstances. In Mausten, one hundred pin cushions are received by the company from the ladies of Marietta, Ohio through the efforts of Dawes' sister. On June 29th, Dawes receives a telegram from Wisconsin Military Secretary W.H. Watson stating that the company may be boarded at state expense as they may be wanted for the Sixth Regiment. The failure of other companies to muster enough men allows the Lemonweir Minute Men to be assigned as the tenth company of the Sixth Regiment. Ninety-four men of the company leave for Madison, where they join their new comrades:
Company A-Sauk County Riflemen.
Company B-Prescott Guards .
Company C-Prairie du Chien Volunteers .
Company D-Montgomery Guards, Irish from Milwaukee.
Company E-Bragg Rifles, named after its captain Edward S. Bragg from Fon du Lac.
Company F-Citizens' Corps, Germans from Milwaukee.
Company G-Beloit Star Rifles .
Company H-Buffalo County Rifles .
Company I-The Anderson Guards, from Bad Ax County and named after Ft. Sumter defender Colonel Robert Anderson
Company K-The Lemonweir Minute Men, from Juneau County.
The Grey Wolf.
The Sixth Regiment's Colonel is Lysander Cutler. Cutler, born in Worcester, Massachusetts, is fifty-three years old and is described as tough as a wolf by Rufus Dawes. Before the war, Cutler managed to make and lose two small fortunes, was a self-taught surveyor, led the Maine Militia during the Aristook Indian Wars and moved to Milwaukee,Wisconsin in 1856 to start yet again. When he is commissioned Colonel of the Sixth, he is a grain broker and Fish Inspector for the City.
On July 16th, 1861 at Camp Randall in Madison, the Sixth Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry is mustered into the Union Army with 1,058 officers and men for the term of three years. They wear gray uniforms issued by the state, carry a new regimental color and are without arms.
Ordered to Washington D.C. at the end of July, they travel from Madison, through Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and arrive in Baltimore at night. Company E is attacked by plug uglies, who are quickly subdued by police. Companies A and B receive the regiment's first arms-heavy, clumsy Belgian rifles imported by the federal government. The regiment is attacked again by plug uglies around midnight on August 5th. Shortly after this incident, the other companies receive their Belgian rifles. The regiment proceeds to Washington, and with loaded muskets at half-cock, are finally left undisturbed by the unruly southern sympathizers among the citizens of Baltimore.
On arrival it is assigned to Brigadier General Rufus King's Brigade, McDowell's Division, Army of the Potomac. The 5th, and 6th Wisconsin are joined by the 19th Indiana, 32nd Pennsylvania, the 79th New York Highlanders and 2nd New York Fire Zouaves to form King's Brigade. Commander-in-chief Major General George B. McClellan selects the Sixth Regiment as one of the best in material, appearance and bearing at a review held in his honor. The reputation of the Sixth is just beginning.
In early September, the 5th Wisconsin is detached from the brigade. Soon after, the Pennsylvania and New York regiments are reassigned and the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin regiments take their place alongside of the 6th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana. The Iron Brigade is formed!
From September, 1861 through March 1862, the regiment camps on Arlington Heights near Robert E. Lee's home and begins to learn the art of war. Colonel Cutler weeds out line officers who do not meet with his approval. Ten officers resign or are dismissed. Morale suffers as many of these officers are quite popular with the men. But this action serves notice to the others that nothing but excellent leadership is acceptable. To fill the vacant spots, many from within the ranks are promoted and shifted around to the various companies. These changes again impact morale as the men resent serving under officers they have not elected. Cutler is not swayed, however, and the record of his regiment in combat-the ultimate test-bears out his vision.
Camp life at this time consists of constant drilling and reviews. The men have drawn too much clothing and complain of being pack horses. They turn in their gray uniforms and are issued a uniform coat, overcoat, three pairs of pants, three to five pairs of socks, two woolen shirts, an undershirt and most have two pairs of shoes! Diversions include whist, chess, and other games. Frequent political discussions are held, despite their restrictions according to the Articles of War. Men are tossed in a blanket. There is widespread gambling, in spite of Colonel Cutler's strict orders forbidding the same. In February, 1862, the unpopular Belgian rifles are traded in for Springfields.
On March 16th, General McDowell is given command of an army corps. General King takes over command of the division and Colonel Cutler temporarily commands the brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Sweet commands the regiment. By the end of April, the regiment is encamped on the heights opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Colonel Cutler returns to duty with the regiment on May 8th, as Brigadier General John Gibbon assumes command of the western brigade-the only brigade of all western regiments in the Army of the Potomac. In one of his first actions, he orders the entire brigade to be uniformed in the regulation hat, coat, leggins and white gloves. At a review for the President, they earn the nickname Bandbox Brigade due to their sharp appearance. The men respond that they would rather wear leggins than be lousy! Corps Commander Major General McDowell says that he had shown them to foreign officers of distinction, as specimens of the American Volunteer Soldiers, and asked them if they had ever, anywhere seen, even among the picked soldiers of royal and imperial guards, a more splendid body of men, and I have never had an affirmative answer.
On July 1st, 1862, Rufus Dawes is promoted to major and Edward Bragg to lieutenant colonel. Dawes writes in his journal that Our regiment has been more than a year in the service; and in soldierly bearing, perfection in drill, and discipline, we do not yield the palm to the regulars in any service.
The Sixth participates in its first offensive action in August as Col. Culter leads a column on a raid to destroy sections of the Virginia Central Railroad. On August 20th, while in support of federal artillery batteries, the soldiers of the Sixth experience their first artillery barrage.
As the brigade marches towards Centreville on August 28th, 1862, it is attacked by Stonewall Jackson's Corps of eighteen thousand men. In a fight where the lines of battle close to within seventy yards, the little brigade of two thousand and eight hundred fight the rebels to a standstill. For ninety minutes, the men of the Black Hat Brigade take on the very best that the southern army has-and stops them. The Sixth suffers fourteen killed or mortally wounded. One of the slightly wounded is Col. Cutler, who turns command over to Lt. Col. Bragg before leaving the field. The other regiments suffer more heavily.
Two days later, on August, 30th, the regiment takes part in the Second Battle of Bull Run. At 3:00 pm, the brigade is ordered to pursue the enemy. The Sixth is on the right of the line. As the brigade in front suddenly breaks and runs, Gibbon's Brigade, bayonets fixed, is left alone upon the field. The Sixth sends out Company K as skirmishers. There is much confusion. The rest of the brigade is ordered to retreat. Gibbon remains with the Sixth, saying that he has no orders to retreat! The regiment faces about and begins to march back when rebel fire increases. Bragg immediately orders the regiment to face about and fire a volley. Then by a slow backward step, he moves them through the woods. After coming to open ground, Bragg orders an about face, and at the double-quick moves three quarters of a mile to a new line. Here the boys give three cheers for the regiment. Reunited with the brigade, they form the rear guard as the union army again retreats towards Washington. The Sixth loses eleven more killed or mortally wounded.
Within two weeks, George B. McClellan turns the army around and the Sixth Wisconsin finds itself on September 14th lying on a grassy knoll before South Mountain. Their brigade has been selected to take Turner's Gap, two miles distant. Between them and the summit is a valley and then a steep and stoney slope. As the sun sinks slowly behind the mountain, the Second and Sixth Regiments form double column and follow in support of the Seventh and 19th Indiana. Companies B and K are deployed as skirmishers under the command of Major Dawes. Dawes writes Nothing could be finer than the conduct of these two companies, or more gallant than the conduct of their young officers. As the regiments push their way towards the summit, the Seventh comes under severe fire so the Sixth deploys column and moves into the fray. Here, Lt. Col. Bragg devises his own brand of tactics as he has one wing fire and then load lying down. He then has his other wing jump over their loading comrades to deliver a volley and then lie down and load. He does this four times and receives the hearty cheers of the Seventh in response to his ingenuity. Darkness falls and the rest of the brigade is withdrawn from the field, but the Sixth has to sleep on their loaded rifles with fixed bayonets as they have gone farther than any unit and can not be relieved. During this engagement, the brigade earns its most famous nickname-the Iron Brigade! It is bestowed upon them by none other than Major General McClellan as he watches them fight up the National Turnpike for Turner's Gap. He writes to Governor Randall that he has seen them under fire acting in a manner that reflects the greatest possible credit upon themselves and their state. They are equal to the best troops in the world. Sixteen more are killed or mortally wounded. The regiment has been reduced to less than four hundred men from the original one thousand and fifty-eight. But this campaign is not yet finished.
Three days later the regiment is in the morning fight at Antietam. In front of the North Woods is an open field and beyond that farmer Miller's house and outbuildings. From this cover, rebel skirmishers open fire upon the regiment. Company I, now under the command of Captain Kellogg deploys as skirmishers and dashes across the field at a full run and drives the rebels out. Shells scream and burst overhead as the regiment follows in line of battle. The right is on the Hagerstown Turnpike while the left is obstructed by a stout picket fence. Unable to tear it down, the left wing moves by the flank and reforms on the other side. Captain Brown of Company E is killed while ordering his men on the right by file into line. At the double quick, the left wing catches up with the right.
Before the regiment, on rising ground to the left side of the turnpike stands Miller's cornfield, with stalks thick and high. The rebel skirmishers run into this field as the regiment appears at the turnpike fence. The Sixth is far ahead of the rest of the general line of battle still manuevering in the open fields. Lt. Col. Bragg orders the Sixth forward into battle. The fence is quickly climbed, an open space crossed and the regiment pushes on into the cornfield. Three companies on the right are crowded onto an open field across the turnpike. These three companies receive a deadly fire from the woods to their right. They change front to face the enemy and take refuge behind the turnpike fence. The left wing halts and lies down. With bullets clipping the cornstalks, Bragg is wounded and command of the regiment falls to Major Rufus Dawes.
The general battle line catches up with the regiment and Dawes orders the Sixth forward with the others. He also orders the three right companies forward if practicable. It is not. The men get up, and are knocked right back down. They can only load and fire-and take casualties. The rest of the regiment joins the advance through the cornfield and is taken under severe fire at a snake rail fence at the edge of the cornfield. Major Dawes observes that There was, on the part of the men , great hysterical excitement, eagerness to go forward, and a reckless disregard for life, of everything but victory. The men and officers fuse together in a common mass, frantically struggling to shoot fast. Everyone-even the wounded-tears cartridges, loads, passes guns or shoots. Men fall in place or run back into the corn when shot. After only a few rods, the advance stops. The men move back to the edge of the cornfield. The second line of battle moves past the first, eager for a crack at the rebels. Those survivors of the first line join in and move forward again. The men load and fire as though possessed. Some laugh and shout hysterically! The rebels break into the woods. Half-way to the Dunkard church, the blue line is crushed by rebel volleys coming out of the tree line around the church. Men tear through the cornfield in search of a safe spot. The Sixth is rallied by Major Dawes and the State Color. Only two hundred men are left. General Doubleday orders Dawes back into some woods to regroup. The roll is called. Captain Bachelle of Company F is dead, his body lying at the point of furthest advance by the regiment. Along side of him is his faithful companion-a Newfoundland dog. Captain Kellogg has rallied several hundred stragglers from all units. Doubleday gallops over to see whose troops these are and Kellogg responds a regiment of stragglers, sir! When asked if he has any orders, Kellogg says Stick to the stone wall, sir!!! Thus ends the morning phase of the bloodiest day in American history. The Sixth has lost forty killed or mortally wounded, and another one hundred and ten wounded or missing. Less than two hundred and fifty men are now with the colors, the rest killed, wounded, missing or on detached service.
After this campaign, some changes are made in the Army of the Potomac. McClellan is relieved of command, replaced by Major General Ambrose Burnside. John F. Reynolds takes over command of the First Corps, and Abner Doubleday commands the First Division. John Gibbon is promoted to command a division of the Second Corps and Solomon Meredith of the 19th Indiana takes command of the Iron Brigade. Gibbons wants Cutler to command his favorite brigade, but politics intervenes and Cutler is denied. The 24th Michigan joins the brigade at this point, in order to make up for all the casualties suffered. At Fredericksburgh, the Iron Brigade forms diagonal squares by regiment to guard against J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry. Stuart does not charge these squares which are as formidable as those of Napoleon at the Pyramids. Burnside is quickly replaced by Joseph Hooker.
Fitz Hugh's Crossing.
During Winter Quarters, Lysander Cutler finally gets command of a brigade, but it is not the Iron Brigade. It is the second brigade, first division, first corps. He takes along as his Acting Assistant Adjutant General Captain John A. Kellogg. Bragg is promoted to Colonel of the regiment and Dawes is made Lieutenant Colonel. John F. Hauser is promoted to major. Dawes reports that the regiment is now at a strength of four hundred fat, healthy and contented soldiers. The State Color is returned to Wisconsin, no longer fit for service. Col. Bragg writes:
We part with it reluctantly, but its condition renders it unserviceable for field service. When we received it, its folds, like our ranks, were ample and full.; still emblematical of our condition, we return it, tattered and torn in the shock of battle. Many who defended it, sleep the sleep that knows no waking; they have met a soldier's death; may they live in their country's memory.
With James Wadsworth now commanding the First Division, First Corps, the regiment, along with the 24th Michigan is assigned the duty of crossing the Rappohannock River at Fitzhugh's Crossing below Fredericksburgh. This is intended as a feint for Hooker's Chancellorsville Campaign. Knapsacks are removed and piled on the ground. The order is Forward Run MARCH. An open field is crossed, the rebels open fire and the men of both regiments jump into pontoon boats and row to the other shore. A race for the top takes place, with Sergeant Lewis Kent of the Sixth winning. With very little shooting, the rebels quickly surrender.
On May 31st, 1863 the Iron Brigade is designated as the First Brigade, First Division, First Corps, Army of the Potomac. The Sixth Wisconsin is the First Battalion. Thus honored, the Gettysburg Campaign begins with many long and tiring marches from Fredericksburg to the sleepy little town. Three hundred and forty officers and men are present for duty on June 30th as the regiment is mustered for pay. Little do they realize that their destinies are to be forever linked with the town only four miles distant.
On July 1st, 1863, Wadsworth's Division marches towards Gettysburg with the Sixth marching last in the order of the day. Behind them comes the brigade guard of one hundred rifles representing all regiments within the brigade. As the column moves along Emmittsburg Road, Dawes, in command, orders the colors unfurled and the fifes and drums to play the Campbells are Coming. At the sound of cannon fire, the column turns northeast at the Cordori Farm and heads for Seminary Ridge. Cutler's brigade is already engaged and now the Iron Brigade reaches the crest of the ridge. They are ordered to form line of battle. The evolution is performed on the double-quick, the men loading as they move. The Sixth is ordered to halt and act as a reserve. The other regiments charge en echelon into McPherson's Woods and chase Archer's rebels back beyond Herr's Ridge, west of town. General Reynold's has been killed and Doubleday now commands the First Corps. Cutler's brigade has been split on either side of the Chambersburg Pike and is now pushed back to Seminary Ridge. Doubleday orders the Sixth to advance to their support, before the right flank of the union army collapses.
Dawes moves the regiment into position and opens fire on the disorganized but still attacking rebels. They dive for cover in an unfinished railroad cut and open up on the Wisconsin boys. The regiment moves over two fences into the field between the railroad cut and Chambersburg Pike. The fire is murderous as Captain Johnny Ticknor of Company K is killed. The men shout to charge. Dawes sees Major Pye of the 95th New York who has come up on the regiment's left flank. They agree to charge! Charge it is!! The Men of Iron move. Align on the colors shouts Dawes. Every man of the color guard is shot. Close on the Colors. One hundred and seventy-five paces later, the cut is taken. Several men are shot as they attempt to take the colors of the 2nd Mississippi. Corporal Frank Waller grabs the color sergeant and wrestles the flag away, tears it from its staff, throws it in the ground and stands upon it while continuing to fire. A red legged devil of the 14th Brooklyn comes and tries to take the flag from under Waller's feet and is threatened with a butt stroke. He skulks back to his own regiment. Adjutant Brooks has a dozen men cross the cut and aim their rifles down into the rebels. The men shout Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets! Most of the rebels comply. Dawes takes the swords of rebel officers. Meanwhile many rebs escape through the other end of the cut. Mickey Sullivan of Company K is shot in the back by one of those fleeing. The morning fight at Gettysburg is ended with the rebels running away. Four hundred and twenty-two men began the charge (including one hundred and two from the Iron Brigade Guard); Two hundred and forty reach the cut.
Later that same afternoon-the rebels come crashing through the fields in overwhelming superiority. The Sixth, still seperated from the Iron Brigade is supporting their comrades in Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery. After a severe defense of Seminary Ridge, the boys are forced to retreat past the Pennsylvania College and through town. They are the only regiment to retain their integrity and fire volleys at the rebels which clears the streets of Gettysburg. The regiment reaches Cemetary Hill where the survivors of the First and Eleventh Corps have gathered. The Iron Brigade is moved to Culp's Hill, where it remains for the rest of the battle. On July 2nd, the Calico Boys assist the 14th Brooklyn in repulsing a rebel attack on the trenches of the 12th Corps. This had been the regiment's toughest battle. The Iron Brigade, eighteen hundred strong on July 1st, is now whittled down to less than six hundred effectives! The Sixth has suffered over one hundred and fifty casualties.
Gettysburg has taken the slack out of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and the rest of the year is spent chasing him back into Virginia and trying to contain him. The regiment receives a new stand of Colors from the state of Wisconsin. The Battle Honors read Rappohannock, Gainesville, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Fitz Hugh's Crossing, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. At one point the regiment is drawn up with the 2nd and 7th regiments in order to put down a mutiny by the 167th Pennsylvania who believe that their enlistments are up. General Cutler gives the order Ready. Aim. before the unit readily falls in. A new Iron Brigade Flag is presented on the anniversary of the Antietam battle. Winter quarters are settled into and the men begin the debate over whether to reenlist as a veteran regiment. Three fourths of the members must agree to reenlist to qualify for veteran status. Furloughs are promised for those regiments who veteranize.
Two hundred and seventeen men, plus five recruits are mustered in as veterans in January, 1864. Eleven more take the oath and five companies are formed. The regiment is paid in full, camp and garrison equipment turned over to the Quartermaster's Department and all made ready for the return to Wisconsin on furlough. Those whose enlistments are not up and those who did not reenlist are to remain in the camp of the 2nd Regiment, which does not have enough men in its ranks to reenlist. In Milwaukee, a splendid reception is held and for the first time since July, 1861, the regiment enjoys the comforts of home.
In March, the old First Corps is broken up. The Iron Brigade is assigned to the Fifth Corps under Major General G.K. Warren. Wadsworth retains command of the division-now the fourth and Lysander Cutler finally gets command of the Iron Brigade. The men refuse to take off their First Corps patches. At a review for General Grant, the troops are in line of battle for over two hours in a cold, drizzling rain. As he rides up the line, regiment after regiment raises its collective voice to cheers, to which Grant makes no reply. Lt. Col. Dawes says to the men As General Grant does not seem to think our cheering worth notice, I will not call for cheers. Maitain your position as soldiers! Grant rides up to the regiment and the required military salute is rendered with precision as the men stand motionless. The expected cheer is not forthcoming, which catches the attention of the commanding general. Noticing that the men of the Sixth Wisconsin perform only their exact and formal duties as soldiers, he takes off his hat and makes a low bow to them and the regiment's dipped colors. The troops revel in this singular salute and say Grant wants soldiers, not yaupers!
Orders to march at midnight arrive at headquarters on May 3rd, 1864. The destination is the Wilderness. On the morning of May 5th, the regiment forms on the left of the brigade's second or rear battle line. Three hundred and seventy men are present for duty, many having recovered from their Gettysburg wounds. Captain Kellogg leads Company I out as skirmishers. The battle line begins to move, as the Sixth follows one hundred paces behind the Seventh Wisconsin. Col. Bragg moves ahead to keep contact as the woods are very thick. He can barely see the colors of the Seventh and orders the Sixth to close up as fast as possible. As Dawes urges the regiment forward, a burst of musketry from the right catches them by surprise. Many are shot. The rebels advance running and shooting. Dawes orders a change of front to meet them, but only the right wing hears the command-Major Plummer has been killed. Over forty men have been hit in just these few moments. The thickness of the underbrush proves an advantage to the smaller union regiment as they move faster than the heavier rebel line can pursue. As always, the men rally around the colors. Three times they form and break, each time pouring forth such a volume of fire as to stop the rebel attacks. The rebels finally withdraw, leaving the fragmented regiment alone in the woods. The survivors lie quietly catching their breath and their bearings. After some time, Dawes has the men on their feet and begins to move slowly through the wilderness. Col. Bragg finds the small group and is astonished to see how few are left. They slowly make their way to open ground and rejoin the Fifth Corps, now building breastworks. That night, in a particular act of bravery, Sergeant Lewis Kent crawls along the skirmish line to pinpoint the location of the enemy for Wadsworth's Division. Though obtaining the information, neither he, nor the regiment are acknowledged. The next day, Confederate General Longstreet hits the right of Wadsworth's Division as it joined with the Second Corps along the Plank Road. The union men are pushed back and scattered amid much confusion. The Sixth retires in order and is not pursued. General Wadsworth is killed and General Cutler takes command of the division.
On May 7th, Lt. Col. Dawes resumes command of the regiment as Col. Bragg is placed in command of the junior Bucktail Brigade of Pennsylvanians. The Fifth Corps moves off towards Spotsylvania and the regiment marches all night. At 10:00 AM the next morning, the brigade, commanded by Col. W.W. Robinson of the Seventh Wisconsin, forms to assault Laurel Hill. The Sixth is posted on the right of the line-the post of honor. Dawes throws forward a screen of skirmishers who find the rebels advancing in force on the exposed flank of the regiment and brigade. A short, sharp fight ensues before they beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the main battle line. Several rebel charges are repulsed. Lt. Pruyn is killed along with corporal Hart. Once the enemy is beaten off, the tired men build breastworks for protection as the skirmishers of both sides play their deadly game. On May 10th another assault on Laurel Hill is tried. Lt. Graetz is killed. Captain Remington of Company K is badly wounded. So is Lt. John Timmons. As Major General Warren stands up to see what's going on, Lt. Col. Dawes pulls him down by his sash, and saves his life from rebel sharpshooters. As Dawes accompanys the general to another spot on the line, he notices Private Aaron Yates of Company K creeping up the hill to get a shot at the enemy. Dawes orders him back to his company. When Dawes returns, he finds Yates shot and killed by sharpshooters.
Another assault is ordered on May 12th, the objective-Laurel Hill, again. The Iron Brigade is in the front line, Col. Bragg's Junior Bucktail Brigade in the second. The two brigade's halt near a thrird brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves. The Sixth Regiment is ordered forward to set an example for the other regiments of the line to follow. The men spring over the breastworks and advance under terrific fire. The Iron Brigade is behind them. The Bucktails are behind them. But only a handful of the others join in and another charge is doomed by lack of support. The attack fails. That afternoon, the Iron Brigade is ordered to support the Sixth Corps at the Bloody Angle. After a four mile march, they are held in reserve. They then march two miles to the right and build breastworks. At dusk, more orders are received and they return to the Bloody Angle after dark. The regiment relieves the troops on the line after stumbling through the darkness over mud and the dead. Upon reaching the line, the Sixth opens fire. Only one hundred feet from the rebel works, the fire is so intense that the rebels hide in their entrenchments. For the next eighteen hours this fire is kept up. A large tree behind the rebel works is cut in half by rifle fire alone. That same tree came down while the Sixth was in the rifle pits and can be seen at the Smithsonion Institution in Washington D.C.
Ten days later, as the men cook their supper after crossing the North Anna River, the rebels attack in force. The brigade moves rapidly forward, the Sixth is on the left. Griffin's First Division is on their left. Skirmishers are thrown out and come running back with rebels on their heels. The Sixth fires by the right oblique into the enemy now charging the rest of the brigade. The brigade is driven from the field in confusion as it is not yet formed before being hit. The Sixth refuses their right flank to face the enemy. A regiment of the first division breaks and runs through the ranks of the Sixth, thus disrupting their formation. Dawes rallies the regiment on the colors and every man falls into his place. As senior on the field, Dawes takes command of the battalion of Berdan Sharpshooters and a portion of the 19th Indiana who had not broken. This tiny force then moves to support a battery of guns-Mink's-about to be overrun by the rebels. Along with the 83rd Penna., the rebels are driven off. Dawes little command is ordered to fall in with the second brigade, as the rest of the Iron Brigade has fallen back to the North Anna. The advance of the second brigade sweeps the rebels from the field.
The campaign from the Wilderness to Bethesda Church has cost the regiment over one hundred and seventy men killed or wounded. By June, Col. Bragg is promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the Iron Brigade. Lt. Col. Dawes formally takes over command of the regiment. He writes home that the luxury of a good wash, a change of clothing and a mess of wild strawberries makes his spirits soar. Gen. Bragg writes to his wife that he is too stupid for any use. An expedition under the command of Adjutant E.P. Brooks to cut the rebel railroads is a complete failure as the fifty man unit is captured without firing a shot. Life in the trenches outside Petersburg commences-and is miserable.
In August, Lt. Col. Dawes is mustered out of the service at the end of his three years of service. The regiment fights the battle of Weldon Railroad under the command of Charles P. Hyatt, senior captain on the field. Though he has been appointed as a staff officer for General Bragg, he has not yet started the assignment. The rebels attack on the union entrenchments is foiled with the fighting so close that the attackers cannot make it back to their own lines and are forced to surrender to the Sixth. As Captain Hyatt accepts the sword of the confederate commander, a stray cannon ball tears off his leg. At just that moment, Captain Remington arrives on the field, having arisen from his hospital bed on learning that his regiment was going into action. He takes command of what's left of the regiment. Lt. Timmons, wounded during the Wilderness is killed. His term of service had already expired, yet he stayed with the regiment awaiting his orders. His request for discharge came back after his death and was marked Has he taken the veteran furlough? General Bragg writes back that he has taken the long furlough-he was killed in the battle. Less than one hundred men are present for duty. The Iron Brigade is now the third brigade, Crawford's Division.
In November, the veterans and recruits of the Second Wisconsin are consolidated with the Sixth Wisconsin. In December, John Kellogg is promoted Colonel and returns to the regiment with four hundred and fifty drafted men to fill the ranks. Winter Quarters are established for the fourth time. During the month of January, the regiment performs picket, camp and fatigue duty, builds roads and drills continually to bring the new men up to speed.
Without tents or other shelter, the regiment moves out of camp at 1:00 am on February 5th. They march to Hatcher's Run with a force of cavalry. The rebel's works at Stony Creek are taken. The next day, the division forms in line of battle, and drives the rebels for about mile from in front of their works. The rebels counterattack and after a severe struggle, the Sixth is ordered to fall back and reform. An assault on the enemy's works on Februaury 7th is repulsed. The night is passed without any fires- and a bitter cold night it is, too. A ration of whiskey for the men helps. Soon the regiment is back in its Winter Quarters.
On February 15th, the Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin Regiments are all that's left of the old Iron Brigade. The Nineteenth Indiana has been merged with the 20th Indiana and taken away. The Second Wisconsin is merged with the Sixth. The Twenty-fourth Michigan is now taken away for duty elsewhere. But the Iron Brigade Banner still flies proudly at Brigade Headquarters.
At Gravelly Run, the regiment drives the enemy from their camps, taking many prisoners. As the division forms up in columns of regiments to continue, rebels pour into the gaps between the columns and deliver heavy blows. The Sixth is forced to fight in front, flank and rear, all at the same time! The regiment pulls back and reforms along the creek and again opens fire upon the charging rebels. They soon retreat. The drafted men fight bravely right alongside the veterans.
The Fifth Corps moves down towards the Moody House at about 9:30 AM on Saturday, April 1st, 1865. Crawford's Division forms the front line of battle, with the Iron Brigade on the right, the Sixth Wisconsin on the right of the brigade. As the line moves forward, the sounds of horsemen are heard to the rear. As the regiment faces about and readies a volley to lay them low, the horse troopers are recognized as scouts of Sheridan's Cavalry Corps. The ranks are opened up and they pass through unmolested. Dressed in Rebel uniform, they quickly pass through the enemy picket line. The brigade changes direction by wheeling and chases off that same picket line. Moving another mile, the division wheels again and comes upon the rebel's works from the rear. The confederates are too busy fighting Sheridan's cavalry in front to notice that they are trapped. The union soldiers give a cheer and literally run into the rebel ranks. The rebels jump over the works and try to fight on both sides at the same time, but it is useless. Pickett's Division is captured.
On Sunday, April 9th, 1865, the news of Lee's surrender spreads like wildfire through the tired ranks of heroes of the Sixth Regiment Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry. Few are left who mustered in that summer day in 1861. In all, one thousand nine hundred and forty men serve in the regiment. Two hundred and forty-four are killed. Six hundred and twenty-three are wounded. One hundred and twelve are missing or captured. Twenty die in Confederate prisons. On May 23rd, 1865, with newly acquired white gloves and their battered black hats, the regiment marches in the Grand Review, the brigade commanded by Col. Henry Morrow of the 24th Michigan. The regiment is sent to Louisville, Kentucky where it is mustered out of federal service on July 14th, 1865. Within days the men are on their way home to Wisconsin-their job is done-the Union is saved!
Sources; Service With The Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers by Rufus R. Dawes; Sauk County Riflmen, CO. A, 6th Wisconsin by Philip Cheek and Mair Pointon
From A Compendium of the War of Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer