How the Assault was Disrupted

Greenman’s Account and Butterfield’s Response

In 1897, 33 years after the event, Sergeant Nathan W. Greenman, of Company H, 20th Connecticut, Coburn’s brigade, sent General Butterfield, their division commander, an account of the fight for the battery as Greenman witnessed it.  The exchange is in a file in the William Pendleton Palmer Collection in the Cleveland History Center Archives (formerly Case Western Reserves Archives).

Among other notes, Greenman states that as Coburn’s brigade followed Ward’s brigade over the hill, out of the ravine in which they were waiting, they passed through a Second Division brigade, which was lying down. This is the first time someone mentioned passing over what they identified as Geary’s Division. Ward particularly mentioned in his report having passed over soldiers lying down but did not know which unit. Probably Greenman identified them simply by their white stars. Ward passed over them first, then came Coburn. But Coburn himself and others describe Ireland’s brigade, Geary’s 3rd, as passing through his own, from right rear moving by the left flank. Confusion resulted, and so goes the story: Ireland’s next to last regiment, the 149th New York, says they were fired on from behind by the 19th Michigan, which was in Coburn’s front row, on the left. But the 19th Michigan says they were fired on from behind by soldiers they had just passed over, an act causing more casualties than in the rest of the battle. Both were going downhill, so those lying down, then were at least to the crest. This is much to rely on as given, but such is what we have and if so, who did the firing?  From the sequence of events, as cobbled from reports, the 149th and Cobham’s 111th Pennsylvania were the last regiments in Ireland’s column. After passing through Coburn, Ireland told them all to stop and lay down. Geary objected. He and Hooker sent the two rear regiments ahead, directing the 149th right and the 111th left. So then the 149th and part of the 19th went ahead, catching up with Ward.  Coburn was drifting left around Ward and the 111th went even further left, through the trees in the ravine, far enough to avoid fire, taking fewer casualties than everyone else and arriving at the fort later. How does one interpret and simplify this?  Greenman’s revelation makes it clear Ireland had gotten into position before Ward and Coburn arrived and was in front—well, partly, maybe: Ireland was in a column of six lines, and it is clear that he moved leftward through Coburn at a diagonal.  What is not clear is whose soldiers fired on the the 19th Michigan, Fourth Corps or Ireland?

One can speculate about what caused Ireland to stop his brigade to let Coburn go on.  By then, Ireland’s front two lines were too far to be stopped and got clobbered by Rebel fire. His other regiments simply got out of the way and were out of the fight.

Butterfield replied to Greenman that his account was essentially correct. But he likely was completely unaware of the above interpretation.  We will not know the all the details and likely no one at the time did either.

Copyright 2017-2019 Robert G. Miller. All rights reserved.

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