The story of the 19th Indiana

History of the 19th Indiana


The regiment was officially mustered in on 29th July 1861, under the command of Lieutenant T.J. Wood, at Camp Morton, Indianapolis. Of course, individual companies had already been formed earlier in the month at a local level, with men answering the call from Delaware, Marion, Elkhart, Johnson, Wayne, Owen and Randolph counties. Company A (our company) was formed in Delaware county, and became known as the Union Guards. Most other companies received nicknames as times went on, with Company D of Marion becoming known as the Invincibles and Company H of Johnson County being named the Edinburgh Guards. After stopping at Selma, where they were greeted by 1000 jubilant civilians, they were issued with grey uniforms and red epaulets, typical uniform for the cadets of the period. Whilst staying at Camp Morton, the 19th would regularly go out in to town for dinner; on one occasion, they were disappointed to find their meals had been sent to the camp, where they were devoured by other men who had stayed behind. This was certainly not the first frustration the 19th would face in their service, and by no means would it be the last.

Long Sol

Governor Oliver P. Morton, political leader of the state, appointed a highly unsuitable man for the job of colonelcy. Solomon Meredith, a 6’6 North Carolinian who had moved to Wayne County at the age of 19, worked as a farm labourer in his early adult years in order to pay for his education. Thanks to an obvious political talent and colourful personality, he was elected state sheriff at 24, serving two terms in the office and going through another 4 terms in the state legislature before being appointed US Marshall in 1849. Although a Democrat for most of his life, he went Republican in the years leading up to the war, facilitating the election of Henry S. Lane to the US Senate and subsequently the appointment of Oliver Morton as governor of the state. It was through these connections that he gained control of the 19th, and would eventually be made brigade commander. After the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was wounded, Meredith sat out the rest of the war.

Who were the men?

The Regiment was 1046 men strong, with Captain Isaac May leading Company A in the early stages of the war. During training, the 19th were issued with outdated smoothbore muskets (only the flank companies received the more up to date Enfield) something that Meredith was determined to change, probably through his political connections. Perhaps due to this bad equipment, and President Lincoln’s announcement that troops would be kept for the duration of the war, the men mutinied on August 5th when they were scheduled to move out of Camp Morton. They attacked and ransacked the sutler’s stores, even throwing rocks at the men sent to quell their uprising. Nevertheless, cooler heads prevailed among the chaos and the men eventually agreed to move out. The ‘Hoosiers’ became known for this temperament among their future brigade, and it would do neither their nor Meredith’s reputation any good.

Journey to Washington

Two companies under Meredith himself went to Washington via the Indiana Central railway, whilst the remainder took the Bellefontaine route. The colonel’s contingent went through Baltimore, something that terrified the men, as the 6th Massachusetts had already been attacked whilst going through the city. One unknown soldier shot a local horse from the train window, much to the fury of ‘Long Sol’ Meredith, as he was now known among the soldiers. Despite claims by the colonel that the train would be attacked for what they did, they went through the city without any real problem.

Kalorama Heights

Upon their arrival in Washington, the regiment was sent to camp at Kalorama Heights. They marched past the Whitehouse, where they got their first glimpse of President Abe Lincoln; he even took the time to wave at the men, before continuing a pensive stroll through his garden.
Their first field camp was not well laid out. Instead of placing the tents on high ground, they put them wherever it was convenient, resulting in widespread flooding. But this did little to dampen the spirits of the western farm boys, as Private John Hawk wrote to his father with tremendous confidence that, ‘by the middle of September there will be 300,000 men in the army of the Potomac.’

First action

On September 4th, the men were detached from the command of General Rufus King and assigned to General W.F. Smith, alongside the 2nd and 5th Wisconsin. They advanced on the Chain Bridge and assisted in the construction of Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen, forced to use crude pine bough shelters for protection during the night; most tents and equipment had been left at Kalorama Heights. On the 11th, an advance party consisting of companies A, D, F, H and I moved towards Lewinsville in support of Griffin’s battery, tying strips of white muslin around their arm in order to distinguish themselves from Confederates (they had still not been issued with blue uniforms). Four men of Company I, advancing along the Fall’s Church road, took pot shots at a larger Rebel force, inflicting a number of casualties. Provoked by this insolence, the Rebs pursued the small band, thus beginning the regiment’s first engagement. Only one of the men got back to the main body safely, having lost his shoes and cartridge box. The pursuers soon stumbled in to the fire of the regiment, but they had the cover of the woods and they were able to keep up a good fire of their own. Eventually, the regiment was forced to retreat and regroup with other regiments coming up from the rear, which put an end to the day’s fighting. Altogether, the Hoosiers had suffered 1 killed and 2 wounded, fairly negligible losses under the circumstances. After a few weeks, the regiment re-joined with General King at Fall’s Church and crossed back over the Potomac. This first campaign almost lost Meredith his job, with only a petition from the regiment itself saving him from disgrace. The indiscipline of the 19th was once again exposed, as Lieutenant Hancock provoked an altogether unnecessary action.

The Brigade

October 1st saw the formation of the famous ‘Iron Brigade’. The Hoosiers were thrown in with the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, under the overall command of General King and the divisional command of Irwin McDowell, a man much admired by the westerners for his regal appearance. Famously, the unit was among the only all western brigade in the Army of the Potomac, sparking an unusual feeling of camaraderie among the new regiments. Easterners tended to look down on these bumpkins, particularly the 19th who were often referred to as ‘Hoosiers’ in a derogatory way; the origins of this word are often connected with ‘outsider’ or ‘outside civilization’ due to their origins in the Old Northwest.


Finally, on October 6th, King’s brigade moved across the Potomac alongside the rest of the army, now commanded by George Benton McClellan. They established winter quarters at Arlington House, Confederate General Robert E Lee’s original residence. Over this period, sickness became rife among the 19th, as nearly 40 percent of the men became afflicted with an unknown epidemic. After several deaths, it was realised that the fever was typhoid. The regiment quickly replaced their latrines and new procedures were brought in for the handing of food and pitching of tents.

Ready for battle

However, by this point the men had finally been issued with proper uniforms and weapons. The Springfield Rifled Musket was much praised by the members of the regiment, as can be seen in the words of Adam Juday; ‘the best gun in the field. . . I can just take a ‘cesher every pop.’ Unfortunately, they were still lacking proper overcoats, and the regimental tents were in deplorable condition. It was lucky that the winter of 1861 was not cold, because the 19th were still in a messy, ragamuffin state. Eventually, McDowell had them issued with overcoats after witnessing the plight of Private Moor, who was walking on guard duty. Now with a full set of kit, the Hoosiers were ready for a military campaign.

Command reshuffle

Around February of 1862, it was decided that a corps system would be implemented, and McDowell was soon promoted to command of the 1st Corps, whilst King was bumped up to divisional command. Lysander Cutler of the 6th Wisconsin was temporarily made leader of the brigade. The westerners were soon joined by Battery B of the 4th US Artillery, commanded by the soon-to-be famous John Gibbon. Following the transfer of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cameron to the 34th Indiana, Captain May was promoted to Major, and Alois Bachman was made Lieutenant Colonel. This change in command structure saw resignations from Reuben Farra and Luther Wilson, which saw many first and second lieutenants taking command of their companies. Such chaos was once again the responsibility of Sol Meredith, who Cameron saw as an obstacle to his promotion. Governor Morton happily obliged the man’s request for a transfer.

March and counter March

On March 9th, McClellan moved his army forward against the retreating forces of Joseph Johnston. After camping at Centreville, the army once again moved forward at 1.00 AM in the morning, marching sixteen miles through heavy rain. They were eventually ordered back to Alexandria, avoiding the disasters that awaited the Union army on the Peninsula. Instead, they made a number of marches and attended a number of reviews, notably presenting themselves for the British ambassador, Lord Lyons. The frenetic countermarching, trying to counter General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s movements, took its toll on the brigade, with men dying from the cold and exhaustion. The only real light for the regiment was the resignation of the useless regimental surgeon, C.J. Woods. The 19th eventually arrived at Falmouth and established defences on the heights overlooking Fredericksburg. It was here that many of the men realised they were fighting to free the slaves as well as preserving the Union. This was pleasing for some and annoying for others. Many men of the 19th produced counterfeit Confederate bank notes in order to buy from local shopkeepers, but eventually the practice was stopped; it is somewhat ironic to see that in a war which caused such suffering, counterfeiting was seen as unacceptable. In World War 2 it was standard practice.

John Gibbon

In late April, John Gibbon was promoted to command of the brigade. Born in Philadelphia, he had spent a large amount of his childhood in North Carolina and graduated from West Point in 1847. After seeing action against the Mexicans and Florida Seminoles, he was appointed as an artillery instructor at the Point, and eventually became a captain of the 4th US artillery whilst stationed in Utah. Unfortunately, his loyalty to the Union was frowned upon by his family. Three of his brothers were fighting in the Confederate army, and he had no real political allies. Nevertheless, he introduced new training programmes and began to properly standardise his regiments. The entire brigade was issued with the standard dress uniform, and ordered to wear it on campaign. This uniform consisted of a tall hardee hat and a blue frock coat, along with white gaiters and general issue blue trousers.

New officers

In addition he made reforms to the brigade command team, appointing a new assistant adjutant and quartermaster. Captain J.P. Woods was appointed to adjutant general, whilst First Lieutenant James Drum was appointed as quartermaster.

Time in Fredericksburg

Despite crossing the Rappahannock on the 25th May, they were ordered back to Falmouth once again following ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s smashing victory in the Shenandoah Valley. A series of other tortuous marches led them to nowhere, as they continually ended up back at Fredericksburg up until August of that year.

Those damned black hats

By the end of July 1862, the brigade had been transformed in to a disciplined and well-oiled machine, a far cry from the rough regiments at Kalorama Heights the previous autumn. However, they were the exception. McClellan’s armies had been humiliatingly defeated during the Seven Day’s Battles outside of Richmond, leading to ‘Little Mac’s’ disgraceful but in the end temporary dismissal from command of the army. John Pope took command of the scattered Union forces in Virginia, quickly reopening hostilities. Gibbon’s brigade took severe losses during a forced march to the Ta River, where the advance elements of the Rebel army had met with Union cavalry.

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left

Unfortunately, the next, day the brigade was cut off from Fredericksburg by J.E.B Stuart’s Confederate cavalry. This forced them to change the direction of their march, taking them to Spotsylvania Courthouse and then back towards Fredericksburg. The complications caused by Stuart’s cavalry added even more time on to the march, and they were completely exhausted once they reached Fredericksburg. Even more marching followed, first to Ely’s Ford and then to Stephenburg. They rested at Cedar Mountain, and then received orders to march back across the Rappahannock. Gibbon’s men quickly fell in with the rest of the army; Robert E Lee had moved against the fragmented Union troops, hoping to score a decisive blow. The brigade was stationed at Beverly’s Ford to prevent a crossing, before marching on towards Warrenton.

Brawner’s farm

They saw their first major action at Second Bull Run; Jackson had successfully flanked the Union armies, bringing them to battle at Manassas Junction. Now reinforced by Lee and Longstreet, Jackson ambushed the brigade at Brawner’s Farm, assaulting the head of the column with artillery. Gibbon had seen the Rebel cannon moving in to position before they had opened fire, enabling him to bring up Battery B and return fire almost immediately. Meredith formed his men up behind a rail fence and ordered them to load. Although the brigade quickly forced back the Confederate artillery, they soon became engaged with elements of Jackson’s troops, and the 19th was ordered to move up in support of the 2nd Wisconsin. Unfortunately, they could not see the Confederates waiting for them over Stony Ridge until they crested the rise. The 4th Virginia poured two devastating volleys in to the Hoosiers and advanced, only to be thrown back in retreat as the 19th poured fire in to their exposed flank. They were reinforced by 4 additional regiments, whilst Gibbon moved forward his own command. Over the next few hours, the 19th stood there, taking a withering fire, calmly closing up the gaps and directing an equal share of punishment against the numerically superior Confederates. Two regiments from Abner Doubleday’s brigade moved forward to support the westerners, stabilising the situation and enabling the 19th to hold their position. Three Rebel charges from the Stonewall brigade were thrown back, and a flanking movement from the Confederates ended in failure. Eventually, Gibbon gave orders to retreat back to the Brawner woods. After a divisional command meeting, they fell back on Manassas and made camp there.

The retreat from Bull Run

The ragged survivors were woken early the next morning by the tramping of feet; men from Fitz John Porter’s 5th Corps were moving through the camp, newly arrived reinforcements. Late in the afternoon, the 19th moved out to engage the Confederates once more. Gibbon’s brigade was deployed in support of artillery batteries on the Union right flank, and saw very little action on the 29th. It was only on the 30th, when the Yanks had been ordered to make a full advance, that brigade once again saw action. They moved alongside General Marsena Patrick’s New York brigade, advancing through dense woodland against what they thought was a retreating enemy. James Longstreet’s artillery poured fire in to the exposed Hoosiers and those around them, whilst the disciplined volleys of the ‘Stonewall’ Brigade shredded through their densely packed ranks. Gibbon’s men conducted a fighting retreat, and enabled a large portion of the army to escape destruction.
The regiment sustained nearly 70 percent casualties during the fighting, turning the struggle in to their bloodiest engagement of the war, resulting in more casualties than Gettysburg and Antietam.

Little Mac returns

Pope was almost immediately booted from command of the army, and the 19th found themselves back under the command of ‘Little Mac’ McClellan. Whilst dampening the spirits of Lincoln, this cheered the men of the Iron Brigade, and the rest of the army. Lee quickly devised a plan to invade Maryland and eventually Washington D.C., in order to influence the results of the election that year. After the capture of Special Order 191, detailing his entire stratagem, Lee’s invasion plan was thrown in to disorder. On 14th September, the brigade moved out towards Frederick, and were ordered to dislodge General Daniel Harvey Hill’s Confederates from South Mountain. The southerners had already thrown back a number of assaults by the time the Hoosiers arrived, and it was here that the brigade would get its name. General McClellan allegedly remarked, ‘General Hooker (the new corps commander of the brigade), if I had an iron brigade I could pierce the enemy’s centre by taking the gorge on the pike.’ Hooker replied, ‘General McClellan, I have that brigade in my hand!’ Gibbon’s men advanced without delay.

The Iron Brigade

Harvey Hill was known for his disdain of Hoosiers, so perhaps it is fitting that he faced them now. He held an excellent defensive position, as the brigade had to advance up a narrow front with several bushes and fences providing excellent cover for Rebel skirmishers. Company B was sent forward, driving back the enemy skirmish lines and opening up the way for a clear advance. Receiving support from the 2nd Wisconsin, they drove back the Confederates of Alfred Colquitt, before forcing the others on the south side of the National Road in to a rout. In other parts of the battlefield, it took many hours for the Union to break through; even the 19th’s western brothers in the 6th and 7th Wisconsin took an inordinate amount of time to dislodge the Georgians facing them, and only after receiving help from the victorious 2nd and 19th. Overall, the Hoosiers lost 12 killed, 34 wounded and 7 missing, but they exacted just as heavy a price on the enemy. At the end of the engagement, General Hooker asked McClellan, ‘what do you think now of my Iron Brigade?’ It was through his words that the unit got its name.


McClellan continued the pursuit with unusual vigour, forcing Lee to remobilise his forces. Both armies met on open fields near the town of Sharpsburg, with McClellan commanding 60,000 men against a 40,000 strong Confederate army. The Iron Brigade were some of the first to see action in the battle, advancing through Miller’s Cornfield; a place now infamous in civil war history. The brigade moved out of camp early on the morning of September 17th, and were immediately greeted by a hot fire from the Confederate artillery. Initially, the brigade advanced in column, with the 19th third in line, and then spread out in to order of battle. Most of the 19th was posted on the western side of the Hagerstown Turnpike, moving down through the West Woods. This spared them from much of the artillery fire suffered by others in the brigade. Alongside the 7th, they were able to direct enfilade fire down the length of the Confederate lines, repulsing a large counterattack from Hood’s Texans and preventing the capture of Battery B’s guns. In this way, they possibly saved the Union right flank at Antietam. Lieutenant Bachman, standing in for the absent Meredith, ordered the men forward and took huge numbers of prisoners as well as a Rebel artillery battery near Dunker Church. Unfortunately, they were faced by a rallied southern brigade when they crested the hill, as well as hundreds of reserves. Now facing almost an entire division on their own, the 19th was forced to retreat, with Bachman falling to grape shot. Much to their credit, the Hoosiers held their lines and did not break for the duration of the engagement. After further attacks in the Confederate centre and on their right, the two armies ceased fighting. The next day, Lee withdrew back in to Virginia.


Days after the bloody victory at Antietam, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the Confederate south. This effectively extinguished any hope of European intervention in the war, leaving the Rebellion despondent and defeated in their first invasion attempt. The 19th went in to winter quarters with fewer than a hundred men following the struggles of the summer campaigns. Over the next few months, many things changed in the army. Lincoln finally lost patience with McClellan, and had him sacked from his position as commander of the Army of the Potomac, promoting Ambrose Burnside in his place. Although in the long run probably a good decision, it saw morale in the army plummet.

Fighting’ Joe Hooker

Following a humiliating defeat at Fredericksburg, the winter camps went by like normal, and on January 26th 1863, Joseph Hooker, commander of the 1st Corps, was appointed to command the army. He quickly began to introduce renewed training regimes and organisational reforms, implementing a corps badge system that was used for the rest of the war. The Iron Brigade, due to their place in the 1st Corps, where issued with circular insignia, coloured red due to their classification as infantry. These badges became an unusual source of pride, and accompanied the Hoosiers through their final real engagement; Gettysburg.

Build up to Gettysburg

Besides slight involvement in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, the 19th saw little action leading up to that fateful day on July 1st. Despite a brilliant start to his tenure, Hooker was eventually defeated and humiliated at the Battle of Chancellorsville. After this debacle, Gordon Meade was made commander of the army, and he was soon met by a challenge not yet faced by any Union commander. 70,000 Confederates, all under the command of Lee, crossed the Potomac River in very late July, screened all the way by Meade’s 80,000 Union troops. At Gettysburg, scouting parties under General Harry Heth clashed with John Buford’s cavalry brigades, starting an action that would prove decisive in the conclusion of the war. Buford’s troopers fought like lions to hold off the Confederates, and bought enough time for John Reynolds to bring up his corps; the 1st Corps. Meredith had recently entered back in to service and, following Gibbon’s promotion, finally gained the brigade command he so craved. Now the Iron men were first brigade in their division, providing them with their famous denotation as the 1st Brigade, of the 1st Division, of the 1st Corps. They were highly confident as they marched towards McPherson’s Ridge outside Gettysburg, happily playing the tune of ‘the Campbells are coming’ due to the Scottish roots of many men in the brigade.

The final battle

Confederates under James Archer where the first to meet the fury of the westerners. With the 2nd Wisconsin leading the charge, they drove back the Rebels, even capturing Archer himself, and eventually established a defensive line on McPherson’s Ridge. Reinforcements from both armies began to trickle in, as Oliver Howard’s 11th Corps quickly came up to support Reynolds. The 19th found themselves on the right flank of the brigade battle line, facing two Confederate regiments attempting to flank their line. They held for hours, pouring a deadly fire in to those opposing them and running out of ammunition before being reissued. However, the Confederates proved too many, and they eventually got on the flank of the Hoosiers. They had gone in to the battle as the smallest of the Iron Brigade regiments, and now faced perhaps the most difficult situation of any regiment in the brigade. They melted under the fire, with dozens going down every volley, and were forced to rally on the recently arrived 24th Michigan, new members of the brigade. Following the rout of the 11th Corps, the brigade was forced to make a fighting retreat through Gettysburg; nevertheless, they had bought enough time for the Union troops to set up defences on high ground outside of the town, which ultimately brought victory for Meade’s forces. The Hoosiers didn’t see much further action for the duration of the battle and, indeed, the war.

The end of the 19th

Besides some debilitating encounters at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, they did not see battle for the rest of the conflict and were consolidated with the 20th Indiana in October 1864. Unfortunately, despite 213 reenlistments, the regiment was ruled short of the goal for commitment to the veteran corps, but that does not take away from their bravery and sacrifice in bringing an end to the war.