Led by Col. Edgar B. Montague of King and Queen County, they not only marched into a brutal grinder that had felled thousands of men but rushed to the forefront of a charge that changed the battle's outcome.
"Finally, they're marching together. They're eating and sleeping together. They have an effective leader," Quarstein says.
"And you can see the difference at Sharpsburg."
Pushing to the front as their brigade attacked, nearly every other man in the 32nd fell in the relentless hail of fire screaming in from their front and right. Yet still they hurtled forward until the soldiers in blue finally broke and ran for their lives, reaching the safety of a long stone wall after a lethal chase through a wood and several body-strewn fields.
"They might have drove us clean into Pennsylvania," wrote Pvt. Roland Bowen of the 15th Massachusetts, which suffered almost as much as the 32nd after the tide of battle shifted.
"(But) No ... Southerner is going to catch me unless he can run 29 miles per hour."
Scarred by battle
No one doubted the 32nd's willingness or ability to fight after its performance at Antietam.
So impressed was Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart that he rode down from his battery on Hauser's Ridge, drawing fire from the whole Federal line behind the stone wall as he spurred toward the regiment's exposed position.
"Boys, you are doing good work," he said.
Still, the grisly price of their triumph could be seen strewn across the fields behind them, where 21 men died outright and nearly 60 others lay wounded.
Fewer than 80 managed to walk away unscathed.
"A lot of the men were hit in the head — and most of those died," Smith said.
"They were shot up pretty bad."
Among those who survived, Pvt. William Haynie Wornom of the York Rangers wore his scars for life.
He was still recovering from an ugly wound to his nose and face when he had his picture taken in Petersburg almost a year later.
Cpl. Arthur Shield of the York Rangers recuperated from his wound only to take another bullet in the lung in late 1864. Five years after the war ended, he coughed it out — then died from his long struggle with tuberculosis and pneumonia.
Among the other survivors, only 46 remained when the battered regiment surrendered at Appomattox.
More than 100 of their comrades had died in battle or from disease, and 116 had been captured. Another 205 had deserted, most after enduring years of war.
The last veteran to die was John Presson of the York Rangers, who held court in his rocking chair at Buzzard's Roost Store near Big Bethel until passing away in his 90s.
"It's probably a blessing the Union wasn't broken up," he said in 1933.
"But at the time we wanted to win — we had to win. We were fighting for a cause, and for our own ground."
Erickson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4783. Find more Hampton Roads History stories at dailypress.com/history and Facebook.com/hrhistory.