On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, at Pickett's Charge, two Vermont regiments from Brig. Gen. George J. Stannard's 2nd Vermont Brigade helped break the charge.
The 13th and 16th Vermont Infantry Regiments turned toward the exposed Confederate advance and dispensed point-blank fire into Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's flank, according to George R. Stewart and his book, Pickett's Charge: A microhistory of the final attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, published in 1959.
"Now the long months of tedious close-order drill suddenly paid off for the Vermonters," wrote Stewart. "From double-ranked line the 13th swung into column of fours, and marched north toward the enemy, in front of [Brig. Gen. William] Harrow's now vacated line. Then came the command, 'Change front forward on first company!' The men broke from column, and moved out, along the edge of the rough ground, going into line of battle within easy range of the flank of that disorganized mass of men just below the Angle."
According to Col. Charles F. Morse of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers, in The Twelfth Corps at Gettysburg, "The regiments of the Vermont Brigade are at once wheeled a little so as to fire directly into the enemy's right flank. The Confederates shrink away from this cruel fire, delivered with such deadly precision, and sweeping their line from their right to left. They huddle in toward the center, a movement which exposed them as sure targets for the deadly fire from the front. But they press on, crowded together, covered with blood, desperate and fast falling. To remain where they are is annihilation. Their only hope is to advance."
As the Confederates opened fire, some of the left-wing companies of the 13th Regiment got caught before completing their maneuver into line. They were unable to reply but hesitated only briefly and continued on.
"Company by company, as they came into line, the Vermonters opened fire," explained Stewart. "As the roar of musketry intensified and the smoke rose up, the Union soldiers fighting desperately to hold the wall, or struggling in the clump of trees, or firing from the skyline beyond the trees, all sensed that the battle had turned. ... Still the musketry intensified, as the 16th Vermont, with farther to go than the 13th, moved out from behind its sister regiment and opened fire."
As the 13th Regiment pushed forward and shortened the range, the Confederates reacted. They tried to shift their men and face them around in order to form a front against the attack. However, according to Stewart, "no troops ever mustered would be likely to withstand, for long, such a surprise attack driven home upon their flank."
"Looking from higher up on the slope," wrote Stewart, "Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, commander of the 1st Corps, was waving his hat and shouting, 'Glory to God, glory to God! See the Vermonters go in!'"
Kaylin Rocco is a senior majoring in journalism at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship at The Sun.