The First Day at Gettysburg and the 45th New York

Following my Gettysburg theme this week’s post will focus on the 45th New York Infantry. I’ll try not to overburden the reader with a regimental history that one can easily find online; instead, I want to focus on some interesting aspects of the 45th. Some questions will come up during this post that will welcome reader input, as I can not claim to be an all-around Civil War expert.

According to Don Troiani’s Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War the 45th New York “can be considered one of the very best of the ethnic German regiments to serve in the Union army.” Orders were actually given in German. To me, this information helps to demonstrate how “different” at least some of the German regiments were from other regiments even in the 11th Corps. This language barrier extended to officers as well as enlisted men. In a future post on Colonel Gotthilf Bourry of the 68th New York the reader will discover that one of the many accusations placed against him was his lack of English skills.

Also in Troiani’s book there is a reference to General Howard, corps commander, ordering each soldier in the 11th Corps to carry two pairs of shoes in the Gettysburg campaign. Would even a Federal soldier have the luxury of two pairs of shoes at the same time? I’ll see if I can find out more information on this order and the shoe supply, but reader input is encouraged.

I know very little of George von Amsberg, the colonel of the 45th New York through Gettysburg. He lived from 1821 to 1876 and is buried in North Bergen, New Jersey. On July 1, 1863, von Amsberg took command of the First Brigade, Third Division, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Adolphus Dobke in regimental command.

Skipping ahead in the story, I need to note that on January 12, 1864, General Howard wrote a letter to Secretary of War Stanton detailing, with separate officer issue, his reasons for not wanting von Amsberg to return to any command. He

left his command i.e. a brigade while en route from Washington to this Army, and upon my advice tendered his resignation. It was not accepted owing to a want of Ordnance certificate. He obtained a leave of absence with the promise of forwarding his resignation as soon as his Ordnance certificate was obtained. His regiment has enlisted as a veteran regiment, and he will now probably return to it. He is not a bad man, but one of great weakness — said to have lost his manliness by long imprisonment in Europe. It is of great importance to the regiment that this officer does not return to it. (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d2938900)))

Von Amsberg was discharged later that month. Can any readers provide details on von Amsberg’s biography both pre- and post-Civil War? I presume he was an officer in one of the German armies during the 1840s or 1850s, but, as most historians know, presumption is a dangerous thing.

For the remainder of this post I’d like to focus on the 45th’s actions at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. During my recent visit I was able to observe much of the field north of town. Below is the monument to the 45th New York on Howard Avenue. The monument is positioned on the south, or town side, of the road. It is my understanding that the monuments on Howard Avenue do not necessarily correlate to any particular regimental position. When the original battlefield tour roads were constructed the commission only owned a narrow strip of land along Howard Avenue; therefore, the 11th Corps regimental monuments were installed along the road.


Here is a view of Oak Hill looking west from the 45th New York Monument.


Here is a close-up view of the McLean farm which was visible in the distance in the previous view.


A marker is located on the McLean farm lane which marks the advance position of the 45th New York. While the farm buildings are not open to the public, the farm is NPS property and reasonably accessible from the observation tower parking lot across the Mummasburg Road. The 45th’s monument was dedicated on October 10, 1888. From Christian Boehm’s address at the dedication (delivered in German!), we learn some details –

Thereupon we advanced at the double-quick step, when suddenly several brigades of enemy infantry pushed back the right wing of the valiantly fighting First Corps, thereby threatening our left flank. The 45th quickly poured volley after volley into the enemy’s flanks and, charging after the retreating enemy, took several hundred prisoners. With a ‘hurrah’ we then advanced to McLean’s red barn; the valiant Sgt. Linder and his comrades took 60 prisoners, followed by an additional twelve who appeared from a nearby trench to surrender. (http://www.gdg.org/Research/Authored%20Items/45thnydedication.htm)

Here is a description of what occurred after the advance to McLean’s barn –

While we were sending about 300 prisoners to the rear another Confederate brigade came charging down the hill near the Mummasburg Road (Iverson’s North Carolina Brigade), driving in the right of the First Corps. Dilger’s Battery, and six companies of our regiment in their front, and the four companies on Oak Hill and at McLean’s barn, now in their flank and rear, as well as several regiments of the First Corps to the left of the Mummasburg Road, gave them simultaneously fearful volleys in front, on both flanks, and rear. Iverson’s Brigade broke and ran for cover; we all charged them from every quarter simultaneously, and drove part of them upon the right of the First Corps and up to and across the Mummasburg Road, where three entire regiments surrendered with their battle flags, mostly to the First Corps, now in their front, and to the six companies of our regiment, our four companies of skirmishers in their rear picking up about 300 prisoners more. (http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/45thInf/45thInfHistSketch.htm)

The final view is from the observation tower near the Eternal Peace Memorial looking east towards the positions of the 11th Corps. The red arrow marks Blocher’s Knoll, afterwards known as Barlow’s Knoll. The white arrow marks the 45th New York monument. Off camera to the left are the McLean farm buildings. Based on my observations on the field, I believe the hill at the right of the photograph is Culp’s Hill.

 

I’ll stop my post here and continue next week with descriptions of the 45th’s retreat through Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1.

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