"Perry’s Brigade"
The Forgotten Floridians at Gettysburg

by Jim Studnicki

History has not been kind to the legacy of Florida’s Confederate soldiers. Too often they appear as little more than a footnote in accounts of the American Civil War. Nevertheless, Florida troops were present at Gettysburg and they fought bravely along side their comrades from Alabama and Georgia on July 2 and 3, 1863.

Florida was represented at Gettysburg by a brigade of three infantry regiments in Major General R.H. Anderson’s Division of A. P. Hill’s III Army Corps. By the summer of 1863, these soldiers had become seasoned veterans typical of the Army of Northern Virginia. The 2nd Florida Infantry had experienced heavy combat in several battles during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The regiment fought at Yorktown, followed by a delaying action at Williamsburg where the regiment's first colonel was killed. At a swampy Virginia crossroads called Seven Pines, the 2nd, then attached to Brigadier General Samuel Garland’s brigade, fought a brutal contest through mud, heavy vegetation and waist deep water. There the 2nd Florida gained everlasting glory when it charged and captured a battery of Federal artillery while sustaining over 50% casualties. After the Seven Days’ battles the battered 2nd was joined by the 5th and 8th Florida Infantry regiments. The Floridians fought at Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, and time and again they proved themselves to be tough soldiers full of courage and fight. Following the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland in September 1862, the three regiments were consolidated into a single Florida brigade under Brigadier General Edward Aylesworth Perry of Pensacola.

Colonel David Lang
Colonel David Lang
Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA
General Perry was stricken with typhoid fever at the time of the Gettysburg Campaign. Brigade command devolved to Colonel David Lang of the 8th Florida Regiment. Colonel Lang was known for his bravery, proven at the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 11, 1862, Lang and three companies of the 8th were attached to Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade. Barksdale was charged with occupying the town itself and delaying the Federal army’s crossing of the Rappahannock River as long as possible while the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia dug in on the high ground outside of town. Lang and his troops soon found themselves sniping at Federal engineers constructing pontoon bridges across the river to Fredericksburg’s City Dock. Despite severe Union artillery fire from the opposite bank, Lang’s soldiers continued to blaze away at the bridge builders and repeatedly drove them from their work. Union fire increased, and after a time a shell struck a nearby chimney and a large chunk of masonry gravely wounded Colonel Lang in the head. Still, Lang's men held their ground stubbornly – too stubbornly, perhaps, for when the order to fall back came the Federals were upon them and most of the Floridian detachment became prisoners of war.

 

Perry’s Brigade was still on the march to Gettysburg on July 1, the first day of the battle, and were not engaged. Anderson’s Division was assigned a position along Seminary Ridge. Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade was on the Floridians’ right and Rans Wright’s Georgia Brigade occupied the ground on their left. Early the next morning Colonel Lang placed his men behind a stone wall on the east edge of the woods on Abraham Spangler’s farm. The remnants of this wall can be seen today. About 1:00 in the afternoon on July 2 Union General Daniel E. Sickles sent forward a small reconnaissance force consisting of the 3rd Maine and an elite unit, the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters. These troops crossed the Emmetsburg Road and probed the woods to the Floridians’ right. There they ran into men from Wilcox’s Brigade and were repulsed after a rather brisk fight with the 11th Alabama. Lang was instructed to aid Wilcox if he requested support. Although this proved unnecessary, stray shots from the skirmish wounded a few men in Perry's Brigade.

A few hours later, a cannonade erupted along the line south of the Floridians’ position. Confederate cannon dueled with Federal artillery occupying the high ground in the Peach Orchard. Colonel Lang received orders that an attack would be made en echelon from right to left all along the Confederate line. The Floridians were to advance when Wilcox’s Brigade on their right was underway. After the battle, Lang wrote to the recuperating General Perry describing his brigade’s part in the action:

"About 4:30 p.m., Longstreet having advanced to Wilcox, he swung his right forward and advanced. As soon as his left reached my right, I conformed to the movement, and advanced at the double-quick upon the strongly fortified position in front, exposed to artillery and musketry fire from the start. Our men suffered terribly, but advanced nobly to the charge. About half way across the field the enemy had a line of batteries strongly supported by infantry. We swept over these, without once halting, capturing most of the guns and putting the infantry to rout with great loss. Indeed, I do not remember having seen anywhere before, the dead lying thicker than where the Yankee infantry attempted to make a stand in our front."

The men the Floridians encountered at the Emmetsburg Road were of the 1st Massachusetts, who were acting as skirmishers for Carr’s Brigade, the rightmost unit of Union General A. A. Humphrey’s Division. Behind them along the main line Lang’s men fought and outflanked the 26th Pennsylvania and 11th Massachusetts, driving them back and inflicting terrible losses. The Florida Brigade crashed through the field beyond the Emmetsburg Road and down a gentle slope to the bottom of a ravine through which the upper branch of Plum Run flowed. Here Lang paused his battle-worn men and attempted to re-form the brigade’s line. Shells and grape from Federal cannon ceaselessly pounded their ranks. Ahead, Cemetery Ridge loomed up directly in front. It was seemingly theirs for the taking, but Lang and his boys still had one more force to contend with, the 19th Maine Infantry regiment.

Watch us charge!
The charge of Perry and Wilcox on July 2 at Gettysburg.
(National Park Service)

 

Geo. D. Raysor
1st Lt. George D. Raysor
Co. G, 5th Florida Infantry

Gettysburg NMP
The 19th Maine had been placed in position on Cemetery Ridge by none other than Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock himself, commander of the Federal II Corps. Colonel Francis Heath had his men lie down flat on the ground to avoid exposing them needlessly to Confederate artillery fire. When the Floridians advanced across the Emmetsburg Road they drove a mob of fleeing soldiers from Humphrey’s Division in front of them. These fugitives ran over top of Colonel Heath’s regiment and attempted to rally in its rear. In the meantime, Heath waited until the Floridian’s line of battle was well within effective musket range and then he ordered his 400 Mainers to stand and fire. He gave specific orders for his men to shoot the color bearer of one of the Florida regiments who was advancing in front of his brigade and seemed to be guiding it. The color bearer was so close that Colonel Heath could plainly distinguish the young man’s features and years later would recall the determined look in his eyes. His men fired and the colors went down. The Floridians halted and the two lines of battle exchanged volleys at a range of less than fifty yards. By this time, the Confederate ranks were thin. The brigade had advanced almost a mile from their starting position in Spangler’s Woods under punishing artillery fire, pushing back several lines of blue-clad infantry. Lang's regiments had sustained heavy losses, with many company commanders killed or seriously wounded, and the entire color guard of the center regiment, the 8th Florida, casualties.

 

A fresh battery of Federal artillery unlimbered on Cemetery Ridge, sending shotgun-like blasts of canister fire on the Florida Brigade. It was then that Colonel Lang was notified that a Federal force had pushed back the Confederate brigade on his right and was threatening to cut off his line of escape. Fearing his force was about to be surrounded Lang ordered his three regiments to fall back to the Emmetsburg Road. Finding no safe place to re-form there the brigade retired to its original position. In the hasty retreat the colors of the 8th Florida were left on the field and picked up by Sgt. Thomas Horan of the 72nd New York, who later would receive the Medal of Honor for the capture. This flag survives and is preserved at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

The next day General Lee planned to attack again. This time, he would head straight for the Union center, which he felt might be weak because the Federals had moved troops to re-enforce the flanks of their line. Major General George E. Pickett's all-Virginia division spearheaded the main assault. Attached to Wilcox’s Brigade, Lang's command was to advance as supports to Pickett's column. At about 1:00 P.M., the great cannonade intended to soften up the Federal center began. The Floridians were forced to lay flat for hours under the hot summer sun, surrounded by booming artillery pieces, while tons of lead flew through the air only inches above their heads. At last, the artillery fire slackened and the Virginians advanced over the top of the Lang’s men, disappearing into the noise and smoke of the fight on Cemetery Ridge.

About 20 minutes after Pickett advanced, the order came for Wilcox’s command to go in. The Floridians went over the wall and once again moved eastward at quick step. From the start, the brigade was subjected to long range artillery fire from both Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge. The fire turned to canister and musketry as the Confederates crossed the Emmitsburg Road and approached the main Union battle line. A dense pall of smoke clung to the ridge, and the brigade drifted away from its intended direction. Instead of following Pickett’s men, the supporting column marched to its right, just slightly south of the place the Floridians had fought the previous day.

Archie Morrison
Archibald Graham Morrison
Co. D, 2nd Florida Infantry

Gettysburg NMP
In the confusion along the base of the ridge the 16th Vermont Regiment, having just flanked one of Pickett’s brigades and sent it reeling with great loss, turned about-face and crashed headlong into the left flank of the 2nd Florida. This was simply too much for the regiment to stand. The 2nd Florida’s color bearer was wounded and gave his banner to another soldier to carry, but the new bearer advanced only a few more yards before he surrendered. The brigade was forced to retreat once again, and most of the 2nd Florida ended up as prisoners. The regiment's battle flag, a beautiful silk banner with a unique sunburst design sewn upon it, was turned in to Federal army headquarters for record of its capture. It was supposedly exhibited for a time in Chicago and then sent back to Philadelphia. Yet the flag vanished from all records after 1863, and is still missing today.

 

After Lee’s army had begun the withdrawal from Gettysburg and was in retreat towards the Potomac River, Colonel Lang tallied his losses and found that 455 out of the 700 men of Perry’s Brigade had been killed, wounded, or were missing. This represents the highest casualty rate (65%) sustained by any brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Perry’s "intrepid little band of Floridians" would never fully recover from the harsh handling it received in Pennsylvania. The brigade took further losses at Bristoe Station in October 1863. General Perry was severely wounded at the Wilderness during the Overland Campaign of 1864 and sent to the Confederate Invalid Corps in Alabama. The brigade was consolidated with other troops from Florida and the independent unit that had been Perry’s Brigade ceased to exist. Most of the men of the 5th and 8th Florida were captured at Saylor’s Creek the following year, and Florida was represented by a mere fraction of its original fighting force at the surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Among those Floridians captured at Gettysburg was Lewis Powell of Company I, 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was wounded in the hand and exchanged later in the war. He joined the famous 53rd Virginia Cavalry, Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, and served for a time in the Shenandoah Valley. He then left the army and moved to Baltimore, Maryland. There he assumed the name Lewis Paine and took his place in history with the likes of Mary Surratt and John Wilkes Booth as a member of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. On the night of April 14, 1865, Paine viciously attacked U.S. Secretary of State William Seward. Paine rushed into Seward's home, stabbed the secretary repeatedly as he lay sick in his bed. Seward survived though the attack left him terribly scarred. Paine tried to escape but was caught, tried for his part in the conspiracy and hanged on July 7, 1865. After his execution, no relatives showed up to claim his body. In 1992, his skull surfaced at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and was released to a descendent in 1994. It was buried next to the grave of his mother in Live Oak, Florida.

Two brothers, Francis and C. Seton Fleming, were members of the 2nd Florida Infantry. So many officers in the 2nd became casualties at Gettysburg that by the end of the battle Seton, a captain, commanded the regiment. Seton was one of the bravest and most popular members of the regiment. He was killed the following year at Cold Harbor while attempting to carry out a suicidal order to counter-charge. After the war, Francis served as Governor of Florida (as did Brigadier General E.A. Perry, who returned to lead his brigade after Gettysburg) and wrote a memoir about Seton recounting their service in the 2nd. Colonel Lang became a civil engineer after Appomattox and worked closely with Governors Perry and Fleming in the 1880s. Lang and two other officers from Perry’s Brigade returned to Gettysburg in the 1890s and staked out the positions where the Floridians had fought. They marveled over the fact that any of them had survived at all after advancing so far against such heavy artillery and musket fire. Soon after, several tablets representing Perry’s Brigade’s part in the battle were erected on the battlefield by the United States War Department.


Jim C. Studnicki is currently a senior technical architect at TRADE'ex Electronic Commerce Systems, Inc., in Tampa, Florida. He holds a Masters Degree in Information Systems which he received in 1997 from the University of South Florida. Jim's study of the American Civil War is centered principally on Perry's Florida Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, and a full-length book on the subject is in the works. Much like General Perry, Jim was born and raised in the Northeast but moved to Florida and became taken with the state's rare beauty and its colorful culture and history. He currently resides in Tampa and not far from the site of Old Fort Brooke, a Union fort occupied by the Confederates during the Civil War.

For additional information about Florida troops at Gettysburg and in the Civil War, visit Civil War Florida.com

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