Lost on Little Round Top

    In the Michigan section of Gettysburg National Cemetery rests the mortal remains of First Lieutenant Butler Brown, Co. E, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. Killed in action during the battle for Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, the Adrian native had clerked for several years in a dry goods store in nearby Hillsdale, Michigan before volunteering to go to war. Initially part of the 11th Michigan, Brown was transferred to the 16th Michigan in early August 1861 and commissioned second lieutenant of Co. E of August 9th. Lieutenant Brown's regiment soon left home for Virginia where it endured a very active and hard service with the 5th Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac. 

First Lieutenant Butler Brown, Co. E, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry
Killed in action July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top

    "I have been with Butler through many months of active campaigns and fought by his side in eight battles," recalled Adjutant George Prentiss. "I never knew him to hold back or shrink from any duty, no matter how perilous its performance.  In a long and intimate acquaintance with Butler and while passing through scenes of peril, I learned to respect and love him not only for his courage and bravery, which was never called into question, but more for his high sense of honor, truthfulness, and the purity of his moral character. Too modest and with too much self-respect to clamor for promotion as some do, while his worth and bravery have never been questioned, he has not received the promotion he deserved."

    The 16th Michigan had been on the march for several days with scarcely a break when they arrived at Gettysburg in the early morning hours of July 2, 1863. The regiment fell out along the Baltimore Pike and tried to catch up on their sleep; the regiment was abuzz with rumors about the battle already underway and more importantly, who was going to lead them in the fight. The hot rumor made its way along the column when the troops were marching through McSherrytown the night before. As remembered by Lieutenant Ziba Graham, the men heard cheering from the head of the column. "We all seemed to be inflated with the desire to cheer, if we only knew what for," he wrote. "Soon the news reached us- McClellan has been reinstated; he leads us into the battle of tomorrow! The news must be true for it comes from the head of the column. Cheer after cheer rent the heavens. Wearied boys who but a short time before seemed dejected, now were delirious with joy. 'Little Mac has come and all will yet be well!"

Lt. Col. Norval E. Welch
16th Michigan Infantry

    About mid-afternoon, the 6th Army Corps arrived which allowed the 5th Corps to move from their reserve position and head to the left of Dan Sickles' 3rd Army Corps. "Whilst moving to our new position, the ball opened and the firing became terrific," Lieutenant Graham continued. "We double quicked over the old stony ground in very short order whilst shell after shell came bursting among us. We had been massed between the Emmetsburg Road and the Baltimore Pike, the First Division on the right with our brigade on the right of the division, placing us as the lead of the corps. Going into the fight we had progressed near to the Trastle House in our double quick movement to support General David Birney when General G.K. Warren came dashing up to the head of the column from the direction of Little Round Top and pointing out Little Round Top to Colonel Strong Vincent, he said, "I take the responsibility of detaching your brigade. Give the command to double quick and ride forward with me to Little Round Top. To lose Round Top would be fatal."

    Riding at the head of Vincent's column and bearing the brigade headquarters flag was Private Oliver W. Norton of the 83rd Pennsylvania, who remembered this event as occurring without General Warren. "While waiting for orders, Colonel Vincent saw a captain of General Sykes' staff riding toward him from the front. Vincent, who evidently knew the captain, rode forward to meet him while I followed closely with the flag, Arriving Vincent said, 'Captain, what are your orders?' Without replying directly, the officer said, 'Where is General Barnes?' If Vincent knew he did not answer the question but said with emphasis, 'What are your orders? Give me your orders.' The officer replied 'General Sykes directed me to tell General Barnes to send one of his brigade to occupy the hill yonder,' pointing to Little Round Top. Without a moment's hesitation, Vincent replied, " I will take the responsibility of taking my brigade there."

    Regardless of which version was true, the die had been cast, and Vincent's brigade, consisting of the 44th New York, 16th Michigan, 83rd Pennsylvania, and 20th Maine, double quicked in the above order towards the top of Little Round Top. The 44th New York, the Ellsworth Avengers under Colonel James C. Rice, reached the peak first and Vincent directed the regiment into line, but Colonel Rice balked at the assignment. "Colonel, in every previous battle in which we have been engaged, the 44th and 83rd have fought side by side. I wish it could be so today," recalled Private Norton. "Vincent appreciated the feeling and answered, 'It shall be so. Let the 16th pass you." And so it was that the 16th Michigan formed the right flank of Vincent's brigade which momentarily would put them squarely in the path of an attack from the 4th and 5th Texas regiment of Colonel Jerome Robertson's brigade of Hood's division.

Colonel Strong Vicent, 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Died of wounds July 7, 1863

    Once the 16th Michigan reached its place, the balance of the brigade formed on its left: the 44th New York, the 83rd Pennsylvania, and on the left flank was Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine. That story is a familiar one and I will not retell it here; our focus is on the right of the line and on Butler Brown with the 16th Michigan. "Up to this time not a shot had been fired nor a Confederate soldier seen on that part of the field, but the skirmishers of the 83rd and 44th soon met the enemy advancing in heavy columns without skirmishers," remembered Private Norton. "They came on rapidly following the retirement and arriving within short range of our line, opened a heavy fire."

Entrenchments atop Little Round Top

    The 16th Michigan was the smallest regiment of Vincent's brigade of 1,350 men, a situation not helped when, while on the march to Little Round Top, Lieutenant Colonel Norval E. Welch was directed to send two of his largest companies towards Big Round Top; they represented a quarter of the regiment's strength leaving Welch with scarce 150 muskets to man the line. Before the regiment even got into position, Confederate sharpshooters started hitting his men. "On the bare summit detached rocks were thrown together for protection against the storm of shot and shell that was crashing with awful destruction in and around the four regiments that had gained the eminence," one historian noted. "As the enemy climbed by desperate methods toward the summit, he was met in a hand-to-hand struggle with bayonet and clubbed muskets and a most terrific and bloody encounter took place."

Adjutant (later Major) Rufus W. Jacklin, 16th Michigan
His horse, a fine chestnut, was killed while the regiment climbed the slope of Little Round Top

    Down in Plum Valley, the two Texas regiments recoiled from the initial exchange and tried to find a way around the right flank of the 16th Michigan. "Having gone beyond the line held by the 16th Michigan, they turned and advanced directly up the hill to attack this flank of our line. They came with such courage and such overwhelming numbers that the right wing of the 16th Michigan wavered and broke," Private Norton remembered. Lieutenant Colonel Welch disagreed; the right wing of the regiment pulled back to a higher position on the hill under orders from a superior officer, the name of which he couldn't remember. Colonel Vincent certainly didn't give that command, and in attempting to rally the Wolverines, he received a mortal wound. His last words to his men were "Don't give an inch!"  The Texans, sensing the confusion in Welch's line, redoubled their efforts but ran smack into Paddy O'Rorke and the charging 140th New York whose arrival at that precise moment may be the finest example of the luck of the Irish in the annals of the Civil War. The impact of the New Yorkers broke the last Confederate attack- Little Round Top was secure- the right had held. 

    "We who had survived the battle thanked God that we had been spared whilst so many of our comrades had fallen," recalled Lieutenant Graham of the 16th Michigan. "As we groped around in the darkness for our wounded on that rock-bound mountainside, friend grasped the hand of friend and congratulated each other that they had been spared. While the tattered fragment of the 16th Michigan were relieved to see the New Yorkers covering their right flank, they were exasperated that the regimental colors and their commander had disappeared. Private Norton found them along with Lieutenant Colonel Welch about a mile behind the lines later that evening near the farmhouse where Colonel Vincent lay dying. "Being much surprised to see him there, I asked Colonel Welch where the brigade was," Norton remembered. "Welch replied that he did not know, that they were driven off the hill, and that Colonel Vincent was in that farmhouse."

Captain Benjamin Franklin Partridge, Co. C, 16th Michigan
Wounded in action July 2, 1863

    Out of the 150 men that Welch brought to Little Round Top, more than a third of them were left there- 21 men killed, and 38 wounded. Numbered among the slain was First Lieutenant Butler Brown of Co. E, shot through the head during the engagement, dying without uttering a sound. Second Lieutenant William H. Borden of Co. F and First Lieutenant Wallace Jewett of Co. H lay among the rocks and brambles nearby. "I had no truer or purer officers, and their loss cannot be replaced," Colonel Welch lamented. Sergeant Lucius Sanborn of Co. C was among those tasked with laying these officers to rest the following day. "Early in the morning of July 3rd, I helped bury with the honors of war three commissioned officers of my regiment- Lieutenants Butler Brown, William H. Borden, and Wallace Jewett. After which I took a stroll over the ground over which we had driven the enemy the day before. There were many dead, clad in the gray uniform. One in particular I call to mind. His foot had caught in the crevice of a rock, and he hung, head downward, along its perpendicular face. "

The dead of Plum Run Valley between Devil's Den and Little Round Top.

    In the aftermath of Gettysburg, the Federal dead, including Butler Brown, were removed from their battlefield graves and re-interred in the National Cemetery. "To say that I was strongly attached to him hardly expressed my feelings- I could not have felt worse had one of my own brothers fallen," Adjutant Prentiss continued. "But why mourn for him? His troubles are all over and he sleeps well. He fell nobly battling for his country; his comrades in arms loved him for his many virtues, and he leaves a bright and unvarnished name behind him. Young men of Butler's stamp, courageous and brave to a fault, truthful, conscientious, honorable, and of unspotted moral character are few. Tears will rise to my eyes when I think of him."

To learn more about the 16th Michigan, I recommend Kim Crawford's book The 16th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War


Letter from former Adjutant George Prentiss, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Hillsdale Standard (Michigan), July 28, 1863, pg. 3

First Lieutenant Ziba B. Graham, Co. I, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. "On to Gettysburg: Ten Days from my Diary of 1863," Michigan MOLLUS, Vol. I

Private Oliver W. Norton, 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Strong Vincent and His Brigade at Gettysburg July 2, 1863. Chicago: 1909

Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers, 1861-65; entry for 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry

"Thru Gettysburg," Sergeant Lucius Sanborn, Co. C, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, National Tribune, October 22, 1908, pg. 7


  1. Excellent post. Thanks. I have an ancestor, Capt JJ McBride, who led Co. C of the 5th Texas in that failed assault on the 16th Michigan. Interesting to read a primary source account from a man atop the ridge.


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