A Small Pennsylvania Town
The Battle of Gettysburg raged from July 1-3, 1863. This battle took place in a small town in Pennsylvania named Gettysburg. This battle was the deadliest battle of the Civil War. Many men fought in the battle including the 26th North Carolina.
This battle resulted from the rebels invading the North. Lee’s army collided with the Army of the Potomac in this small town. The South was down one of their key generals in this battle: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson had been a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the war and during the war had been Lee’s most reliable general. However, with his untimely demise, the South had now split his corps into two corps.
The third day was a disaster for the entire Army of Northern Virginia, which culminated in the now famous assault known as “Pickett’s Charge”. The 26th North Carolina was a part of this assault, which was to be known as the “high tide of the Confederacy.”
Most Civil War buffs are familiar with this battle. However, you may not be aware of the story of the 26th North Carolina’s flag bearers and this extraordinary story. We will examine their tale in fascinating detail and look at some unforgettable stories and dramatic combat narratives.
The Bloodiest Days of the Civil War
July 1, 1863 was a grizzly day in American history. The Union would suffer 9,000 casualties while the Confederates suffered 6,000 (In case you did not know, casualties is the sum of killed, wounded, and missing). These are not numbers to be taken lightly.
Of those fighting on that bloody day were the 26th North Carolina. This regiment was a part of James Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade of Henry Heth’s division of A.P. Hill’s corps.
How did the 26th North Carolina (the Army of Northern Virginia) Come to Suffer Such a Grievous Distinction?
The North Carolinians of the 26th charged down the eastern side of Herr Ridge at about 3:30 p.m. on July 1. They then crossed Willoughby Run and charged the federal troops. As they charged forward, 10 color bearers (or flag carriers) are shot and killed.
This meant that all of the members of the color guard died. With no one to carry the flag, the Colonel in command, Henry King Burgwyn, called for someone to pick up the flag. This call was taken by Pvt. Frank Hunneycutt. When the private went to get the flag, a messenger who was sent by J. Johnston Pettigrew ran up. His name is William McCreery and he tells them, “The 26th has covered itself with glory.”
McCreery then takes the flag up in his own hands and swings it through the air. As he does so, a minié ball strikes him the heart, killing him instantly. Then George Wilcox grabs the flag but is also killed. The Colonel Burgwyn decides to grab the flag but he, like the others, is shot dead.
Finally Hunneycutt gets his chance and grabs the flag. However, the private would not see any different end than his peers. He is killed from a shot to the head.
This leaves fourteen men dead who attempted to carry the 26th’s colors. After this, Col. John R. Lane grabs the flag and the regiment begins to advance. The Tar Heels are successful in pushing back the federal regiment of the 24th Michigan.
However, Lane does not escape unharmed. He is shot like his peers. A bullet enters his neck and travels through his jaw and his mouth. However, unlike his peers, he manages to survive this shot.
Impact on the 26th North Carolina
While the 26th North Carolina does succeed in pushing back the Federal troops, they lose 14 men just trying to carry the colors. This is just a microscopic look at the terror and tragedy of July 1-3, 1863. Just one of many tales of bloodshed and eternal loss.