The 36th Wisconsin at the Second Battle of Petersburg: Major H.M. Brown’s Account

   

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36th Wisconsin Crossing the James RiverMajor Harvey M. Brown was a part of the 36th Wisconsin’s “charge over the melon patch” against the Confederate works on June 18, 1864 at the Second Battle of Petersburg. June 18, 1864 was one of the worst days of the war for the 36th Wisconsin, which had joined the Army of the Potomac one short but bloody month earlier. Five officers and one hundred eleven men were casualties by the end of the day, including Colonel Savage and Major Brown. Brown suffered all day, pinned down by enemy fire and unable to move on his own to safety.  This traumatic experience haunted him for the rest of his life, his wounds ultimately causing his death decades later.  Here is an excerpt from James M. Aubery’s regimental history of the 36th Wisconsin, published in 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

“Our brigade was in line at daylight, June 18th, and immediately attacked the enemy. We ran upon a strong picket and skirmish line, which fell back as we advanced. For a moment it looked as though we were going to carry their line and get into Petersburg. Elated at the prospect, every man pressed forward to be in at the death; and it was death or a hurt to most of us. The Johnnies fell back behind heavy earthworks, from which we received a galling fire. The Thirty-sixth Wisconsin were the only troops that advanced after that . We went over an old sod and hedge fence to the open field beyond, near the Confederate works. I received the bullet in my thigh soon after leaving the fence, but as the brave boys of the Thirty-sixth—God knows there were none braver—seemed determined to reach the enemy’s line, I went with them until we received a volley that nearly annihilated us. Those not shot fell to the ground, I with the rest. Just as I fell I received a shot across the spine which paralyzed me. My mind was clear and I could not imagine where I was hit or with what, but I could not move a joint or limb of my body. I supposed it was death in a mild form. I lay on the field till 10 o’clock that night. Our regiment had fallen back to the old fence under the protection of a battery and formed line. My boys watched me. As I had been quiet all day they supposed I was dead. They came to me after dark, when the enemy could not see, with their shovels to bury me, and were surprised that I was not dead, a feeling which I shared with them, and do yet.

“This is a long story of a very long day in my life. It is my first attempt to write about it. You must excuse my poor eyes; they will fill up a little when, after so many years, I recall the incidents and those brave men of so long ago. As you know, our brigade was the First of the Second Division, Second Corps, commanded by the heroic General John Gibbon, Hancock commanding the corps. Our boys were with Hancock then; the most of them are with him now. God bless him and God bless them all!”1

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