Forgotten Foray of the 42nd New York and 19th Massachusetts on July 2

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Perhaps not well understood or appreciated is an independent action on July 2 involving the 42nd New York and 19th Massachusetts from Colonel Norman J. Hall’s brigade of the Second Corps. Hall explained it succinctly in his official report: “An order was received to send two regiments to the left to reinforce General Humphreys, and a staff officer came to conduct them. Being dispatched accordingly, the two regiments moved rapidly forward and were soon lost to sight in the smoke of the battle. Conducted by the flank through the flying lines of our troops, and left by the staff officer – whom they have not seen since – to their own resources, they formed line of battle, delivered several volleys into the enemy in their front, staggering him for an instant, and, under this cover, withdrew in good order with a few prisoners, but with a loss of nearly one-third of their number. These regiments (the Forty-second New York and Nineteenth Massachusetts) were the last of our troops to fall back at that point, and in their regularity presented a striking contrast with the fugitives.”

The order came directly from General George G. Meade, who was observing the collapse of the Third Corps in the company of Generals Hancock and Gibbon, with Colonel Arthur F. Devereaux of the 19th Massachusetts nearby. “Turning to Hancock, Gen Meade says: ‘Something must be done. Send a couple of regiments out in support of Humphreys.’ Hancock turned to Gibbon, and, without a word between them, the latter says to Colonel Devereux, ‘Take the Forty Second New York with you.’ ”

Both regiments were quite small at the time. The 42nd New York, under Colonel James E. Mallon, was estimated to have only about 10 officers and 147 enlisted men, not counting two companies that were left behind on the skirmish line. The 19th Massachusetts had a strength of 19 officers and 141 enlisted men. A disputed right of seniority existed between Mallon and Devereaux that remained unresolved 15 years after the battle, but to their credit the two men worked well together and never let the question of rank hinder their cooperation.

With the Third Corps giving way, just what two small regiments were expected to accomplish was unclear, an observation not lost on Devereaux, who explained: “… when we reached the rear of their [Third Corps] position, a distance of perhaps an eighth of a mile from where we started, [they] were completely broken and running to the rear in great confusion. I asked the officer leading us what was the object intended for us to accomplish and what position to take up. He answered, ‘In support of Humphreys’ division.’ I pointed out to him how useless to attempt to form a support for a division in the open field with two small regiments, numbering but 290 men together, and when that division was so much broken and fleeing in such confusion. He gave me no satisfactory answer, and at that moment galloped off. Left to ourselves, I suggested to Colonel Mallon that the two regiments be formed behind the crest of a short knoll some distance in our front, there to lie down, wait until our retreating line, which was right upon us then, had passed, deliver a volley by the rear and front ranks, to check the pursuing enemy, and then make good our retreat. We gained the position without delay, lay down until everything in front and on both flanks had passed us to the rear, then, giving the command to my regiment, I fired two volleys, as I believe, also did Captain Mallon. It became necessary then to retreat immediately to avoid capture, the enemy’s line outflanking us on the right and left hundreds of yards to each side, and very near – so near, indeed, that both regiments captured several prisoners.”

Colonel Mallon recalled: “The staff officer who conducted us led the commands, they marching by the right flank [42nd New York first behind and then to the right of the 19th Massachusetts] until they were well brought under musketry fire. At this time all the troops to the front were precipitately retiring in great disorder. … After having poured into the rebels several volleys, the regiments, the Nineteenth Massachusetts covering, moved to the rear. When we had retired 200 yards, we were ordered by Captain [George W.] Leach, of the brigade staff, to rejoin the brigade. During this engagement the regiment lost 3 killed and 12 wounded.

We don’t know exactly where the two regiments fought, but Col. Devereaux left us two clues. First, he said they moved an eighth of a mile southward, or 220 yards; and second, they took advantage of a slight elevation. Humphreys’ far right flank was actually about three times that distance away, so the first clue was not much help. The regimental history of the 19th clarified the movement by stating that the two regiments marched southward (in column) at the double quick until opposite Humphreys’ right flank, when they changed direction by the right flank (placing them in a line of battle). After crossing Plum Run, they encountered a “slight ridge running diagonally to the [Emmitsburg] road.” Now, referring to the Bachelder maps, the position he assigned to them is indeed near a bluff of sorts west of Plum Run, so that influenced my choice, as shown on the attached draft map. If it is a fairly accurate placement of the 42nd and 19th, I suspect it was mainly the 9th Alabama that drove them off the field. However, the exultation experienced by the victorious 9th Alabama would prove short-lived, because they were about to be stopped in their tracks by the charge of the 1st Minnesota. The regimental history of the 19th Massachusetts in fact refers to the 1st Minnesota’s charge, which lends confidence to the above assessment of where the 19th and 42nd were deployed.

The fight put up by the two regiments in their most advanced position was very brief, perhaps only a minute or so, since the 19th Massachusetts fired but two volleys according to Devereaux. Mallon’s contention that he fired “several” volleys might be the cumulative total unleashed at successive halts as his regiment fell back toward Cemetery Ridge. The 42nd New York was said to have lost 15 out of the estimated 157 taken into action, for an attrition rate of 10 percent. The 19th Massachusetts lost upwards of 50, according to their regimental history, which comes close to the one-third cited by Hall, and is substantial considering the amount of time they were engaged. I can readily believe the Confederates came out ahead in the overall exchange in terms of loss. Sending out the 42nd and 19th unsupported to prop up a collapsing division proved to be a pointless and costly move. Although the Federals were desperate to stem the Rebel onslaught, it was simply “too little, too late” as the saying goes. On the other hand, we can better appreciate what the 1st Minnesota regiment accomplished with even fewer numbers.

Sources:
-Official Reports of Hall, Devereaux and Mallon.
-History of the Nineteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, comp. by Ernest Linden Watt, Salem, MA: The Salem Press Company, 1906.
-Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, by Cap. John G. B. Adams, Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1899.
-May 1, 1878 report of Colonel Arthur Forrester Devereux, Nineteenth Massachusetts, Supplement to the Army Official Records.


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rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
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In regards to seniority, Arthur Devereaux was probably the ranking officer. Colonel Edward Hinks was promoted to brigadier general on March 9, 1863 (although it was backdated to November 1862) and it's likely that Devereaux received his eagles at the same time or shortly thereafter (it's possible that his own rank was backdated as well). James Mallon, the major of the 42nd New York, was mustered in as colonel on March 17, 1863 when Colonel Edmund Charles was discharged.

Colonel James Mallon was killed in action at Bristoe Station on October 4, 1863.

Ryan
 

jameswoods

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Jul 29, 2015
According to Brig. General Andrew Humphreys, the staff officer referred to by Colonels Deveraux and Mallon was Lieutenant Henry C Christiancy.

Humphreys reported that, "...Colonel Sewell sent me word that the enemy was driving in my pickets, and was about advancing in two lines to the attack. The demand for aid was so urgent , however, that I sent Major Burns' Fourth Excelsior to General Graham's brigade. and at the same time dispatched one of my aides, Lieutenant Christiancy to General Hancock, commanding Second Corps (General Caldwell's division having been sent to the extreme left), with the request that he would send a brigade, if possible, to my support."
[O. R., Vol. 27 -1, 533]

Humphreys believed Christiancy's "...judicious disposition...of the reinforcements he brought me is particularly deserving of mention".
[O. R., Vol. 27 -1, 535]

Also, it appears that Colonel Deveraux's 1878 supplemental report placing himself in over-all charge of the two regiments is at odds with Hancock's understanding, the General's report stating, "...The two regiments sent from the Second Division to General Humphreys' assistance (Nineteenth Massachusetts, Colonel Deveraux, and Forty-second New York, Colonel Mallon, both under command of Colonel Mallon)...".
[O. R., Vol. 27 -1, 370]
 

Tom Elmore

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Lieutenant Henry Clay Christiancy (of the 1st Michigan, detached as an aide to Humphreys) wrote in his diary on July 2: "Pleasant. In position all a.m. Battle commenced at 4:40 o'clk p.m. Fought till 7:30 p.m. Was driven from our position. Rallied and drove them back, though they hold the orchard which was the key to our position. Chester badly wounded, and Harry Bishop through the arm." (Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville)

Captain William Henry Chester (of the 74th New York, special aide to Humphreys) was mortally wounded on July 2 (a minie ball entering near his spine) and died on July 5. While lying wounded on the field, he shot and killed a Confederate soldier who was attempting to steal his watch. He was carried back to a Federal field hospital that night. (Obituary, 74th NY Infantry Regiment, Civil War Newspaper Clippings, NY Military Museum - online; Diary of A. F. Cavada)

The path taken by the 19th Massachusetts and 42nd New York from their position just southeast of the copse (behind the 20th Massachusetts) to support Humphreys is a matter of conjecture. My guess is that they followed the declining ground leading to Plum Run, passing behind the 19th Maine, and in front of Thomas' Battery C, 4th U.S. and the 1st Minnesota.
 
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rpkennedy

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The 42nd New York was said to have lost 15 out of the estimated 157 taken into action, for an attrition rate of 10 percent. The 19th Massachusetts lost upwards of 50, according to their regimental history, which comes close to the one-third cited by Hall, and is substantial considering the amount of time they were engaged.

For the entire battle, the 19th Massachusetts would suffer 77 casualties while the 42nd New York lost 74 men. If that is so, it seems that the 19th bore the brunt of Confederate fire on July 2nd while the 42nd lost considerably more on July 3rd.

Ryan
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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These are excellent posts that bring to light a seldom mentioned action within the larger battle.

Kudos to Deveraux and Mallon for moving forward in obedience to orders, and more so in recognizing that the mission to support Humphrey's Division was finished when that division retreated. With no one to support, they very properly got their two small commands out before they were overwhelmed. Neither regiment reported a large number of missing or captured (7 for the 19th MA and 4 for the 42d NY). This suggests to me that the withdrawal was accomplished in good order.
 
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