Late Night Action Near Spangler’s Spring Between Brigades of Colgrove and Steuart

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Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
Three brigades of the Twelfth Corps returning to Culp’s Hill on the night of July 2 had to independently learn the same hard lesson, namely that the Confederates now occupied at least a portion of the earthworks they had constructed earlier that day (specifically held by a mixed brigade comprising Virginians, North Carolinians and Marylanders led by Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart).

Col. Silas Colgrove’s brigade was one of the three. His regimental colonels were instructed to return to the position their respective commands had vacated in the early evening. A possible exception was the 2nd Massachusetts, which was ordered to cross the meadow and occupy the works that had been built and previously held by the 107th New York. Now the 107th was to support the 2nd by forming a double column perhaps 100 yards behind them.

South of the meadow, the other three regiments of Colgrove’s brigade reclaimed their old places without incident. The other (north) side of the meadow would prove to be a different story.

Entering the woods or bushes near Spangler’s Spring at around 11 p.m., Lt. Col. Charles R. Mudge of the 2nd Massachusetts wisely sent forward a few scouts from the lead company, who returned almost immediately to report a body of unidentified soldiers in front. Mudge at once quietly ordered a halt, then reversed direction, returning back across the meadow and forming a line of battle just inside the woods, facing northward toward the spring.

Meanwhile, the 107th New York had moved up to the left rear of the 2nd Massachusetts, but was halted by their colonel, N. M. Crane, in the undergrowth north of the meadow, leaving part of the 107th still in the meadow. Crane took Capt. H. G. Brigham forward with him to scout the situation. They soon discovered unknown troops moving into place [probably behind the stone wall]. Crane inquired, “What command is this, sir?” The reply cited a specific Confederate unit. Thinking quickly, Crane replied, “Oh, yes, sir; all right, sir,” as both he and Brigham backed out. Crane encountered Maj. Charles F. Morse of the 2nd, who informed him that his regiment was retiring, so Col. Crane gathered up his own regiment and followed suit. [See first map.]

If Crane’s intelligence regarding the enemy’s presence reached Lt. Col. Mudge, which seems unlikely, he did not believe it. Mudge immediately dispatched Company F, under Lt. Dennis Mehan to ascertain the facts. Approaching the spring, Mehan’s inferior force managed to get the drop on a Confederate captain and 20-22 enemy soldiers without firing a shot. Some, if not all of them, belonged to the 10th Virginia. The captain protested confiscation of his side arms, asking, “Do you not respect private property?” Mehan replied, “Yes, I do, that is why I want it in my personal possession; hand over that sword and revolver.” Looking over the records of the 10th Virginia, the officer most likely fitting the above description is Captain Nehemiah Fountain, commanding Company F.

Even Lt. Mehan’s impressive accomplishment did not entirely convince senior Union officers [Colgrove and others?] of the enemy’s presence in their works. They rationalized that the Confederates were an isolated group looking to refill their canteens. So Company K of the 2nd Massachusetts was sent out on a similar mission, under Capt. Thomas B. Fox, a Harvard Law School graduate. Maj. Morse accompanied the probe. In passing through the dark woods, voices were heard about 25 yards ahead. Two men who were sent to identify them were almost immediately challenged, when one of them asked, “What regiment, boys?” Someone replied, “23rd Virginia,” then exclaimed, “Why, they’re Yanks!” One of the Federals was seized, but the other escaped to report his findings. However, Morse could not decipher the behavior of the Confederates; they seemed confused as to their position, and showed no inclination to fire or advance. So he directed Capt. Fox to call their seeming bluff. Fox walked forward until challenged, when he yelled, “Surrender, or we fire!” or else, “Surrender, come into our lines!” which drew an immediate response from an unseen Confederate officer, “Battalion ready, Aim! Fire!” A blaze of enemy fire erupted right and left down the line for a long distance. [See second map.] Fox’s men, being on lower ground than their opponents, were lucky to have only two men wounded, but when some of the Confederates approached, Company K bolted back across the meadow. It may have been near midnight, or not long afterwards, when the senior Union leadership in that vicinity were finally convinced as to the enemy’s position. The 2nd Massachusetts settled in, sending Company E forward to the meadow’s edge on picket duty, while the balance of the regiment and brigade tried to get some sleep before first light, just three plus hours later.

Postscript: Capt. Fox was only slightly wounded the following morning during a fateful charge made across the meadow by the 2nd Massachusetts (and 27th Indiana), but it still claimed his life on July 25. Lt. Mehan was likewise wounded, but he recovered and mustered out with the regiment as a captain on July 14, 1865. Lt. Col. Mudge was killed in the same action.

Sources:
-History of the Second Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry, Gettysburg; A Paper Read at the Officers’ Reunion in Boston, May 10, 1878, by Charles F. Morse, Boston: George Ellis, Printer, 1882.
-Official Report of Charles F. Morse, 2 MA.
-Official Report of Col. N. M. Crane, 107 NY.
-Captain H. G. Brigham, 107 NY, New York at Gettysburg, III:771.
-Charles F. Morse Papers, 1861-1920, Massachusetts Historical Society.
-2nd Massachusetts Regiment, Company C, by Phalen, Essex Institute, James Duncan Phillips Library.
 

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