Lieutenant Holman S. Melcher


     There is so much to be said about distinct units of the American Civil War. Often times finding themselves shrouded within the mysterious fog of awe for an act in combat, their entire records going unnoticed as a result. This is most certainly the case with the 20th Maine Infantry who had joined their nation in uniform during the later summer of 1862

     Outstanding combat units are made up of extraordinary people. Men with names and families at home that wanted nothing more than to piece their country back together and return home to wife and children. The Volunteers.

     Would anyone recall during the epic struggle upon Little Round Top at Gettysburg, shortly after Captain Samuel Keene, Company F was wounded through the throat, his senior lieutenant would be anxious enough to grab the colors and run out ahead of the battle line screaming for his comrades to follow and readjust? He prompted a charge that history recalls much differently.

     The war did not begin, and it certainly did not end upon Little Round Top for the 20th Maine Infantry, nor the commander of F Company, Lieutenant Holman S. Melcher.

     Upon the second day of gruesome fighting in the Wilderness, Brigadier General Joseph J. Barlett led a charge with which the 20th Maine Infantry under Major Ellis Spear took part. They were in the second line of battle that day, and committing to the chaos to save the lives of the first, being chewed up terribly. While charging through the thicket and driving the rebel line back, Lieutenant Melcher's men had become detached from the rest of the charge.
     The twenty two-year-old lieutenant was seeking counsel from his first sergeant when another asked him to follow. Gaining his attention and pointing down the Orange Turnpike, Melcher spotted a large column of rebel infantry moving into their rear. Realizing his small company was cutoff, chills ran down his spine upon the sight of this latest development. The thought of spending the remainder of the war in a Confederate Prison did not have any appeal. Calling his men together, they too came to the conclusion that Andersonville was not the place for them.

     He gave the order to reload their rifles and fix bayonets to the scant number of seventeen men he had with him, all veteran soldiers. The plan had been to work their way around the right end of the butternut line; however, this proved impossible to do.

     Forming a single line of battle, Lieutenant Melcher led his small company in behind the unsuspecting rebels, and discharged one volley into their backs. They rushed forward engaging in a brief and exciting hand to hand struggle, which broke the line. One of his men took advantage of a misfired rifle pointed at his face, bayoneting his counterpart for his foolishness.

     Melcher drawing his sword zeroed in on a rebel crown intent on splitting the man's head wide open. He misjudged the distance however, settling on cutting the man's coat from top to bottom. For the second time in Civil War History elements of the 20th Maine Infantry had lunged into the unsuspecting enemy.

     Holman S. Melcher had done the impossible. Having lost two men in this brief fight, he saved fifteen. To his credit he brought to the rear with him thirty-two Confederate Prisoners of War. His act on this day placed another forgotten laurel atop the flag of a proud 20th Maine Infantry.

Daniel Moran
© 2001

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff.
He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar2.com