Posted 7-19-01
19th Massachusetts. Colorbearers - Fredericksburg 1862


I guess y'all know the life expectancy of a Civil War Regiment Color Bearer was about equal to that of a tail gunner on a UH-1 Helicopter in Vietnam. I was reading some more of the Regimental History of the 19th Massachusetts this evening and felt inspired to share with you a description written by the author, an officer of the 19th regarding the regiments Color Bearers at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.

Keep in mind that only sixteen months earlier they were about 800 commanded by a full bird Colonel, now sixteen months later, their largest company consisted of 38 men, and was in command of a captain.

"The two color bearers, Sergt. Ronello B. Creasey, of Co. I, and Corp. Winfield Rappell, of Co. B, were among the first to fall, but the colors were instantly picked up and the line hastily withdrew.

Re-forming, under cover of the canal bank, the regiment again advanced across the plain towards the Heights, under the heavy cross fire of the rebel batteries which covered every inch of the field up to the point where they could no longer depress their guns. In this charge Capt. Weymouth was wounded in the leg and fell to the ground. (His leg was afterward amputated). The command then devolved upon Capt. Mahoney and, almost immediately, he too fell with wounds in the arm and side. Again the color bearers were shot down.

Sergt. Charles B. Brown, Company G, was the seventh man to grasp the colors and he quickly received a wound in the head, which stunned him. Lieut. Hume, thinking the wound a mortal one, told him to give up the colors, but he refused saying "I will not give them to any man." Finding that he was fast becoming weak, Brown rushed out in advance of the line, staggered and fell, driving the color lance into the earth; and there he lay, dizzy and bleeding, still grasping the lance with both hands until Lieut. Hume caught them up.

A color corporal then took it, while Edgar M. Newcomb grasped the other, the bearer of which had also fallen. Lieut. Newcomb shouted "Forward!" and the quivering line sprang on again, but as he spoke the brave lieutenant was hit by a shot, which passed through and shattered the bones of both legs below the knees. As he fell, he handed his color to Second Lieutenant J.G.B. Adams, who was then in command of Co. I, "Don't let them go down!" exclaimed Newcomb.

("It seemed as if I grasped for death, expecting every moment to be my last," said Lieut. Adams afterward.)

Instantly, the color corporal with the other flag was felled by a wound and it was grasped by Sergt. Chas. L. Merrill, of Co. C. (Newcomb's Company) and he, too fell wounded. The man who had seized the flag when Sergt. Merrill fell was at once struck down by a ball and as the color again dropped, Lieut. Adams caught that also.

He now held the two flags of the regiment in his hands. Through the staff of one of them a ball had passed and killed it's bearer, and a cannon shot had had torn a great hole in the center of the national banner. Directed by a sudden instinct, and realizing that it meant sure death and probably the loss of both colors if he stayed where he was, Lieut. Adams, rushed across the field to the left and reached the shelter of a fence. The men followed him and here the regiment was reformed and changed front. Then as they lay close to the ground, the men had a good opportunity to reply to the fire of the rebel sharpshooters, who from their perfect cover of rifle pits and stone wall had poured volley after volley upon them at short range. (For his gallantry in this action Second Lieutenant Adams was promoted to First Lieutenant and afterward given a medal of honor by Congress.)"

© Dan Moran - 2001