Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Colors of the 149th Pennsylvania

Monument of the 149th Pennsylvania. In the background is the Edward McPherson Barn.

Monument of the 149th Pennsylvania. In the background is the Edward McPherson Barn.

Part of a Series.

On the afternoon of July 1, acting 1st Corps commander Major General Abner Doubleday re-positioned his men in and around Herbst Woods. Deployed in the open fields of the Edward McPherson Farm, just north of the Herbst Woodsm was a brigade of Pennsylvanian’s commanded by Colonel Roy Stone. Stone had three regiments under his command the 143rd, 149th, and 150th. The 149th and 150th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments were known as the Second and Third Bucktails. Stone had served as the major of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, also known as the First Bucktails (The 13th Pennsylvania Reserves served in 5th Corps at the battle). The 13th Pennsylvania was filled with crack shots from rural counties of Pennsylvania. in 1862 Stone came up with the idea to recruit more of these skilled marksmen and label them Bucktails. This did not sit well with the 13th, who called the others to follow “Bogus Bucktails.” Regardless of who was or was not a true Bucktail, the brigade itself was about to taste its first true combat.

Initially deployed with the 150th and 149th facing west toward Herr’s Ridge, and the 143rd facing north towards the Peace Light Memorial (no it wasn’t there in 1863), Stone’s brigade was in a precarious position. They were in fact in a salient. Artillery fire came thick and fast from Confederate batteries on Oak Hill to the north and Herr’s Ridge to the west. The 149th eventually redeployed to face to the north like the 143rd and were subjected to enfilading cannon fire.

To hopefully lessen the artillery fire pouring in on them, the officers of the 149th came up with an idea to send the color guard to a position about fifty yards across the Chambersburg Pike. There they spied some fence rails that had been torn down earlier in the day (another account states that the pile consisted of fence rails and rail road ties). Col. Stone ordered Color Sergeant Henry Brehm and Corporal Franklin Lehman across the road to the pile with the national and state colors respectively; four other men followed behind. The NCO’s planted the colors in the rails and the small squad ducked and covered. The remainder of the regiment then took refuge in a roadside ditch and were well protected. It didn’t take long for the Confederates to zero in on the colors. Artillery shells plowed the ground around the squad.

As the afternoon wore on the Confederates realized that something was amiss in this small fort. Lieutenant Atlas Roberts and Sergeant Frank Price of the 2nd Mississippi crept forward, joined by a man named Johnson from the 42nd Mississippi. As the crept closer the Confederates realized this was no regiment of soldiers, but a squad.

Approximate location of the 149th's cologuard. This view is looking west toward Herr's Ridge. The redd roofed barn in the photo is on the grounds of the Herr Tavern.

Approximate location of the 149th’s cologuard. This view is looking west toward Herr’s Ridge. The redd roofed barn in the photo is on the grounds of the Herr Tavern.

By this time Brehm had sent back one of his troop to ask their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Walton Dwight, for orders. The man did not return. Suddenly one of the Confederates leapt for the colors and shouted “This is mine!” Brehm took the man by the throat and responded “No, by God, it isn’t!” Brehm seized the national colors and ran hell for leather for the unit’s former position, only to find it gone. With great the speed of a frightened greyhound he aimed for Seminary Ridge. There was one major problem, to get there he had to run through the Confederate lines, through no man’s land, and reach the barricade. Brehm was felled by a Confederate shell burst and mortally wounded somewhere near the McPherson Farm lane (if you are facing Gettysburg from the west it is in the dip to the left of the Reynolds statue). The flag was captured by a member of the 55th North Carolina.

Corporal Lehman struggled to save the state flag at the same time Brehm was locked in hand to hand combat. Lehman grabbed the flag in one hand and pushed away the barrel of a southern rifle with the other. Somehow the corporal dropped the flag and ran for the rear. Seventeen year old private Henry Spayd shot the Confederate that was trying to kill Lehman. Spayd then brained another man who had grabbed the flag with his rifle, seized it and took off for greener pastures. Spayd made it no more than twenty five yards before he was shot down, his flag captured, and awarded to Sgt. Price.

Only one man made it unscathed back to Union lines from Brehm’s party Private Frederick Hoffman, the man that Brehm had sent to ask Lt. Col. Dwight for orders.

To reach this spot head west along Route 30 to the guide station near the McPherson Farm.  Park your car at the guide station. Look back toward the town and you will see the 149th Pennsylvania Monument (this monument was dedicated in November 1888) at the intersection of the Chambersburg Pike and Stone Avenue. Notice the soldier seated atop the monument is looking northwest. The soldier is looking toward the position held by Brehm’s party during the battle. Walk across Route 30 (be mindful of the traffic) and walk 50 yards and you will be standing in the approximate location of Brehm’s party.

149th PA Map

About Kristopher D. White

Civil War author and historian.
This entry was posted in Battles, Campaigns, Common Soldier and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Colors of the 149th Pennsylvania

  1. ncatty says:

    Next up, the story of the colorbearer of the 143rd.

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