His name was Winfield Scott Munson. He battled in Company E of the 44th New York Infantry as a private.[i] By sunset on June 2, 1863, this twenty-year-old lay dead on or near Little Round Top.
Born on March 19, 1843 in Monroe County, New York, Munson—who was named after the American military hero of the War of 1812 and later the Mexican American War—seems to have preferred to go by “Scott”, and he is recorded with that name in a roster in a regimental history. He enlisted on August 14, 1862, for three years of serving. Interestingly, a Willis W. Munson who was two years old than Scott enlisted about a week later also in Company; perhaps Scott Munson’s older brother or other relative served with him.[ii]
The 44th New York Regiment, nicknamed Ellsworth’s Avengers, was recruited under the influence of the Ellsworth Association of the State of New York and men enlisted across the state. The unit mustered into Federal service in October 1862. When Munson enlisted in 1862, he joined a veteran unit which had already fought on the Virginia Peninsula during the Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, and Shepherdstown. Likely, Munson fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg, waded through the Mud March, and taking a leading role in the Chancellorsville Campaign.[iii]
In the Gettysburg Campaign, the Avengers made long marches as the Army of the Potomac chased after the Confederates. The warm, dusty days through the Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania country would be Munson’s last. The regiment arrived near Gettysburg around 7 a.m. on July 2, 1863, and bivouacked temporarily. As part of the Third Brigade, First Division of the V Corps, they rested throughout the later morning and early after. The regimental history describes the scene: “The day was ushered in with a cloudless sky. The events that occurred the day before, the hurried concentration of the army, the spiteful firing along the picket line, an occasional exchange of artillery shots, the hurrying to and fro of staff officers and orderlies, were unmistakable signs that a great battle was about to be fought.”[iv]
The ”great battle” began as the Confederate attacks toward the Union’s left flank smashed into the exposed III Corps and navigated toward the Round Tops. A scramble to get troops on Little Round Top resulted in:
General Barnes, who was accompanying General Sykes, was ordered to dispatch a brigade for that purpose, and the 3d Brigade, which was the leading brigade of the corps, was thereupon detached from the balance of the division and marched rapidly to and upon that unoccupied height, which proved to be the key of the battlefield. Little Round Top was an irregular, rocky formation, something over one hundred feet in height, with sloping sides, its crest and sides being covered with shrubs, second growth trees and with rocks of different sizes and shapes promiscuously scattered over its surface. The 3d Brigade was formed in the following order from right to left : 16th Mich., Forty – Fourth NY., 83d Pa., and 20th Me….[v]
Company B of the 44th New York deployed as skirmishers to the front of the main line. The Confederates came, and early in the combat, the Avengers lost their commanding officer, Captain Larabee. Then:
Following closely on the heels of the skirmishers, the enemy soon reached the front of the 16th Mich. and Forty -Fourth N. Y. and opened a furious assault on their lines. The right of the 16th Mich., by reason of its more exposed position, was temporarily forced back. The Forty – Fourth by its oblique fire to the right, aided in checking the advance of the assailants. The 140th N. Y., Col. O’Rorke commanding, of Weed’s brigade of the 2d Division , arrived upon the field just in time to aid in repelling the assault. From this time on the battle raged furiously, gradually extending to the left and enveloping the 83d Penn , and the 20th Me. Our troops, without time to make preliminary preparations, steadfastly repelled the as saults of the enemy and forced them to break and retreat in confusion. Early in the engagement, Lieut. Hazlett, by great effort, with his men tugging at the wheels, succeeded in planting his excellent battery upon the crest of Little Round Top, and rendered valuable services in repelling the assaults of the enemy. When his guns opened on the impetuous, surging Con federate masses no military music ever sounded sweeter and no aid was ever better appreciated. In the midst of the roar and carnage of battle, our troops found time to lustily cheer Hazlett and his brave men. While the engagement was at its height, the gallant, heroic Vincent untimely fell. His loss will be more fully noticed hereafter. Weed, with the balance of his brigade, soon followed Col. O’Rorke of the 140th N. Y. and took an important position to the right of the 3d Brigade. In the meantime the Confederates were hunting and hustling to find, overlap and turn the left of our general line….
A brisk fire at short range, sent the assailants back more rapidly than they came— only to come again in larger numbers and longer line. Col. Chamberlain of the 20th Me. met this new formation by having his left wing take intervals to the left and forming them at nearly right angles with his right. The battle raged here in terrible fury. The final assault of the day, on the extreme left of the line, was about to be made. Our troops had become battle – stained , war -worn and their numbers sadly depleted. The 60 rounds of ammunition issued to each man had been expended. The crucial test of heroism, physical alertness and endurance had come. To falter was to be overwhelmed and lost. Col. Chamberlain became satisfied that he was about to be assailed by an overwhelming force, anticipated the preparations making to annihilate or drive his regiment from the field and ordered a bayonet charge…. This movement of the 20th Me., seconded successively by the other regiments of the brigade, cleared the entire level lands between the Round Tops of the enemy. It was a most glorious triumph. The Confederate’s plan of battle, to envelop and turn the Union left, had signally failed.[vi]
At Gettysburg, the 44th New York lost 111 dead, wounded, or missing—its greatest loss during the war.[vii] In the aftermath, an officer from another unit remembered seeing the 44th New York’s position with “over 40 dead bodies within a circle of 50 feet in cir cumference. They lay in every conceivable position among the rocks.”[viii] This decisive defense was Munson’s last battle. The minimal information directly states that he died on Little Round Top, implying that it was likely killed instantly or mortally wounded during the fight. However, details on his first burial may indicate that he was mortally wounded and moved off Little Round Top to a field hospital at the Jacob Weikert Farm.
If he lived long enough to reach the Weikert Farm, Munson would have been one of hundreds of wounded hurried to that field hospital location. According a civilian eyewitness at this farm, “the number of wounded brought to the place was indeed appalling. They were laid in different parts of the house. The orchard and space around the buildings were covered with the shattered and dying, and the barn became more and more crowded.”[ix] Private Munson was buried at the Weikert Farm, implying that he died at that location. However, a gravestone in Mumford Rural Cemetery in New York indicates his family may have later reburied him in his homestate.[x]
Looking closely at Munson’s photograph, one notices something rectangular tucked into an inside pocket on his left side (right side as we look at the photograph). While there are a number of possibilities, a book of some type seems the most likely. Was it a diary? A notebook? A bit of literature? A trashy novel? A Bible? Questions unanswered at the moment, like other important but unrecorded moments from this young soldier’s life and last battle. His days were numbered to just twenty years, and like the book in his coat pocket, we will never know the stories that could have been written if he had lived beyond the slopes of Little Round Top or the hospital at the civilian farm.
[i] Find A Grave, Pvt. Winfield Scott Munson. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36554722/scott-munson
[ii] Eugene A. Nash. A History of the Forty-fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, in the Civil War, 1861-1865. (1911). Page 428. Accessed via Google Books.
[iii] New York Regimental Histories, 44th Infantry Regiment. https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/infantry/44th-infantry-regimentNY Website
[iv] Eugene A. Nahs. A History of the Forty-fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, in the Civil War, 1861-1865. (1911). Page 142. Accessed via Google Books.
[v] Ibid., 143.
[vi] Ibid., 145-147.
[vii] New York Regimental Histories, 44th Infantry Regiment. https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/infantry/44th-infantry-regimentNY Website
[viii] Eugene A. Nahs. A History of the Forty-fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, in the Civil War, 1861-1865. (1911). Page 147. Accessed via Google Books.
[ix] Gregory A. Coco. A Vast Sea of Misery. (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1988). Page 69.
[x] Find A Grave, Pvt. Winfield Scott Munson. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36554722/scott-munson