13 Jun “Coolly get their bayonets ready”—The 33rd Massachusetts at Gettysburg, July 2nd 1863.
by Jared Mike
Mustered in on August 6th 1862, the 33rd Massachusetts had 1200 men in 12 companies under the command of Col Alberto Maggi. The regiment of Eastern Bay Staters would be sent to Washington, and soon lose Companies L and M to the 41st MA. In October, it was sent to Sigel’s Corps to be incorporated in Orland Smith’s Brigade, Von Steinwehr’s Division. The regiment saw no action as they were in support near Fredericksburg in mid-December and participated in the failed Mud March of Late January 1863. As the regiment was idle near Falmouth VA, Col Maggi resigned on April 1st 1863. Lt Col Adin Underwood would be promoted to Colonel and regimental command. The regiment continued to lack major combat experience as it was held in reserve at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
The 33rd MA began the new campaign similar to the previous ones as they were held in reserve and skirmished at the Battle of Brandy Station. When the regiment started north in mid-June in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia, another struggle fell upon them. The march was hot and very tiring as the Bay Staters “march with it [Corps] that long, hot and dusty journey, often footsore and hungry and generally thirsty.” As the men continued to march, they would find out the Army Commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, would be replaced by the V Corps Commander, Major General George Meade. The men seemed to be dismissive of Meade and missed their old commander. When the men marched on the morning of July 1st, the sound of heavy guns could be heard. The order of double-quick was given and soon the men would be marching into the crossroads town of Gettysburg.
These men would not move with the rest of the Corps as Von Steinwehr’s Division would become the reserve for the force fighting north and west of town. Smith’s Brigade was then the only reserve on Cemetery Hill as Coster would head north with the intention of helping shore up the XI Corps’ battered lines. Smith’s men would now move to the Taneytown Road as the Union vanguard was shoved back into town. The 33rd MA position here is not noted but they would not be used as the other regiments in Smith’s Brigade would be sent out on the skirmish line. The regiment stayed idle until sometime in the afternoon of July 2nd. The 33rd MA would be ordered to support Barlow’s (now Ames’s) Division on East Cemetery Hill as the division was stretched thin with no reserve. The nearly 500-man regiment formed near the gatehouse facing east. During the bombardment around 4pm, Underwood would describe it years later as seeing “Splinters of gun carriages, pieces of tombstones, even human legs and arms and palpitating flesh were flying around in every direction. From so many direction points the shots came during that fire, that the Colonel of the Thirty-Third changed his men’s position from one side of the wall on Cemetery Hill to another, twice, and left them on the front side, as on the whole the safest.”
The 33rd MA was sent forward after this bombardment ended to the fields east of Cemetery Hill and the Brickyard Lane to the area past present day East Confederate Ave. The 41st NY and elements of the 153rd PA were on their left, giving Ames’s Division an advance warning system. The men would soon be tested as Lt. Gen Richard Ewell would unleash an opportunistic attack starting around 18:30-19:00. When John Jones’s Brigade attacked Culp’s Hill on the 33rd MA right, part of the skirmish line fell back. The rest of the skirmish line retired to their lines when Hays and Avery attacked at 20:00. Lt. Whittier of the 5th ME Light Artillery would remember: “It was about 7:30pm to 7:45pm; The sun had dropped behind the Cumberland Mountains and the dusk of evening was creeping through the valley of Rock Creek, when we made out the lines of the enemy at a distance of 1000 yards, forming near the house and farming buildings of William Culp on the outskirts of town.” The 33rd MA skirmish reserve would fall back to the right of the Union defense line.
They would form next to the 41st NY, their center at the intersection of the Brickyard Lane and McKnight’s Lane. The skirmishers retiring were nearly struck with friendly fire with Corporal John Ryder remember Underwood yelling “These are our skirmishers, don’t fire on them.” The Confederates came and wheeled to the right (Union left), with both brigades losing contact between them as Avery had to move further out. The 57th NC moved toward them and Underwood would write in the regimental history: “They near fifty yards, when a rapid and awful fire is poured into them from the Thirty-Third and other infantry, until there are almost as many upon the ground as in their lines.” While the Confederates didn’t suffer that many losses, men probably clung to the ground to avoid the heavy fire coming from their front and right. Avery’s men kept getting closer and the 33rd MA had their bayonets ready when “in an instant there are flashes like lightning from the Maine Battery on the right, the roar of guns, and down drop the color and color bearer, and heaps of these brave traitors.” The fire from the 5th Maine Light Artillery, 33rd MA and the right of the 41st NY halted the Confederate attack here. The penetration on their left was soon eliminated. The regiment was shifted more to the right and now connected with the 5th ME Light Artillery’s left.
The regiment suffered very little on July 3rd and returned to West Cemetery Hill on the 4th. The men would then join in the pursuit of the retreating rebel army. For being in some hot spots the 33rd MA came out with only 9 killed or mortally wounded and 35 wounded. Their first major action showed that this regiment can fight. The reputation of the 11th Corps was never redeemed as it should have and in late September, both the 11th and 12th Corps were sent out west. They would form up in Bridgeport Alabama as a relief force for the Union garrison in Chattanooga. In late October, at the Battle of Wauhatchie, the 33rd MA would suffer heavy casualties for the first time but fought very well. Col Underwood would be severely wounded and although he stayed in the army, he never held field command again. The regiment would continue to serve until June 11th 1865. Underwood was Brevet Major General in August and himself mustered out of the army.
Underwood, Adin B. The Three Years’ Service of the Thirty-Three Mass. Infantry Regiment 1862-1865 Boston, MA: A Williams & Co, Publishers, 1881
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901
Busey, Travis W. and Busey, John W. Union Casualties at Gettysburg: Comprehensive Record Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishing, 2011
Ladd, David L and Audrey J. The Bachelder Papers: Gettysburg in Their Own Words California: Savas Beatie, 2020
Archer, John M. East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg United States of America: Thomas Publications, 1997
Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993