Volume XXVII Issue #4 • An Excerpt From:

The Florida Brigade at Gettysburg

by Stuart R. Dempsey

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The Henry Spangler farm along Emmitsburg Road south of Gettysburg,
where the Florida Brigade formed on July 2.

The afternoon of July 3, 1863, was hot and sultry, and the sun beat down on the thin line of Confederate infantrymen occupying the crude breastwork just west of the Emmitsburg Road. All around them artillery thundered, the sweating gunners pouring shot and shell toward the enemy along Cemetery Ridge. Acrid smoke filled the still, superheated air, and the smell of decaying flesh permeated the men’s nostrils, adding another unpleasant dimension to the hellish tableau.

There were Alabama men in the line, the remnants of the fine brigade of Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox. To their left was an organization unique among the 37 infantry brigades in the Army of Northern Virginia. Col. David Lang’s Florida Brigade was the smallest such force in Robert E. Lee’s army, consisting of just three slim regiments. Lang’s soldiers were veterans of many hard-fought fields, reliable men who were no strangers to the searing test of combat. Now they waited hopefully for the barrage to complete its work, knowing that the success of the coming assault hinged heavily on the amount of damage the big guns could inflict on the Federal forces, out of sight but just several hundred yards away. When the order came to advance, the Floridians would execute it with valor and discipline, but without enthusiasm: these Rebel soldiers knew where they would be going, for they had been there the day before, and it had cost them dearly. Many of their friends lay in front of the enemy position, dead and bloating under the oppressive rays of the sun. They would attack when ordered, but the swagger that had attended the previous day’s assault would be conspicuously absent.

Few of the men with Colonel Lang on that fateful afternoon at Gettysburg would have thought, two years earlier, that the war could have possibly lasted this long, or become so costly. When Florida seceded from the United States on January 10, 1861 (the third state to do so), many of its residents had believed that significant bloodshed was unlikely, while others had entertained considerable enthusiasm for the notion of a clash with the despised Yankees. The election of Abraham Lincoln and the creation of the Confederate States of America had escalated tensions dramatically. In response, Gov. Madison S. Perry took steps to better organize his state’s various militia and volunteer companies, which had accelerated their training in anticipation of the possibility of a sectional conflict. Before long, larger formations began to take shape. With one infantry regiment already formed in March, Perry authorized the creation of the 2nd Florida Infantry soon after. Somewhat unusually, the 2nd contained eleven companies instead of the more typical ten, though Co. A would not physically join its parent unit until September (and a twelfth company was added the following summer). The majority of the men came from the populous northern tier of their state, from Pensacola in the west to St. Augustine and Jacksonville in the east, and mustered into service at the latter place on July 13, 1861. George T. Ward was appointed as the new regiment’s commander.

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