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By June 1863, only about one of three soldiers was still in ranks from the regiments formed in 1861. The others were dead from battle or illness or even homesickness. Scores more had been sent home sick and disabled. Others had simply melted away, gone only God knows where or why. The survivors owed their allegiance first to the men around their campfires, then to the small companies, and finally to their regiments. They were isolated from the folks back home, misused by their generals and the country’s leaders, cheated by sutlers, and snubbed by the Easterners because of their Western origins. They trusted only their comrades and the few officers who had proved to be skillful and brave. They were a hard lot, these Westerners, good soldiers deeply proud of their reputations.

Only the men of the 24th Michigan, even after ten months in service, marched toward Gettysburg feeling they still had something to prove. The Michigan regiment and its famous brigade had seen only limited service at Fredericksburg, where the Wolverines first experienced enemy fire. When the combat began, their colonel had yelled out, “Steady, men, those Wisconsin men are watching you!” The Michigan regiment joined the 6th Wisconsin in the spirited river crossing during the Chancellorsville Campaign, but it was not the kind of heavy, terrible fighting their comrades had endured at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. It was only after Chancellorsville the Michigan regiment’s coveted black hats arrived. “They made our appearance like the name of the brigade, quite unique,” recalled one Wolverine with pride.

from Lance Herdegen’s “Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign”

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