Two Medal of Honor Winners
L. Keith Snipes
Cpl. John Miller, Company G, and Pvt. James Richmond, Company F, from the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry were both awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing Confederate battle flags, during the repulse and rout of “Pickett’s Charge.” The men rushed ahead of their comrades over John Winebrenner’s cornfield into the defeated Rebels. These two Buckeyes wrested a total of three banners away from the Rebel color guards, bent on protecting them.1
John Miller lived in Germany before immigrating to America with his family. By 1860 clusters of German families dotted the farmland of northwest Ohio and eighteen-year-old Miller lived in Fremont, Sandusky County, Ohio . Although he did not answer the initial call to arms, he mustered into the “Croghan Guards” before the regiment left Camp Dennison for Virginia . After the Battle of Kernstown ( Winchester ), he received a promotion to corporal. The strapping youth had matured into a two-year veteran by the summer of 1863 and Gettysburg would alter Miller’s uneventful military career.2
James Richmond, originally from Maine, mustered into the 8th Ohio Voluntary Militia, while living in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. He joined the three-month “Fremont Guards” in April 1861 and enlisted for three years in June. Above the “bloody lane” at Antietam, a Rebel bullet had nicked his finger. When this twenty-year-old private set foot atop Cemetery Ridge in July 1863, his service to preserve the Union would likewise be altered, but Richmond would never know it.3
At four o’clock in the afternoon of July 2 Miller and Richmond formed with their respective companies on the edge of the Taneytown Road and descended the slope of Cemetery Ridge. The 8th Ohio had been ordered to dispel a band of pesky Rebel skirmishers from a “natural rifle pit,” where the Emmitsburg Road cut through a knoll. Five companies manned the crude defenses of piled rails out in the knee-high cornfields to the right front of Ziegler’s Grove, while members of the Fremont companies dismantled the fences, bordering the road, for a barricade or aided the wounded. About six o’clock they ran to the front to repel a Confederate incursion. Upon their return to the road, they cared for the newly wounded and strengthened the fieldworks. Miller and Richmond probably tried to sleep, once darkness covered the battlefield.4
Lt. Col. Franklin Sawyer combined Companies F and G, under G’s Capt. David Lewis, for a stint on the skirmish line in the early morning hours of July 3. Lewis deployed his men and kept a keen vigil. He inadvertently instigated a predawn eruption on the Ohioans’ front, when Sawyer forwarded the left of his line. The captain ordered a general advance, escalating their fight for a fencerow. Before the skirmish line was stabilized along its original position, the remainder of the regiment had charged down the knoll toward Long Lane. Dashing in amidst their comrades, the Buckeyes repulsed another attempt to dislodge them from their outpost. Then Captain Lewis and the Fremont men withdrew to the ditch’s safety. Miller and Richmond had survived unscathed, but a dozen or so of their townsmen were casualties. During the forenoon, they returned to the rail piles, but luckily, were back at the Emmitsburg Road, during the cannonade. While the fiery missiles from both armies’ artillery arced overhead, they prepared their muskets and cartridges for the impending Southern attack.5
When Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew’s Division emerged from the distant trees, Lieutenant Colonel Sawyer audaciously ordered his casualty-ridden regiment forward to meet the Rebels. With their banners barely fluttering in the breeze, about 160 Buckeyes boldly marched into the cornfield. Before they arrived at the piled, fence rails, Col. John M. Brockenbrough’s Brigade rushed through the Bliss orchard. These Virginians were on a collision course with the Ohioans. Sawyer halted his line to volley fire. Three volleys and the Eleventh Corps’ artillery dispersed this threat. Relieved on that front the Western men, technically performed a left wheel, but in reality formed a mob along a fence, perpendicular to the left flank of Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis’ Brigade. Firing at will, the 8th Ohio enfiladed Davis ’ line and then turned their muskets onto Brig. Gen. James H. Lane ’s North Carolinians . They patiently waited for the repulse of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s defeated legions, before jumping in amongst the routed enemy.6
In the handful of regiments that still had their flags, the Confederate color guards tenaciously fought to protect them. Members of the 8th Ohio banded together to make trophies of them. Cpl. John Miller and others from the “Croghan Guard” pressed beyond the scattered fracases, further into the rout. He spotted the scarlet red banner of the 34th North Carolina . The Tar Heels and the remainder of Col. W. Lee J. Lowrence’s Brigade were relatively intact. After having been driven back from the inner angle, the North Carolinians reformed behind the plank fence, extending north from “the Angle,” and had kept up a spattering of musketry between its rails. Realizing that the day was lost, the wounded Lowrence withdrew his command to the Emmitsburg Road and moments later, about-faced his line in retreat. From the north, Company G swooped toward Col. G. T. Gordon’s regiment. Gordon’s men fired a volley, but Miller burst through the sulfurous, black smoke to wrestle the staff from the colorbearer’s grip. Further south, the corporal descried the blood red folds above the 38th Virginia of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s Brigade. These Virginians had carried their flag to “the Angle.” Then they regrouped in the road for another push, however by then, “Pickett’s Charge” had been put to flight. Maj. Joseph R. Cabell ordered his regiment to quit the field. Cabell tried to reflex his flank to meet the Fremont men’s onrush, but the fences prevented this maneuver. Miller corralled the colorbearer, while his townsmen captured those who had not skedaddled toward Seminary Ridge.7
Hospital Steward Charles H. Merrick commented on the hubbub, raised over Miller’s daring exploits. He wrote, “Sergt[.] Miller Co[.] G, (a big [D]utchman) is quite a hero now[.] He rushed forward and killed the colorbearer of the [R]ebel regiment in our front and took his flag away[.] Our boys say the whole [R]ebel Brigade fired at him and it seems astonishing that he was not cut into strings[.]” Captain Lewis told the northwest Ohio readers about his feat of bravery: “The flags that were captured, or two of them were taken by Sergent [sic] Miller of my Company. They were the 34th North Carolina and 38th Virginia Regiments.” Even Capt. Samuel Wheelock Fiske, 14th Connecticut and First Brigade staff officer, mentioned Miller in his popular, Mr. Dunn Browne letters. Fiske penned, “One German sergeant in a regiment of our brigade, in the late battle, took two of the enemy’s colors with his own hand.”8
Pvt. James Richmond raced ahead of his “volunteer party” toward another color guard. He took the flag, but before the private could determine to which regiment it belonged, an unknown staff officer absconded with the youth’s trophy. Since the standard was indistinguishable, he, too likely had grappled with a Tar Heel. The North Carolinian regiments carried four different styles of battle flags in the charge. Some were marked with unit designations, others also listed battle honors, but several were plain. Sawyer detailed the incident in his after action report, while an outraged comrade noted, “The third stand was taken from the one who captured it by an aid on General Meade’s staff, but it rightfully belonged to the 8th.”9
On December 1, 1864 both men received the Medal of Honor, but James Richmond’s award was posthumous. He had been mortally wounded at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia on May 12, 1864 and died on June 3.10
History has been unkind to John Miller. In his official report Sawyer referred to the captor of the two flags. He stated that Sgt. Daniel Miller, Company G, not Cpl. John Miller, captured the banners. Sergeant Miller served as an orderly for the regimental staff during the battle. When Sawyer wrote the 8th Ohio ’s regimental history, he correctly noted the Buckeyes’ three trophies, but confusingly credited the battle flag taken by a staff officer to “Sergt. Miller, Co. G.” In the book’s roster for Company G, Sergeant Daniel Miller, “captured [a R]ebel flag at Gettysburg,” while Pvt. John Miller was “awarded medal of honor by Sec’y of War.”11
Sadly, neither notation is accorded to Pvt. James Richmond. His only listing in the Company F roster is “Wounded at Spottsylvania [sic], died June 3, ’64.”12
What would a Gettysburg story be without a “What if…” or two?
“What if… Richmond raced Miller toward Lowrence’s Brigade?”
Suppose Private Richmond and Corporal Miller along with the two Fremont Companies ran headlong toward Lowrence’s Brigade. While Miller took the flag from the 34th North Carolina, Richmond had two options: either the 38th or 13th North Carolina ’s banners. Then perhaps, a nefarious Yankee, who felt that he deserved the glory more, approached the Buckeye with his captured colors. Pretending to be a staff officer, he stole Richmond ’s trophy and disappeared into the confusion. The private informed Sawyer, but little could be done to set the matter right. This is highly plausible. Companies F and G may have been competing for hometown bragging rights and little is truly known about the fate of either flag. Not to mention that there were several other incidents recorded of officers taking captured flags from enlisted men.13
“What if… the unknown staff officer had been Captain Corts or Lieutenant Shields?”
Suppose Private Richmond had followed Capt. Morris Brown Jr., 126th New York, into the routed enemy. Brown captured the flag of the 28th North Carolina and Richmond likely took the 37th North Carolina ’s banner. Then the two men with their trophies strolled together up the slope toward Ziegler’s Grove. As Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays grabbed Brown’s flag, emblazoned with “Harper’s Ferry,” he said, “Get a flag, Corts; get a flag, ‘Dave,’ and come on.” Perhaps, either Capt. George P. Corts or Lt. David Shields snatched Richmond ’s flag and trailed it behind his horse when he followed Hays on his victory ride. Since both men were new to the Army of the Potomac, they likely did not know Richmond or his regiment. Afterwards, they may have placed the absconded capture with the others, instead of conducting an embarrassing search for its rightful captor. Besides, there was no way of knowing, who had taken the banner, since it was probably plain. This is just as plausible. Several unmarked flags with unknown captors were entered into the War Department’s Record. In addition only one of the three flags trailed on Hayes' ride had been identified, so the other two were probably plain.14
Like most “What if…s,” these are mere conjectures, but Pvt. James Richmond did capture a Rebel battle flag. Without a regimental designation, the true circumstances of its twice taking are left to plausible speculations.
1. Franklin Sawyer, “Report of Lieut. Col. Franklin Sawyer, Eighth Ohio Infantry,” U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Recordsof the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vol. in 128 parts (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), vol. 27, pt. 1, p. 462. (Hereafter cited as ORand all additional references refer to series 1, volume 27, part 1.)
John Winebrenner’s cornfield became the Home Sweet Home Hotel property in the 1950s. The 8th Ohio ’s improperly located monument currently stands on the ground with an interpretive display devoted the Medal of Honor awardees at Gettysburg . [For a thorough discussion see: Keith Snipes, “The Improper Placement of the 8th Ohio ’s Monument: A Study of Words and Maps,” The Gettysburg Magazine, issue 35, (Dayton, OH: Morningisde House, 2006.)]
2. John Miller, Combined Military Service Records, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration. (Hereafter cited as CMSR and NARA .)
3. James Richmond, CMSR, NARA .
4. Franklin Sawyer, A Military History of the 8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Its Battles, Marches, and Army Movements (Cleveland, Ohio: Fair-banks and Co. Printers, 1881), Reprint: 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Huntington, W. Va.: Blue Acorn Press, 1994), pp. 126-129; OR, p. 461.
5. Ibid., pp. 129-130; Ibid., pp. 461-462.
6. Ibid., pp. 130-132; Ibid.,p. 462.
Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew commanded Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s Division on July 3, 1863.
7. Franklin Sawyer, The Eighth Ohio at Gettysburg, An Address of Gen. Franklin Sawyer (Washington D.C.: E. J. Gray Printer, 1889), p. 8; Keith Snipes, “…no support or succor near at hand….”, unpublished manuscript.
Col. W. Lee J. Lowrence commanded Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales’ Brigade on July 3, 1863.
Where did Miller capture the two flags? During the rout of “Pickett’s Charge,” at least three companies, B, K, and G, pushed as far south as “the copse of trees” – over 500 yards. The 34th North Carolina was the center regiment in Lowrance’s Brigade. Miller took this flag to the west of the Emmitsburg Road just northwest of “the Angle.” Armistead’s Brigade struck “the Angle” with the 38th Virginia on the left of the line. Miller took this flag in the road, directly opposite “the Angle.”
8. Charles H. Merrick, “Letter to Min Merrick,” 6 July 1863, William P. Palmer Collection, Container 1, Folder 3, MSS 3088, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio; David Lewis, “From the 8th Regiment: Letter to Dear Friends,” July 5, 1863, Bucyrus Weekly Journal, July 17, 1863; Samuel Wheelock Fiske, Mr. Dunn Browne’s Experiences in the Army, (Boston, MA: Nichols and Nyes, 1866), p. 237.
9. Sawyer, The Eighth Ohio at Gettysburg, p. 8; Snipes, “…no support or succor near at hand….”; OR, p. 462; John H. Jack, “Correspondence of the Register: Letter to Ed. Register,” 6 July 1863, Sandusky Daily Commercial Register, July 21, 1863.
10. OR, p. 462; Sawyer, A Military History, p. 220.
11. Ibid., p. 462; Ibid., pp. 132, 221, and 224.
12. Sawyer, A Military History, p. 220.
13. Snipes, “…no support or succor near at hand….”
On July 16, 1863, Lt. Burwell Thomas Cotton, 34th Regiment North Carolina Troops, wrote, "They captured four flags in our brigade leaving only one." In all likelihood, a handful of Tar Heels saved the 13th's banner, since accounts from the men in Lowrance's Brigade suggest that the 38th's colors were lost inside the enemy's works. [Michael W. Taylor, The Cry Is War, War, War (Dayton, OH: Morningside, 1994), p. 147 and "North Carolina in the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge at Gettysburg," The Gettysburg Magazine, issue 8 (Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1993.)]
14. Richard Rollins, “The Damned Red Flags of the Rebellion” The Confederate Battle Flag at Gettysburg (Redondo Beach, Calif.: Rank and File Publications, 1997), pp. 191-194.
The author highly recommends Rollins’ seminal study on this subject.
The author’s research leads him to believe that the second “What if…” is the most plausible.
L. Keith Snipes
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