A Sketch of the History of the Second Mississippi Infantry Regiment:
The Gettysburg Campaign: Part I: The Railroad Cut
The Fight for the Colors: Don Troiani Historical Art (Used by Permission) Corporal Francis Waller of the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry struggles with Color Corporal William B. Murphy of the Second Mississippi Infantry for possession of the Mississippi colors at the Railroad Cut at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863
Davis deployed his regiments with the veteran 2nd Mississippi in the center, the 42nd Mississippi on its right and 55th North Carolina on its left. The Southerners pushed across Willoughby Run and advanced up the west face of McPherson Ridge, driving in the enemy skirmishers. Davis’ Brigade was concentrated north of an unfinished railroad as it advanced up McPherson Ridge. The infantry of Davis and Archer steadily drove Buford’s cavalrymen to East McPherson Ridge. As Davis’ skirmishers neared the crest of West McPherson Ridge, they caught sight of a long column of Union infantry crossing the Chambersburg Pike on the run. These men were part of Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s brigade of Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth’s division in Major General John F. Reynold’s I Corps, Army of the Potomac. Davis’ men immediately engaged the Federal infantry as it deployed into line of battle. The 2nd and 42nd Mississippi regiments hit Cutler “head-on,” while the 55th North Carolina was able to approach the flank and right-rear of the Federals. Colonel Stone brought his regiment face to face with Cutler’s troops and held his men grimly to their task. As the opposing line began to waver, Stone was wounded and command of the regiment passed to Major John A. Blair.
The two regiments forming Cutler’s center and right (the 56th Pennsylvania and 76th New York, respectively), after enduring heavy casualties, were soon put in retreat by Davis’ men. Now the attention turned to the Confederate right where the 42nd Mississippi was locked in bitter combat with Cutler’s leftmost regiment, the 147th New York and the guns of the 2nd Maine Artillery under the command of Captain James Hall. Davis wheeled his regiments toward the Chambersburg Pike to crush the only remaining organized Federal resistance. As the men of the 2nd Mississippi advanced, they could hear the frantic cry of the enemy, “They are flanking us on the right.” One New Yorker, Lieutenant J. V. Pierce, long remembered the Mississippians “pressing far to our right and rear.” As the regiment struggled to cross a rail fence, Pierce wrote, “their colors dropped to the front. An officer in front of the center corrected the alignment as if passing in review. It was the finest exhibition of discipline and drill I ever saw before or since on a battlefield.”
The men of the 2nd Mississippi and the North Carolinians surged over the fence and toward the railroad grading when they spotted a section of Hall’s battery retire to East McPherson Ridge and unlimber. The Second loosed a withering volley that crashed into the exposed section and toppled a number of men and horses. Although the Federals were able to bring off both guns, the Confederates caught sight of Hall’s other four pieces retiring from West McPherson Ridge and instinctively charged for them. Several of the Mississippians got among the guns and began shooting and bayoneting the horses to immobilize the battery. Corporal William B. Murphy of Company A recalled, “We poured such a deadly fire into them that they left their [last] piece and ran for life.”
Thus, Davis’ initial contact with the Federals had produced substantial results. His brigade had crushed the Union right, captured one gun and limber, and inflicted over five hundred casualties on the enemy. In the excitement of the moment, the Confederates pushed on toward Seminary Ridge in pursuit of Cutler’s routed units. It is at this point that Davis lost control of the situation, allowing the pursuit to become disorganized. Two of his three regimental commanders were down (Stone of the 2nd Mississippi and Colonel John K. Connolly of the 55th North Carolina), and the pursuit was directed more by exuberance than by discipline. The wildly cheering soldiers were oblivious to the approaching catastrophe. Suddenly an unexpected volley of musketry viciously ripped into their flank from the south. The 6th Wisconsin Infantry and Iron Brigade Guard had arrived at the double-quick from the Seminary to try and stem the tide of the Southern advance. Also coming onto the scene was the balance of Cutler’s brigade – the 84th and 95th New York. Bewildered by the deadly hail of missiles, the Mississippians and North Carolinians sought shelter in the nearby railroad cut. Instead of a refuge, it would soon become a trap because, along much of its length the cut was too deep for the men to fire out of. Major Alfred H. Belo of the 55th North Carolina noted in his memoirs, “It occurred to me at this moment that our brigade, being flushed with victory, should charge those regiments [6th Wisconsin, 95th and 84th New York] at once before they could form in line of battle. I told Major [John A.] Blair of the Second Mississippi to have his regiment join me in the charge, but at this moment we received the command to retire through the cut.” Belo further penned, “...if we did not charge them, they would charge us. This proved to be the case.”
Davis recognized the seriousness of the situation and later wrote in his after action report, “In this critical condition, I gave the order to retire, which was done in good order, leaving some officers and men in the railroad cut, who were captured, although every effort was made to withdraw all the commands.”
Davis’ report however, is a remarkable piece of understatement concerning his brigade’s debacle at the Railroad Cut. While Major Blair was trying to reorganize the jumbled mass of soldiers in the cut, the Federals swept over the post and rail fence lining the pike and charged. The 6th Wisconsin and Iron Brigade Guard were joined on their left by the 84th and 95th New York in the attack. The three Northern regiments suffered heavy casualties from the Southerners’ “fearfully destructive fire,” but were at the edge of the cut and upon the defenders in a matter of moments shouting, “Throw down your muskets!” Major Blair, as the senior officer present, had no choice but surrender or see the men slaughtered. He handed his sword to Lieutenant Colonel Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin. The Federals claimed 7 officers and 225 men from Davis’ three Confederate regiments as prisoners of war. In correspondence with Dawes some thirty years later, Blair would write:
"It seems that you did not know of the rail road cut at Gettysburg nor did we. After driving the first line of battle we met and seeing no other troops in our front, (you must have been concealed by an eminence between us) we concluded we would capture Gettysburg without further difficulty or bloodshed and end the war right there. It was therefore, a great surprise to us when we come up to the rail road cut, and a greater one when you swung around on our left and bagged us."
One of the most stirring incidents in the history of the 2nd Mississippi and, indeed, in the entire Battle of Gettysburg, occurred in the fierce engagement at the Railroad Cut as the regiment struggled to save its colors. William B. Murphy, the color corporal who was bearing the colors on July 1st, recalled the valiant charge of the 6th Wisconsin and the “desperate struggle” for the colors:
"My color guards were all killed and wounded in less than five minutes, and also my colors were shot more than one dozen times, and the flag staff was hit and splintered two or three times. Just about that time a squad of soldiers made a rush for my colors and our men did their duty. They were all killed or wounded, but they still rushed for the colors with one of the most deadly struggles that was ever witnessed during any battle in the war. They still kept rushing for my flag and there were over a dozen shot down like sheep in their mad rush for the colors. The first soldier was shot down just as he made for the flag, and he was shot by one of our soldiers. Just to my right and at the same time a lieutenant made a desperate struggle for the flag and was shot through the right shoulder. Over a dozen men fell killed or wounded, and then a large man made a rush for me and the flag. As I tore the flag from the staff he took hold of me and the color. The firing was still going on, and was kept up for several minutes after the flag was taken from me..."
Finally Corporal Frank Waller of Company I, 6th Wisconsin, seized both Murphy and the colors of the 2nd Mississippi. Waller presented the colors to Lieutenant Colonel Dawes who was especially gratified for he noted the 2nd Mississippi was “one of the oldest and most distinguished regiments in the Confederate army.”
Those of Davis’ Brigade that were still able, fell back down West McPherson Ridge and across Willoughby Run. Besides the prisoners taken in the Railroad Cut, Davis had left behind several hundred dead and wounded men. He reported his losses as “very heavy.” Heth’s division report noted that “the brigade maintained its position until every field officer save two were shot down, and its ranks terribly thinned.” Heth wrote “from its shattered condition it was not deemed advisable to bring it again into action that day.” Davis’ bloodied regiments, the 2nd Mississippi among them, were kept on the north side of the Chambersburg Pike to collect their stragglers and rest. When the brigade finally went into camp for the night, the only two field officers left were Colonel David Miller of the 42nd Mississippi and Lieutenant Colonel David W. Humphreys of the 2nd Mississippi who had been detached with a large detail to guard wagons. On July 3rd, he would lead the remnant of his regiment, about 60 men, as part of Pickett’s Charge.
 Ibid., pp. 10-11; Martin, Gettysburg, pp. 101-106; Krick, Failures, pp. 104-107.
 Glenn Tucker, High Tide At Gettysburg. (Dayton, 1973), p. 114.
 Winschel, Part I, p. 11; Murphy to Dearborn, June 29, 1900, Papers of E. S. Bragg, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (copy courtesy of Lance Herdegen).
 Stuart Wright, ed., Memoirs of Alfred Horatio Belo, Masters Thesis, (Winston-Salem, 1980), p. 52 (copy courtesy of Lance Hergeden).
 O.R., 27, pt. 2, p. 649.
 O.R., 27, pt. 1, pp. 275-276; Lance J. Herdegen and William J. K. Beaudot, In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg (Dayton, 1990), pp. 198, 206-207; Rufus R. Dawes, Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers (Dayton, 1996), p. 169. Davis’ men made the Federal units pay dearly for their prize at the Railroad cut. The 6th Wisconsin reported losses of 30 killed, 116 wounded and 22 missing (168 total) of 344 engaged. Most of these losses were on the first day of the fighting and must be assumed to have occurred in the battle with Davis’ Brigade. Faring even worse was the 84th New York with 217 casualties of 318 engaged, and, suffering almost as badly was the 95th New York with 115 casualties of 241 engaged [Busey and Martin, p. 239]. The prisoners included Major Blair, Corporal Murphy and 86 other members of the 2nd Mississippi, along with the regiment’s colors (mistakenly listed in the O.R. reports as the colors of the 20th Mississippi).
 Blair to Dawes, October 23, 1893, Rufus Dawes Letters, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.
 Murphy to Dearborn, June 29, 1900.
 Dawes, Sixth Wisconsin, p. 170. Waller would subsequently be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the capture of the colors of the 2nd Mississippi.
 O.R., 27, pt. 2, pp. 637, 649-650. One of the dead left behind was Private George W. Weatherington, Company H, 2nd Mississippi – the older brother of the author’s great-grandfather. Previously wounded at Second Manassas, Gettysburg was his first battle since rejoining the regiment.
Michael R. Brasher
Besides being the self-published author of Civil War books, I am the great-grandson of Private Thomas Benton Weatherington, one of the 1,888 Confederate soldiers from northeast Mississippi that served in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. A lifelong Civil War buff, I grew up near the Shiloh battlefield in West Tennessee. I received my MA in Civil War Studies from American Military University. I also hold degrees in Electrical Engineering and an MBA which I draw upon to help shape my own unique approach to researching and writing Civil War history. As former president and co-founder of InfoConcepts, Inc., I was the co-developer of the American Civil War Regimental Information System and Epic Battles of the American Civil War software. I developed and maintained the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment website from 2002 until 2015 and now maintain the 2nd Mississippi Facebook page. I am also writing a regimental history to be released in the near future. I am a retired Air Force officer and now reside in Huntsville, Alabama.