A Sketch of the History of the Second Mississippi Infantry Regiment:
The Gettysburg Campaign: Part III: Pickett's Charge
On July 3rd, Davis’ decimated brigade was placed in line in Heth’s Division (now commanded by Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew due to a disabling head wound received by Heth on July 1st). Colonel John M. Brockenbrough’s Virginia brigade was deployed on the left. Next came Davis, then Pettigrew’s Brigade (commanded now by Colonel James K. Marshall of the 52nd North Carolina), and Archer’s Brigade (now under the leadership of Colonel Birkett D. Fry of the 13th Alabama, with Archer’s capture on July 1st). Archer’s Brigade would dress on the left of Pickett’s Division during the advance. Davis formed his men with the 55th North Carolina on the right, followed by the 2nd and 42nd Mississippi with the 11th Mississippi on the brigade left. The four regiments in the brigade may have now numbered as few as 1,000 men. The 11th Mississippi, which saw no action on July 1st, was probably the largest regiment. The 2nd Mississippi, now numbering only 60 muskets* – less than a full-strength company – was undoubtedly the smallest [*Author’s note: other accounts put the survivors of the 2nd Mississippi as high as 200 rank and file in line on July 3rd. Based upon the subsequent reports of the fighting and numbers involved during the retreat from Gettysburg, I tend to believe the survivors in the regiment numbered closer to the 200 number than the 60 muskets referenced by Vairin]. Bearing another set of colors during the charge was Color Sergeant Christopher Columbus Davis, who had been ill on July 1st.
Following a massive Confederate artillery barrage, which unfortunately did not have the desired effect of driving the Union batteries from their positions on Cemetery Ridge, the Southern infantry were moved into position. When the order was given to advance, the gray lines swept forward in magnificent array. The Southern cannoneers ceased firing and cheered the infantrymen as they advanced beyond the guns. Pettigrew’s division emerged from the woods with banners flying in the cannon smoke. Davis recalled, “the order to move forward was given and promptly obeyed. The division moved off in line, and, passing the wooded crest of the hill, descended to the open fields that lay between us and the enemy.” Breaking into the sunlight, Davis’ men realized the magnitude of their task. Vairin wrote in his diary that Davis’ Brigade “joined in making the last grand charge which was so disastrous to our army.”
The lines advanced across the fields in perfect order. Awed by the spectacle, Federal gunners did not contest the advance at first. Davis later reported, “Not a gun was fired at us until we reached a strong post and rail fence about three-quarters of a mile from the enemy position, when we were met by a heavy fire of grape, canister, and shell, which told sadly upon our ranks.”
Under the deadly rain of shot and shell, the Southern infantry pressed forward and Davis proudly reported, “Under this destructive fire, which commanded our front and left with fatal effect, the troops displayed great coolness, were well in hand, and moved steadily forward, regularly closing up the gaps made in their ranks.” The Confederate lines swept over several fences and quickly restored their alignment each time. The artillery fire, however, became more telling, and as they neared the Emmitsburg Road, Brockenbrough’s small Virginia brigade began to waver. The commander of the 8th Ohio Infantry Regiment, west of the Emmitsburg Road, saw an opportunity to take the Confederate line in flank and poured a heavy fire into Brockenbrough’s left. The Virginians broke and fled to the rear, leaving Davis’ Brigade, and particularly the 11th Mississippi, exposed in turn. The unopposed troops on the Federal right flank overlapping Davis’ line in that direction wheeled left and poured a deadly enfilade fire into the Mississippians’ already depleted lines. Still the men pressed on, and as unit cohesion was lost, they continued in small groups and individually toward the Federal line. Davis reported that as his men neared the stone wall, they “were subjected to a most galling fire of musketry and artillery, that so reduced the already thinned ranks that any further effort to carry the position was hopeless and there was nothing left but to retire to the position originally held, which was done in more or less confusion.”
Confederate casualties were appalling. Thousands of men were killed or wounded and left upon the field as remnants of Pickett’s, Pettigrew’s, and Major General Isaac R. Trimble’s commands sought shelter on Seminary Ridge. Davis’ Brigade suffered greater losses than any other Confederate brigade at Gettysburg. As remnants of the wrecked regiments regrouped west of Seminary Ridge, Davis took stock of the magnitude of his losses and wept. All the field officers were casualties. The losses among the junior officers were staggering. The 2nd Mississippi, which entered Pickett’s Charge with only 60 men, now counted only one unwounded survivor.
At the height of the fighting, as Lieutenant Colonel David Humphreys led the remnant of his proud regiment near the Brian Barn on Cemetery Ridge, Sergeant Davis, the gallant color-bearer of the 2nd Mississippi, was shot down, along with his colors. Although severely wounded, he managed to tear the colors from the staff and hide them under his body. Lt. Col. Humphreys would die in the assault.
As fate would have it, Lieutenant Colonel Dawes decided to take a riding tour of the scene of the carnage following Pickett’s Charge. Dawes slowly worked his horse among the dead and wounded bodies on Cemetery Ridge near the Angle, where the grand assault had climaxed. Just then, one of the wounded men in gray caught sight of Dawes, who was still in possession of the captured colors of the 2nd Mississippi from the fight at the Railroad Cut on July 1st. The wounded man cried out in a faint voice, “You have got our colors, let me see them.” Hearing the man’s appeal, Dawes moved toward the wounded Confederate. As he approached, he noted the man was badly, possibly mortally, wounded. He dismounted and knelt beside the wounded sergeant. “This man and I had quite an interview” recalled Dawes, during which time the Confederate sergeant identified himself as a color-bearer in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry. “The poor fellow was quite affected to see his colors,” noted the 6th Wisconsin commander, “and I did all I could to comfort him.” The men talked of the action on July 1st, after which Dawes had to leave. Although he later wrote that “I did all in my power to secure for him aid and attention,” he noted with regret that “I do not know whether this sergeant survived his wound.” The unidentified sergeant must have been Davis.
The 2nd Mississippi entered the battle at Gettysburg with an estimated strength of 492. It reported 232 killed and wounded, but did not separately report any numbers for those captured or missing. At least 88 officers and men of the regiment were taken prisoner at the Railroad Cut on July 1st. The compiled service records show for the period of July 1-5, that 49 men were killed, 114 wounded and not captured, 110 wounded and captured, and 138 captured and apparently unwounded. Thus, the total casualty count comes to 411 of the 492 men present at the start of the battle. Some uncertainty exists in these numbers, however, because 28 records only exist as Federal prisoner of war documents. An additional 43 records confirm only that an individual was admitted to a Confederate hospital in Virginia with a battle wound during the period immediately after the Gettysburg campaign and corroborating information is not provided in the company muster records. If we assume that 1/3 of each of these two groups are misidentified, the number of total Gettysburg casualties comes down to 388. Thus, if Busey’s and Martin’s strength estimate is correct, the 2nd Mississippi suffered losses of in the range of 79%-84% (killed, wounded and captured). Actually, a casualty rate of 80% agrees well with the single company that actually reported its strength at the battle. Company B reported its strength at 66 “aggregate” on July 1st, and had suffered 53 casualties by the close of July 3rd. If indeed only one unwounded member of the regiment returned from Pickett’s Charge, obviously not all 66 men present of this company were in the fight. The situation must have been similar in the other companies making up the balance of the regiment. This would leave between 81-104 men that were apparently unengaged but present during the battle (perhaps detailed to non-combat support activities).
 O.R., 27, pt. 2, p. 650. Terrence J. Winschel, “The Colors are Shrouded in Mystery.” The Gettysburg Magazine, January 1992, 77-86. Howard M. Madaus, Personal Conversation, May 12, 1998. There is much controversy concerning the origins of the colors borne by Davis on July 3rd. Some accounts – including those of the Bynum brothers who returned the flag to the Mississippi state archives – say the new set of colors was issued by the ANV Quartermaster’s Department on July 2nd with “Gettysburg” already stenciled as a battle honor [Winschel]. Howard Madaus, probably the expert when it comes to Confederate battleflags, says that was simply not possible. He insists that any colors carried by Davis would have had to come from the regimental baggage, probably an older set of previously issued colors. The set of colors with “Gettysburg” would not have been issued until August 1863 according to Madaus (as an aside, this new set of colors was never surrendered by the regiment. At Hatcher’s Run on April 2, 1865 where most of the regiment was surrounded and captured, during the Federal breakthrough, the flag was torn from its staff by Private N.M. Bynum and hidden through his confinement at Fort Delaware. It was later returned to the Mississippi State Archives in 1916). Madaus insists however, that Davis could not have been carrying this flag on July 3rd at Gettysburg. Winschel is convinced otherwise. Based upon the evidence, this author tends to agree with Madaus. Many years had passed since Hatcher’s Run and the Bynum brothers returning the flag in 1916. Memories may have faded over time. Additionally, it would be extremely unusual for only the 2nd Mississippi to be issued replacement colors lost the previous day, when the other regiments in a similar situation had to wait until the ANV Quartermaster issue in August 1863 for replacements. If the Hatcher’s Run colors were not carried by Davis on July 3rd, the fate of the set of colors he did carry is now lost to history.
 O.R., 27, pt. 2, p. 651; Terrence J. Winschel, “Part II: Heavy Was Their Loss: Joe Davis’s Brigade at Gettysburg.” The Gettysburg Magazine, July 1990, 81; A.L.P. Varian Diary.
 O.R., 27, pt. 2, p. 651.
 Ibid.; A. L. P. Vairin Diary.
 Rufus R. Dawes, Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1996), pp. 160, 366-67.
 According to Winschel’s “The Colors are Shrouded in Mystery,” Davis, with the hidden colors, was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, took the Oath of Allegiance, and, as a “Galvanized Yankee,” deserted the Federal army and made his way back to the 2nd Mississippi with the colors sometime in 1864. As noted previously, Howard Madaus insists that, although Davis may have done exactly that, the colors with which he returned were not the colors carried at Hatcher’s Run and sent to the Mississippi State Archives in 1916.
Following the war, Dawes attempted to learn the identity of the man with whom he had spoken on July 3rd. Following a published newspaper appeal, D. J. Hill wrote back to Dawes that he had been a member of the 2nd Mississippi and had known Davis. He informed Dawes that Davis recovered from his wounds and survived the war, only to commit suicide a year or so after it ended. [Hill to Dawes, Sept. 12, 1893, Rufus Dawes Letters, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi]
 John W. Busey and David G. Martin, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg (Hightstown, 1986), pp. 175, 290
 Ibid. The 492 number probably better represents the “aggregate present” classification that is sometimes used to include noncombatants or detailed men in the total. For example, Company B reported 66 “aggregate” present on July 1st, and by the close of July 3rd, 53 were casualties. Some of these 13 men who were not casualties were not on the “firing line” during the battle, but were probably detailed to support duties.
 CMSR, roll 111.
10/22/2019 08:08:09 pm
In the list of casualties on page 31 it lists a William K. (King) Weems as being wounded and then later exchanged and then listed as a deserter in1864. He did not rejoin his company but instead joined up with a group of scouts in MS that were the group that became Gen. Forrest's scouts from Memphis to Corinth and down to Aberdeen, MS. I have proof he was with them in the end of May and first of June, 1864 and was involved in the Battle of Brice's Crossroads. He did not desert the army but just fought with a different group defending N. MS. He was probably recruited when he was home after being traded and probably had to sign a pledge not to fight again but he did anyway. I can share the source of my info on a confidential basis (at least for a while) with you if you are interested.
11/27/2022 11:16:25 am
Hey Jimmy...I don't know how I missed this from before, but I was cleaning up the website this weekend and just saw your post. I'd be interested in getting any additional information on Pvt. King. There were several members of the regiment who were in the same situation. They were listed as having deserted, but in actuality had joined another unit while on furlough without having received an official discharge from the 2nd Mississippi.
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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.