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The 54th N Y Infantry Monument
Image Size 11" x 15"
Release Date: April 2002
Edition size 250: 25 A/P: 15 P/P
Price: $160.00 each, unframed, plus $10.00 flat shipping.
Price: $320.00 each, handsomely and Beautifully framed, plus $40.00 shipping.

The 54th New York Infantry Monument

Release from earth
Its swaddled souls
Ascend into the sky.

Paul R. Martin III

“Today we stand upon the sacred spot where 27 years ago our regiment engaged and repelled the onslaught of the enemy who strove to capture the batteries on the summit of this hill....”

Capt. Francis J. Werneck
Dedication speech, July 4, 1890

The 54th NY infantry Regiment was made up exclusively of German immigrants, most of whom had already served in their native land. They were recruited in New York City during the summer of 1861 by Col. Eugene E. Kozlay. Called the “Black Rifles”, or the ‘Schwarzer Jaeger” they were also known as the “Hiram Birney Rifles”. They wore a black and silver uniform and initially carried a black flag embroidered with a silver skull and crossbones. That flag was carried along with the Stars and Stripes until discarded because it was not sanctioned by the authorities.

In Early 1862 the regiment served in Western Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester. It fought at the Battle of Cross Keys in June of 1862. They fought at Second Bull Run in August. At Chanceloresville in May of 1862, the regiment bore the brunt of Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack on the extreme right flank of the Eleventh Corps.

During the afternoon of July 1 at Gettysburg, the 54th again found itself on the extreme right of the Eleventh Corps. Under the command of General Barlow, their right rested on Rock Creek near the bridge on the Harrisburg Road. There they skirmished with the enemy and fought until overwhelmed by Rodes’ and Early’s Divisions of Ewell’s Corps. They fell back with the rest of the Eleventh Corps, fighting continually back through the Town of Gettysburg. The remaining 140 men were reorganized on the crest of East Cemetery Hill on the evening of July 1, and placed into position by their brigade commander, Col. Leopold von Gilsa. They were stationed in support of artillery on the eastern slope of the hill near a stone wall in front of a fresh water spring. Several members were killed or wounded by confederate sharpshooters while attempting to draw water from the spring.

On the night of July 2 Confederates attacked the Eleventh Corps line along the base of the hill. Hays’ Brigade of North Carolinians with fixed bayonets charged out of the darkness to attack the Union line. A severe and violent contest ensued with savage hand to hand fighting. The 54th’s Color bearer, Sgt. Heinrich Michel was immediately shot and killed. Two others who picked up the colors were also severely wounded. The remnants of the battered regiment were pushed back up the hill toward the artillery positions. There they were joined by other regiments and finally drove back the Carolinians during more severe hand to hand combat.

After the repulse of the Confederate attack, they again took up their position at the base of the hill where they remained throughout the remainder of the battle on July 3.

The Monument to the 54th N Y Infantry Regiment was dedicated on July 4, 1890. It’s bronze relief figure mounted on a low granite tower, commemorates the death of Color Sgt. Heinrich Michel. Regiment survivors also placed a small granite marker to indicate their skirmish line along Rock Creek on the afternoon of July 1. This out-of-the-way, hard to find marker is located just North of Barlow’s Knoll along the edge of the creek.

Historians would conclude that the 54th New York Infantry Regiment performed poorly at Gettysburg and throughout the war. I contend they performed adequately but not spectacularly during the Battle of Gettysburg. This fact along with the dramatic pose of their monument’s sculpture, inspired me to create “Ascension”. It serves as a reminder of a time when ordinary men were thrust into extraordinary circumstances and fought honorably to the best of their ability. Though not as famous as some other Gettysburg regiments, their service and sacrifice during this battle and throughout the war was no less heroic.

Paul R. Martin III

©1998 by Paul R. Martin III. Published by SILENT SENTINEL STUDIO, PO Box 551, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598. (914) 245-8903

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