Viewers of the 1989 film “Glory” know it tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts African American regiment and its commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who share a fate at the 1863 assault on Fort Wagner. Fewer know about the film’s opening scenes, which take Captain Shaw and the 2nd Massachusetts into the horror of the Cornfield. This is that story …
By David A. Welker
The 2nd Massachusetts infantry regiment was organized south Boston, Massachusetts, and its nearby towns in May 1861, drawing in men still furious over the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. Organized and led by Colonel George H. Gordon, an 1846 West Point graduate, the regiment’s second-in-command Lieutenant Colonel George Leonard Andrews also was an Academy graduate, in 1851. 
The regiment assembled and trained at Camp Andrew, in West Roxbury—on the former site of the Brook Farm utopian experiment, next door to the former Shaw family home—were the men received Enfield rifle muskets and settled into a routine of incessant instruction and drill. Here the 2nd also received its two flags; a national color on June 26 and on 1 July a regimental flag bearing the state seal and, on the reverse, the regiment’s name and motto. On July 8, “tents were struck; baggage was packed; quarters abandoned; the men formed in column, “route step, forward!” and Camp Andrew ceased to be.” Boarding a train, the 2nd headed for Maryland to join the 18,000-man Union force assigned to Brigadier General Robert Patterson. 
Robert Gould Shaw was born on 10 October 1837 in Boston, the second of Francis George and Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw’s children. The family was socially-conscious, well-connected, and wealthy—Shaw’s father had no need to work and both his parents devoted their time to anti-slavery and temperance work—which enabled both an 1846 move to New York’s Staten Island and an 1851 – 1856 family tour of Europe. Before the European sojourn Robert attended the Catholic Fordham school and, after returning, Harvard University from 1856-1958. A marginal, modestly-motivated student, Robert left Harvard during his junior year never to return, and tried his hand at business in New York City. Business life proved no more successful than had university and Robert ambled between trifling with work, flirting with the indolent lifestyle of wealthy youth, and a newfound interest in politics and national events. As war loomed in early April 1861 Robert joined the 7th New York Militia as a private. 
In April 1861, Private Shaw and the 7th New York Militia traveled to Washington and the seat of war. Reflecting both how much the nation had to learn about this new war and the 7th Militia’s rarefied membership, the regiment was quartered not in tents but in Washington’s finest hotels and the House of Representatives’ chamber. Shaw enjoyed this “deployment,” which would soon seem more like the vacation it was, including paying a call on President Lincoln along with fellow 7th Militia Private Rufus King. Although the fun began wearing thin as Shaw and his fellow elites tired of drilling to no apparent purpose, he’d learned much about military life, writing his mother “I don’t want to go without a commission…” On 11 May Shaw acted on this wisdom and was granted a second lieutenant’s commission in the 2nd Massachusetts. Joining the 2nd at Camp Andrew on 18 May, Robert essentially returned to his childhood home and memories flooded back. “The road through the woods is just as it used to be, and I found some quartz in the same place where we used to get it, fourteen years ago…” Assigned third in commanding Company H, Robert drilled his men and settled into “real” army life. After years of wandering, Robert Gould Shaw had finally found a home in military service. 
The 2nd Massachusetts entered Virginia for the first time on 12 July, joining Patterson’s army in probing Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s force in the Winchester area. Ordered to keep Johnston’s Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley—preventing their reinforcing General Beauregard’s Southern army at Manassas—while McDowell’s Federals attacked across Bull Run on 21 July, the 2nd’s first mission ended in failure thanks to Patterson’s incompetence. Soon serving under Major General Nathaniel Banks, the 2nd regiment was posted at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and spent the remainder of 1861 guarding the upper Potomac River and Frederick, Maryland. 
During spring 1862, Banks’ Union force chased Stonewall Jackson’s Command throughout the length of the Shenandoah Valley while the 2nd Massachusetts remained in Strasburg, Virginia, “the dirtiest, meanest town of all the dirty, shiftless villages in the valley,” as the regiment’s historian wrote. In May their Third brigade—the 2nd along with the 29th Pennsylvania, 3rd Wisconsin, and 27th Indiana—participated in its first battle, holding a position on the Federal left during the First Battle of Winchester. Banks was thoroughly defeated, sealing Jackson’s victory in the Valley; the 2nd had finally tasted combat, at the cost of three officers wounded or missing, 13 killed, and 41 wounded. 
Lieutenant Shaw, now second in command of Company F, narrowly missed experiencing his first—and last—combat at Winchester. Robert was saved from death only by luck and “time” when his gold pocket watch deflected a Rebel ball. “The ball undoubtedly would have entered my stomach,” he wrote, “and as it was, bruised my left hip a good deal. The watch was in the pocket of my vest, though I always carry it in my fob. I felt a violent blow and a burning sensation in my side…” 
June and July proved a quiet period before the gathering storms of August and fall 1862.
The 2nd’s Colonel Gordon was promoted to brigadier general and given permanent command of Third brigade, which—still in William’s First Division and Banks’ II Corps—became part of Major General John Pope’s newly-created Union Army of Virginia. The 114th Pennsylvania, Company A—”Collis Zouaves” or the “Zouaves d’Afrique”—arrived to be the 2nd‘s new Company A. Regarded as odd interlopers—“good men under an absurd title and absurd dress,” they soon enough earned respect for their fighting ability. 
During this quiet period, Lieutenant Shaw served on General Gordon’s brigade staff, a role he welcomed to break the boredom. Enjoying and excelling at staff work, Shaw concluded however that the job was less that of a soldier than an orderly and aide. 
Stonewall Jackson ended this interlude in August when he sought to defeat each of Pope’s still-isolated corps before they could unite and join with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac – essentially repeating the strategy of his successful Valley Campaign. Jackson’s first target was Banks II Corps, which he drew into battle on 9 August at Cedar Mountain. Initially performing poorly, Jackson’s himself rallied his decaying Confederate line and the ensuing counterattack proved devastating for Banks’ men. Though in reserve much of the battle, the 2nd and Gordon’s brigade were thrown into the fight with devastating impact on the regiment. “The losses of the Second had been terrible,” recorded Chaplain Quint. Six officers were killed or mortally wounded, as were 47 enlisted men, while another seven officers and 99 men were wounded. Robert Shaw, however, benefitted from the Cedar Mountain fight; his “unsoldierly” role on Gordon’s staff ensured this second brush with combat was cost-free and resulted in promotion to captain on 10 August. 
Spared the Second Battle of Bull Run—arriving after the fighting was over—the 2nd Massachusetts fell back into the Washington defenses before resting for a few days in Alexandria. By 4 September, however, the 2nd Massachusetts and Captain Shaw—now commanding Company F—crossed into Maryland at Georgetown, heading north pursuing Lee’s Confederates. Now assigned to the newly-created XII Corps—of which Major General Joseph K. F. Mansfield assumed command on the 15th—they passed over South Mountain that day before joining McClellan’s slow-motion advance toward Sharpsburg and Antietam Creek. 
The 2nd and the rest of Mansfield’s XII Corps spent the drizzly, uncomfortable night of September 16, 1862 in bivouac on the Line farm fields. The intermittent skirmishing that continued throughout the night reminded all that morning would bring renewed battle. Before dawn, an artillery opened that paved the way for Hooker’s I Corps infantry attack. While they contended with Jackson’s Confederates for the Cornfield—the 2nd men waited nervously. 
By mid-morning it was the 2nd’s turn to enter the fray when Williams’ division was sent forward to try accomplishing what Hooker’s entire I Corps had been unable to do – march south across the Cornfield to strike Lee’s line at the Dunker Church. But just as Williams began deploying his men, Hooker changed his mind, having finally realized that his earlier attacks in the Cornfield had failed largely because Southern troop held the East Woods. Just as taking the Cornfield was key to striking Lee’s line at the Dunker Church, taking the East Woods was the key to taking the Cornfield. Hooker’s new approach sent Crawford’s brigade’s three veteran regiments—the 10th Maine, 28th New York, and 46th Pennsylvania—to clear the East Woods, while the 2nd Massachusetts and Gordon’s brigade would support Crawford’s three remaining regiments in taking the Cornfield. Gordon’s brigade moved at the double-quick—a moderate jogging pace, not the all-out run of modern movies—toward Crawford’s position ahead. 
Crawford’s three massive-but-inexperienced regiments—the 124th, 125th, and 128th Pennsylvania—advanced toward the Cornfield, building on the expected Union control of the East Woods. Behind them, the 2nd led Gordon’s brigade in deploying across the width of Miller’s farm field, facing south. The 2nd Massachusetts nearly reached the Pike before deploying to hold Gordon’s right flank, while the 3rd Wisconsin and 27th Indiana formed to the left. Gordon posted the 107th New York in reserve behind them by the East Woods, joined soon by the 13th New Jersey which returned from detached duty.
The sight greeting General Gordon as his brigade advanced was not the raw Pennsylvanians but rather a vast, yawning command void. Union and Confederate troops were scattered disorganized across the shattered Cornfield; the only organized Federal troops apparent was a unit to his right and rear by the Hagerstown Pike—the 124th Pennsylvania—while another unit held the woods on Gordon’s left – he took them to be Greene’s Division but they were in fact Crawford’s veteran regiments fighting to take the East Woods. Instantly, General Gordon’s military instinct told him to fill that gap as quickly as possible.
Gordon pushed his three deployed regiments forward to plug the gap in the Cornfield’s center, stopping only when they reached the ridge running eastward from D.R. Miller’s house. As Gordon and the 2nd completed this move, it gave General Hooker and the Union a force stretching from the limestone ridge on the west side of the Hagerstown Pike, across the width of the northern edge of the Cornfield, and through to the opposite side of the East Woods.
Ahead of Gordon’s brigade and Crawford’s Pennsylvanians, Confederates scrambled to protect their hold on the Cornfield. Roswell Ripley’s brigade had preserved Southern gains won by Hood’s division and Trimble’s brigade, but constant fighting had worn it away. Colonel Alfred Colquitt’s brigade was next in the hopper and wasted little time getting into the fight; deploying across Ripley’s increasingly scattered force, Colquitt faced his command to the front—northward—and started through the Cornfield.
Stepping over the southern fence’s remains, the brigade pressed through the broken field and over the wounded strewn across the ground like chaff after the harvest. Colonel Colquitt probably hoped that moving so quickly would permit taking the Cornfield before the fresh Yankee brigade visible across the field could do so and Colquitt’s line pressed to the very center of the field before fire from Gordon’s infantry and four nearby Union batteries stopped him in his tracks. It might have been at that moment that Colonel Colquitt first realized what had happened during his advance. 
While Colquitt’s line advanced, the right of Gordon’s Brigade was also moving. The 2nd Massachusetts’ Colonel Andrews, seeing the position as weak with better ground just ahead, advanced roughly 75 yards to a new position along the southern fence of D.R. Miller’s orchard. Here they deployed at an angle along the edge of the orchard, effectively “refusing the left.” Next the massive 124th Pennsylvania swept southward along the Hagerstown Pike and nearly over their position. Pressing even farther to the south, the 124th stopped along the northern end of the Cornfield. For now, the 124th would anchor the Union right opposing the Cornfield, but not so the 2nd Massachusetts.
Barely had the 2nd deployed in Miller’s orchard when Colquitt’s Confederates appeared and opened fire. The 2nd’s enfilading fire and the work of the 3rd Wisconsin played havoc with Colquitt’s advance, forcing his left to stop in its tracks while the right pressed ever deeper into the Cornfield. An angled line was only part of Colonel Colquitt’s problems, however, for just as the 6th Georgia, holding Colquitt’s right flank, reached the northern end of the Cornfield a fresh Yankee threat suddenly appeared from within the East Woods. This was Greene’s XII Corps division, sweeping forward like a barn door pushing Confederates from the right. Colquitt and his men faced a steady fire from their front and both flanks. Their ranks thinning fast, the Confederates held on here for five minutes that must have seemed like hours. 
Captain Shaw recalled “[T]he Brigade advanced through the cornfield in front, which, until then, had been occupied by the enemy; it was full of their dead and wounded… Beyond the cornfield was a large open field, and such a mass of dead and wounded men, mostly Rebels, as were lying there, I never saw before; it was a terrible sight, and our men had to be careful to avoid treading on them; many were mangled and torn to bits by artillery, but most of them had been wounded by infantry fire.” “[W]e swept forward with a rush which carried us through the cornfield and into the open field beyond,” recalled Charles Morse of the moment they advanced on the Rebels. 
The 2nd’s immediate target was the 11th Mississippi—from Law’s Brigade, it stayed behind to fight—which now ran for its very existence. Though having lost two regimental commanders already today, the Mississippians’ suffering wasn’t done yet. Company E’s Sergeant Wheat grabbed the 11th’s beloved flag when its latest color-bearer fell wounded, acquiring for the 2nd Massachusetts a valuable prize. 
Those Confederates who remained to stop the two Yankees were rewarded with nothing but failure or worse. While Greene’s division pushed toward the Dunker Church, Gordon’s brigade and the 2nd Massachusetts advanced through the Cornfield, finally securing that critical ground for the Union. When they finally stopped Gordon’s Brigade faced south, with the large 124th Pennsylvania holding the right with the 2nd Massachusetts, 3rd Wisconsin, 27th Indiana to the left.
Soon, Sumner’s II Corps men of Sedgwick’s division swept over the prone 2nd Massachusetts men and into the Rebel-held West Woods. While Sedgwick’s men struggled for that ground, Gordon’s brigade and the 2nd waited – little did Colonel Andrews and his men know that their fighting this day was not yet done. 
Sumner’s fatal mismanagement of his corps’ deployments and Sedgwick’s attack invited disaster, which Lafayette McLaws was only too willing to provide. Striking Sedgwick’s front and left flank, McLaws’ and Walker’s divisions eventually drove Sumner’s men fleeing from the West Woods. At this moment the only thing that would save his force were reinforcements but, in a spectacular bit of bad timing, Sumner’s support appeared just as Confederate forces finished retaking the West Woods.
Sumner had summoned these reinforcements at the height of Sedgwick’s attack by dispatching a staffer to search the rear for any available troops. Finding General Williams, the staffer breathlessly reported “General Sumner directs you to send to the front all of your command immediately available,” before racing back to Sumner. Williams turned to nearby General Gordon, who sent his only available units, the 13th New Jersey and 2nd Massachusetts.
“The Second and the 13th New Jersey…moved up to the road, crossed the first fence and formed behind the second one,” recalled the 2nd’s chaplain Alonzo Quint. “Captain Morse, with company B, crossed the second fence. This was but a few rods above the church, at the open ground. Sumner’s corps was not visible.” Quint and the other 2nd men had no idea then, but both Sumner’s men and the success they‘d been sent to reinforce had by then fled.
“When soldiers appeared in the woods opposite, there was doubt who they were,” the chaplain continued. “”Show your colors!” said Colonel Andrews to the color-bearer. Color-Sergeant Lundy waved his flag. It was greeted by a shower of bullets. Fire was then opened and continued.” 
The situation facing the 13th New Jersey was no better. “Suddenly something occurred that seemed supernatural,” recorded the 13th’s Joseph Crowell. “A vast number of the enemy appeared to rise straight out of the solid earth, and they poured into us a deadly volley of leaden hail.” Crowell and the 13th had discovered one of Antietam’s many natural rock ledges, behind which Confederates took refuge. “They fired into us a murderous volley. Surprised, demoralized, we wavered and fell back and made for the first fence, on the nearest side of the road! …[T]he green and inexperienced Thirteenth Regiment broke and with one accord made for the fence.” 
“[A]s the smoke lifted, the small force found itself alone,” Quint recalled of the 2nd’s situation. “On the left, no troops were visible: on the right, the left of the corps had given way. The enemy were in the woods and sheltered behind rocks, and were in great force…” “The flagstaff was broken, the flag riddled, and the socket shot away from the color-bearer’s belt. The brave [Lieutenant Colonel Wilder] Dwight was mortally wounded. A fourth of the men had soon fallen and they were rapidly dropping. Suffering much more than the enemy could, and unsupported, the order was given, and the regiment fell back to the woods, uncovering the batteries. Cothran’s and Woodruff’s opened beautifully, and the advancing line of the enemy hastily took shelter.” 
The 2nd Massachusetts’ day was done, and none too soon. Falling back behind a rise into the East Woods, the men boiled coffee and ate what food they had. The 2nd‘s final fools’ errand for General Sumner had cost the regiment 15 killed and 50 wounded. Among the 2nd’s officers, only three are listed in the regimental history as having been wounded – but not Captain Shaw. 
Once again, luck allowed Robert Shaw to emerge from battle unscathed, with nothing more than a bruise on his neck from a spent musket ball. Despite what the 1989 film implies, it’s unlikely Shaw left his company command duties to visit a field hospital for treatment of this “wound.” Nonetheless, fighting in Antietam’s Cornfield had been another watershed moment, cementing Robert’s sense of the war and his purpose: “I never felt, before, the excitement which makes a man want to rush into the fight, but I did that day. Every battle makes me wish more and more that that war was over. It seems as if nothing could justify a battle like that of the 17th and the horrors inseparable from it.” 
Spending the remainder of the autumn at Antietam, the 2nd Massachusetts on 12 December departed for Fredericksburg, Virginia, but arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Settling into “comfortable” quarters at Stafford Court House, Captain Shaw on 5 February accepted a position commanding the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and shortly afterward Shaw and the 2nd Massachusetts parted ways for all eternity. 
In May, the 2nd Massachusetts participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville, entrenching with the rest of the XII Corps to prevent victorious Confederates from overrunning the again-defeated Union army. Marching into Pennsylvania, the 2nd fought at Gettysburg on 3 July, attacking Confederates at the base of Culp’s Hill, near Spangler Spring, suffering 137 casualties. After traveling north to assist in quelling draft riots in New York City, in late 1863 the 2nd joined the XII Corps heading west to join the Army of the Cumberland, participating in the capture of Lookout Mountain and the Battle for Chattanooga. In 1864, the regiment joined General Sherman’s force in the Atlanta Campaign–participating in the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Peachtree Creek, and the Siege of Atlanta—before taking part in the March to the Sea. The 2nd Massachusetts’ war ended in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 26, 1865 when General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army surrendered. Mustered out in July, 1865, the 2nd Massachusetts lost 288 men during its service – 14 officers and 176 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, while another two officers and 96 men died of disease. 
Newly-minted Colonel Shaw traveled north after leaving the 2nd Massachusetts to organize and train his regiment before taking it to the field – a journey that for him and many of his men ended on 18 July 1863 at South Carolina’s Fort Wagner and which is beautifully told in director Edward Zwick’s Academy-award willing 1989 film, Glory. Nonetheless, just as the scene depicting Shaw’s treatment at a field hospital is almost certainly fiction, so the film’s treatment of the 2nd Massachusetts’ experience at Antietam is mostly fictional. The regiment’s advance into the Cornfield drove the enemy—who stood in the open Cornfield, not behind a fence—allowing the 2nd to capture their flag. Although the second advance—toward the West Woods—saw the 2nd Massachusetts driven back with considerable casualties, first-hand accounts suggest its retreat was nothing like the chaotic rout the film depicts. Still, the movie uses these scenes to tell a story—in this case that Colonel Shaw had experienced the horror of war—not chiefly to depict accurate history. That’s our job…
Perhaps Robert Gould Shaw had spent what remaining “battle luck” he possessed at Antietam, building a debt with fate that he was called upon to pay at Fort Wagner. Regardless of this or the vagaries of film storytelling, the reality is that the coolness under fire Colonel Shaw demonstrated in leading the 54th Massachusetts under terrific fire at Fort Wagner had been developed, tested, and tempered in the swirling hell of Antietam’s bloody Cornfield.
 Alonzo Quint The Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-65 (Boston: James P. Walker, 1867), pp. 5-7, 11-12.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 24-30; Peter Burchard One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), p. 4.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, p. 2, 4, 9-15, 21, 27-29.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, pp. 29-39, Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp.16-17.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 41-59.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, p. 70, 78-79, 90.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, p. 57.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 98-100.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, p. 59.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 104-112, 492. Shaw received a personal mention of thanks in Gordon’s report of the battle.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 125-127, 132-133.
 United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901), Series 1, Volume XIX, Pt. 1, p. 275, p. 475, p. 495; Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indian Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, p. 238.; Beverly Hayes Kallgren and James L. Crouthamel, Eds. “Dear Friend Anna” The Civil War letters of a Common Soldier from Maine (Portland: The University Press of Maine, 1992), p. 33; Ezra A. Carman and Thomas G. Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II: Antietam (California: Savas Beatie, 2012), pp. 51-56; John E. Gould Joseph K. F. Mansfield, Brigadier General of the US Army, A Narrative of Events Connected with his Mortal Wounding at Antietam (Portland, Maine: Stephen Barry, Pub., 1895), p. 9.
 Brown The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, p. 243.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, pp. 494-495.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 124-132.
 OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 1054.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 124-132.
 OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495, pp. 498-499.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 124-132.
 Col. Charles F. Morse, “From Second Bull Run to Antietam” MOLLUS, Vol. 1, Commandry of Missouri (St. Louis, Becktold and Co., 1892), p. 275.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495.
 Morse, “From Second Bull Run to Antietam” MOLLUS, Vol. 1, p. 275. ; Quint, The Second Massachusetts, p. 137.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495.
 http://aotw.org/moh.php?citation_id=15’ B. H. Witcher letter, Antietam Collection, Dartmouth University; Quint, The Second Massachusetts, p. 137.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 137-138.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 231-233.
Joseph E. Crowell The Young Volunteer: The Civil War Memoirs of Joseph E. Crowell, 13th New Jersey Volunteers (Falls Church, VA: NOVA Publications, 1997), pp. 120-121.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 231-123.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, pp. 138-140.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, p. 495.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 131-133.
 Quint, The Second Massachusetts, p. 140.; OR, Vol. XIX, Pt. 1, pp. 495-496.; Carman and Clemens, Ed. The Maryland Campaign, Vol. II, pp. 231-233.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, p. 65.
 Burchard, One Gallant Rush, pp. 74-76; Quint says on p. 154, however, that he departed in April 1863; this may be the day the 2nd finally removed him from the regimental roles – or it might just be a mistake.
 23-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Mudge had commented about this attack “Well it is murder, but it’s the order” and the regiment suffered accordingly – 137 casualties, including Mudge.
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