The Story of the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Battle of Gettysburg

Our regiment had seventeen color-bearers killed or wounded during the war. Seven of these were shot at Gettysburg in less than twice that number of minutes.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Williams, 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The Battle of Gettysburg has the honor of being the subject most written about in American history. Scholars have analyzed it in every way possible. It has been examined through individuals, states, and regiments. Yet one important regiment, the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), has never been fully analyzed. This regiment was made up almost entirely of Monroe County men who volunteered their service at the beginning of the war in 1861. The 25th played a pivotal role at Gettysburg. They suffered the second highest losses within the entire Union Army engaged at this critical fight.[1] Of the nineteen Ohio units engaged at Gettysburg, the 25th OVI accounted for nearly one-quarter of this state’s total casualties.[2] News of their decimation spread across Ohio. It was felt in almost every community. Yet, today their part in this battle remains unknown.

One of the most renowned engagements of the Civil War is that of Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg occurred July 1st to 3rd, 1863, the third year of the Civil War. This engagement was not only the largest battle of this conflict, but the largest to have ever been fought in the Western Hemisphere.[3] It was a hard fought battle that resulted in a victory for the Union, bringing the war to a turning point. However, this turning point did not come without a cost. Gettysburg resulted in the largest number of casualties of any battle during the Civil War, “The two armies between them lost more than 57,000 men during the Pennsylvania campaign, including some 9,600 dead.”[4]

On July 2nd, a little after 7:00 p.m. the remaining members of the 25th Ohio saw the ranks of a Confederate force crossing the fields in front of their position on Cemetery Hill. This Confederate advance consisted of Hays’ Louisiana Tigers and Avery’s North Carolinians. The same Rebels they had fought the day before in the opening engagement of the Battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, the 25th Ohio arrived at Gettysburg with a force of 220 men. At the end of the day, they numbered less than 60. After a short and desperate fight at Blocher’s Knoll the 25th was forced to retreat through town to the heights of Cemetery Hill. In this retreat they lost two commanders. Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Williams led the regiment into the battle. He had been slightly wounded in the initial fighting at Blocher’s Knoll. Having retreated with the regiment to the Almshouse he led a small force contesting the Confederate advance where he was captured. As the regiment was pushed through town, command fell to Captain Nathaniel Manning. Manning was subsequently wounded. In his injured state he passed command of the regiment to Second Lieutenant William Maloney. Maloney made it back with the remainder of the regiment to the comparative safety of Cemetery Hill. In a few hours’ time the 25th Ohio took approximately 73% casualties and was forced to retreat through town to safety on Cemetery Ridge.[5] The regiment fell under the command of a second lieutenant with all other officers being killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

Alfred Waud, Sketch of Cemetery Hill. Library of Congress.

Throughout the day on the 2nd, the 25th was placed on a skirmish line in advance of East Cemetery Hill. Here they lost fourteen more men- casualties of Confederate sniper fire. Later in the day they were relieved from the skirmish line and placed behind the stone walls of East Cemetery Hill, forming behind an angle in the wall. When the Confederate attack came on Cemetery Hill, the 25th was spread out in a single file line crouched and lying behind a short stone wall flanked by the 107th Ohio on their left and the 75th Ohio and the remainder of the Union forces on their right.

As the Confederate line crossed the rolling fields toward Cemetery Hill, Hays’ men mounted a ridge, approximately fifty-to-seventy-five yards from the Union lines. One Yankee eyewitness stated they came over the ridge “stooped over and disjointed as if a mob had rushed forward” and then, they formed their lines and rushed forward at a double-quick with a rebel yell.[6] At this point, Union infantry and artillery opened up on the advancing Rebels. Both firing too high to do much good, the artillery endangering their own infantry in the process.

Hays’ Louisiana Tigers hit hard at the angle resulting in hand-to-hand fighting “with bayonets and clubbed guns” along the 107th and 25th OH’s line. One 25th member noted years later, the Tigers ”put their big feet on the stone wall and went over like deer, over the heads of the whole …regiment, the grade being steep and the wall not more than 20 inches high.”[7] In the chaos of the fighting Hays’ men broke through the 25th sending their regiment fleeing back to Wiedrich’s battery. Here, alongside the gunners they again engaged the Confederate attackers in a hand-to-hand brutal struggle. In the melee the 25th’s commander Second Lieutenant William Maloney was wounded. In this confusion command fell to First Lieutenant Israel White.

As Hays’ men mounted the hill, their numbers had been severely reduced and resembled a mob rushing the guns. The Tigers captured the guns for a few short moments, repulsing the Union defenders. Hays’ men prepared for a counterattack. In the darkness, at only twenty yards Union reinforcements- the 119th and 58th New York- fired three volleys into the Confederate line. These reinforcements double-quicked along with members of the 25th and 107th Ohio chasing the few remaining members of Hays’ men back down the hill. In the fighting at Cemetery Hill, the 25th lost eleven more casualties, bringing to a close the regiment’s fighting in this engagement.

In the Battle of Gettysburg, the 25th lost a total of 84% casualties. The 2nd highest of the entire Union Army at Gettysburg. As a state, Ohio played a critical role in the Civil War, especially at this battle. Ohio attributed the fourth largest amount of soldiers to the Union cause of the eighteen loyal states.[8] Of the 4,400 Ohioans engaged at Gettysburg 29%, 1,271 men, became casualties.[9] Stories like that of the 25th Ohio illuminate the plethora of intriguing stories that aboundingly remain even in a topic area such as Gettysburg that has been excruciatingly studied.

Works Cited

Baumgartner, Richard A. Buckeye Blood: Ohio at Gettysburg. Huntington, West Virginia: Blue Acorn Press, 2003.

Busey, John W. and David G. Martin. Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 1994.

Culp, Edward C. “From the 11th Army Corps,” July 5, 1863. Norwalk Reflector. July 21, 1863.

Jones, Terry L. Cemetery Hill: The Struggle for the High Ground July 1-3, 1863. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

[1] John W. Busey and David G. Martin, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. (Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 1994), 262.

[2] Richard A. Baumgartner, Buckeye Blood: Ohio at Gettysburg. (Huntington, West Virginia: Blue Acorn Press, 2003), 9.

[3] Terry L. Jones, Cemetery Hill: The Struggle for the High Ground July 1-3, 1863. (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003), 13.

[4] Stephen W Sears, Gettysburg.(New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), xiv.

[5] Bvt. Col Edward C. Culp, Raising The Banner of Freedom a Call to Arms: The 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union. Edited by Tom J. Edwards. (Omaha, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2011), 87.

[6] Jones 74.

[7] Baumgartner,109.

[8] Baumgartner, 9.

[9] Ibid.