A Civil War Soldier's Story: Samuel Milton Bond of the "Iron Brigade"

Author's Note: This is one of a series of articles I wrote for a local publication in Centreville, VA. The article is no longer available there so in order to preserve it I have decided to publish it exclusively on HubPages. My task was to illuminate some of the history of the Centreville area in an accessible way. However, the subject matter should be of interest to anyone with an interest in the Civil War.

Union Soldiers, Centreville, VA  May, 1862.
Union Soldiers, Centreville, VA May, 1862.

Introduction

One of the great benefits of living in Centreville, VA is the incredibly rich history that surrounds us. Living here is like living inside a history book; from its beginning as a small crossroads for settlers moving west, to its central role as an encampment and staging area for both armies during the great Civil War, as an exemplar of the suburbanization that took place during the 20th century, and now as a place of increasing diversity. Its history is still being written.

There is no doubt that for many in this area Centreville's role in the Civil War inspires the most interest. And it does for me too.

Knowing I had ancestors who had fought in the Civil War - on both sides - I decided to see if any had fought near Centreville, or had been encamped here.

So, after a doing a bit of research online and at the National Archives, I found what I was looking for; at least three had fought at both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, two Confederate, and one Union. This latter fella who fought for the Union turned out to be a pretty interesting, and heroic guy. He was a soldier in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, one of the most storied regiments of the Civil War. The 2nd Wisconsin was later part of the famed "Iron Brigade," one of the toughest and most reliable brigades in the Union army. Strangely, despite knowing his nephew (my Great Grandfather) when I was young, I had never heard of him before doing this research. Somehow his story didn't make it into our family lore; an oversight I want to rectify.

So, with that, here is a (relatively) brief history of the Civil War experiences of one Samuel M. Bond of Milton, Wisconsin - Company H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry of the "Iron Brigade."

Camp Randall. Madison, WI. 1864
Camp Randall. Madison, WI. 1864

Enlistment and Muster

Samuel Milton Bond was born on November 1, 1830 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania to Jonathan Bond and Mary French. Members of the Seventh Day Baptist church the Bond’s eventually made their way to Milton, Rock County, Wisconsin, settling near other members of the Bond family who had likewise made their way there via Lost Creek, West Virginia.

Sam (as he was called by family and friends), was educated at the Fon du Lac Academy in Milton, Wisconsin where he stayed following his graduation to work the family farm with his father and siblings. In April 1861 however, Sam's life would take a sudden and dramatic turn. Little did he know that events unfolding in South Carolina would take him away from his home for the next four years, and that he would wind up fighting in more battles during the coming Civil War than any man in Wisconsin, save one.

A few days after the surrender of Fort Sumter Sam was working on the family farm, preparing the land for planting of spring wheat, when Pliny Norcross, later Captain of Co. K, 13th Wisconsin infantry, sporting a military cap, suggested Sam put down his plow, respond to President Lincoln's call for troops, and enlist in the Union Army. So along with ten fellow Miltonians, Samuel Bond made his way to Camp Randall in nearby Madison where on April 21, 1861, he enlisted in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry as a Private. Within days, and before the newly formed regiment left Wisconsin, Sam was elevated to the rank of Corporal.

Dr. Andrew J. Ward. 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers.
Dr. Andrew J. Ward. 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers.

First Battle of Bull Run

On June 11, 1861 the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry was officially mustered into federal service and moved to Washington DC. On that day, his leadership skills apparent, Sam Bond was again promoted, this time to 1st Sergeant. One short month later Bond and his comrades found themselves on the march, moving west of Washington DC with the hope of surprising the Confederate army camped near the Bull Run Creek.

Serving in a brigade commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman, the 2nd Wisconsin fought on and around Henry Hill. After initially pushing the confederates to the brink of defeat, the Union Army, under the weight of recently arrived and fresh Confederate troops, began to fall back. Eventually, the retreat turned into a route, as the green Union Army ran helter skelter back to Centreville, Va., and eventually all the way back to Washington D.C. The 2nd Wisconsin, no longer able to hold their position joined in the retreat. Displaying the discipline that would win them later praise however, the 2nd Wisconsin was one of the few Union regiments to actually retreat in good order.

As the fighting had intensified on Henry Hill, Samuel Bond was wounded in the right wrist, by a Confederate minie ball. Upon reaching Centreville, he was treated by brigade surgeon, and fellow Wisconsinite, Dr. Andrew J. Ward. After reaching Washington, Bond spent the next two weeks in a military hospital before rejoining his regiment.

Wartime sketch of the Battle of Brawner Farm. By Edwin Forbes.
Wartime sketch of the Battle of Brawner Farm. By Edwin Forbes.

Battle at Brawner Farm

In the months following the devastating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, the army to which the 2nd Wisconsin belonged, now called the Army of the Potomac, came under the command of Gen George B. McClellan, who undertook a massive reorganization. On October 1, 1861 the 2nd Wisconsin joined by the 6th and 7th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana (and later the 24th Michigan), formed into a new brigade that would eventually become known as the “Iron Brigade”, a moniker it would earn following the Battle of South Mountain. With their distinctive Hardee Hats they were known by the confederates they faced as the “Black Hats”.

Ten months after their formation the "Black Hats" were transferred to the Army of Virginia under General John Pope. Following Union defeat in the Peninsular campaign the Army of Virginia joined with the Army of Potomac to try and overwhelm the new Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, recently placed under the command of Robert E. Lee.

On August 28, 1862, during the maneuvering that led to the second Battle of Bull Run, the brigade was making their way east on the Warrenton Turnpike near the small Virginia village of Groveton (Gainesville), on their way to meet up with the rest of Pope's army at Centreville, Va. As they turned east, near the farm owned by John Brawner, the brigade came under artillery fire from the hill near the farm. Assuming Stonewall Jackson, who the army had been chasing, was at that time near Centreville, they believed they had come under fire by horse artillery attached to Gen. Jeb Stuart's cavalry. Hoping to capture the guns, Gen. John Gibbon called upon the 2nd Wisconsin to march through Brawner's woods and attempt to capture them. Once there however, they found themselves on the receiving end of a withering 800 gun volley from the famed “Stonewall Brigade.” Stonewall Jackson was not at Centreville as they had assumed, but was instead less than a football field length in front of them.

Fortunately for General Pope, the regiment that first met the “Stonewall Brigade” was among the most experienced and battle hardened in the union army. Rather than retreat from such a devastating volley, the 2nd Wisconsin immediately returned fire, staggering the confederates in front of them. Eventually the two brigades found themselves a mere 80 yards apart. As regiments were added to each side the battle raged for two hours; a stand up fight in which the lines of battle were defined by the rows of dead and wounded lying on the field.

As night fell the firing stopped with both brigades in the position they had been at the start of the fight. Finally, under cover of darkness the "Black Hats" made their way back to the Warrenton Turnpike and continued their march to Centreville.

The Battle at Brawner Farm was one of the few times Stonewall Jackson had not met with success. Not only was he unable to advance through an opposing force, but his brigade, used to having its way with Union troops, found themselves much depleted from their encounter with the “Black Hats.” Not only did they lose 340 out of 800 men, they lost the services Generals Isaac Trimble, William B. Taliaferro and General Richard Ewell who lost his leg as the result of the battle. In addition to this, Jackson lost the element of surprise. The Union army was now alerted to his presence near Bull Run. Unfortunately, that advantage was squandered as Pope made an incorrect assumption about Jackson's presence there, and fell into a trap laid for him by Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The Union Army was again defeated at Bull Run, though this time they retreated in good order, preventing southern troops from pressing their advantage.

In his after action report, the taciturn Stonewall Jackson grudgingly praised the "Black Hats" noting they had held their ground with ...”obstinate determination.”

The 2nd Wisconsin suffered 276 casualties out of 430 men engaged. Among the killed was W. Everett Moon, shot through the chest as he fought next to his comrade and fellow townsman, Sam Bond. Sam himself was wounded as he was at First Bull Run, though he was able to make his way with his regiment back to Centreville. Records do not record the nature of his wound, and he does not mention it in the pension application he later filed. However, the 2nd Wisconsin regimental history, his obituary, and records of the Grand Army of the Republic all indicate he was in fact wounded during the Battle at Brawner Farm. The fact that he did not mention it in his pension application indicates it was not serious enough to cause a permanent disability, and the wound did not cause him to miss any of the later battles in which the 2nd Wisconsin would be engaged.

Smith Barn. Keedysville, MD. Used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam.
Smith Barn. Keedysville, MD. Used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam.

Battle of Antietam

Flush with victory after Second Bull Run, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided it was “the most propitious time…for the Confederate army to enter Maryland”. After the devastating Union defeat at Second Bull Run, he believed northern armies under Generals Pope and McClellan "lay weakened and demoralized.” He was confident he could overwhelm any force they sent against him. Even if he could not however, he believed the continued presence of a southern army on northern soil would weaken Lincoln and the Republicans, thus making a political settlement possible. He also believed he might be able to entice Maryland, a slave state with mixed loyalties, to enter the war on the Confederate side.

On September 3, 1862, singing "Maryland, My Maryland," as they marched, Lee's 55,000 men crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. McClellan, with about 75,000 troops under his command, moved to intercept him. After the September 14th Battle of South Mountain, the men of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana Infantries, now called the "Iron Brigade," moved on to the fields east of a small Maryland town called Sharpsburg, where the Battle of Antietam would occur on September 17th.

The "Iron Brigade," part of Gen. Joseph Hooker's First Corps were among the first sent in, their goal being the capture of a rise surrounding a small church owned by the Dunker sect of German Baptists. The "Iron Brigade" was assigned the left position. They advanced through a cornfield that stood between them and Confederate troops lined up near the Dunker church. The fighting was among the most brutal of the war as the lines wavered back and forth across the field. The firing was so intense that nearly all of the corn was cut down as a result. Rufus Dawes in command of the 6th Wisconsin described the carnage.

Men, I can not say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by dozens. But we jumped over the fence, and pushed on, loading, firing, and shouting as we advanced. There was, on the part of the men, great hysterical excitement, eagerness to go forward, and a reckless disregard of life, or every thing but victory…

Later, with time to reflect on what had happened, Dawes asserted this first phase of the Battle of Antietam was "the most dreadful slaughter to which our regiment was subjected in the war.”

After this first phase of the battle had ended, the fighting shifted to the north. Equally bloody phases were fought near a sunken road that became known as "Bloody Lane," and finally at the northern end of the battlefield, where Union troops were stymied most of the day trying to cross a bridge over Antietam Creek. That bridge eventually became known as the Burnside Bridge, named after the feckless Union commander who spent the entire afternoon trying to get his troops across it. Once across, it appeared Union troops might actually split the enemy line. As they moved forward however, the Confederates were reinforced by Gen. A.P. Hill's corps arriving from Harpers Ferry, which ended the Union advance. Thus ended the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day battle in American history.

While McClellan's timidity in committing the fresh troops he still had available cost him a chance to smash Lee's army, he did succeed in thwarting Lee's plans. With far more casualties than they could afford, the Confederates were in no condition to resume fighting. With no reinforcement possible, Lee's plan to stay north through the November elections had to be abandoned. After waiting a day for McClellan to resume an attack that never came, Lee slipped his army back across the Potomac River into Virginia. Maryland remained a firmly Union state.

While the battle is considered a tactical draw as neither side gained control of the field, strategically it was a Union victory. Lee's plans had been thwarted and he had endured a level of casualties he could not sustain. More importantly however, the victory gave President Abraham Lincoln the leverage he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

For the "Iron Brigade" the Battle of Antietam was devastating. Of about 800 engaged they lost 343 killed, wounded or missing, and of those the 2nd Wisconsin lost 86. Among those killed was a corporal in Company H whose bravery would be recognized after the war, when veterans from his hometown named the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in his honor.

Samuel Bond was among those engaged in the Cornfield at Antietam. At some point during the fight, his friend, Corporal Arthur D. Hamilton, a neighbor of the Bond's in Milton, WI, was mortally wounded. Sam, presumably after the fighting in the Cornfield had ended, carried the wounded Hamilton three miles to a hospital set up in Keedysville, Md, possibly the Smith Barn pictured above. There, Hamilton passed away nine days later on Sept. 26, 1862. Sam buried his friend, alone, in a private cemetery. His remains were later moved to Antietam National Cemetery.

After the war, as local veterans were establishing the Milton post of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), they chose to name it in honor of Corporal Hamilton, who it turned out, was the first man from Milton to be killed in the war. Samuel Bond would be a long time member of the post, serving in mostly minor positions, turning down an offer to act as Commander, and was Junior Vice Commander at his death.

Iron Brigade Monument. At the edge of Herbst Woods west of the Town of Gettysburg.
Iron Brigade Monument. At the edge of Herbst Woods west of the Town of Gettysburg.

Battle of Gettysburg

In the months that followed the Battle of Antietam, the Iron Brigade continued to be heavily engaged, seeing action at the battles of Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Samuel Bond was not present for the latter battle as he was forced home on leave to care for his ailing father. He did however, return in time for perhaps the most famous, and most important battle of the Civil War – the Battle of Gettysburg.

Following the devastating Union defeat at the hands of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, Abraham Lincoln again replaced the commander of the Army of the Potomac, removing Joseph Hooker in favor of George G. Meade. The Union defeat also emboldened Robert E. Lee into taking the offensive. In what was surely his most fateful decision of the war, Lee moved his troops north. By threatening an attack at the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, Lee hoped to draw the Army of the Potomac out into the open where he believed it could be destroyed. After suffering such a devastating defeat, Lee believed, Abraham Lincoln would be forced to sue for peace.

What Lee didn't count on however, was the tenacity of an army defending its own soil.

The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1, 1863, and it began innocently enough. Southern troops moved into the town in search of a stash of supplies it was rumored were there. As they entered the town from the north they were fired upon by what they believed were local militia. As it turned out however, they were advance troops of Union General John Buford's cavalry. As the Confederates poured in more troops Buford called for the trailing main body of the Union Army to move into place. The first Union infantry troops to arrive were General John Reynolds' 1st Corps. At the head of that corps, recently assigned the prescient designation of 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac, was the "Iron Brigade".

With Confederate troops already entering a set of woods which were on a strategically important ridge, Gen. Reynolds ordered the Iron Brigade forward. As he did so, shouting “forward men, forward for God's sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods,” he was shot down by a Confederate sharpshooter.

The Iron Brigade moved forward, slamming into a Confederate brigade commanded by General James J. Archer and began pushing them back. In the process they captured nearly 1000 prisoners including Archer himself. As General Abner Doubleday, who had taken command of the 1st division following the death of General Reynolds noted in his after action report, “ the Iron Brigade, led by the Second Wisconsin, in line, and followed by the other regiments, deployed en echelon without a moment's hesitation, charged with the utmost steadiness and fury, hurled the enemy back into the run, captured, after a sharp and desperate conflict, nearly 1,000 prisoners-all from Archer's brigade-and reformed their lines on the high ground beyond the ravine.

With additional troops, the Confederates were able to push Union troops back through the town of Gettysburg and onto the heights beyond the town. Though forced to retreat, this movement proved to be fortuitous as it gave the Union Army the advantage during the next two days, culminating in the devastating defeat of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army after Pickett's charge.

Among the men of the 2nd Wisconsin who fought that day, was Sam Bond's tent-mate, Private William S. Winegar of Milton. In the weeks before the battle Winegar had been on on sick leave in Wisconsin. He returned just in time to participate in the fighting at Gettysburg, arriving via ambulance just as the "Iron Brigade" was preparing to join the fighting. As the troops engaged the enemy he waved goodbye to his friend Sam Bond; ten minutes he fell dead

The Battle of Gettysburg was devastating for the "Iron Brigade" and for the 2nd Wisconsin. The brigade suffered 1,153 casualties out of 1,885 men engaged, and the 2nd Wisconsin suffered the worst of all, with a 77% casualty rate. Among those casualties was again Samuel Bond, who was shot through the left wrist this time. He was treated for this wound on the battlefield initially, and was later hospitalized.

Ulysses S. Grant at his City Point, VA headquarters. June, 1864.
Ulysses S. Grant at his City Point, VA headquarters. June, 1864.

Road to Victory

After the Confederate army retreated to Virginia, General Ulysses S. Grant was brought east to take over command of the entire Union Army. Unable to muster enough men to field a full regiment let alone a brigade, the men of the "Iron Brigade" who had survived Gettysburg were assigned to other regiments in the Union Army. The 2nd Wisconsin itself was disbanded.

Having recovered from the wound received at Gettysburg, Samuel Bond reenlisted and was transferred to an Independent battalion where he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. He was then reassigned to the 6th Wisconsin, where he was finally promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He fought in every battle of the overland campaign (Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, Five Forks, and Appomattox). He was with the army when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and he marched with his men at the Grand Review held in Washington DC following the surrender of the last Confederate army. He was made a brevet Captain, and was in command of the 3rd Division, 5th Corps when it was mustered out of service at Jeffersonville, Indiana on July 17, 1865.

In all Samuel Bond fought in more than 50 engagements, including 44 with the "Iron Brigade". Only one man in the entire state of Wisconsin had fought in more. That man had fought at Chancellorsvillle while Sam Bond was home on leave. The wounds he had suffered left him disabled for very heavy manual labor enabling him to get a military pension following the war.

Union Pacific Railroad routes, 1869.
Union Pacific Railroad routes, 1869.

Post War

After his return from the army Samuel Bond became a Railroad Conductor, working on the Union Pacific Railroad for many years. Perhaps because of his reputation as “quite the ladies man,” noted by his nephew Earl, Sam Bond didn't get married until he was 44 years of age. In 1874, at Council Bluff, Iowa, he married Kittie Jackson. In 1880 he and Kittie moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1889 to Omaha, Nebraska. In 1896, Kittie died and Sam moved back to Milton, Wisconsin.

There he was heavily involved in the A.D. Hamilton Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, serving as Junior Vice Commander, and turning down many pleas to serve as Commander of the post. He was also a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, a society of Union officers dedicated to preserving stories of the war. In his last years he lived with his sister Jane Bond Morton. Sam Bond finally passed away from a stroke on September 16, 1920 at 89 years of age.

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