"No Man Can Take Those Colors and Live"
The 26th North Carolina Regiment started the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg with 800 men. By sunset, 588 of them were either dead or wounded. Yelling like demons, they had courageously charged and taken the formidable federal position on Seminary Ridge. Fourteen colorbearers in the 26th were shot down in succession. One of them was 21 year old Henry King Burgwyn, the youngest colonel in the Confederate army, who stained the flag with his blood as he fell wrapped in it’s folds.
Within seconds a bullet entered his heart and the officer pitched forward drenching the standard with his blood. Lt. George Wilcox pulled the blood soaked flag from underneath Mcreery’s lifeless form and pushed ahead into the maelstrom. After a few steps, two rounds pierced his chest, but he survived.Fearing that his troops might falter at this critical juncture Burgwyn seized the flag staff from Wilcox. With his outstretched sword in one hand and the flag in the other, he ordered the regiment to "Dress on the colors". Mortally wounded Col. Burgwyn is said to have whispered, "I know my gallant men will do their duty. Where is my sword?" Then he was gone.
“Their advance was not checked, and they came on in rapid strides, yelling like demons. The Confederates overpowered the Nineteenth Indiana, striking on both flanks. [The enemy] left was then exposed to an enfilading fire and was forced to fall back. [Near the western crest of McPherson’s Ridge], the Twenty-fourth Michigan fought desperately but the Twenty-sixth North Carolina would not be denied.
As Lane later recalled, “the engagement was becoming desperate, It seemed as if the bullets were as thick as hailstones in a storm. At this time the colors have been cut down ten times, the color guard all killed or wounded. We have now struck the second line of the enemy where the fighting is fiercest and the killing is deadliest. Suddenly, Captain W.W. McCreery, Assistant Inspector General of the Brigade, rushes forward to Col. Burgwyn.
He bears him a message. “Tell him,” says General [James Johnston] Pettigrew, “his regiment has covered itself with glory today.” Delivering these encouraging words, Capt. McCreery…seizes the fallen flag, waves it aloft and advancing to the front, is shot through the heart and falls, bathing the flag in his life’s blood. Lieut. George Wilcox of Company H, now rushes forward, and pulling the flag from under the dead hero, advances with it. In a few steps he also falls with two wounds – not fatal – in his body.”
Read more at: Gettysburg, The First Day."The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
The "Boy Colonel", Henry Burgwyn
Fourteen different color bearers from the 26th North Carolina, including their "boy colonel", Henry Burgwyn had been killed or grievously wounded holding aloft the regiment's colors.
Despite suffering enormous casualties in their fight with the 24th Michigan and the rest of the Iron Brigade, Lt. Col. J.R. Lane lifted the flag once more and yelled, "twenty-sixth, follow me!" The fight for Herbst Woods proved to be the bloodiest regimental fight in the Civil War's bloodiest battle. The 26th North Carolina lost 687 out of 843 men at Gettysburg and the 24th Michigan suffered 73% casualties. These two units suffered more casualties than any other regiments in their respective armies.From Free North Carolina