They woke early and made breakfast before heading out towards Gettysburg. The 2nd Wisconsin lead the way as they left Marsh Creek Camp. The oldest and most famous of the five Iron Brigade regiments, the 2nd Wisconsin was one of the first 3-year enlistment regiments to arrive in Washington in 1861. They marched for some time until the outskirts of Gettysburg was reached where they began to hear the cannon fire. The talking and singing that was prevalent during the march came to a halt as the men became fixated on the pending conflict. It wasn’t long when the brigade came upon General Reynolds on Emmitsburg Road. There he instructed them to file through a field by a section of fence that had been removed. Here they entered and crossed the field and soon were engaged in the fight of their lives. For the soldier, the impending and waiting nature of Civil War fighting was sometimes the most stressing part. Today, for the 2nd Wisconsin as they crossed the field, the battle was nearer than they had expected; they would not wait long. Men began to prepare for an engagement by snapping percussion caps and loading their weapons. Bayonets were ordered as the column pressed on towards Seminary Ridge. They were then ordered on the “double quick” to McPherson’s Woods. The 2nd Wisconsin was the first to reach the crest of McPherson’s Ridge. At this moment the line was hit hard by a volley of Confederate fire that created wide gaps in their line. At this moment the order was given by the their commander, Lucius Fairchild, who shouted “Charge men, I mean Charge!” As they advanced the Confederates recognized the tall black hats of the Iron Brigade, one Rebel writing later, “Hell! Those are the big hat devils of the Army of the Potomac.” Some time later General Reynolds was mortally wounded as the fighting intensified. The surprised and confused collision of the 2nd Wisconsin and the Confederate 7th and 14th Tennessee regiments (Archer’s brigade) caused serious damage to both sides. However, the Confederates gave way and slowly retreated. Eventually Archer’s brigade would be overcome by the black hats and many would be captured including Archer. Later in the day, after helping to stem the tide of the Confederate attack, some members of the 2nd Wisconsin including Nathaniel Rollins, would be captured during their retreat back and through the town of Gettysburg. (Source: Lance Herdegen, Those Damned Black Hats: The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, Savas Beatie: 2008, 73-108)
From the diary of Nathaniel Rollins, 2nd Wisconsin:
July 1st: This morning at 8 we moved forward & at 11 got up with the rebels one mile W. of Gettysburg. The 2nd W[is.] V.[olunteers] came up first of the infantry, and coming forward into line engaged them at once. We drove Genl Archer’s brigade back through the woods, losing very heavily. I took into action 27 muskets, had 4 killed dead and 13 wounded. Also, Lt. Winegar killed. We held the ground undisturbed until about 2:30PM when about 50,000 rebels advanced on us, entirely outflanking us and the Iron Brigade fell back as they were flanked, but entirely destroying the rebel lines in our front. In this second fight we lost very heavily, but in going through the village the flanking force cut us off and I, with many others of our brigade, were captured. About 5,000 of our men are now in a field for the night.