UNION FIFTH CORPS, FIRST DIVISION,
THIRD BRIGADE 1,335 men
COLONEL STRONG VINCENT

Observing his brigade pass with Stars and Stripes unfurled through a small town in his native state on its way toward Gettysburg one moonlit evening, Strong Vincent declared to an aide, "There could be worse fates than to de fighting here in Pennsylvania, with that flag waving overhead." Vincent had just turned twenty-six years old on that march. He was of average stature, and "well formed." His personality was like his first name and had marked him early on as one of the most valuable young officers in the army. Though he had not been trained as a soldier, his assets were many. He was a fine horseman, and struck a very military appearance in the saddle. (His young wife, also a skilled equestrienne, had visited him on the Rappahannock and their long horseback rides, their gaiety, and their striking good looks had caught attention and inspired admiration in the army.) He was personally quiet and gentlemanly, and had a cheerful disposition, but was also a strict disciplinarian. Vincent's regiment had been so precise and proficient in drill that the year before it had won the praise of commander Maj. Gen. George McClellan himself on the Peninsula as "one of the best regiments in the army."

Born in Waterford, Pennsylvania to a successful merchant, he first worked in his father's iron foundry in Erie, Pennsylvania. Convinced that he could go furthest in the foundry business with a scientific education, he enrolled in Scientific School in Hartford, Connecticut, transferred to Trinity College in the same city, then transferred finally to Harvard University, where he abandoned his original plans and devoted himself to the study of law. His character was evident this early in his development--he was a respected figure at Harvard, elected president of at least one student society and designated marshal at Class Day ceremonies upon graduation. He was admitted to the Erie County Bar the year before the Civil War began.

After the fall of Fort Sumter, Vincent enlisted in the ninety-day Erie Regiment and rose in those ninety days from private to regimental adjutant. Re-enlisting in the 83rd Pennsylvania, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel. The regiment joined the Army of the Potomac for the Peninsula Campaign, but Vincent contracted malaria there and missed most of the action. The regiment's colonel was killed at Gaines' Mill, and while Vincent was home convalescing from his disease, he was elected new colonel of the 83rd. He rejoined the regiment as its leader in October 1862.

In his first battle at the head of the regiment, Fredericksburg, he made a strong impression on the men--when they were pinned down by artillery fire, he stood erect among them, sword in hand, to demonstrate his scorn of danger. The next March, after he had distinguished himself as a jurist, presiding over a court-martial, he was offered the post of judge advocate general of the Army of the Potomac. He refused the appointment with a laugh, saying "I enlisted to fight."

Following Chancellorsville, where the brigade was not engaged, Colonel Vincent received command of the brigade on May 20 to "the cheers that broke through the solemn decorum of dress parade.". He had thus been in command of the brigade only five weeks when he was called upon to lead it into the most crucial campaign of the War. Vincent's natural gifts were such that there was no doubt about his doing well. After a successful performance at one of the early skirmishes in the Gettysburg campaign, Maj. Gen. George Meade, then commanding the Fifth Corps, was heard to say, "I wish he were a brigadier general, I'd put him in charge of a division."

At Gettysburg
After arriving on the battlefield on the morning of July 2, Vincent and his men led Barnes's division to the Union left near Little Round Top after 3:00 that afternoon, arriving just as Longstreet's attack lunged forward and crashed into that flank about 4:30 P.M. Vincent was waiting in reserve near the Wheatfield with his brigade when he spotted a messenger from Fifth Corps commander Maj. Gen. George Sykes looking for division commander Brig. Gen. James Barnes. Hailing him, Vincent learned that Sykes wanted a brigade to occupy "that hill yonder" as soon as possible. Vincent took in the situation, and, seeing the strategic importance of the hill, he risked court-martial by ordering his bugler to sound the advance and leading his brigade at the double-quick toward Little Round Top.

As Rebel shells burst among their ranks, Vincent quickly and expertly deployed his regiments for defense, just minutes ahead of the onrushing Confederates of Brig. Gen. Jerome Robertson's Texans and Brig. Gen. E.M. Law's Alabamians. For the next hour and a half, Vincent's men fought with grit and determination, denying Little Round Top--the key to the Union line--to the Rebels who swarmed again and again up its steep slopes. At the climax of the attack, Vincent rushed forward to cheer on his men and fell mortally wounded by a bullet that passed through the left groin and lodged in the right, fracturing the thigh bone. He was taken to the rear, and as his condition worsened in the following days, urgent messages were sent to Washington and back to promote the hero to brigadier general before he died, on July 7.

Vincent's bugler wrote, "General Vincent by his soldierly comprehension of the situation, and the promptness of his action, saved to our army the field of Gettysburg that day. . . . Had he hesitated a moment, or waited for orders to reach him through the ordinary channels, when his brigade arrived on Round Top he would have found it already in possession of the enemy."

For further reading:
Norton, Oliver W. The Attack and Defense of Little Round Top, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. Chicago, 1909
Wright, James R. "Vincent's Brigade on Little Round Top." Gettysburg Magazine 1, Jul 1989


Excerpted from "The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle" by Larry Tagg