The Iron Brigade & the Black Hat

“There are them damned black hatted fellows again!”

iron-brigade-black-hatThis cry, and others like it, were made by disheartened Confederate troops on the first day of fighting at the battle of Gettysburg. Under the impression that they faced untrained militia, the Rebel troops quickly recognized the distinctive black Model 1858 “Hardee” hat worn by the famed “Iron Brigade of the West” and realized they were in for a fight. Composed entirely of Western troops from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, the Iron Brigade had earned its reputation in battles like Second Bull Run and Antietam, and they lived up to it at Gettysburg, suffering incredible casualties while repelling numerous Confederate attacks.

While many photographs, letters, and diaries from Iron Brigade soldiers survive in archives and museums today, only one of the iconic Black Hats that saw battle at Gettysburg remains, and it can be found in the collections of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Sergeant Philander B. Wright, Color Sergeant, Company C, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wore this hat as he led the charge of the Iron Brigade on the morning of July 1, 1863 outside the town of Gettysburg, PA.

Sgt. Wright, bearing the National Colors, charged forward into Herbst Woods on McPherson Ridge just west of Gettysburg, leading the other men of the 2nd Wisconsin. Two bullets passed through the crown of Philander Wright’s hat, barely missing the top of his head. A few steps further, a third bullet pierced the flagstaff and passed through his side. Despite his wounds, he continued the charge, deeper into the woods. Wright described the scene after the war:

I looked for the guards – not one was there – all shot. I guess, ‘sure not a man would lag at such a time!’ I know I wondered where one might be. I might have known each had been halted leaving me alone.”

Advancing only a few more steps, Wright finally halted when a bullet slammed into his left thigh and another into his arm, knocking him to the ground.  Wright survived Gettysburg, but did not return to his unit. His son Mark Hatfield Wright donated his black hat.

You can see Philander’s Black Hat and other Civil War artifacts for yourself on display at our museum. You can also view our “Civil War & The 19th Century” online exhibit for more information from the comfort of your computer.