The ‘Iron Brigade’ Embodies Wisconsin’s Move ‘Forward’

An enduring quality assigned to the inhabitants of the state of Wisconsin has always been persistence. The state motto ‘Forward’ is not empty rhetoric slapped on statues and used in speeches. The mantra has helped Wisconsin residents strive through adversity since even before it formed as a territory in 1836.

Citizens of the Badger State will not relent in their pursuit to ensure that their ideals are upheld in our current culture and protected in the future. A striking example of the determination of the people of Wisconsin was on display during the Civil War in the 2nd, 6th and 17th infantry regiments in the Union’s Army of the Potomac — the ‘Iron Brigade.’

While the ‘Iron Brigade’ included units from Indiana, Michigan as well as a section of the U.S. Military Light Artillery, three of its five regiments were from the great state of Wisconsin so the nickname reveals the resolve of its citizens.

The ‘Iron Brigade’ spearheaded Union charges in several crucial battles, including three of the deadliest at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg. It suffered the highest percentage of casualties among any group that served in the Civil War.

In its first action of the war under Brigadier General John Gibbon, the ‘Iron Brigade’ defeated the forces of Confederate Major General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. The encounter turned out to be a part of the Second Battle of Bull Run.

The ‘Iron Brigade’ moniker is credited to Union General George B. McClellan. He said “they must be made of iron” after winning a critical skirmish during the Battle of South Mountain, an introduction to the Battle of Antietam.

Playing a part in arguably the most famous action of the war, the ‘Iron Brigade’ repelled the first Confederate attack on the opening day and captured Confederate Brigadier General James J. Archer.

We need to do everything that we can to ensure that the ‘Iron Brigade’s’ legacy of perseverance remains a symbol of how the people of the Badger State remain dedicated to their mission and advance forward regardless of the obstacles that they face.


Author: Mike DeVine

Writer and Editor. History buff. Doing sports things. Film fan. University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate [B.A. English '06]. @UWAlumni Lifetime Member.

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