During the evening of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Col. Wheelock Graves Veazey received orders to form an advanced picket line. He led his 16th Vermont Infantry into position along a portion of the field that, unbeknownst to him, would soon be the focus of a massive assault by an entire division of the enemy.
The next day, Confederate Maj. Gen. George G. Pickett led 15,000 soldiers in the fateful attack that bears his name and ripped into the Union frontline with all the firepower it could muster. Veazey’s Vermonters received the full brunt of Pickett’s Charge. “It was a tremendous attack, but the assailants were forced to surge off to the right, and the regiment commanded by Colonel Veazey, wheeled out and attacked them on the flank as they went by with withering effect,” noted editors Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel in their 1903 book, Deeds of Valor.
Veazey and his men passed by wounded Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock just before they struck the Confederates. Hancock reportedly said to Veazey, “That’s right, Colonel, go in and give ‘em hell on the flank.”
The Vermonters gathered up prisoners and reformed as two more enemy brigades moved on their flank and rear. Veazey reacted quickly to the peril. He turned to his brigade commander, Gen. George J. Stannard, and told him he wanted to charge the oncoming Confederates.
Beyer and Keydel recounted what transpired next. “‘Veazey,’ cried the general, ‘your men will do almost anything, but the men don’t live this side of hell, that can be made to charge down there.’ But in shorter time than it takes to tell it, the regiment had straightened out, reformed, and made another change of front in the very center of the field, where the battle raged in its greatest fury, and men were falling every instant.”
The narrative continued, “‘I stepped to the front,’ says Colonel Veazey, ‘and called upon the men to follow. With a mighty shout the rush forward was made, and, before the enemy could change his front, we had struck his flank, and swept down the line, and again captured a great number of prisoners. In the two charges my regiment captured three stands of colors. The last charge brought a heavy artillery fire on us, but we lost only 150 out of 400 because the rebels never accurately found our range.’”
In 1891, Veazey received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. By this time, he had distinguished himself in law and politics. Active in the Grand Army of the Republic, he died in 1898 at age 62, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife and a son survived him.