The 6th Wisconsin Volunteers was recruited from counties in the southern
third of the state in the spring of 1861, and after training at Camp Randall in
Madison was mustered into service in July, 1861. Assigned to the East, it was,
in October of that year, brigaded with two other Wisconsin regiments, the 2nd
and 7th, and the 19th Indiana to form the only all-Western brigade in the Army
of the Potomac. The history of the 6th is thus entwined with that of the
brigade. Under its second commander, John Gibbon, a regular army artillery
officer and a North Carolinian, the brigade was forged from a collection of
rough-edged farmers, pinery boys and common workers into a fine-edged fighting
force. With his leadership, the final components of the brigade's distinctive
uniform -- nine-button regular army wool frock and sky blue trousers, set off,
at least initially, with white leggings and the tall Hardee black hat with plume
and brass trimmings -- was complete.
The Brigade's first test in battle occurred in the prelude to Second Bull Run when the four regiments confronted a superior force of Stonewall Jackson's men on the farm fields of a family named Brawner. In the late afternoon of August 28, 1862, the Western men traded deadly blows with the Rebel veterans. Only darkness brought an end to the bloody confrontation.
Quickly following was the Battle of Second Bull Run. And when Robert E. Lee pointed his army into Maryland in September, the Big Hat Brigade, as it was now being called, marched with the First Corps. At Cumberland Gap in South Mountain, September 14, 1862, the unit earned its vaunted name, when Army Commander George B. McClellan observed the men of Wisconsin and Indiana, under fire from Rebel defenders, relentlessly pushing forward up the National Road. He is said to have remarked, "They stand like iron." The Big Hat became the Iron Brigade. Just three days later, the Badgers and Hoosiers fought in the bloodiest day of the war, Antietam, sustaining awesome losses during the opening phase of the battle.
To compensate for the ghastly gaps in it ranks; the Western men were reinforced the month following Antietam by the addition of a new regiment, the 24th Michigan. The latter unit earned its membership into the brigade and its Black Hats with valor at Fredericksburg, won at awful human cost.
The 6th Wisconsin's finest hour of the war occurred on the first day at Gettysburg. While its sister regiments battled the Rebel surge along Willoughby Run and in McPherson's Woods west of town, the Calico Wisconsin boys were ordered to the right where the enemy relentlessly swept aside another Union brigade. Charging across a stubble field and onto the Chambersburg Pike, the 6th Wisconsin briefly reset its line, before storming the defenders in an unfinished railroad cut. Several hundred prisoners from two gray regiments were taken along with the banner of the 2nd Mississippi. Sgt. Francis A. Wallar of Company I won the Medal of Honor for the flag capture.
The distinctive all-Western character of the Iron Brigade was erased with the infusion of Eastern regiments into its ranks later in 1863. However, the 6th Wisconsin subsequently marched every mile and fought in every major battle until the end of the war.
Onto the stripes of its battle flag after Gettysburg were painted Mine Run, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Laurel Hill, North Anna, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, 1st Hatcher's Run and 2nd Hatcher's Run (Gravelly Run and Five Forks). The regiment's honors were gained at great cost for its name stands among the foremost units in the number of men killed in battle or died of wounds during the entire war, according to William Fox's study, Regimental Losses of the Civil War. With the 7th Wisconsin, the 6th was present for duty at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865.
The "reactivated" 6th Wisconsin Volunteers was formed exactly 100 years to the day after its Civil War counterpart was mustered into Federal service -- July 21, 1861. It was inspected, fired its probationary skirmish, admitted to the N-SSA in 1962 with the seniority number 90 and assigned to the Northwest Territory.
The organization prides itself on competitive prowess as well as achievement in uniforms and drill. The 6th Wisconsin has won four National Skirmish A company musket championships and two B company wins. It is the only unit in its region to earn gold medals at Fort Shenandoah. Moreover, its A company finished in second or third place on numerous occasions, and engraved its name on virtually every National Skirmish musket company trophy; its B company earned silver medals several times, as well. And, the 6th Wisconsin has been judged the Best-Uniformed Union Unit at nine national skirmishes -- more than any other organization in the N-SSA.
In its home region, the unit has captured the annual A company musket championship ten times in the past 11 years and in 23 of the 34 years of the competition. In addition, its B company has won the trophy eight of the past nine years, while the carbine company triumphed in eight of the last ten. The regiment has been awarded the team aggregate trophy numerous times as well. Finally, the 6th Wisconsin volunteers has won the gold at more Northwest Territory skirmishes that any other organization in the region.