Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gettysburg: Death of 17th Connecticut Lt. Colonel Fowler

Gettysburg photographer William Tipton shot this image of the dedication of the
 17th Connecticut monument on July 1, 1884.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
An enlargement of  image above shows many attendees gathered under a canopy next to monument.
In this circa 1885 William Tipton image, William Henry Noble (second from left), a colonel  in the
 17th Connecticut, appears with Henry Allen (third from right), a veteran and chairman 
of the 17th Connecticut monument committee. Henrietta Noble, William's daughter, is at left next 
to Allen's wife. The other men are unidentified.
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On July 1, 1884, 21 years after their lieutenant colonel was decapitated by enemy fire on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, 17th Connecticut veterans gathered with their families for their monument dedication yards from where the gruesome event occurred. Among the gray-haired veterans who sat beneath a canopy next to the monument on Barlow's Knoll were William Henry Noble, who had served as a 17th Connecticut colonel, and Connecticut governor Phineas Lounsbury, who served as a private in the regiment but had been discharged for disability in December 1862.

Lieutenant colonel Douglass Fowler was 
killed at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
Before the dedication, an American flag draped the white granite monument upon which were etched 35 names of 17th Connecticut soldiers who had died at Gettysburg. Near the top of the left front side appeared the name of Douglass Fowler, the 37-year-old officer from Norwalk, Conn., whose horrific death on the knoll had shocked his comrades decades earlier.

Directing his men while astride his white horse during the chaos of battle, Fowler was a prominent target as Rebels advanced through a strip of woods 100 yards or so in front of the regiment. (See interactive panoramas below.) "Soon after I had sent my wounded to the rear," Albert Peck, a 2nd lieutenant in the regiment, wrote 24 years after the battle, "the line officers gathered around Colonel Fowler and tried to persuade him to dismount during the battle, but he refused, fearing he might be deemed cowardly."

A short time later, the regiment was ordered to fall in, deploy for battle and charge.  "... our gallant boys advanced on the enemy with a will," Peck remembered. But as the Rebels closed on the outnumbered 17th Connecticut and the "din had reached the standard of a hell," according to a private, Fowler shouted a command and "the next instant he reeled from the saddle." (Hat tip to excellent 17th Connecticut blog.) Gunfire or canister sheered off the top of the lieutenant colonel's head, splattering his brains on his adjutant by his side.
On the 17th Connecticut monument on 
Barlow's Knoll, Douglas Fowler's name appears
 on a panel with seven other soldiers who died
 at Gettysburg. 

Decades after the battle, Edward Fowler, the officer's younger brother, wrote that an "unexploded cannester [sic] shot" struck Douglas and took his head off above the mouth, but he had not witnessed the terrible scene. A private in the 14th Connecticut, Edward had been discharged for disability in February 1863.

So intense was the fire on Barlow's Knoll that H. Whitney Chatfield, Fowler's adjutant, had a horse shot and killed from under him, bullet holes through his hat, haversack and the sleeve of his coat and his Revolutionary War-era sword shot apart. (Chatfield also did not survive the Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Dunn's Lake in Florida on Feb. 5, 1865.)

"We were soon cut to pieces," Peck wrote, "and having no troops in our rear to support us, we fell back into the town." (Read 17th Connecticut Major Allen Brady's Gettysburg field report here, or if you have $16,000 to spare, purchase it here.)

Fowler's death compounded the tragedy for his family back in Connecticut. In 1855, Douglas' 23-year-old wife, Melissa Jane, died after the couple lost a daughter in infancy. Two of Fowler's brothers -- Henry and Richard -- also served as officers during the war. A lieutenant colonel in the 63rd New York, Henry suffered a severe wound at Antietam and was discharged from the army on July 4, 1863, a day after fighting at Gettysburg ended. Less than seven months before Gettysburg, on Dec. 13, 1862, 46-year-old Richard, a sergeant in the 27th Connecticut, was shot in the right leg and abdomen during a charge on Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. His leg was amputated and he died five days later.

Despite repeated recovery efforts by his comrades, Fowler's remains were never found. According to accounts, his body was stripped of clothes by the Rebels and probably tossed into a trench. He may be buried at the national cemetery in Gettysburg under a stone without a name.

In 1885, survivors of his regiment placed a wooden flagpole on Barlow's Knoll to mark the spot where the widower was killed. Replaced by a metal pole decades later, it stands as a silent reminder of a terrible death that occurred there in the summer of 1863.

Lieutenant colonel Douglas Fowler's body was not recovered and returned to Connecticut.
 Perhaps his  remains rest today in the national cemetery in Gettysburg.
                    BARLOW'S KNOLL: The Rebels advanced from right to left.
      BARLOW'S KNOLL: The 17th Connecticut monument appears at the extreme right. 
                                    (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)                                 
17th Connecticut monument on Barlow's Knoll, also known as Blocher's Knoll. There also is 
a monument for the regiment near East Cemetery Hill.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Edward Fowler letter to his niece, 1920s, Gettysburg National Military Park.
-- Paynton, W.W., "From Virginia to Gettysburg And Back," Chapter 1st, typewritten copy, Gettysburg National Military Park.
-- Albert Peck letter to comrade, April 2, 1887, typewritten copy, Gettysburg National Military Park.
-- Phoenix, Stephen Whitney, The Whitney Family of Connecticut, and Its Affiliations, Volume 2, New York, privately printed, 1878.


  1. Awesome work.My great, great Uncle - James Gordon is named on the monument. My great, great Grandfather, William Alexander was wounded and captured at Chancellorsville with E Company. Their brother John Gordon was with E Company but died at age 59 in 1906.

  2. At the Connecticut Museum in Hartford at the Connecticut State Library there is a piece of wood with a label on it stating it was from the tree near the spot where Lt. Col. Fowler was killed. It's just a small piece and easily missed in the bottom of a display case of Civil War memorabilia.

  3. General John B. Gordon's Confederate Brigade attacked Blocher's Knoll, his regiments were the 13th Ga., 26th Ga., 31st Ga., 38th Ga., 60th Ga., and the 61st Ga., and numbered about 12,00 soldiers. The 26th Georgia was detached to guard the General Jubal Early's Division artillery.

  4. Love the site! My GGGrandfather Corporal Henry Britto fought at Gettysburg with Co F 17th (later with Co G 28th Conn) along with several other relatives one of which was wounded at Gettysburg and died from the results a year later. Been to Gettysburg several times and would highly recommend a visit. Thank you again for your site!

  5. Gregg Gregory12:53 PM

    My great great grandfather, William Simon Gregory was killed on July 1, 1863, his name is on the monument as well. I am told that he was a Cordwainer( leather worker, shoemaker), but was preforming as part of extra orderly duty Brigade Cattle Guard when killed and part of the 17th Reg. from CT.