Colonel Strong Vincent
EAATS Senior Leader Course
Strong Vincent was born in 1837 and died in 1863. Although his military career was brief the impact that he had at Gettysburg and the Battle of Little Round Top helped shape the course of the Civil War, allowing the Union Army victory. His display of valor, courage and the ability to make decisions without guidance from superiors allowed Union Soldiers to hold vital ground needed for the wars success. Without his quick reactions, the defensive lines on Little Round Top may have been broken allowing Confederate Soldiers to advance into Union held ground. Credit for the Battle of Little Round Tops success is mostly given to the 20th Maine Regiment and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain but if not for Colonel Strong Vincent and his Pennsylvania 83rd Infantry Regiment the outcome may have been extremely different.
COLONEL STRONG VINCENT
Born in Waterford, Pennsylvania on June 17, 1837, Vincent Strong was the son of B.B. Vincent and Sara Strong. Raised in Erie in a well to do family, Vincent’s father operated an iron foundry where he worked as a young man. Vincent left the foundry and went to Harvard where he graduated in 1859 as a lawyer. He was practicing law in Erie when war broke out and in April of 1861 he joined a three-month militia regiment as a Lieutenant. Following his three month enlistment, later in 1861 Vincent joined the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Prior to leaving for battle Colonel Vincent married his loving companion Elizabeth who was also pregnant with their daughter at the time. When leaving her, she gave to him, her riding crop (horse whip) as a keepsake. Before leaving Colonel Vincent told his wife, “My dear Elizabeth surely the right will prevail. If I fall, remember you have given your husband as a sacrifice to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman” (Davis, 1998, pg. 314).
At the start of the Civil War Vincent took command of the 83rd Pennsylvania. Colonel Vincent was known to be a hard-nosed officer and the Soldiers did not like his field training methods, but once on the battlefield they knew he was the leader they needed. He had the ability to motivate and command respect while performing duties under fire. In 1862 Colonel Vincent became ill with camp fever, a disease similar to malaria. Ill enough that his return to battle was not advised, but being the strong minded man that he was, he was eager to get back to his Brigade and lead his men. Vincent believed that the Union should be saved and he was part of the role in preserving it. His life was worth the sacrifice.
THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG AND LITTLE ROUND TOP
The battle of Gettysburg was not a battle that hinged on the actions of senior generals, it hinged on the subordinate commanders. One of the battles at Gettysburg that stood out the most, was the fight for Little Round Top. Rising six hundred fifty feet above the countryside to the extreme left of the Union line was an area that was partially wooded and rocky called, Little Round Top. On the afternoon of July 2nd, Union Brigade General Gouverneur K. Warren rode to the summit of Little Round Top and saw General Longstreets soldiers heading towards that part of the line that was undefended. Warren knew he had to get Soldiers to that area or the entire Union line would be in danger of being swept away. Warren and staff officers acted quickly and went looking for any Army units they could find. When they came across Brigade General James Barnes’s division, a staff officer addressed Colonel Vincent who was the first unit in the line.
Colonel Vincent was in charge of four regiments: the 44th New York which led the way followed by his own 83rd Pennsylvania, the 20th Maine and at last the 16th Michigan. The staff officer approached Colonel Vincent looking for General Barnes who was nowhere to be found. The staff officer addressed the situation to Colonel Vincent and he accepted the responsibility of moving the Brigade to Little Round Top without guidance form any superior officer. The 16th Michigan was placed to the right of Colonel Vincent. He placed the 44th New York around the South face of Little Round Top in a semi-circle formation that curled around. The 83rd Pennsylvania was placed at the end of the Brigade and the 20th Maine was placed facing south toward Big Round Top. Colonel Vincent, in a hurry to get ready for this battle forgot to unstrap his sword from his saddle and went armed with nothing more than the riding crop that was given to him by his wife. Before leaving he addressed the lines of the 20th and warned them “I place you here! This in the left of the union line. You understand? You are to hold this ground at all costs” (Golay, 1994, pg. 157). At this moment, everyone who could stand and fight did so. Drummer boys seized muskets, cooks and servants who were not usually asked to fight were told to go assist in the defense of Little Round Top.
No more than ten minutes passed as they barely formed a line and pushed forward before when the first shots rang out from the base of the woods at Big Round Top. The battle of Little Round Top began with the Union facing the Confederate forces consisting of the 4th, 5th and 47th Alabama and the 4th and 5th Texas. The 47th Alabama pressed upward in three columns within fifteen yards of Vincent’s Pennsylvania before going behind the rocks and continuing the deadly fire. On the left of the line was Colonel Chamberlain and the Twentieth-Maine. He stretched his men out to the left keeping open intervals of three to five spaces. The Alabamians hit the 83rd Pennsylvania and the 44th New York the hardest in the center when they came in three lines on a double quick.
As Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine held there line to the left as Confederate Troops made four attempts to break them. In the mean-time, things were not going as well for Colonel Vincent’s Brigade line. After repeated charges were made on Colonel Vincent’s center line the fighting turned into a bayonet fight. The Texans ended up firing volleys, one after another. “When the 16th Michigan began to fall back under heavy pressure Vincent mounted a boulder and shouted “Don’t give an inch!” as he brandished a riding crop that had been a gift from his wife” (Hawks, 2018, pg. 4) It was at this moment when a bullet pierced his groin and knocked him off the boulder. This would be the last battle that Colonel Vincent fought, on July 7th five days after being shot he would pass away from his wound at the Lewis Bushman’s farmhouse but not before the recommendation by Union General George Meade for his promotion to Brigadier General. After his removal from the battle field and hours of fighting the Confederates retreated.
Most remember Colonel Chamberlain as the hero of Little Round Top, but we can’t forget Colonel Vincent who commanded the 83rd Pennsylvania. Colonel Vincent took responsibility and didn’t wait for orders from his division commander. He acted quickly to buy time and moved to that point of danger. Colonel Vincent was later promoted to Brigadier General for his actions and for the defense of Little Round Top. After leaving home his wife gave birth to a baby girl, Blanche Strong Vincent. His daughter passed away within a year of her birth and is buried alongside him in Erie Cemetery.
Davis, W., Pohanka, B., ; Troiani, D. (1998). Civil War Journal: The Battles. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, Inc.
Golay, M., (1994). To Gettysburg and Beyond. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.
Hawks, S., (2018). Strong Vincent: Monuments to Individuals at Gettysburg. Retrieved from http:gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/monuments-to-individuals/strong-vincent/
Strong Vincent at Gettysburg. (2013). Retrieved from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/