Sergt. Henry G. Brehm, Hero
High in the annals of American heroism stands the name of Sergeant Jasper, who rescued the drooping American flag from the bastions of Fort Moultrie. None the less glorious and even more spectacular is the record of devotion to the flag established by Sergt. Henry G. Brehm, of Myerstown, PA, on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. With his companions, F.M. Lehman, John Friddel, H.H. Spayd, all of Myerstwon, and Fred Hoffman of Newmanstown, he was the color bearer for the 149th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Not only did these men risk their lives for the defense of the colors but by their brave deeds saved a regiment from annihilation.
Sergeant Brehm, a lineal descendant of Conrad Weiser, gave his life in the performance of a strategic maneuver by which the color guards of the regiment were deployed in a detached position from the regiment in order to confuse a superior enemy force. Most of the other members of the guard were severely wounded. The flags were finally lost, but the regiment was saved. In performing this service Brehm and his Lebanon County men acted with courage greatly in excess of the line of duty.
Sixty-four guns of the confederate line enfiladed and enveloped both wings of the Federal lines during the first encounter at Gettysburg. Col. Roy Stone, commander of the 149th Regiment of Volunteers from Pennsylvania decided upon a ruse to draw off the enemy fire. Captain Daniel Bassler, also of Myerstown, was instructed to detach the color guard from his company and deploy it in such a manner that it would appear that the regiment had changed its position. Brehm carried the Stars and Stripes and Lebanon held the state flag high as the six men took their hazardous positions drawing the enemy fire upon themselves.
Hoffman was sent back to the headquarters to report the perilous position of the color guard. While he was away the five staunch defenders were startled by the “rebel yell, “Yip-e-e-e.” Rising from hidden positions in a wheat field a body of southerners attacked the five Lebanon soldiers. One Confederate clutched at the national flag but Brehm felled him with one well aimed blow. Another Southerner tried to snatch away the flag while Brehm was off balance after the fisticuff. Friddell aimed and shot this enemy while Hammel accounted for another. When Brehm regained his balance the Union men started to run to return to their regiment. Hoffman had not returned, he had not been able to find the officers. Stone had been seriously wounded in the meantime.
In their haste to return to the regiment the color guard ran right into the enemy ranks. In the smoke of the battle that had mistaken the approaching column. It was too late to turn back and therefore, carrying the two standards high the Lebanon men plunged right through the Confederate line, the startled enemy withholding fire or attack until they realized what had happened. In the pursuit which followed Brehm was shot, the ball entering his shoulder under the blade; Spayd was shot through the thigh and Lehman got a bullet in his leg. The enemy captured the flag and wounded prisoners. Brehm lingered for a few weeks as an exchange prisoner in a Philadelphia Hospital and then succumbed. His body was brought back to Myerstown and buried there with solemn rites. The others recovered.
After the war it was learned from Confederate sources that the ruse had accomplished two purposes instead of one. The appearance of the colors in a detached position had led the enemy to think that another contingent of Federal troops had come upon the scene and fearing that such arrivals gave the Union forces superiority in numbers they decided against a charge on the battered 149th.