The stories of the individuals involved in the battle of Gettysburg are profound. They are told and retold, written about again and again, and never cease to captivate audiences. Park visitors travel hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands, to be at Gettysburg so that they can stand and walk in the footsteps of those historical personalities. However, it is not always necessary to travel far to find a link to Gettysburg. Sometimes all you have to do is explore your own hometown.
Connections to the battle of Gettysburg and the people involved in that three day struggle may not be too far from where you are currently seated as you read this blog post. If you look close enough, you may find modern references to individuals who served at Gettysburg. Perhaps there is a school in your community named after a soldier who fought at Gettysburg, such as Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is named in honor of Col. Strong Vincent, who fell mortally wounded on Little Round Top on July 2. Maybe your county is named for a soldier who fought at Gettysburg, such as Sedgwick County in Kansas, named in honor of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, who commanded the Union Sixth Corps during the battle. Or maybe there is a cemetery near your home that serves as the final resting place for those who gave their lives at Gettysburg, such as Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, which was chosen as one of four locations to inter Confederate soldiers killed at Gettysburg. The list can go on and on. Today I would like to share a Gettysburg connection I made before I began working at Gettysburg National Military Park.
While a volunteer at the Tippecanoe County Historical Association located in Lafayette, Indiana, I was responsible for creating an exhibit of Civil War artifacts. Two of the artifacts I put on display were a Union officer’s frock coat and a carte-de-visite of the coat’s owner. Upon further examination, I discovered that the coat and CDV belonged to William Calvin Linton Taylor, a participant of the battle of Gettysburg. I was thrilled to find artifacts such as these – ones that belonged to a soldier who fought in one of the greatest battles of the American Civil War, and one that was possibly worn during that fight. There they were, right at my fingertips.
William C. L. Taylor was born in Lafayette, Indiana, on May 22, 1836, to John Taylor and Mary Ann Brown. John was a successful town merchant who “accumulated considerable property” before his death in 1865. Mary Ann was John’s second wife and passed away in 1847, when her son William was around 10 years old. John married a third time to a woman named Emma. By 1850 John and Emma were caring for eight children, Taylor being the second oldest.
William Taylor grew up along the banks of the Wabash River, not far from where the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on November 7, 1811. He entered Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana, when he was around 15 years old, and became a member of Phi Delta Theta in 1854. Taylor graduated with a Master of Arts in 1855, then studied law in the office of Orth & Stine in Lafayette and passed the bar the next year. From 1858 to 1859 Taylor was a common pleas prosecutor in Tippecanoe County.
When the Civil War began Taylor, along with his older brother, Marshall, enlisted in the Union army. On July 21, 1861, the same day the Battle of Bull Run was being fought hundreds of miles away in Virginia, Taylor entered Company G, 20th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a private. The very next day he was commissioned a first lieutenant in that company. The regiment was mustered into Federal service on July 22, and then ordered to Cockeysville, Maryland, to guard the Northern Central Railroad. Marshall Taylor became captain of Company H, 10th Indiana Infantry, and saw service in the Western Theater of war.
The 20th Indiana was ordered from Maryland to North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras in September, 1861, where it experienced hardships relating to military routine and coastal life. Taylor and the 20th Indiana went on to serve at various locations along the eastern seaboard until it was assigned to the Union Army of the Potomac on June 8, 1862, which was then confronting Confederate forces on the Virginia Peninsula. Taylor was promoted captain of Company G, his commission dating to November 20, 1861. He received another promotion on February 12, 1863 to serve as the 20th Indiana’s major, and was then commissioned lieutenant colonel on June 6, 1863.
These Hoosiers served with the Army of the Potomac until October 18, 1864 when it and the 19th Indiana Infantry were consolidated and continued service as the 20th Indiana until July, 12, 1865. The 20th Indiana saw some of the worst the Civil War had to offer. The original enlistees and commissioned officers of the regiment participated in engagements on the Peninsula, at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, and the Siege of Petersburg.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, the 20th Indiana was commanded by Col. John Wheeler and assigned to Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward’s Second Brigade, Maj. Gen. David B. Birney’s First Division, of Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ Third Corps. When Sickles made his fateful decision on July 2 to advance his corps west of the Union army, Wheeler and his approximately 400 men took up a position on Houck’s Ridge in George Rose’s Woods. Taylor, as lieutenant colonel, would have taken his position behind the left or right wing of the 20th Indiana so that he could lead and control that section of the regimental battle line.
Col. Wheeler and Lieut. Col. Taylor were both mounted, which was unusual for a number of reasons. First, though majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels were authorized to have mounts, an officer’s movements would be obstructed while moving around on horseback through a wooded grove. Secondly, these officers had proven their bravery and skill on previous battlefields. They must have known the unnecessary risk they were taking by riding during the fight. Why not secure the horses to a tree or send them to the rear? We may never know. Wheeler and Taylor must have been inspiring to see as the shouts of men and the sporadic but ever increasing small-arms firing grew louder and louder along their front.
The approaching danger to the 20th Indiana’s front could not be mistaken. Union skirmishers were driven back by over 450 Confederate soldiers belonging to Col. Van H. Manning’s 3rd Arkansas Infantry and Lieut. Col. Phillip A. Work’s 1st Texas Infantry, approximately 420 strong. These regiments belonged to Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson’s Brigade of Maj. Gen. John B. Hood’s Division, Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps.
The moments leading up to the encounter between the Arkansans, Texans, and Indianans would have been tense. The Arkansans and Texans would have experienced some difficulty advancing through Rose Woods while maintaining their formation. Further disrupting their organization would have been the sporadic fire from the Union skirmish line, which would have caused gaps to open in the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas, prompting Confederate officers to encourage their men to step up and guide on their flags. The Hoosiers would have been waiting as the woods before them came alive with the shouts and cheers of human voices. Lieut. Col. Taylor would have been seen riding up and down a portion of the 20th Indiana’s line, encouraging his men to stand firm. The sulphuric smell from the black powder would have infiltrated the noses of the combatants, sweat would have stung their eyes, and their mouths would have turned dry from their growing anxiety. At about 4:00 p.m.the terrible clash came.
The 20th Indiana fought with the 99th Pennsylvania Infantry on its right and the 86th New York Infantry on its left. Gen. Ward ordered his right regiments “not to fire until they could plainly see the enemy” in their front. When the Confederates arrived at the proper distance, the Union line began its destructive work. Ward wrote that the first volley fired by his men “checked the enemy’s advance suddenly, which gave our men an opportunity to reload, when another volley was fired into them.” The intensity of the firepower surprised the Confederates and forced them into “much disorder,” thereby allowing the 99th, 20th, and 86th regiments to advance to what Lieut. Col. Taylor referred to as a “brow of a small hill,” about 75 yards in their front. This was only the beginning of a see-saw motion by the Northerners and Southerners for control over the disputed ground.
The new line taken up by the 99th, 20th and 86th regiments was difficult to hold, especially after the 99th Pennsylvania was withdrawn from its position and sent to the brigade’s left flank at Devil’s Den. In order to address this new danger on the 20th Indiana’s right, two companies – B and H – both under the command of Capt. Charles A. Bell, were deployed to secure the gap. Bell’s line was able to shoot into the left flank of the 3rd Arkansas and cause even more chaos, but the two lines held firm as the men loaded and fired as quickly as they could. Confusion prevailed as the contending forces fired into the other’s lines, and men fell either killed or wounded, including Col. Manning, who fell wounded, and Col. Wheeler, who was struck in the head and killed instantly. Wheeler’s death placed Lieut. Col. Taylor in command of the regiment.
The desperate struggle in Rose’s Woods was destroying both the 3rd Arkansas and 20th Indiana. Lieut. Col. Taylor continued leading his men and cooperating with the 86th New York to his left and the 17th Maine Infantry, which had gone into position on Taylor’s right. Taylor was near the men of Company I when he met the usual fate of officers who ride on horseback into a battle. Taylor, leaning over in his saddle and in pain, approached the captain of Company I, Erasmus C. Gilbreath, and called out, “Gil, you will have to take charge of the line as I am wounded.” Taylor, after an incalculable amount of time leading the 20th Indiana at Gettysburg, was now out of the fight. The command of this regiment, as with all regiments, was typically reserved for those with a rank of colonel. Due to gradual attrition in camp, on the march, and in battle, however, command now fell to a captain. Taylor exited the battle as the fight continued on, but did receive some recognition for his performance in the fight from his superior, Gen. Ward.
The nature of Lieut. Col. Taylor’s wound is not known, but it must not have been critical for Taylor returned to his regiment and led it for the duration of the Gettysburg Campaign. The beating that the 20th Indiana received on July 2 on Houck’s Ridge was severe. The regiment suffered 152 casualties, of which 32 were killed outright. Capt. Gilbreath recalled that it was a “sorrowful little band” after their participation in the battle.
William Taylor was promoted colonel of the 20th Indiana on July 3, 1863, and continued in that capacity until he was mustered out on October 5, 1864. He had risked his life to defend his nation, survived, and would have to carry the physical and psychological scars as he prepared to make the great transition back into civilian life.
Col. Taylor returned to Indiana and began working as an attorney once more. By 1870 Taylor was married to Elizabeth “Lizzie” McPheeters, and the two had a three year old girl named Mary. In 1874 Taylor moved his family to Bloomington where he served as a city attorney. He and Lizzie had a second child in 1878, whom they named Joseph, and in 1881 resettled in Taylor’s hometown, Lafayette, where he would serve one term as a judge in the Tippecanoe Circuit Court. Taylor passed away on February 18, 1901, at the age of 64, and was buried in Greenbush Cemetery in Lafayette, Indiana.
Encountering a carte-de-viste of William C. L. Taylor and his officer’s frock coat at my local historical society came as a great surprise. Placing these artifacts on exhibit for the community to see helped preserve Taylor’s memory, and to tell of his involvement in numerous battles and skirmishes, including the battle of Gettysburg. Though I was 600 miles from the battlefield, these artifacts made me feel connected to that hallowed ground.
What Gettysburg connections can you find in your hometown? Please share your photos on the park’s Tumblr page at http://www.gettysburgnps.tumblr.com
Casimer Rosiecki, Park Ranger