“Great in heart and mighty in valor” – General Gabriel Paul and his Mortal Wounding at Gettysburg

No other battle of the American Civil War claimed more generals’ lives than did the three-day fight at Gettysburg. At Antietam, fought in September 1862, six general officers fell either dead or fatally wounded. Six others died at Franklin, fought on the last day of November 1864. But it was during the slaughter on the fields and rocky hilltops surrounding the south-central Pennsylvania town in July 1863 that nine generals—four Union and five Confederate—were either killed or listed among the mortally wounded. This number climbs to ten if we include Strong Vincent, who fell atop Little Round Top and who was posthumously honored with a promotion to brigadier general.  

Oak Ridge, where Gabriel Paul was wounded – July 1, 1863. (NPS)

Over the past 151 years, the final moments of these men have been recounted, discussed, and described innumerable times in print, whether by those who there and witnessed their deaths or by later-day historians. Many artists have rendered sketches, paintings, and even bronze sculptures of the deaths of some of these men, attempting to capture the anguish, the agony, and the gallantry of their life’s last moments. On the big screen as well, a number of well-trained, seasoned actors have done their best to recreate or reenact those final moments—those final pained breaths—of some of those hard-fighting generals who here gave their lives at Gettysburg. Some students of the battle even pride themselves on how quickly they can list all nine (or ten) of these generals while many a visitor to the battlefields at Gettysburg wish to see and to stand on the spot where the generals fell. For some, such as John Reynolds, Samuel Zook, and Lewis Armistead (and, yes, Strong Vincent), monuments stand to mark that spot, while the location where Stephen Weed fell is indicated in a rock-carving atop Little Round Top. For all the others—Paul Semmes, William Barksdale, Dorsey Pender, Richard Garnett, Elon Farnsworth—we have only either a fairly good or at last a general idea of the location where they fell.

Missing from all of these discussions, however—from all the books and articles, from the paintings and the sculptures, from the big screen, and from all the “can-you-name-all-the-generals-who-died-at-Gettysburg” type trivia questions—is still yet another general whose death can be—indeed, was—attributed to the wound he received at the battle;  a general who succumbed to his Gettysburg wound some 8,345 days after falling wounded there; a general by the name of Gabriel Rene Paul.

 His name may not be a familiar one, but there were few generals in either blue or gray who had as long and distinguished a military service record as did Gabriel Paul. Born on March 22, 1813, in St. Louis, Missouri, Paul came from an illustrious family of French ancestry and with a strong military tradition. His father, Rene Paul, was a military engineer who had served as an officer in Napoleon’s army and who was dangerously wounded at Trafalgar. He later immigrated to the United States, settling, ultimately in St. Louis where he put his engineering background to good use by becoming a surveyor of the city. It was there, in St. Louis, where Rene Paul met and fell in love with Eulalie Chouteau. Eulalie’s father, August Chouteau, a prominent fur trader, helped found the city in the early 1760s.[1]

Gabriel Paul was the first child born to Eulalie Chouteau and Rene Paul. In 1829, at the age of sixteen, he obtained a commission to the United States Military Academy and on July 1 of that year—exactly thirty-four years before his injury at Gettysburg—he entered West Point. He graduated smack-dab in the middle of the Class of 1834, ranked 18th in a total graduating class of 36. Commissioned a lieutenant in the 7th United States Infantry, Paul served a number of years at a variety of frontier posts before being assigned to Florida where in 1839 and again in 1842, he battled the Seminole. During America’s war with Mexico, and as was the case with so many other United States officers destined to wear the general’s stars in the Civil War, Paul served under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott and he served with great distinction. He saw battle action at Fort Brown, Monterrey, Vera Cruz, and at Cerro Gordo where he fell wounded. Several months later, he fought at Churubusco, Molino del Rey and in September, 1847, he led a storming party upon the walls of Chapultepac and captured a Mexican army flag. For this, he was given an honorary promotion, or brevet, to the rank of major and presented with an ornate sword by the grateful people of his home city of St. Louis.[2]

The years following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo witnessed Paul assigned to a number of frontier army posts: at Fort Leavenworth, Jefferson Barracks, and at Corpus Christi, Texas. Throughout the 1850s, he participated in a number of expeditions up the Rio Grande and in Utah. It appears that at some point during this time, Gabriel Paul and his wife Mary divorced. Paul and Mary Whistler had been married since 1835 and together the couple had four children. After this marriage ended, however, Gabriel Paul, in 1858, remarried, this time to Louise Rogers, a widow from Cincinnati and to their union would come two more children. After their marriage, Gabriel and Louise Rogers Paul would make a home in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.[3]

Gabriel Rene Paul, detail

Gabriel Paul prior to his Gettysburg wound.

When the long-gathering clouds of civil war finally erupted into a violent storm in April 1861, Gabriel Paul was serving as the major of the 8th U.S. Infantry and was stationed at the far-away frontier post of Fort Fillmore, New Mexico. He would remain there for the next fourteen months, organizing and training volunteers and, as colonel of the 4th New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, participating in some action there, helping to turn back Confederate forces under General Henry Sibley. Mustered out as colonel of the 4th New Mexico in late May 1862, Gabriel Paul next ventured east and that summer was assigned as an inspector general in the defenses of Washington, D.C.[4]

With Gabriel Paul now assigned to the defenses of Washington and still holding the rank of Major in the Regular Army, despite his many years of service, Louise Paul ventured to the White House and called directly upon President Lincoln himself, seeking promotion for her husband. This was nothing unique. Indeed, Lincoln had to deal daily with those seeking government positions or an officer’s commission in the military. But there was something about Louise Paul’s comportment and bearing that left an impression on Lincoln. In late August, Lincoln noted: “Today Mrs. Major Paul calls and urges appointment of her husband as a Brigadier [General]. She is a saucy woman and will keep tormenting me until I may have to do it.” Less than two weeks later, President Lincoln signed Gabriel Paul’s commission as a Brigadier General of volunteers. Unfortunately, over the years, the short, off-putting note from Lincoln describing Louise Paul and her efforts has been used solely to explain why Gabriel Paul was promoted to general, while his long and distinguished service record all-too-often gets forgotten in the telling of this rather dismissive and anecdotal tale.[5] 

Gabriel Paul acknowledged receipt of his promotion on September 11, 1862, and soon after entered upon his new assignment as brigade commander in the First Army Corps, leading troops at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville. During this latter engagement, Paul’s brigade formed part of the First Corps’s First Division. But with the restructuring and reorganization of the Army of the Potomac following this battle, Paul was transferred to assume command of the First Brigade of General John Robinson’s Second Division, First Corps. Paul was thus a relatively unknown newcomer to the 1,600 or so soldiers he would lead upon the fields of Gettysburg: the soldiers of the 16th Maine, 13th Massachusetts, 94th and 104th New York, and 107th Pennsylvania Infantries. Still, by this time, Gabriel Paul was a seasoned, well-experienced and respected officer while his men were hard-fighting, veteran soldiers.

The smoke was just beginning to lift from the rolling fields and ridgelines west of Gettysburg when the soldiers of Robinson’s division arrived and took up position near the Lutheran Seminary sometime around 11:30 on the morning of Wednesday, July 1, 1863. Timely-arriving First Corps soldiers from Wadsworth’s division had, just a short time earlier, successfully repulsed the attacks of two Confederate brigades from Harry Heth’s Division but it had come at a heavy price. First Corps commander John Reynolds was dead, struck down early in the fight, and already the fields stretching to the front of Robinson’s men were a scene of vast carnage. But the fight at Gettysburg was only just beginning.

As affairs seemed to be settling down to the west, a new Confederate threat emerged to the far right of the First Corps line, on a prominent rise of ground known as Oak Hill. There, Confederate soldiers from Rodes’s Division, Second Corps, had arrived, some 8,000 in number, along with 16 cannons, which soon unlimbered and which soon began hurling shot and shell toward the First Corps’s exposed right flank. To meet this new and developing threat, Major General Abner Doubleday, who had inherited command of the First Corps upon Reynolds’s death, called upon the heavily-bearded John Robinson. Robinson, in turn, called upon his Second Brigade, under General Henry Baxter, whose regiments were soon racing their way to the north, with orders to link up with the right flank of Lysander Cutler’s men in position in the trees that topped Oak Ridge, the southern-arm or extension of Oak Hill.

Summit of Oak Ridge, Gettysburg

Oak Ridge. Paul’s brigade was involved in the brutal fighting that occurred here on July 1st, 1863. (LOC)

Hurrying north, Baxter’s men arrived just in time to turn back attacks launched from the north and from the northwest by Alabama troops under Edward O’Neal and North Carolinians under Alfred Iverson. By this point, division commander Robinson had arrived on the scene and though proud and pleased by his men throwing back these two initial attacks, Rodes’s Confederates proved relentless and, according to Robinson, the Confederates soon “brought up fresh forces in increased masses.”[6] Soldiers in butternut and gray continued to bear down upon Baxter’s front and right flank. Because of this—and because Baxter’s men were beginning to run low on ammunition—Robinson sent a staff officer galloping back toward the Seminary, with orders for Gabriel Paul to bring his brigade forward.

Paul’s men were busy throwing up makeshift barricades and entrenchments in front of the Lutheran Seminary building when Robinson’s orders arrived. Paul quickly directed his regiments to fall in and, turning to their right, his soldiers were soon advancing northward, crossing the Chambersburg Pike and the unfinished railroad cut, and passing behind the blue-clad First Corps soldiers who were holding onto their positions in the trees atop the ridgeline. Arriving on Oak Ridge, Paul’s men traded places with Baxter’s beleaguered soldiers on the front line and soon began trading volleys with Rodes’s Confederates. “Our men,” wrote Major H.J. Shaeffer of the 107th Pennsylvania, “went into action with the determination to conquer or die.”[7]

The musketry was fierce; the smoke heavy. Over the next several hours hundreds of Paul’s men would fall as they clung ever more desperately to their precarious position on the ridgeline. Just after 4:00 p.m., however, First Corps troops behind them and to their left as well as Eleventh Corps soldiers below them to their right broke under the weight of heavy Confederate numbers and began the retreat through town. It was around this time that Robinson received orders from Doubleday to retreat. Extracting themselves from Oak Ridge and from the Confederate soldiers who seemed to be closing in from all sides, Baxter’s and Paul’s men fled. Racing their way south along the streets of Gettysburg, the division ultimately reformed on Cemetery Hill, or at least what was left of the division. Robinson later reported that his Second Division/First Corps went into battle with approximately 2,500 on the morning of July 1. Of this number, 1,667 became casualties, a 67% loss. Colonel Richard Coulter of the 11th Pennsylvania, who filed the report for Gabriel Paul’s First Brigade recorded that on July 1, the brigade’s loss totaled 776 men killed, wounded, or missing. 

Paul

Gabriel Paul after Gettysburg. (NPS)

Gabriel Paul was among this number. It was soon after his men had arrived on Oak Hill and while he was “gallantly directing and encouraging his command,” that the fifty-year-old general fell with a ghastly, horrific wound.[8] A bullet tore into his head, entering about 1 ½ inches behind his right eye then passing through his head before exiting his left eye socket, carrying his left eye out with it. He was instantly left blinded, while his senses of smell and hearing were also both seriously impaired. Falling to the ground, many believed that Paul had been killed. Yet, somehow, the tough old soldier would survive. Carried to the rear and taken to a field hospital for treatment, Paul likely returned to his home in Newport, Kentucky, to be looked after and cared for by his beloved wife Louise and his two younger daughters. For the next seventeen months, he was on leave of absence from the military on account of disability and on February 16, 1865, was retired from active duty “for disability resulting from wounds received in the line of duty.” A week later, Paul was brevetted a Brigadier General in the Regular Army “For Gallant and Meritorious Service at the Battle of Gettysburg.” Still, though, despite his total blindness and despite frequent headaches, Gabriel Paul would continue to serve his nation and its soldiers in an administrative capacity. He served for a few months as Deputy Governor of the Soldier’s Home near Washington before being placed in charge of the Military Asylum at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, a position he held until his retirement on December 20, 1866.[9]

 

“[I]t was an everyday sight in Newport,” recorded the Kentucky State Journal in 1888 “to see Mrs. [Louise] Paul, with the hero on her arm, walking the streets of that city.”[10] The hero, of course, was her blind husband, Gabriel Paul, who, in the years following his retirement, would require almost continual care and attention as his health deteriorated. Because of the effects of his Gettysburg wound, he suffered from intense and frequent headaches and developed epilepsy. During the final years of his life, seizures were an almost daily occurrences. A report released by the Senate Committee of Pensions noted that in some cases, Paul sometimes suffered up to six epileptic attacks a day. At some point during the post-war years, the Pauls moved to Washington and it was there, finally, on May 5, 1886, that Gabriel Paul’s long years of suffering at last came to an end. He passed away that morning at the age of seventy-three after suffering from an epileptic attack “of unusual severity.” The attending physician pronounced his death came about from an “epileptiform convulsion, the result of a wound received at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa,” a wound received twenty-two years, ten months, and five days earlier atop Oak Ridge, on July 1, 1863. Now at peace, the remains of General Gabriel Paul were soon laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The career of General Paul was a series of gallant exploits in his country’s defense,” summarized the Senate Pension Committee in late May 1886. Louise Paul applied for a pension following her husband’s death and included a statement from Surgeon R.M. O’Reilly, who determined that the general’s death was caused by his Gettysburg wound. It was a finding seconded by the Committee and in August 1886, Louise Paul began receiving a pension of $50 per month. Two years later, it increased to $100 per month, which she received until her own death in December 1898.[11]     

In his landmark Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of U.S. Military Academy, George W. Cullum paid hearty tribute to the service, sacrifice, and suffering of Gabriel Paul. “[T]hough small in stature, [he] was great in heart and mighty in valor, particularly shown when leading the storming party and capturing the enemy’s flag on the walls of Chapultepac. His modesty was equaled only by his courage, and his aspirations were only of duty to his country. He was a soldier whose gentle mien engaged at once both confidence and love, and whose fearlessness in the presence of the greatest peril gave his face the glow of true heroism. Through all the years of his terrible affliction, he made no complaints, but only praised God that his life had been spared amid the carnage of the battlefield. Unselfishly he thought more of the happiness of his family than of himself; they had been eyes and everything to him during the weary days of his long isolation from the outer world.”[12]  

Gabriel Paul’s life may have been spared “amid the carnage of the battlefield,” but the wound he received on July 1 at Gettysburg plagued him and pained him for the rest of his life. The wound left him blind, caused frequent and intense headaches, and resulted in numerous epileptic seizures until it finally did claim his life some twenty-three years later. The pain, the suffering of Gabriel Paul’s final agonizing years have never been depicted on canvas or on screen; the spot where he received his grisly wound is not marked by a monument or an inscription upon stone; and seldom is his tragic story told.

Yet his story is an important one for it forces us to consider the last-lasting impact of America’s Civil War. Just how many did give their lives? And when do we stop counting those whose lives were cut short by the four-year fratricidal conflict? Gabriel Paul was but one example. There were countless others.

                                            Park Ranger John Hoptak

 

 

[1] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg,” from Campbell County [KY} History News, January 1999, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kycchgs/GRPaul.htm, accessed June 9, 2014. William E. Foley and Charles David Rice, The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis [University of Illinois Press, 2000]: 188.

[2] George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy of West Point, N.Y. Vol. I, 3rd Edition.[Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891], 575.

[3] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[4] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886.

[5] Abraham Lincoln note of August 23, 1862, found in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 5, edited by Roy P. Basler [Rutger’s University Press, 1959]: 390.

[6] Report of General John C. Robinson. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 27, Part 1.

[7] Letter of Major H.J. Shaeffer, 107th PA, to Lebanon Courier, July 23, 1863, in regimental file, Gettysburg National Military Park Library.

[8] Robinson, Official Report.

[9] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886.

[10] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[11] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886; “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[12] Cullum, 576-577.

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4 Responses to “Great in heart and mighty in valor” – General Gabriel Paul and his Mortal Wounding at Gettysburg

  1. Pingback: Gettysburg’s 151st Anniversary, July 1, 2014 | Student of the American Civil War

  2. Fascinating stuff! I’d heard of Gen. Paul but never studied him in depth. Hopefully when I get back to Gettysburg I’ll remember his story!

  3. Fred says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece written about the brigade commander of the regiment in which my great-great grandfather served. He, Capt. John McMahon, of the 94th NY (105th) was captured that day and marched to Staunton despite still suffering from a shrapnel wound lodged on his spine that he received at 2nd Manassas, and then on to Libby…and what was reported to bring about his death in 1894. Every field commander of Paul’s brigade was wounded that day and many subordinate officers were wounded…a telling of just how hot it was at the apex of the Union line on Oak Ridge. The high number of captured surely tells a tale hardly written about the retreat off of Oak Ridge and movement through the town while both flanks pinched in. All were heroes that day, though most know little of that trying part of the battle.

  4. John Henson says:

    What an incredible entry! I am so glad I found this and read it! Thank you Ranger Hoptak for this wonderful example of faithful service even in the face or horrific suffering!

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