The Parable of Lt. Isaac Burgauer

As the temperatures drop this time of year, we begin the inevitable drift into the ‘holiday season.’   Taunted by cruelties of crass commercialism, a discordant humanity often seeks refuge in the rituals gifted us by peoples of the past.  As students of history, do we not often wonder what the poor souls of another time, who lived in a world presumably more relatable to their sacred traditions than our own, did to endure the multiply-layered horrors of combat-inflicted separation and death?   For as these afflictions blight us today, in our varied circumstances, they surely tested the faith of those unfortunates who, in times past, likewise found themselves consumed by the conditions of the moment.

Such was the case with Isaac Burgauer, a soldier in Captain Daniel A. Newman’s Company F, the “Hot Spring Hornets,” of the Third Arkansas Infantry. They were destined to be only the Arkansas unit to fight in the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Col. Van. H. Manning.  Manning would be wounded during the fighting at Gettysburg

Van Manning

Col. Van H. Manning 

Isaac, along with his brothers Moses and Emmanuel, had migrated from a distant land in the decade prior to the outbreak of the conflict.  Of the three brothers however, Isaac was the only one recorded to have fought, on either side.

As the Southrons of the Third made their way into south-central Pennsylvania that late June, Isaac in particular might have reason for flickers of mixed emotion.  Like others in the regiment, our young soldier spoke with a differing accent; one that immediately identified him as not native to Pennsylvania.  Ancestrally, however, it connected well with those upon whose farmlands he would fight.  Isaac had come to Arkansas from a town called Haigerloch, in the state of Wurtemberg, Germany.

Although he had enlisted in June of 1861 as a private, Isaac had risen in rank to the position of 5th Sergeant by March of 1863.  By June he would hold an officer’s commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.  In that rank, Isaac would have been expected to display certain traits in front of the men, loyalty high among them.  As a portion of the famous “Texas Brigade,” unit morale was high, even when moving into an attack.

Such was the case on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, when, as a portion of General Longstreet’s overall assault, these men advanced into the low tangled ground across the western branch of Plum Run in Rose’s Woods, which placed them for a time in a tight position.  Col. Manning’s report commented that after advancing through the “destructive fire” of the Union artillery barrage for about 1,000 yards, his troops contacted the Federal infantry of Col. Regis De Trobriand’s brigade:

We engaged the enemy at short range, strongly posted behind a rock fence at the edge of woods.  We drove him back with but little loss for a distance of 150 yards, when I ascertained that I was suffering from a fire to my left and rear.  Thereupon I ordered a change of front,…and I contented myself with the irregular drawing back of the left wing, giving it an excellent fire, which pressed the enemy back in a very short while, whereupon the whole line advanced, the enemy fighting stubbornly, but retiring.

After a bit more of this ebb and flow, it was during this phase of battle Col. Manning received his wound; but not before the arrival of “Tige” Anderson’s Georgians extended the line to continue the fight.

3rd_Arkansas_Battle_Flag,_St_Andrews_Cross

Flag of the 3rd Arkansas

 

Colonel Charles Merrill, commanding the 17th Maine Infantry, revealed in his report a few pertinent details left undisclosed by Col. Manning; yet later supported by Confederate casualty reports. Merrill recorded…

[About 4 p.m.] The brigade of General Ward having become actively engaged with the enemy on our left, I was ordered by Col. De Trobriand to march my regiment to […] support  the line of General Ward, on his right.  The regiment at once moved by the left flank [and] formed behind a stone wall, which afforded us a very strong position.  We opened fire upon the enemy, then within 100 yards of us.  The contest became very severe, the enemy at times being driven back by our line, and then by superior numbers compelling us in turn to give way. The ground was hotly contested, (emphasis added,) but we held our position till, finding the right of my regiment outflanked and exposed to a murderous fire from the enemy’s reinforcements, I was obliged to form a new line [until receiving the order to retire.]

Merrill’s notation regarding the “severe contest” was indeed accurate – his unit suffered losses of 133, the highest number of casualties in the brigade.   The men of the Third Arkansas, opposing them, suffered in like proportion, losing 142 men killed and wounded – also the most in their brigade.  Although not indicated individually, it is probable that Lt. Burgauer was among the 116 men of the Third hit during this exchange.

Whether he was in fact hurt during this phase of the battle, or during some of the desultory skirmishing that followed afterward, cannot now be decisively determined.

What is known is that following the battle, Lt. Isaac would find himself a seriously wounded casualty.

In the creaking columns of wagons, exiting the field following Longstreet’s failed assault on 3 July, a terrible spectacle would unfold; long lines of wagons were now stuffed with the suffering remnants of a proud humanity, which only the desecrations of combat can produce. General John Imboden, witness to the egress of the wounded, recalled how

…The column moved rapidly, considering the rough roads and the darkness, and from almost every wagon for many miles issued heart-rendering wails of agony.  For four hours I hurried forward on my way to the front, and in all that time I was never out of hearing of the groans and the hearing of the groans and cries of the wounded and the dying.

Such a scene would undoubtedly leave an impression upon anyone; but in the case of Lt. Isaac, imbedded in the midst of such mobile misery, he realized this might be time to review his own final affairs, and see they were in order. For the wounded officer was not merely a German immigrant to Arkansas; he also was a “Son of Israel;” a follower of the Hebrew faith.  Loyal to that faith, he wished that should he die, his remains be interred in the nearest Jewish cemetery.  (An indeterminate connection with that Society has been noted, possibly through a member residing in Helena, Arkansas.) Isaac’s fears proved prescient; for following the receipt of his wounds, death overtook him on July 18th.

Lt. Burgauer was to be accorded his final wish, unlike so many other ill-fated soldiers, North and South, also far from home.  For in the notations in the papers of the Israelite Benevolent Society of Hagerstown, we find the written testimony of one “S. L.  Levi.”

On the 19th of July money was collected in Hagerstown for the purpose of burying a rebel soldier by the name of Berger [sic] from Arkansas, born in Ha[i]gerloch, Wurtemberg, in keeping with his request to be buried according to Jewish rites (emphasis added) in Chambersburg.  After all expenses had been paid, the president handed me $1.60 which had been handed over from the collection.

July 25, 1863, – Mr. Levi Stone of Hagerstown, with horse and carriage, took the above dead to Chambersburg…

In spite of all of the transitions that had preceded his wounding, through all the battles and campaigns, Isaac had endeavored to retain a piece of who he essentially was, down to the end. Now, with all the discomfort, chaos and distraction of his own ‘modern times’ descending upon him, our noble soldier had returned at the last to his deepest, most enduring tradition; his faith, and what it represented to him.

Poor Isaac! His final resting place, after so much travail, was destined to be “the old Jewish Cemetery” in Chambersburg, the first one west of Philadelphia.

Cemetery

Consecrated in 1844  by Chevrah Kaddishah (The Holy Burial Society), during a time of western migration into the then still – United States, seeking a peace and prosperity that the turmoil of a post-revolutionary Europe had failed to provide. Led out of a tumultuous continent into a frontier society, he had yet been fatally drawn into the midst of a fierce conflict in his adopted, nevertheless sadly divided land.

Now, with Death so near to hand, Isaac perhaps had little chance for broad reflection; yet it was his devotion to faith, in the midst of his own chaos, requesting burial in accordance with the ancient traditions of his forefathers, that makes his story appropriate and timely.

In the world of 2015, as we find ourselves once more immersed in the onslaught of  a multitude of divisive forces that so distinguish this season, take a moment and recall the pre-commercialized, pre-terrorism world of Lt. Isaac, where a simple December Chanukah recalled the miracle of the burning of one day’s worth of undefiled oil through eight full nights until a fresh supply could be prepared for the menorah during the re-dedication of the Second Temple, and the expression of faith that miracle represented.

At the time of Isaac’s burial, evidence of the national sacrifice had been made self-evident. The battlefields of summer had laid waste to the nation, and peppered the fields with corpses of her countrymen.   The plot in Chambersburg holding the mortal remains of Lt. Burgauer, far from home, is but one such grave. Of the battlefield that ultimately claimed him, as it did the lives of thousands of others, it was later said, “– We take increased devotion for that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…”  In that sense, he was but one among the thousands, comprising a portion of the sacrifices made toward the improvement, and the hopeful purification, of a less- imperfect Union.

Ranger Bert Barnett
Gettysburg National Military Park

Grave

Isaac Burgauer is the cemetery’s only Confederate resident.  The cemetery is located on 361 East Washington Street, Chambersburg.  The well-meaning grave decoration is inaccurate.

 

About The Staff

Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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2 Responses to The Parable of Lt. Isaac Burgauer

  1. sunontiepost says:

    What a BEAUTIFULLY written piece! Thank you!

  2. dearmasa says:

    Hi Mr. Barnett – first off, thank you for a beautifully written tribute to Isaac Bergauer! Secondly, I thought you might be interested to know that Isaac’s brother Emanuel did serve in the Confederacy. Emanuel enlisted in August 1861 as a Sergeant, in Company A of the 1st Battalion (Stirman’s) Arkansas Cavalry. He was captured at Black River Bridge on May 17, 1863 and exchanged on Christmas Day, 1863. Post-war, Emanuel was in the Retail Cigar and Tobacco business in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he lived the rest of his life. He married Babette Guggenheim in Illinois in 1869, and they raised five children in Hot Springs. Emanuel died November 20, 1916 – just 8 days short of his 79th birthday. Their brother Moses, who did not serve during the Civil War, died in 1867, accidentally drowning in the Ouachita River.

    Adrienne Usher
    Shapell Manuscript Foundation
    adrienne [at] shapell.org

    Find out more about our project:
    http://www.shapellroster.org/

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