No visit to Gettysburg National Military Park is complete without stopping at the Soldier’s National Cemetery, arguably the most important location on the battlefield. Many travel to the quiet location upon Cemetery Hill to look upon the graves of the fallen and see the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address.While generations have looked to Lincoln’s rhetoric to define the meaning of the Civil War, we must never forget that Lincoln’s speech was the result of the sacrifice of thousands upon the fields of Gettysburg in July 1863.
The sacrifices which were made at Gettysburg were not just those of soldiers. Mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters sacrificed as well by giving up their loved ones to the cause of the Union. Lincoln proclaimed that, while the world would one day forget the words spoken at the cemetery dedication (an unlikely occurrence, given the lasting fame of the Gettysburg Address), it could never forget what the soldiers did at Gettysburg. What they did here meant that thousands across the country received letters such as this one, posted below.
Corporal Samuel Fitzinger was a member of Company B, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. On July 2, 1863, as the Confederate brigade of Ambrose Ransom Wright launched an attack on the Union center on Cemetery Ridge late in the day, the 106th Pennsylvania was one of the Union regiments tasked with repulsing the Southern charge. On the same fields made famous the following day by Pickett’s Charge, Pennsylvanians clashed with
Georgians late in the day of July 2nd. As the Southern tide began to break, the men of the 106th Pennsylvania surged forward from the stonewall along Cemetery Ridge, making their way toward the Codori farm, where a number of Wright’s Georgians were taking refuge. It was here, on the fields near the Codori barn, where Corporal Fitzinger was killed in action. His body was buried near the barn, which by the time the battle was through, had seen some of the most ferocious combat in all of American history.
Several weeks after the battle, once the pace of campaigning had slowed sufficiently, Captain James Lynch of Company B wrote this letter to Margaret Fitzinger, Samuel’s mother.
106th Pa Vols.
July 27, 1863
Mrs. Margaret Fitzinger,
I take advantage of the first opportunity which offers itself to send you the only relic found upon the body of your deceased son, Samuel [the relic was Samuel’s Testament]. He died a soldier’s death while bravely fighting on Pennsylvania soil in defence of the glorious institutions which our fathers won for us by their blood. He was a good and faithful soldier and any mother might well be proud of such a son. His body was buried where he fell in a field near a barn which was burnt during the engagement and immediately in front of the position held by the 2nd Corps on Granite Ridge [Cemetery Ridge]. His grave is marked by a head board with name and Company on it. He fell on the 2nd during an attack by my company on the barn which was then filled with Rebels. While sympathizing with you in your bereavement I cannot but reflect that he died as I would wish to fall, with his face to the enemy and his last moments were rendered happy by the knowledge that he had done his full share in the accomplishment of a Glorious Victory.
If I can be of any service to you, do not hesitate to command me.
Very Truly Yours,
James Lynch, Captain, Company B, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteers
P.S. I send the testament and this letter by Samuel Reynolds one of his comrades who can probably give you any further information you may desire.
For Margaret Fitzinger, the loss of her son was devastating. Her husband, John Fitzinger, had passed away before the Civil War, meaning that she was entirely reliant upon Samuel for her support. Margaret married John in 1837 when she was just 16, and it does not appear that she received any education, as the documents in her pension file have a simple “x” for her mark in lieu of a signature. Samuel worked and lived in Philadelphia, and every Saturday night he brought home his weekly earnings from his job and gave them to his mother, whom he cared for. When he enlisted in the army, he did the same with his monthly pay. Thus, Samuel’s death on Cemetery Ridge meant that now Margaret had lost her husband and her son, and no longer had any means of supporting herself. In March of 1864, she was awarded a mother’s pension of 8 dollars a month, commencing from the date of her son’s death in July 1863 and continuing for the rest of her life. Margaret was in her early forties when Samuel died at Gettysburg; it is unknown how long she lived while mourning the loss of her son upon the battlefield. While Samuel was initially buried on the Codori farm, his remains were later reinterred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Today, Samuel rests in the Pennsylvania Section, Row F, Grave 51.
It must be remembered that, without grieving mothers receiving letters such as this, the “new birth of freedom” at Gettysburg would not have been possible.
Ranger Dan Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park