“A Very Great Injustice” – Wagons, Monuments, and the 84th Pennsylvania


Cemetery Ridge and the position of the monument to the 84th Pennsylvania.

No one could say that the 84th Pennsylvania was not a hard fighting regiment. From the time the unit mustered in on the 21st day of December 1861 to the moment the shattered remnants of the regiment stacked their arms a final time on the 29th of June 1865, they had participated in twenty four battles and engagements, excluding the innumerable skirmishes, forays, and patrols that accompanied service with the Army of the Potomac. Of the 1,310 men that had at one time or another been enrolled in the regiment, a total of 750 would be listed as casualties. The grim efficiency of disease, which typically snuffed out more lives than actual combat, claimed 102 men in the regiment while the terrors of battle killed 128.

The 84th had seen action at Cedar Mountain and at Chancellorsville. They had confronted Jackson’s Foot Cavalry in the Valley and slugged it out with Longstreet’s men at the Wilderness.  By the first month of 1865 the unit was so under-strength the survivors were consolidated with the 57th Pennsylvania and that new organization would see combat at Hatcher’s Run and during the long advance to Appomattox. When those still standing returned to Dauphin County, or Philadelphia, or Clearfield, they did so as hardened veterans. No one could say that the 84th Pennsylvania was not a hard fighting regiment.

On the 11th of September, 1889 the now aged and gray veterans of the regiment traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to officially dedicate their regimental monument. The imposing stone, detailing the many battles fought and campaigns undertaken, still stands prominently along Pleasonton Avenue. Crowned with an intricate representation of the symbol of the III Corps, and featuring a chiseled relief of two crossed rifles, the monument takes its place proudly aside the hundreds of others that dot the landscape and that help make Gettysburg one of the best marked battlefields in the world. Flank markers indicating the left and right of the line of battle provide modern visitors a visual clue as to the size and alignment of the regiment, and a brief description of the regiments service during the campaign is etched in the stone. From a distance there is nothing particularly unusual about the marker, though a closer examination reveals an interesting and unique tale.

When the surviving members of the 84th Pennsylvania decided to erect a monument honoring their regiment and fallen comrades, they could theoretically have placed it at any of the major battlefields on which they fought. Though not nearly as numerous as those at Gettysburg, Union regimental monuments can be found sprinkled through the battlefields of Virginia and Maryland. The 27th Indiana has a small marker on the Chancellorsville battlefield, the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery is commemorated at the Harris Farm, and in 1909 the veterans of the 15th New Jersey placed a monument in front of the works at Spotsylvania, to name but a few.

The regimental association of the 84th chose Gettysburg. Their desire to place a monument on the Gettysburg battlefield is in no way unique or remarkable. By the 1880’s the Gettysburg had emerged as the preeminent “Union Memorial Park,” where the sacrifice, devotion, and ultimate triumph of the Union Army – particularly the Army of the Potomac – was to be forever enshrined. Gettysburg was northern soil, the site of the first decisive victory against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and a Mecca of sorts for the cause of the Union,  sanctified by the words of the martyred Abraham Lincoln. Comparatively few Americans would, as an act of pilgrimage, travel to Cedar Mountain or Hatcher’s Run, but at Gettysburg they would come in droves.  A stone tablet on Cemetery Ridge, complete with flank markers and appropriate inscription, would stand eternal on the sacred landscape telling the story of those men long after their mortal remains had turned to dust. In short, Gettysburg was the place where Union veterans wanted to be remembered.

For the veterans of the 84th Pennsylvania this poised a problem. While the regiment certainly belonged to the Army of the Potomac, and while they most assuredly took part in the Gettysburg Campaign, they never actually took part in the battle itself. On the 30th of June as the regiment was approaching Taneytown, Milton Opp, the commanding officer of the regiment, was ordered to guard the supply trains that were following the army north. The following day, as news of an impending battle swept through the ranks, Opp requested that the order be rescinded. To his dismay it was not. Rather than making their way to the front, the rank and file of the 84th were ordered to accompany the trains to Westminster…even further from the field of battle.

On the 2nd of July, as the other regiments of Joseph’s Carr’s brigade battled along the Emmitsburg Road, the 84th Pennsylvania was twenty miles away. Perhaps the sound of battle reverberated that far, or perhaps an occasional gust of wind carried the scent of burned powder. If so, it would have been the 84th’s only sensory participation in the battle. Opp and his men rejoined their brigade a few days later. Two hundred and forty men were with the regiment. They suffered no casualties.

In 1889 the primary steward of the Gettysburg battlefield was the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. In order for the survivors of the 84th Pennsylvania to place a monument on the field, they had to first obtain approval of this organization, and more


John Bachelder, Superintend of Tablets and Legends

importantly of John B. Bachelder.  Bachelder, who carried the imposing title of “Superintendent of Tablets and Legends” considered himself a kind of guardian of the battlefield and its history. He had helped to establish a host of rules and regulations regarding the placement of monuments on the field that would serve to stymie, infuriate, and ultimately interpret the park. The most significant, at least as far as the 84th was concerned, was that regimental monuments had to be placed where the original line of battle had been established. For regiments like the 1st Minnesota or the 20th Maine, that was a fairly easy task. The 84th Pennsylvania had never formed a line of battle though…or if they had they did so twenty miles away. Another rule indicated that each regimental monument must be accompanied by flanks markers. Yet another problem for the Pennsylvanians.

The survivors of the regiment gained support from their former brigade commander Joseph B. Carr. In a letter addressed to the Board of Commissioners of the Memorial Association, Carr stated that “The Eighty Fourth Regiment was one of the best and most reliable commands…To deprive this regiment of the recognition it is entitled to, upon that memorable battlefield, would, in my opinion, be a very great injustice.”

Joseph Carr

Joseph B. Carr, brigade commander for the 84th Pennsylvania

As the veterans of the 84th repeatedly mentioned, that they were not at Gettysburg was no fault of theirs. The duty they performed was necessary work, and even if only in a small way, served to make the victory at Gettysburg possible. Captain Thomas Merchant gave voice to many former members of the regiment who had guarded the trains outside of Westminster. “That duty was quite as necessary of performance, fully as important, carrying with it as much of possible danger, as was actually encountered by regiments engaged on the field, and as much of actual danger as did not fall to the lot of several of the regiments who were no more on the field than were the troops with the trains, and which regiments wrote Gettysburg on their battle-flags without a question as to its being rightly there.”

“I would respectfully suggest that the monument be
erected at a point near where my headquarters were, previous to the second days engagement,” Carr concluded. Ultimately the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association agreed, though the ultimate placement of the monument was situated in a rear area reserved for such difficult cases. In keeping with the rules for the erection of monuments on the battlefield, the survivors of the 84th placed flank members astride their monument,  positioned east to west rather than north to south, as if to indicate their deployment far from the field of battle.



The 84th Pennsylvania’s left flank marker.

For those unaware of the trials and tribulations of the unit, the presence of their monument  on Cemetery Ridge might convey an erroneous depiction of the battle. Without reading the inscription, it is reasonable to assume the regiment was positioned at that spot and suffered from the shot and shell that rained down upon the other Union units positioned there. Yet the intent of the veterans of the regiment was never to inspire confusion. Rather it was to provide context.

Few survivors of the Army of the Potomac would have argued that Gettysburg represented, at least in retrospect, the defining moment in their years of service. Those who fought there, and survived, were duly proud of having been a participant in one of the titanic moments in American history. Ultimately though, Gettysburg was just one stop during the long campaign that was the American Civil War. Veterans wanted to be remembered at Gettysburg, but they didn’t want to be remembered just for Gettysburg. Their monument was to speak of the Mud March and the Battle of Williamsburg as much as it was to tell of the fighting at the Peach Orchard or Devil’s Den. It was to represent why they fought, as much as it was to indicate where they fought.  For the men of the 84th, their monument at Gettysburg wasn’t just to tell future generations that they guarded trains in Westminster. It was to tell them of Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania and Winchester and the countless other places where their friends and comrades had died defending the Union.

As Thomas Merchant intoned in his dedicatory speech, “The memorial which is here placed speaks from all along the line, from Bath [The regiments first battle] to Appomattox…For the moment it moves aside, and where it was, and within the lengthening of its shadow, we see them all and as we glance from right to left, from front to rear, one is taken from here, another from there, one by one, from the highest in rank to the lowest, from the oldest in years to the youngest, the man and the boy; first the two hundred and thirty in the time of the war, then the many who have left us in the days that have intervened; and then comes the shaft into the space which was made for it. We look upon it now, and know that it stands for them. The time is coming when it will stand for all whose names made up a regimental roll.”

Christopher Gwinn
Supervisory Ranger


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“Where that Flag Stood was an Ordeal of Death”: Sergeant William Lilly and the 149th New York Infantry on Culp’s Hill

Culps Hill

On September 18, 1892, veterans of the 149th New York Volunteer Infantry met once again upon the battlefield of Gettysburg in south-central Pennsylvania. As with many veterans groups who returned to Gettysburg years after the battle, their purpose that day was to dedicate a monument to the action which had taken place during those three days of July 1863, twenty-nine years before. The 149th New York had been one of the key regiments in the Army of the Potomac on July 2, 1863, holding the right flank of the Union battle line under severe pressure that evening as the sun set behind the Pennsylvania hills. Earlier that day, most of the 12th Corps had been sent elsewhere to reinforce the center of the Union battle line along Cemetery Ridge, leaving behind just one brigade of infantry under the command of Brigadier General George Sears Greene to hold Culp’s Hill. Backed up by battered units from the 1st and 11th Corps, which had suffered 50% losses fighting the day before north and west of town, Greene and his men—roughly 1,300 in number—had held off enemy attackers from the division of Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, over 5,000 strong. For over two hours, Greene’s men used the landscape around them, which they had worked at transforming with breastworks earlier that day, to repulse the repetitive Confederate assaults. When the guns fell quiet that evening, Johnson’s Confederates had gained a foothold at the base of Lower Culp’s Hill, but Greene’s soldiers still held the summit, anchoring the right flank of the Army of the Potomac.

In the midst of that heavy fighting, there were numerous acts of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice, many of which are not well known today. While popular history has afforded great notoriety to actions elsewhere on the fields of Gettysburg, Culp’s Hill and the men of George Greene’s brigade seem to languish in the shadows of history. Just as darkness covered them in their evening fight on Culp’s Hill, so too they and their stories are largely in the dark reaches of obscurity in popular renderings and histories of the battle.

In the dedicatory speeches delivered that day in 1892, however, the veterans of Greene’s brigade shined a light on the heroic acts of their comrades from twenty-nine years earlier. Among the names mentioned repeatedly was that of William Lilly.

William C. Lilly enlisted in the 149th New York in the summer of 1862, answering President Lincoln’s call of that summer for 300,000 new volunteers to fill the Union ranks and put down the rebellion. When he signed up, he was thirty-three years old. He had been married for nearly fourteen years when he joined the army. He and his wife, Mary Newbury, were wed on Christmas Eve in 1849 in their hometown of Syracuse, New York. Mary and William never had any children of their own, but that did not stop them from being parents. In 1851, they adopted a two year old boy and named him William H. Lilly. By the time the war began, the young William was a teenager. He and his mother Mary stayed at home while the elder William Lilly went off to fight.

In the months preceding the Battle of Gettysburg, Lilly gained experience and rose through the ranks. In March of 1863, he was promoted from corporal to the regiment’s color sergeant. He was to have the honor of bearing the regimental flag in battle for the 149th New York. At Chancellorsville in May, Lilly was wounded, but remained with the command. Indeed, he was with his regiment on July 2, when the men took position on Culp’s Hill just southeast of the town of Gettysburg.

The flag which Lilly carried at Gettysburg was the symbol and pride of the regiment, and of their home, Onondaga County. In May of 1962, the Onondaga Historical Society published a booklet on the Civil War flags which were in their care and collection. Among them was the flag of the 149th New York, the same one which Lilly held on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd. The flag was described as such:

“The flag is of the best silk, made of the regulation dimensions, bordered with heavy yellow silk fringe, and the 34 stars in the field richly embroidered. Across the middle of the stripes is the inscription: Presented to the 149th regiment, NYSV by the officers of Onondaga Salt Springs, September 1862. An extension staff for this elegant flag is mounted with an elaborate golden eagle, just below which hang rich bullion cords and tassels. The flag and its attachments are of the best quality and manufacture. Its cost was about one hundred dollars.”

As the Confederate attackers swept up the wooded hillside that evening, Lilly planted the flag of the 149th New York on the breastworks that the men had built earlier that day. As the heavy rate of fire intensified on both sides, the flag became a focal point for Confederate bullets. By some accounts, the flag was pierced by over eighty bullets during the fighting that night. This storm of lead tore apart the fine silk and fractured the staff. Once the staff was broken, the flag fell forward, off the breastworks and toward the charging enemy.


Bullet riddled trees on Culps Hill. A testament to the ferocity of the fighting there.

In this moment of intense firing, at great risk to his own life, Sergeant Lilly jumped forward into action. He crossed the breastworks, grasped the fractured flag staff and pulled the tattered colors back behind Union lines. Realizing the importance of keeping the flag flying during such a crucial moment, Lilly began fixing the flag staff itself. He broke apart the tops of ammunition boxes, using the fragments of wood to straighten the broken flag staff, tying it together with the leather straps he had removed from his knapsack. In this moment of ingenuity, when he and his comrades were being attacked by an entire division, five times their strength, Lilly was acting to save the symbol of the Union which his brothers in arms were fighting to save. Seeing the tattered flag, with its mended staff, emerge back atop the breastworks helped to renew the fighting spirit of the men of the 149th New York.

When the fighting subsided, Greene’s men had successfully repulsed the Confederate assaults. The following morning, fighting would resume at Culp’s Hill. The rest of the 12th Corps returned to their positions and were forced to fight back the Confederates who had made gains there the night before. The 12th Corps proved itself successful on July 3rd, reclaiming the lower slopes of Culp’s Hill and repulsing several more waves of Confederate attackers. The right flank of the Union was safe, and the route of supplies and communication along the Baltimore Pike was secure. All that would have been rendered moot without the bravery of Greene’s men on the night of July 2nd.

For William Lilly, as well as the rest of the 12th Corps, 1863 had more fighting in store for them. Several months after their success at Gettysburg, the men of the 11th and 12th Corps were hurried west to Chattanooga to help save the embattled and beleaguered Army of the Cumberland. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee had nearly cut off the Union soldiers in Chattanooga from all outside assistance and supplies. In late October, it fell to some of the 12th Corps soldiers who held Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg to break through the impasse. On October 28, during fighting at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, Lilly was shot through the thigh and severely wounded. He was taken to a hospital in Bridgeport, Alabama, where he lingered. While in the hospital, Oliver Browne of the 149th observed Lilly in a moment of compassion with a wounded Confederate soldier.

Lilly Death Cert

Just after the battle of Wauhatchie, where Lilly was mortally wounded, he was transferred, in a cold driving rain-storm, from an open field hospital to an ambulance for transportation to the rear.  In the same vehicle was a desperately wounded Confederate soldier, half naked and shivering cold.  Poor Lilly, although suffering from pain and chilled from loss of blood, observed his fellow traveler, and being moved with compassion, remarked, “My friend, I guess I will have to share my blanket with you,” and suiting the action to the word, withdrew a part of the covering his friend had tenderly placed about him and wrapped it around his pristine foe.

Within a few days, Lilly was dead. He succumbed to his wound on November 2, 1863. He was thirty-four years old. His remains were brought home to Syracuse, where he was buried.

During that same fighting at Wauhatchie, other heroes of Culp’s Hill fell in battle. Most notably, George Greene himself was hit, with a Confederate bullet passing through his lower jaw. Greene’s wound effectively ended his Civil War combat career, though Greene would live until 1899.

The regimental flag which Lilly had saved would live beyond him. While Lilly died in early November, the fighting around Chattanooga continued for some time. Several weeks after Sgt. Lilly succumbed to his wounds, a new Color Sergeant, John Kiggins, bravely held aloft the same flag as the men advanced headlong into artillery fire on the slopes of Lookout Mountain. During their charge on November 24, 1863, the men of the 149th came under artillery bombardment from both Northern and Southern guns. Realizing the peril this crossfire was creating, Kiggins stood up on a stump and waved the regimental flag, signaling the Union guns to halt their friendly fire. Kiggins continued forward, carrying the flag up to the top of Lookout Mountain, and for his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming one of six soldiers of the 149th to receive the nation’s highest award during the Civil War.

Because of the damage done to the battle flag in 1863, the regiment received a new one in 1864. The new flag was carried through the Atlanta Campaign, where the regiment took part in heavy fighting at Peachtree Creek on July 20, 1864. The men then participated in Sherman’s famed March to the Sea, campaigning in the Carolinas, and helping to ensure the final defeat of the Confederacy. Having performed valiantly on many a battlefield, the 149th mustered out on June 12, 1865.

For the men of the 149th New York who gathered on the wooded slopes of Culp’s Hill in 1892, though William Lilly was no longer with them, the memory of his actions that day still lingered.

Captain George Collis was one of the speakers that day. In his remarks that day, Collins spoke of the monument design which the men had chosen, describing the brass relief which adorned the stone on Culp’s Hill.

When a design was first broached, a statue placed on a suitable pedestal was suggested, and a pleasing and an appropriate subject was sought after. The courageous act of Color Sgt. William C. Lilly, who during the engagement at this place saw the staff of his colors while standing on yon breastwork shot in twain, gathered up the pieces and coolly, under fire, mended the broken member with splints from a cracker box and straps from his knapsack, was recalled. It resulted in a design drafted by Comrade George J. Sager, representing this act of heroism of our color bearer.

Afterwards a tablet was suggested by General Barnum [Col. Henry Barnum commanded the 149th at Gettysburg; he was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Lookout Mountain in November 1863] showing breastworks and men under fire placed behind it; this resulted in the embodiment of the two ideas blended in one design.

149th NY Monument

Relief on the monument of the 149th New York, depicting Lilly splicing the flag staff. Image courtesy of Stone Sentinels.

For some today, it might seem strange that the remembrances of a regiment would focus so heavily on a soldier rescuing and fixing their flag in the midst of such a pivotal fight. The monument does not feature a bayonet charge or an officer who was slain defending the line, but a soldier who used broken ammunition boxes to fix a flag staff. Perhaps that is illustrative of what soldiers cherished both during and after the war. To the men of the 149th, the flag which they carried was a symbol of all they fought to save. Preserving the flag was as important as preserving the Union, and Sergeant William Lilly’s efforts helped to do both, giving the men strength to continue fighting in the midst of their most trying hours.

In remarks dedicating the monument to the 149th New York, Colonel Lewis Stegman, who had led the 102nd New York at the battle, had this to say of Lilly’s heroic actions.

And what of the One hundred and forty-ninth in these perilous hours? Right here it stood, here it fought, here it mastered the foe. In its historic character it is part of Greene’s Brigade, at Culp’s Hill, but just upon this spot is defined its own personality… here Lilly twice spliced the flagstaff shot from his hands as he reared them aloft, riddled and town by eighty gaping wounds. Does that tell a tale? It means that where that flag stood was an ordeal of death; that the men who defended it that night and the next day, who fired their muskets and held their swords, were worthy to be enshrined with the noblest, the bravest, and the truest of soldiers who have ever lived in any generation. Here they proved a heroism never surpassed in the annals of warfare.

Nine years after the men of the 149th dedicated their monument on the Gettysburg battlefield, in 1901, Captain George Collins wrote of the lasting significance of the regimental flag which Lilly had rescued in the fire of battle thirty-eight years before. Thanks to the efforts of Lilly, and of others, the flag was preserved and on display in Onandoga County clerk’s office in New York, where all could see it as a testament to the tenacity of those who fought to preserve the Union during its darkest and most trying of hours.

“To the present generation, this flag means little, but to me it is almost as dear as my life. Often I go to County Clerk’s office and look at it lovingly, and as I do so the tears invariably creep into my eyes as I think what that old flag means to me and to all the members of the old One Hundred and Forty-ninth regiment. They worship that flag and prize it as one of the most precious of their earthly possessions.”

Ranger Daniel Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park


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Gettysburg: A Powerful Partnership

POP graphic

The National Park Service is currently considering a proposal from the Gettysburg Foundation to increase fees at the Museum and Visitor Center and some other activities and attractions within Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.  To learn more about this proposal, we encourage you to read the report and tell us what you think. The deadlines for comments is May 25, 2016.

May is Preservation Month so let’s take a closer look at this partnership.


­Preservation is at the core of the Gettysburg Foundation’s projects and goals:  For 27 years the Gettysburg Foundation has stood with the National Park Service as the steward of preservation, restoration and education at Gettysburg National Military Park, attending to the serious and ongoing preservation needs of the battlefield as well as at Eisenhower National Historic Site.  Prior to 2006, the Gettysburg Foundation was known as the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg established in 1989.

Fundraising and Donations: The Gettysburg Foundation funded, designed and constructed the park’s $ 103 million Museum and Visitor Center which opened in 2008. In the past ten years, the Foundation raised nearly $30 million to support:

  • $2 million for education programs
  • $21 million for acquisition of land, historic structures and artifacts
  • $5.7 million to preserve historic landscapes, structures and monuments
  • $1.2 million to support the commemoration of 150thanniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address.

Support and Advocacy:  Since 1989 the Gettysburg Foundation has increased awareness and relevancy of Gettysburg’s two national parks through its “Friends of Gettysburg” memberships, volunteer opportunities and more.  An active corps of 25,000 Friends members enjoys more meaningful engagement with the NPS, strengthening and expanding our support nationally and internationally. Their new “Recruit” membership levels helps target Millennials – a demographic that the NPS is trying hard to engage. Friends programs and other Foundation projects offer philanthropic support that directly benefits the two national parks in Gettysburg and the National Park Service as a whole.

Recent Projects include sponsoring National Park Service Centennial events, fundraising for the rehab of Little Round Top and the rehab of Cemetery Ridge, funding the new cannon carriage restoration shop, education programs, acquisition of numerous important objects for the park’s museum collections and much more.

Throughout our Centennial year we’re trying harder than ever to engage with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates.  The Gettysburg Foundation and the Friends of Gettysburg continue to play a critical role in our success.

Katie Lawhon, May 5, 2016

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Winged Victory: A Closer Look at the Pennsylvania Memorial

One day, while giving a tour of the field of Pickett’s Charge, I kept referring to the Union artillery line of Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery.  For much of July 2 & 3, 1863 McGilvery’s guns occupied the long stretch of Cemetery Ridge from near the intersection of modern day Pleasanton Avenue south to the George Weikert Farm. Standing near the Point of Woods on Seminary Ridge, it is difficult to identify the location, but as a reference point, I kept pointing to the “winged angel” atop the Pennsylvania Monument.  After a few minutes, a tour participant asked “who’s the lady atop the building?”

PA STate monument 3

The Pennsylvania Memorial dominates the southern half of the Gettysburg battlefield. The largest, costliest, and most ornate monument on the battlefield, it stands in tribute to the Pennsylvanians who fought, and died, on the fields which it towers over. Perched atop the dome is a distinctive and evocative bronze figure of an angel. Clutching a sword in one hand and a palm branch in the other, she is frozen in  the act of moving forward toward an unseen foe. But who is she?

On June 13, 1907, Gov. Edwin Stuart appointed nine Union veterans to The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Commission.  The Commission had the task of finding a suitable location for the Pennsylvania State Memorial “to commemorate the services of the soldiers of Pennsylvania in the battle.”  The Commonwealth appropriated $140,000 for the construction, $10,000 for the dedication ceremonies, $20,000 to reimburse the railroads for transportation, and another $40,000 to furnish bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln, Gov. Andrew Curtin, and six general officers of Pennsylvania.  In 1908, fifty-one designs for the new monument were submitted. The model of architect W. Liance Cottrell ultimately won.


Initial design of the Pennsylvania Memorial. (GNMP)

Cottrell’s design incorporated the beaux-arts style “which advocated a grandeur in architecture, a merging of several styles (as here, baroque and neoclassical), and a rich adornment by various media, especially sculpture.”  The style had become popular in America during the 1890’s.  In order to tell the story of Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, the monument incorporates the names of all the state’s army, corps and division commanders along the exterior cornice and the interior cornice features the name of twenty-four brigade officers.  Every soldier that served from Pennsylvania is listed on eighty-four bronze tablets that line the base exterior of the monument.  In 1911, eight bronze, larger than life, statues of such figures as Lincoln, Curtin, and Meade were installed.  The Pennsylvania Monument assimilates 1,252 tons of granite, 1,410 tons of broken stone, 740 tons of sand, 366 tons of cement, 50 tons of steel bars, and 22 tons of bronze for a total of 3,840 tons of material.

Samuel Murray was selected to make the statue to crown the monument.  He was one of


Samuel Murray. (LOC)

the leading sculptors in America at the time.  Based in Philadelphia, he had studied under
the famous painter Thomas Eakins.  Murray’s previous sculptures, which won gold and silver medallions, had been displayed nationally and in Paris.  Over the course of his career, his works included the statues of Commodore John Barry in Independence Square, Senator Boies Penrose in Harrisburg, Bishop Shanahan Memorial in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg, the prophets on the Witherspoon Building in Philadelphia, and the Father William Corby Statue at Gettysburg.

Murray was commissioned to cast the bronze statue of Victory to crown the dome of the Pennsylvania Monument.  As his inspiration, he chose the Winged Victory of Samothrace from classical antiquity.  Exhibited at the Louvre in Paris, this statue dates from the second century B.C. and is known for its incorporation of “theatrical stance, vigorous movement, and billowing drapery.”


Winged Victory of Samothrace. Image courtesy of the Louvre.


Augustus Saint-Gauden’s Sherman Memorial in New York may have also influenced Murray.  Erected in 1903, Saint-Gauden’s winged goddess had garnered much public praise and certainly Murray was aware of this fact.


The Sherman Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gauden. Image courtesy of City University of New York.

For his version, Murray altered Victory to include the olive branch in her left hand and the sword in her right.  The addition of this symbolism made the statue represent both peace and war.  As a final touch, Murray cast Victory from melted cannon, linking her in a tangible way to the American Civil War.

victory 10


Today, the “Goddess of Victory and Peace” still stands, ever watchful, symbolically leading the Pennsylvania troops forward!   She remains one of the most iconic images on the battlefield.

Ranger Matt Atkinson
Gettysburg National Military Park

Post Script: The pictures of Victory come from the collection of Barb Adams.  Barb has volunteered with the cannon restoration shop and visitor services for many years.  In 2013, Victory received preservation treatment and Barb went up in the lift for a close up view.  Many thanks to her for these pictures! 




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The Battlefield Foray 2016: Spring Arrives in Gettysburg

Over the past two days Gettysburg National Military Park hosted the inaugural “Battlefield Foray,” a series of free hikes and walks that traversed nearly the entirety of the park. It was a great way to welcome the return of spring to south-central Pennsylvania and the kickoff to what we hope will be a great year of walks, talks, and hikes out on the battlefield. We were incredibly grateful and fortunate to have so many of you out on the field with us.

1st Day Panorama

Cars line Reynolds Avenue for the first program of the Battlefield Foray.

Each of the different hikes on Saturday and Sunday examined a unique aspect of the two armies that fought at Gettysburg. In particular, the different arms of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac (infantry, artillery, and cavalry) were discussed and explored on a part of the battlefield where that particular branch played a prominent role.

Saturday began early, with Park Historian John Heiser leading a tour focused on the backbone of both armies; the infantry. Though Union cavalry initiated the fighting outside of Gettysburg on July 1st, the day as a whole was dominated by the infantrymen. Though the skies were slightly overcast, and a brief drizzle momentarily moved through the first days field, nearly one hundred visitors followed John as he discussed the opening shots of the battle, as Union infantry regiments in Maj. Gen. John Reynold’s I Corps confronted elements of Confederate Gen. Harry Heth’s command. Tromping through Reynold’s Woods and down McPherson Ridge, the story of units like the 24th Michigan, 26th North Carolina, and 2nd Wisconsin were brought to life on the ridges and in the woodlots where those units fought.

John H. 2

Along Meredith Avenue at the northern edge of Reynold’s Woods. The monument to the 7th Wisconsin is on the left. 

John H.

Park Historian John Heiser discuss the afternoon fighting on July 1st between the Iron Brigade and Johnston Pettigrew’s  Confederate regiments.

Later in the day Ranger Matt Atkinson delved into the role artillery played during the fighting on the 2nd Day. Confederate artillerymen E. P. Alexander wrote of the fighting on July 2 that, “I don’t think there was ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.” From Warfield Ridge to the Trostle Farm, Matt explored and discussed the Union and Confederate batteries that dueled for supremacy on the bloodiest day of the battle of Gettysburg.

Matt at the Peach Orchard

The exploits and service of units like Battery F, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, better known as “Hampton’s Battery” was discussed from the vantage point of their position on July 2nd. Hampton’s Battery lost roughly 18 men killed and wounded during the fighting at Gettysburg, most of it during the hour they were engaged at the Peach Orchard.

Peach Orchard

By the late afternoon the rain and overcast clouds of the morning gave way to a blue skies and warm weather. The final program of the first day of the Battlefield Foray brought participants to the East Cavalry Battlefield where Ranger Tom Holbrook described the clash of Union and Confederate horsemen that took place their mid-day on July 3rd, 1863.

Sickles Avenue

On Sunday Licensed Battlefield Guides Garry Adelman and Tim Smith led an all day hike that brought the story together. Leaving from the Visitor Center, they led participants on a hike of the entire position of the Army of the Potomac on July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. By walking the entirety of the Union “Fishhook” at Gettysburg, visitors gained a greater appreciation for the size of the battle and battlefield, and that the fighting that took place at individual locations throughout the battle was in actuality part of one, interconnected, struggle.

Tim and Garry on Little Round Top

Licensed Battlefield Guides Tim Smith and Garry Adelman near the monument to the 155th Pennsylvania on Little Round Top.

We want to thank all of those that showed up and explored the park with us. Hopefully we will see you all out on the field again soon. For more information on ranger led programs, and future events at Gettysburg National Military Park, visit our website at http://www.nps.gov/gett

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Conspicuous Gallantry, ‘Medal of Honor’ Spotlight Exhibit opens today

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of one’s life above and beyond the call of duty. – Medal of Honor Citation


Museum staff put the final touches on the new Medal of Honor exhibit at Gettysburg National Military Park

The new Spotlight Exhibit in the lobby of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center is showcasing Gettysburg National Military Park’s collection of six Medals of Honor, including Alonzo Cushing’s, awarded in 2014. This free exhibit opened today and will remain on display for six months.

One of the primary goals of the National Park Service at Gettysburg is to tell the compelling stories of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War – creating memorable visits. Merely preserving and protecting these resources is not enough if the public does not believe the stories are relevant and important. We must continue to make the case that Gettysburg still matters. And we must tell these compelling stories to every one of our 1.2 million annual visitors.

The key to history is the story. Nothing can be more compelling to our visitors than the stories of valor and sacrifice illustrated by the Medal of Honor recipients in this exhibit. In all, 64 soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. For each of these outstanding acts, there are untold numbers of soldiers on both sides who committed acts of bravery and self- sacrifice for their comrades and their cause.

Jason_4-13-16_0054_1At Gettysburg, so often we talk about leaders, but it is really the acts of individuals that make the difference.  Battles are individual struggles on a large scale.  Through the ages, the highest calling of man has always been to put one’s own life at risk for the benefit of others, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty.


This whole exhibit came about in December 2014 when President Obama honored Alonzo Cushing with the Medal of Honor.  Cushing’s descendants and the National Park Service committed to continuing to tell Cushing’s story at Gettysburg.

The National Park Service is tremendously grateful for the opportunity to continue to honor these soldiers.  We’d like to thank the donors of the artifacts who helped make this exhibit possible and the Gettysburg Foundation for supporting this exhibit.


Medals of Honor now on display at Gettysburg are:

Daniel P. Reigle, Corporal, Company F, 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 19, 1864. Date of issue: October 26, 1864. For gallantry while rushing forward to capture a Confederate flag at the stone fence where the enemy’s last stand was made.

Edward L. Gilligan, First Sergeant, Company E, 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1, 1863. Date of issue: April 30, 1892. Assisted in the capture of the flag of the 23rd North Carolina Infantry.  The 88th Pennsylvania attacked the retreating Confederates of the 23rd North Carolina, capturing nearly the entire regiment.  Captain Joseph Richard fought with the regimental color bearer, who only gave up when, according to Gilligan “I reasoned with him with the butt of my musket.”

 James J. Purman, Lieutenant, Company A, 140th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Date of issue: October 30, 1896. While engaging troops of the 24th Georgia Infantry in the woods south of the Wheatfield, Purman voluntarily assisted a wounded comrade to a place of safety while the enemy was in close proximity, hence narrowing his route of withdrawal.  In attempting to withdraw across the Wheatfield, Purman received the fire of the enemy and a wound, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg.

 Wallace W. Johnson, Sergeant, Company G, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Date of issue: August 8, 1900. As Union forces of the 3rd Corps became actively engaged with Confederate forces near Little Round Top and Devil’s Den, regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves from the 5th Corps arrived to reinforce them.  The Pennsylvanians came under sniper fire from the John Weikert farmhouse.  Johnson and five other men from the 6th Reserves volunteered to assault the house and neutralize the Confederates.  They rushed the structure under thick fire, broke down the barricaded door, and captured the Confederates.

 Alonzo H. Cushing, First Lieutenant, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1863. Date of issue: November 6, 2014. Distinguished himself by acts of bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an artillery commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery. . .  He refused to leave the battlefield after being struck in the shoulder by a shell fragment. . .  As he continued to direct fire, he was struck again — this time suffering grievous damage to his abdomen. . .  Still refusing to abandon his command, he boldly stood tall in the face of Major General George E. Pickett’s charge and continued to direct devastating fire into oncoming forces. As the Confederate forces closed in, Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun.

In 2013, we posted a blog with more information about Medals of Honor in the Gettysburg collection.

This post is based on Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Ed W. Clark’s remarks at the opening of the Medal of Honor exhibit at Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center, April 14, 2016


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Pin(n)ing For the 2016 Season – Thoughts by a Ranger of the Line





Reader mine, the spring season is once again upon us in the park!  Soon, the park interpreters will be out on the resource giving programs, greeting the numerous visitors pouring in from near and far.   Roaring lawn mowers groom the cemetery, while ticks annoy the determined explorers.  The ancient rituals renew.

Some comments, often repeated by sharp-eyed guests as they encounter uniformed staff are observations as to the overall state of the park; the vast majority of them are very positive.  “The monuments look great!” or “You always manage to keep the cemetery nicely trimmed.” As an interpreter, that’s usually an awkward moment for me, as I strain to point out that I did not do that hard work the visitor presently so admires; but that other individuals in our NPS team did.  Lord knows, I wouldn’t want to wrestle with trees, repoint those monuments, or re-weld, polish and paint all those cannons.  But here, I fiercely thank those who do.  Sometimes, I fear my explanations insufficient on that score.  Even though some of us might appear more “visible” to the public at large, in our own way, through our diverse gifts, we all strive to participate equitably in fulfilling the mandate of the 1916 Organic Act:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service,… which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

I started out in “the Service” in 1982 as a Volunteer, when I earned my first, “old-style” VIP pin.

volunteer pin

From that date, I’ve always had an historical interest in NPS pins and badges.  For this Centennial year of 2016, the NPS chose to further highlight the occasion by offering a special badge, which could be worn only for the anniversary year.  Outside of Law Enforcement, which got a distinctive design of their own, four potential styles were voted on.  The one I favored, a more traditional sort that combined elements of the early to mid-1900’s and the present – issue badge, was rejected.

Photo 1 Nps Badge 1946

NPS Badge, 1946-1960

The official Centennial badge, for non-Law Enforcement personnel, appeared much different than the standard badge (below.)

Present Day badge

Present NPS Badge

Centennial Badge

2016 Centennial Badge

In fact, to my eye, it first looked like a giant version of the “Ranger Tie-Tack” that is worn with the winter uniform.  I wasn’t all that happy with it.  Nonetheless, I ordered one.  When it arrived, however, I was struck with a flash not unlike General Warren’s “Moment of Recognition.”  It was the ubiquitous Park Service arrowhead, first designed in the 1950’s, and decorated with a few Centennial motifs. But at its most basic, it was designed in the shape of an arrowhead, the prize Native American relic I had often hunted relentlessly as a boy.

Not only on the Centennial badge, then, but in every NPS arrowhead insignia and patch are the artistic incorporations of those words from 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein” But the real meaning lies deeper. For no more appropriate artifact than an arrowhead could possibly have been chosen. By itself, an arrowhead is naught but a sharpened rock.  To be useful, it must be firmly lashed with sinew to a carefully selected piece of wood, carefully fletched at the rear to fly straight and true to accurately hit its target; in the hands of a skilled archer, with a clear eye.

What was with a real arrowhead, remains truthfully embodied in our emblem today.  Many in the NPS, given the nature of their assignments, do not even wear a uniform or a badge; yet their functions for the parks are as essential today as the shaft or the feathers were in guiding the arrowheads of old. Working as a team, perhaps we’ll see another 100 years, continuing in the delicate arc between preservation and use of the precious places that are our trust.  I probably won’t be here for that one.  But others will, and I wish them all my best.


Ranger Bert Barnett,
Gettysburg National Military Park


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When the Martians Visited Gettysburg

It was very soon after the Battle of Gettysburg when the recounting of battle events and experiences evolved to become battlefield legends, which flourished as the tourism industry in Adams County grew.  Most were quite sentimental- blue and gray calling an informal truce to share the water of Spangler’s Spring, the forgotten body of the Confederate sharpshooter at Devil’s Den, the message to Jennie Wade that was never delivered, and the like. These were good stories, published in battlefield guidebooks and souvenir pamphlets, or told again and again by battlefield guides, historians and other interested parties. Of course the more recent phenomena pertains to the numerous ghosts and spirits purported to be haunting both town and battlefield, shamelessly promoted through countless books, magazines, television programs and the numerous “ghost tour” companies who themselves seem to be haunting the streets of downtown Gettysburg.  Yet somewhere between the period of battlefield legends and the current ghost tour craze were the fairly complacent years after World War II when the only real threat to America was the great “Red Menace” and invaders from outer space.

Gettysburg Times July 9, 1947

Did Aliens Visit Gettysburg in 1947? (Gettysburg Times, July 9, 1947)

Outer space, you ask? We may look back on the 1940’s and 1950’s Science Fiction craze with a smile and a wink, but for many it was deadly serious! Even the small community of Gettysburg was not immune from invaders from outer space.

On July 8, 1947, a group of visitors were picnicking at the Pennsylvania Monument when they witnessed half a dozen silver objects fly over the battlefield and disappear in the east, not once but twice. Aghast at the site of these unknown objects slicing across the sky, the couples reported their experience that would be logged up as one of numerous suspicious sightings of “flying saucers” throughout the country that year, described as everything from saw blades to round, silver disks that made little or no noise as they whirled across the sky. Little did this group know at the time how this odd observation was only one incident of the tantalizing craze that would not only grip Adams County, but the nation as a whole- earth was being invaded. Was Gettysburg on the intergalactic list of places to visit?

Gettysburg Times, July 8, 1947Not since 1938, when Orson Welles’ infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast gripped many Americans in fear of alien invaders, had America thought for one moment about the threat from beyond the cosmos. But here it was, flying over the Pennsylvania Monument in the broad daylight of a sunny July afternoon.

The post-World War II era saw an explosion of strange sightings, reports of flying saucers, and other bizarre events seemingly beyond reasonable explanation. It was the new science fiction, which extended itself beyond radio broadcasts and books to movie screens all across the country. There was something flying around up there and though no one had any idea of what it may be; “it” had finally made an appearance over Gettysburg National Military Park.

There never was a full explanation or official disclosure about the 1947 sighting over the park. It was simply chalked up as one of the numerous sightings of unidentified flying objects that flourished around the country over the ensuing decades and certainly those picnickers who were enjoying their afternoon in the park on that day in 1947 had no idea they would part of the national sensation of observing “Flying Saucers” and quite possibly the beginning of an alien invasion!

And barely four years later, Hollywood would produce the epic film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” where a flying saucer landed on the national mall in Washington, DC. Isn’t it unfortunate the script writers did not see this story in the Gettysburg Times first and have Klaatu’s ship land on the lawn beside the Pennsylvania Monument? That’s probably for the best given the nation’s capital was a more pertinent choice in those early years of the Cold War.

Park employees will sometimes be questioned as to the existence of ghosts or spirits on the battlefield, but few have ever asked if any of us have seen or witnessed UFO’s coursing across the park sky. Hopefully the interest in that phenomenon faded a long time ago, along with drive-in movies and bell bottom jeans.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg NMP

Posted in Battlefield Legends and Lore, Romances of Gettysburg | 4 Comments

Centennial Volunteer Challenge

Centennial%20VIP%20CoinThe National Park Service’s centennial year is here, and we want to encourage everyone to take part in the celebration! We invite people of all ages to find their park and discover the national parks in their community through volunteerism. Registered volunteers who contribute 201.6 hours of service between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016 can earn a Centennial Volunteer Challenge Coin (CVCC)!

How it Works:


  • Recipient(s) must be registered national park volunteers (youth, adults, groups).
  • CVCCs are issued for service hours served between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016.
  • Awards are issued for volunteer service only.
  • Court-ordered community service does not qualify.
  • Volunteers must track their own hours and provide dates, hours served, and a brief description of the service provided (See attached optional form).
  • Service must be approved and verified by the park or program volunteer manager/coordinator.
  • Volunteers should submit their hours to their supervisor by December 31, 2016.


  • Only hours served during the 12-month period of the centennial year will count towards the award.

  The Award

  • A custom-made, antique bronze coin, featuring a raised image of the NPS volunteer logo on one side and the 2016 NPS centennial logo on the opposite side.
  • In addition to the coin, recipients will receive a congratulatory letter from the Director of the National Park Service.
  • The coin and the letter will be sent by the National Park Service Washington Office directly to the qualifying volunteer.

To find out more about Gettysburg volunteer opportunities go to:  http://www.nps.gov/gett/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

Many thanks to Ernestine White, National Park Service Washington Office, for this article.

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The Bitter, Lingering Taste of “The Last Battle:” Columbus, Georgia, April 16th, 1865, and Its Unseen Aftermath

The 16th of April, 1865, is not a terribly singular date in the history of the American Civil War.  By then, the conflict had pretty much been decided.  Lee had surrendered, Johnston would shortly be on his way to doing so, and President Lincoln had been assassinated by a mad Marylander. Yet, given the failure of cell-phone communications in the Deep South, the war continued to rage there, with all its attendant consequences.  Yet a singular event that occurred on April 16th would consequently flavor the world as we now know it.

Following the disastrous Battle of Nashville in mid-December of 1864, scattered bands of Southern leftovers were determined to protect isolated fragments of a once-possible

James Wilson

James Wilson

Confederate military resistance.  Selma, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia, might yet prove troublesome in the hands of such elements; and were therefore targeted by Union forces.  Proceeding south from Middle Tennessee into northern Alabama in the spring of 1865, 13,000 Federal forces under the command of General James H. Wilson arrived in the former Confederate capitol of Montgomery on April 12th. These easily overwhelmed the no more than token resistance forces remaining before it.  Deep in war-torn Alabama, all were unaware that Richmond had fallen on the 3rd, or that Lee had surrendered on the 9th.  Each side, therefore, continued their planning.

It was thus at Columbus that a comparatively few Confederates, seemingly determined “to die in the last ditch,” fought loyally on, and in doing so, unconsciously participated in the creation of  something far more famed than the  “Last Battle of the War,” a distinction occasionally confused with a violent outburst of gunfire at Palmetto Ranch, Texas nearly a month later.

On May 5th, Jefferson Davis officially dissolved the remnants of the Confederacy during a hasty meeting in Washington, Georgia, prior to his capture and arrest at Irwinton, Georgia on May 10th.  By description, any fighting following this date is more accurately held as “post-war resistance” than battle.  The May 13 clash in Texas falls into that category.   With this established, let us return to Columbus.

Howell Cobb

Howell Cobb

As the Union forces of Major-General James H. Wilson’s Cavalry Corps approached, Confederate General Howell Cobb was already seeing to the defenses of Columbus.  At his command were roughly 3,500 remaining forces – mostly local militia and home guard troops from Georgia and Alabama, to occupy a series of breastworks, earthworks and forts.  Feeling the numerical imbalance, however, Cobb chose to withdraw most of these from the outer defenses, relying more on a concentrated, inner defense, and utilizing the Chattahoochee River itself.  Although the stream provided a measure of vulnerability to an invader when forced to attack bridges, it would not, however, prevent the bombardment of Columbus by Wilson’s men from adjacent high ground, mostly on the Alabama side of the line.  With rumors of approaching Federals, the April 16th morning edition of the Columbus Daily Sun had called for citizens to take prudent measures.

The public is hereby notified of the rapid approach of the enemy, but assured that the city of Columbus will be defended to the last.  Judging from experience it is believed that the city will be shelled. Notice is therefore given to all non-combatants to move away immediately.

Just opposite Columbus, along the western banks of the river, stood the town of Girard,

Emory Upton

Emory Upton

Alabama.   Around 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, 1865, General Emory Upton’s Fourth Division of Wilson’s force appeared, and peremptorily launched its assault on the southwest side of town.  While not exactly unexpected, the afternoon timing of the attack was unanticipated. Though the towns of Girard and Columbus were bound by four pathways across the river, not all four routes would prove militarily useful, as the Confederates had taken steps to defend themselves.

On the lower, or “wagon” bridge, as it was known, Confederates had removed much of the floor planking of the bridge.  Additionally, turpentine-soaked cotton had been placed along the length of the bridge’s superstructure.  As six companies of the 1st Ohio Cavalry, in column of fours, approached the bridge, a sudden artillery fire emanated from the opposite end of the covered structure, followed shortly thereafter by roaring flames and smoke.  Captain Christopher C. McGehee of the local defense battalion had crawled out onto the still-shaking structure to set it alight.  When the Union cavalrymen saw the bridge burst into flames, they broke off their all-out charge.  The first assault upon Columbus had been repulsed.

In a creative acknowledgement of reality, Brigadier-General Andrew J. Alexander, commander of the Second Brigade of Upton’s forces, reported,

Upon a careful reconnaissance of this position it was deemed impracticable to attack from my front. My command was therefore withdrawn, by direction of the brevet major-general commanding, and took no further part in the capture of Columbus.”

However, the Federals, maneuvering in this region did not proceed light-fistedly.  Additional Union cavalry, having gained a river crossing slightly further north at West Point, Georgia, were already approaching in support.  The focus of the fighting would renew from this new direction around 9:00 p.m. Brigadier-General Edward F. Winslow, commanding the 1st Brigade of the 4th Division, was directed to descend upon the town from the northwest.

Thus, Gen’l. Cobb’s decision to withdraw into such a close defensive ring around the city would come to haunt him.  Abandoned high positions to the east and north, in concert with the evening dark and the earlier loss of Forrest’s cavalry screen outside the area, gave the Union troops freedom to shift and maneuver.  The two spans that crossed the Chattahoochee on the town’s northern side, a railroad bridge and a smaller foot-bridge below it, would be stoutly defended, yet would be overwhelmed by this new determined Federal assault.

Map 2

The primary point of attack as combat resumed was the Brodnax –Franklin Street Bridge (now known more commonly as the 14th Street Bridge.)  A force of Union horsemen pushed forward, winding up momentarily in the rear of the Confederate defenses near the bridge. The Southerners returned this fire, slashing the night with musketry and determined shellfire.  Into the mix, Federals pushed forward, now generating a swirling blend of advancing attackers and desperate defenders.  Although the bridge-way was protected by two artillery pieces, the proximity of friend to foe as they surged backward across the span rendered the chance of a “clean kill” negligible, so the defenders declined to fire, abandoning their positions as the Unionists poured in.

As the fighting across the bridge turned close and intense, its result would have world-changing consequences, however.  In the face of the mounting disorganization, confusion and chaos, the majority of the mostly inexperienced defenders of Columbus hastily fell back into the teeth of the focused and victorious Federal troopers.  At such a critical moment, it was the job of the officers to rally their men to the defense of home and flag.  Fighting mounted in the thickness of this melee, Lt. – Col. John Sith Pemberton of Robinson’s Twelfth Cavalry, Georgia State Guards, found himself painfully wounded by a pistol shot, and the subsequent slash of a Union saber across his torso.  For Pemberton, the pain of these wounds would echo beyond the fall of Columbus, and into the distant future.

By 10:00 p.m., on the evening of April 16th, 1865, the Battle of Columbus was considered to be over.  Statistically, the casualties yielded up by the struggle at Columbus were fairly unimpressive.  General Wilson’s official report read “25 men killed and wounded,” although the differing numbers hint upwards to slightly more (33.)  Not surprisingly, battle accounts of this engagement disagree, with actual losses of both sides at a variance. Detailed losses, reflecting the killed, wounded, and captives, were notably higher, numbering somewhere around 1,200.  Lt. – Col. Pemberton was one of those.  Unlike the other suffering wounded, however, Pemberton’s pre-war education had prepared him, he believed, a way to change his destiny.

John S Pemberton

John S. Pemberton

John S. Pemberton was the nephew of Confederate Lieutenant-General John Clifford Pemberton, by now of Vicksburg infamy.  John C. Pemberton’s brother was James Clifford Pemberton, John’s father.  Born in 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia, (near Macon,) the young John S. had followed a medical career in his youth, and worked to establish a wholesale-retail pharmaceutical business in central-western Georgia.  Locating in Columbus, he spent some time organizing a home-defense unit upon the eruption of the conflict.  He entered the service in May of 1862, yet later tendered his resignation, effective November 8th, 1862.  Perhaps the production of medicines was then deemed a higher priority as a war industry.  Returning to irregular periods of local defense service, he too, now bore the scars of combat.

As a veteran in the post-war era,  suffering the painful effects of his wounds, Pemberton became determined to utilize his working knowledge of pharmaceuticals in order to benefit himself, and the many like him, now forced to fight yet another, more private, war – the war between pain and drug addiction.  All-too closely now, pharmacist Pemberton had experienced the pernicious potentials of addictive pain-killing medicines, especially the morphine and opium-based sorts with which he had been initially treated. Upon returning to his practice in the months following the war, he began to tinker with the possibilities of a variety of opiate-free mixtures.

This took some time, and concoctions such as the “Globe Flower Cough Syrup” and “French Wine Coca,” first sputtered forth from the spouts of Pemberton’s lab.  However, Pemberton zealously attended to the improvement of his products, following the lead of others in his field, specifically one W.H. Bentley, whose use of coca showed great promise.   When a local prohibitionist law took effect in 1886, the wine was removed, leaving the undiluted strength of the other main element to shine through – the stimulant extracted from fresh, healthy coca leaves.  The powers of cocaine were less well-understood in the latter-1800’s, and Pemberton viewed it, perhaps through the lens of some personal denial, as a safe alternative to the well-documented evils of opiates. In a series of business interviews with the Atlanta Journal in March, 1885, Pemberton commented,

I am convinced from actual experiments that coca is the very best substitute for opium…It supplies the place of that drug, and the patient who will use it as a means of a cure, may deliver himself from that pernicious  habit.

At another occasion, Pemberton stated,

I wish it were in my power to substitute the Coca and compel all who are addicted to the use of opium, morphine, alcohol, tobacco,  or other narcotic stimulants to live on the coca plant…It is perfectly wonderful what coca does.


In all fairness, one must pause here to recall that in expressing these sentiments, Pemberton is more than a businessman hawking a product.  He was, at his deepest level, an intelligent man turned addict by circumstance, like thousands of other wounded Civil War veterans.  Given his background and training, however, he thought he had an answer to a serious problem.    But his search failed him, and he remained an addict. Opium continued to be easily available to Pemberton, and there is some indication that he used it, in part to combat the pain of stomach cancer, as well as the old war wounds.  His drug habits continually impaired his judgement.

Although he wished to transfer at least a portion of his “Coca- Kola” (so named at the time for the kola nut) creation to his son Charley, he had also introduced his son to morphine/opium addiction. Now needing to finance his ever-growing habit, Charley instead convinced his father to sell off the vast majority of his holdings, save some dubious naming rights, for a mere $550 (approximately $14,000 in 2016 dollars) shortly before his death in 1888.  The ill-tempered Charley, a suffering addict himself and second-generation rich man, followed his father into the grave a mere six years thereafter in 1894, at the age of forty, reputedly comforted at the moment of his death only by a stick of opium at his side.   The inventor’s widow, now childless, bereft of husband and income, would later die in South Carolina as a pauper, in 1909.

It took a modicum of advertising, but the company’s new owner, Asa G. Candler, and the Woodruff  family that followed him, thoroughly transformed  Pemberton’s  product into the renowned “Coca-Cola” Company” so instantly recognizable throughout the world today, (albeit now bereft both of both wine and cocaine since 1905.)


Since then, it has created its own legacy and legend, both of which it guards very carefully.  Proud to recount the tale of its’ creation by a Georgia pharmacist, it thence trails off into the dust, without accurately recounting the vain hopes of its creator to relieve him from the cruelties of  his combat-inflicted drug addictions that ultimately claimed not only him, but eventually destroyed his family.  In their own way, therefore, those prolific red vending machines are perhaps the most ubiquitous of all Confederate monuments.

Bert Barnett
Gettysburg National Military Park

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