Flowers for Mom: The Tragic Tale of a WWII Lieutenant Laid to Rest at Gettysburg


Summer is often a moment of jubilation as students depart school and families plan much-anticipated vacations. Yet, it is also a fitting time for reflection as our nation commemorates somber holidays and anniversaries that reflect our national struggles. The memorial landscape of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg offers a prime venue for such contemplation.

One story emblematic of sacrifice revolves around a young man, Ralph L. Stehley, born in Altoona, Pennsylvania in 1922. Coming of age during the Great Depression, his life was nonetheless more difficult than most as his father passed away in 1936. As a single child, he and his mother, Florence, worked tirelessly to provide for themselves amid the economic woes of the era. If anything, Stehley’s personal struggles only motivated him to excel. A resident of 1219 Thirteenth Avenue, a devoted member of the First Lutheran Church, and a star student at Altoona High, his exemplary record both in and out of the classroom earned him a seat at Gettysburg College following his 1938 high school graduation at age 16.

Ralph Stehley 1943 Spectrum

 This clip from Gettysburg College’s 1943 yearbook, The Spectrum, highlights Ralph Stehley’s long list of accomplishments.Courtesy Gettysburg College.

While enrolled at Gettysburg, Stehley earned nearly every academic accolade imaginable. He was a member of the drama club, the debate team, the rifle team, treasurer of student government, member of the Student Christian Association, the Phi Kappa Rho fraternity, and many more. Stehley also developed a talent in journalism, propelling him to become editor of the school newspaper and yearbook. By this time, the nation’s entry into WWII forced American universities to revamp and hasten their curriculum. Stehley was a member of the campus army reserve corps and was bound for military service following his January 1943 commencement (the first mid-year commencement in the history of that school due to wartime needs.)

Stehley graduated from officer candidate school at Fort Benning on September 18, 1943, and subsequently trained at various bases throughout the South into 1944, from where he departed for Europe that April. As a lieutenant in the 119th Regiment of the 30th “Old Hickory” Infantry Division, Stehley led GIs into the hedgerows of France as the Allies desperately tried to maintain the momentum of the Normandy invasion. Yet, home never seemed too distant. Captain Leo E. Ziegler, also from Altoona, was Stehley’s commanding officer. Additionally, Ralph kept in constant communication with his mother via letter writing. On August 25, 1944, she received a bouquet of birthday flowers special ordered by her far away son. Surely, this was a definitive sign that he was alive and well.

The Battle of MortainLess than two weeks prior to his death, Lt. Stehley’s 30th Division participated in the Battle of Mortain. This August 1944 battle resulted from the German’s desire to launch a counteroffensive and push the Allies back to the sea. The 30th Division gained acclaim for their desperate victory there. The up-close nature of this combat is dramatically captured in artist Keith Rocco’s “The Battle of Mortain” courtesy of the National Guard.

Sadly, her sense of alleviation was unfounded. Ralph’s August 18 letter was his last. He was killed in action on August 21—four days prior to his mother obtaining the flowers. She received the news through the dreaded Western Union telegram on the evening of September 11. Now alone, she spent the next five years waiting for the return of her only son’s remains. In the interim, her son’s body rested in a foreign cemetery nearly 4,000 miles away. For as distant as the war was, its dark consequences loomed above her life in the most dramatic of ways.


This September 1944 clipping from the Altoona Mirror speaks of Lt. Stehley’s death

The bureaucratic process of war dead repatriation was often an agonizingly long and drawn-out affair. Next of kin were essentially granted three options: leave a killed son buried overseas, return their remains to their hometown, or lay them to rest in a domestic national cemetery. Mrs. Stehley elected the third option. Yet, the day of her son’s return could not arrive soon enough. After the war, according to Michael Sledge, “families had to wait two, three, four, or five years and longer before being able to bury their loved ones. This delay had many perfectly logical reasons, but logic plays little part in the normal range of human emotions, let alone at the extreme edge of grief that accompanies death.” Families were left in an emotionally painful limbo as they awaited an essential component of grieving: burial.

Between 1947 and 1949 over 400 war dead were interred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Over 1,600 WWII veterans, many of whom subsequently passed decades later of natural causes, rest in America’s most visited battlefield. On April 21, 1949, Stehley became one of them—buried within cannon shot of his alma mater. Florence spent the next twenty-seven years of her life pondering the life her son could have enjoyed.

I first learned of Stehley’s moving story while I was employed as a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. Our common hometown, our shared interest in history, and our similar age connected me to his tale in a profound way. That bond was strengthened last year when I quite inadvertently came across the officer’s Purple Heart Medal on display in the Altoona Area Public Library’s Alumni Room—a space dedicated to Altoona High history and former students. Through the cooperation of the library staff, I was temporarily entrusted with Stehley’s medal. I watchfully transported it to his grave-site in Gettysburg where fellow WWII reenactors and I held a brief but meaningful moment of remembrance.

DSC_0278Jared Frederick with Lt. Stehley’s original Purple Heart medal at his grave on June 6, 2015.

As one of my former professors constantly proclaimed, history surrounds us. It does us well to remember that citizens from all walks of life played small but transformative roles in some of the most momentous episodes of the past. Many of them, including 22 year-old Ralph Stehley, never returned.

Stehley’s tragic tale is merely one of hundreds to be discovered on these hallowed grounds. An ideal time to reflect upon these stories of sacrifice is during the Eisenhower WWII Weekend. The signature event of the battlefield’s sister park, Eisenhower National Historic Site, takes place September 17-18 this year. Licensed Battlefield Guide Ralph Siegel will present free guided walks about the World War II dead buried in the cemetery. These hour-long, free guided tours are offered Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Visitors should park in the National Cemetery parking lot on Taneytown Road. The tour begins inside the Taneytown Road cemetery gate.

From that same hillside in 1863, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the value of preserving democracy in the name “of the people.” Eighty years later, a subsequent generation of Americans pledged themselves to that same commitment on a global stage.  The serene grounds of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery offer the ideal locale for such a meaningful recognition.

– Jared Frederick
Penn State – Altoona

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A Walk through Ziegler’s Grove

Today, despite the blazing heat, we thought we would show you some images of the work currently being done at Ziegler’s Grove and at the old National Cemetery Parking Lot. For background on why construction and rehabilitation is happening at this site read our previous blog post.


We begin near the Lydia Leister farm, used as the headquarters of George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac,  and head due north towards the town of Gettysburg. The monument on the left honors the Oneida Cavalry of New York which served Meade’s headquarters during the battle, providing orderlies, couriers and guards. The monument was placed on the field in 1904.


As we make our way down the path, still heading north, we pass the  site of the former Cyclorama Center. That structure once dominated the western view from this position and would have sat among the trees at center. The old Cyclorama building was removed in 2013, marking the first step in the rehabilitation of this section of the battlefield.


Tucked along the fence line observant visitors can find a marker for the 7th West Virginia Infantry. The 7th was the only West Virginia infantry unit to serve in the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Originally positioned in this location, they were ordered to East Cemetery Hill during the twilight hours of July 2nd, 1863 to assist XI Corps units struggling to repulse the Confederate brigades of Hays and Avery.


Much of the work near the old National Cemetery parking lot necessitated the removal of vegetation, opening up new and unexpected view-sheds.


Work is currently underway to restore the battle-era topography of Ziegler’s Grove and the northern stretches of Cemetery Ridge, including a gentle ravine that separated Cemetery Ridge from Cemetery Hill. In the distance can be seen the Taneytown Road and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.


Looking due west we can see the tablet to Battery G of the 2nd United States Artillery. Commanded on July 3rd by Lt. John Butler, they were  not engaged during the battle. Held in reserve on July 2nd, they occupied this position on July 3rd after Pickett’s Charge had already been repulsed. The rear slope of Cemetery Ridge, near the camera position, would have been the location where the limbers for this battery were placed.


Looking west from the edge of the work zone we can see Hancock Avenue and the monument to the 126th New York. This particular regimental memorial, topped with a granite clover leaf – symbol of the II Army Corps, was placed on the battlefield in 1888.


The markers to Battery G of the 2nd US Artillery and Battery F of the 5th US Artillery, commanded by Leonard Martin, sit where the Cyclorama Center once dominated the landscape.


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Side by Side: Two Civil War Paintings

Combined Paintings v2The painting on the left is “The Armed Slave” by William Spang, painted in 1870.  Officially known as “A Virginia Slave – A Hero of Harpers Ferry,” it is now on display in a new exhibit at Gettysburg National Military Park.

On the right is Spang’s “The Old Veteran,” completed 20 years later.  These paintings represent, in vivid color and clarity, the war’s origins and outcomes.  To the left, a slave reads calmly and intently, cigar in hand, rifle-musket with bayonet close, ready to take up arms in the fight for freedom in John Brown’s ill-fated 1859 slave uprising.  To the right, a veteran, surrounded by the mementos of the war, pays homage to his comrades and his former supreme commander, reflecting on events long past.

The painter William Spang was born in Pennsylvania, and trained as an artist before the war, working in a studio in Philadelphia and exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  He enlisted in the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry in late 1862, serving in the regiment until the end of the war.  After the war, he continued to work actively as a painter, commanded Meade Post #2 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Philadelphia, and married his former pupil, Adelaide Paris, when he was 72 (she was 41).  Tragically for the couple, he died the following year and was buried in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Both these paintings and many other works, many by former soldiers, are on display in the exhibit, “With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections of Civil War Art” in the Gilder Lehrman gallery of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The exhibit opened earlier this summer and features paintings, sculpture and decorative arts from the collections of Gettysburg National Military Park, the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

My thanks to Curator Greg Goodell for his assistance with this post.

Katie Lawhon, Senior Advisor, August 4, 2016

Posted in Gettysburg Art, Museum and Visitor Center, Uncategorized, Veterans, Weapons & Artifacts | 1 Comment

“I don’t think we can have an Army without music” – Music of the 1860’s


“I don’t think we can have an Army without music.”

 – General Robert E. Lee, CSA[1] 

The German author and poet, Berthold Auerbach once wrote, “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.” People have always needed music; to liven up a party, comfort us when we’re sad, to entertain us, to make work easier, to inspire us, to bring us closer to God.

Today music is everywhere. We are inundated with it on our computers, our phones, on television, in our cars, in the grocery store, even when we’re on hold. It’s there whenever we want it, and it’s only a click away. It is so readily available, that it is often taken for granted. It has become wallpaper for the ear.  However, for many of us, we couldn’t get through our day without it.

For Americans in the 19th century, music was just as important to them as it is us. Perhaps even more so. Without satellite radio, iTunes, CDs, or other means to record or broadcast performers, music was an event; something that the listener experienced in a more immediate way. It was simple: you played or sang music yourself, or you listened to somebody play or sing for you. Almost every community had somebody that could sing or play one or more instruments. Many were willing to teach others how to play music.

The piano was invented in the early 1700s; the first one came to America in 1760. By 1800, new manufacturing techniques that improved the piano’s tonal quality and projection, made it a popular instrument in concert halls, taverns, and especially in the home. It was an instrument that was fairly easy to learn to play, could be played by one, two, or even three people, be used to accompany singers or other instruments, and was also an attractive piece of furniture. Owning a piano was a sign of middle-class respectability.

Outside of urban areas, the desire to play music was so strong that slaves on plantations and people on the frontier often made and played music on homemade guitars, banjos, (an instrument with roots in Africa), and fiddles; on tambourines, drums, and even ham bones. Churches raised money to buy a pump organ to accompany their choir.

And what were Americans listening to in the mid-19th century? Immigrants brought melodies with them from the Old World to the New One. Early English, German, and Moravian settlers brought church hymns and folk songs with them. French Acadian music drifted up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, while German polkas flowed downriver and then west to Texas and Missouri. Swedish folk songs were heard in the upper prairie states, while Irish and Italian folk songs were popular in New York and Boston. Slaves in the South fused their melodies and rhythms brought from Africa and bent Western European harmonies to create spirituals and work songs which in the early 20th century would evolve into jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, country, rock, soul, and hip-hop.

Pic 1

A Union Army sergeant with his guitar (Library of Congress)

The Napoleonic Wars, along with other turmoil in Europe, brought a huge influx of professional musicians to the United States. According to one unknown German immigrant musician, by 1828 in New York City alone, there were over 2,000 immigrants who earned their living by either playing or teaching music. During the Civil War, there were so many opportunities to play music for a living that in 1862 the first musicians’ union forms in New York City with established pay scales. [2] New Orleans was the opera capital of the United States, and in many major cities, you could hear symphony orchestras staffed with professional musicians. Famous singers and musicians from Europe often toured the United States playing in packed theaters. Jenny Lind, billed as the “Swedish Nightingale” by P.T. Barnum, had 30,000 people waiting for her when her ship docked in New York City and a ticket to her concert in Boston, was auctioned off for $625![3]

Controversial today, one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the cities was the minstrel show. Minstrel shows began in the taverns of New York City’s Lower Broadway and the Bowery districts in the mid-1830s and remained popular even into the early 20th century.

Even before Joshua used trumpets to blow down the walls of Jericho, armies have had music. Perhaps more than anybody else, soldiers needed music to inspire them to victory or console them in defeat, to bury the dead, to cheer up the sick and the wounded, to remind them of home and better times, to communicate orders and the time of day, to entertain and help unwind at the end of a long day.

The military band tradition began in Europe in the 1700s and came to the colonies during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Early military bands in the United States were patterned after the European model. That meant woodwinds: usually two hautbois (oboes), two clarinets, two bassoons or serpents (and an early ancestor of contrabass clarinet), a horn (with no valves or keys), and a trombone. The influence of Turkish military bands inspired the adoption of drums and cymbals.

The invention of the keyed brass instruments like the keyed bugle and cornet, (a cousin of the trumpet), allowed brass musicians to play with some of the facility of flute, clarinet, and oboe players, but with greater volume and carrying power than woodwinds. The invention of the piston-valve in the 1830’s, solved the problem of leaky keys and finally allowed brass players to play melodic lines with more fluidity as their woodwind counterparts. By the 1850s, most of the woodwinds with the exception for the fife, and occasionally the clarinet, were gone. Indeed, many bands were now made up entirely of brass and percussion.

Some of the most popular brass instruments were saxhorns invented for military bands by Adolphe Sax in Paris. Sax’s instruments ran the full range from soprano to bass. Sax had also invented a line of woodwind instruments called saxophones; but these would not reach American shores until after the war.

Pic 2

   Union soldier with his saxhorn and family (Library of Congress)

Military musicians were divided into two groups both with specific functions:  field musicians and band musicians. Field musicians played the fife, bugle, and field snare drum.

Since the voice of an officer giving orders had a limited carrying distance, the mission of the field musicians were transmit routine orders. They were the public address system of the army. Field musicians had little or no musical ability. They didn’t need it. The instruments they played were relatively easy to learn and the music they were required to play required little technical ability.

Pic 3

Field Musicians of the 30th PA (Library of Congress)

Field musicians often learned their trade on the job; the primary requirement necessary was the ability to memorize the many calls and signals that regulated a soldier’s day. Calls were the alarm clock of the army. They told you when to wake up, when to assemble, when to eat, when to go on sick call, when to drill, when to take care of the horses, when to go to church, when to go on picket duty, and when to go to sleep. There were also signals to assist the commander in the movement of troops such as “forward”, “halt”, “commence firing”, and “retreat”.  To hear “Reveille”, “Drill Call”, and the “Adjutants Call”, click the icons below:

The popularity of brass instruments led to the development of community brass bands. Professional brass bands toured the country and featured famous soloists. Many militia companies in the North and South had their own bands, and those bands followed their companies and regiments into the army. “The tradition of associating band music with all civil, social, and community celebrations was established long before the war.”[4] When the Civil War began, bands were a valuable recruiting tool. No self-respecting regiment could really call itself a regiment without a band and often popular brass bands were sometimes enlisted en masse into a regiment, with several regiments competing to get the best bands and famous soloists.

While Patrick Gilmore’s Band in the 24th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was reputed to be the best band in the Union Army, not every regiment or brigade was so lucky. The band of the famous Iron Brigade boasted of having the best drum major in the army but the worst band. [5]

In 1862, there were 4,000 musicians in the Union Army. The expense of having to maintain so many bands in the Union Army cost the Federal government four million dollars a year. The U.S. Congress finally had to pass a bill eliminating regimental bands and limiting bands to one per brigade.

Pic 4Soldiers of the 8th New York, “Elmira Cornet Band” (Library of Congress)

With fewer resources, the Confederate armies had fewer bands. That did not mean Confederate soldiers were any less enthusiastic about music. General Jeb Stuart, was a connoisseur of music, and always ensured there were musicians at his headquarters and he sometimes went into battle accompanied by a banjo player. The band of the Stonewall Brigade was considered one of the best, if not the best band in Lee’s army. Many Moravian immigrants settled in North Carolina and served in bands during the war; the best known of which was the 26th North Carolina band, which served a Gettysburg.

Pic 5

Confederate soldier with a saxhorn (Library of Congress)

Bands performed for a variety of functions: military parades and reviews, funerals, executions, on the march. Bands marched at the head of a column of troops, (still the custom today in military ceremonies). Some brass instruments were over the shoulder instruments with the bell of the instrument pointing behind the musician towards the marching troops.

Sometimes bands were used to deceive the enemy. General Pierre G. T. Beauregard used to the Band to cover the retreat of his army from Corinth, Mississippi. The band would perform from location to another, giving the impression that Confederate troops still occupied Corinth. The Federal troops finally realized they were being duped and captured the whole band.[6]

When bands were not performing music for military functions, they performed concerts for the troops. The band book of the 26th North Carolina’s band included marches, transcriptions from French, German, and Italian operas, dances, and folk and popular songs of the day. Bands on the other side shared the same repertoire.

In the winter of 1862-63, both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Potomac were positioned along the Rappahannock River. One evening, a band on one side of the river began playing. Soon massed Union bands began playing along the bank of the river for the enjoyment of both armies. Men on both sides sat along the river and silently listened while others would sing along with the bands. After a while, Confederate soldiers on the south side of the river requested that the bands play some their songs. The bands immediately began to play, “Dixie”, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” “Maryland, My Maryland,” and other songs. Finally, a band began playing, “Home, Sweet Home”. As Bruce Catton would write, “Both armies tried to sing it, and it was a rather sentimental occasion. After all, these boys were a long way from home. They knew perfectly well that many of them were never going to see home again; as soon as the warm weather came, they would be fighting each other. The song got a little too much for them and pretty soon the bands finished the music by themselves.”

The 21st Annual Gettysburg Music Muster will be held AUG 12-13. All performances are free to the public

John Nicholas
Park Guide
Gettysburg National Military Park


[1] Sign in the Admin building of the 392nd “Fort Lee” Army Band, Fort Lee, Virginia, circa 1998.

[2] Olsen, Kenneth E. Music and Musket: Bands and Bandsmen of the Civil War Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1981 p. 21, p. 219

[3] Cornelius, Stephen H. Music of the Civil War Era Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 2004 p.14

[4] Olsen, Kenneth E. Music and Musket: Bands and Bandsmen of the Civil War Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1981 p. 33

[5] Lt. Loyd Harris of the 6th Wisconsin would write, “Our men were just as ready to wager anything from a box of cigars to a month’s pay, rations included, that our band was without exception the worst of all.” Heardegen, Lance J. and William J.K. Beaudot  In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg  Morningside House Dayton, OH 1990  p. 112

[6] Davis, James A. “Musical Reconnaissance and Deception in the American Civil War”, The Journal of Military History 74 #1 (January 2010) pp. 80-81

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A Correction on Colonel DuBose and his 15th Georgia Infantry on July 3.

In August 2014, I posted a three part series, Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Revisited, in which I examined the deceased “sharpshooter” photographed by Alexander Gardner and his team near Devil’s Den on or about July 5-6, 1863. Readers will remember the most notable of those images, the body of the deceased Confederate lying behind the stone barricade that first appeared in Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War accompanied with the photographer’s hypnotic narrative of the young soldier’s death behind his rock barricade. The blog series generated a lot of discussion about the events that occurred on the southern part of the battlefield on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, and I feel now- as I did then- that my hypothesis is correct, of this man having been a member of the 15th Georgia Infantry Regiment, slain in the fight near that area and his body moved from the location where it was found to behind the barricade for the final photograph of the series.

One of our readers was kind enough to contact us about the blog post and offered not only several pointed questions but answers as well. Author Andy Johnson is currently working on a detailed history of Brigadier General Henry “Rock” Benning’s Brigade, and we had an amiable exchange of emails discussing the particular action that involved the 15th Georgia Infantry that afternoon when they encountered the Pennsylvania Reserves after the Federal troops had passed though the Wheatfield in the reconnaissance toward the Peach Orchard after Pickett’s Charge. Andy also offered some important research that he’d uncovered which further clarified what took place that afternoon.

Henry Benning after the war

Henry “Rock” Benning, soon after the war.

To refresh our reader’s memories, Brigadier General Henry Benning’s brigade was holding the ridgeline that terminates at Devil’s Den when it was discovered that Confederate troops of General Lafayette McLaws’ Division had withdrawn from their position bordering the wheatfield on the Rose Farm, the left flank of Benning’s position. Concerned with the loss of security, Benning ordered Colonel Dudley M. DuBose to take his 15th Georgia Infantry into the woods and take possession of a critical height overlooking the densely wooded draw between Devil’s Den and the Rose Farm. Minutes after DuBose left, orders arrived for Benning to withdraw his brigade to the southern tip of Seminary Ridge (Warfield Ridge) on the western edge of the Bushman Farm. Benning began his withdrawal and sent a message to DuBose to do likewise though one controversy was whether DuBose ever received the correct orders- he was, at that same moment, under attack by Colonel William McCandless’ brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves supported by the 62nd New York Infantry that had just swept through the Wheatfield before turning south against the lone Georgia regiment. Under the orders of General Meade, these Union troops were on a reconnaissance to the Peach Orchard when they stumbled upon the Georgians, and an intense firefight began on the southern edge of the already bloody Wheatfield. What followed was a running fight through Rose Woods back to the area of Devil’s Den, where the Georgians took advantage of numerous stonewalls outlining the pastures and fields owned by Joseph Sherfy and Jacob Weikert. The 15th Georgia suffered terribly in this brief engagement with an estimated 100 officers and men killed, wounded and captured.

Andy’s primary disagreement was with the map supplied with the blog post that located DuBose’s Georgians on the knoll within the woods on the southeast side of the Wheatfield. Though Confederate accounts as to the location are somewhat vague, Andy pointed out the best source to locate the Georgia battle line actually comes from a post-war description provided by Henry N. Minnigh, then a private in Company K, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves.

In 1891, Minnigh authored a history of his company and described the participation of the regiment at Gettysburg in great detail, describing how in the action on July 3 that the brigade crossed the blood-covered Wheatfield and entered the woods on the west side of the field before turning southward to outflank the unsuspecting Confederates hastily formed in the “corner of a woods” overlooking what Minnigh and others described as a “ravine”.  After restudying the maps and reviewing the official reports (again, I may add) from all of the participating units, I have to conclude that Andy was right and my placement of the 15th Georgia at the opening of this particular fight was incorrect. Presented here is a revised version of the map, showing the route of the Pennsylvania Reserves against the 15th Georgia’s precarious position in Rose Woods, approximately 300 yards west of where I had originally thought the regiment was posted:

15th GA vs PA Reserves

The 15th Georgia Infantry in Rose Woods, late afternoon of July 3, 1863. (Gettysburg NMP)


Minnigh remembered his brigade struck “the Fifteenth Georgia Infantry, posted behind a temporary breastwork of rails, the Bucktails (13th Pennsylvania Reserves) capturing their flag and many prisoners, scattering the remainder in flight… across a ravine at the corner of a woods and near Slyder’s stone house.” [1] Minnigh’s description of the charge and turning of the Reserves against the Georgians aligns with the terrain features southwest of the Wheatfield including the partially wooded height often referred to as “Rose Grove”. Though Minnigh’s regiment would have passed near the non-descript log house of Jacob Weikert, (usually referred to today for its popular post war name of J. Timbers), the stone Slyder House and substantial barn was the most prominent set of structures in his view as the regiment advanced out of Rose Woods and into the pasture south of the trees.

Colonel DuBose’s regiment was in a tight fix with no support, pitted against five times his number. The Pennsylvanians swept over and around his first position and then the second, behind the stone wall bordering Rose woods. Forced to retire again, the colonel attempted to organize a defense utilizing the various stone fences bordering the Weikert, Sherfy and Snyder farm fields south of Rose Woods until he could rally the remnant of his command at the last stone wall, most likely the wall that lined the lane from the Emmitsburg Road to the Slyder Farm, before a quick march to Warfield Ridge.

Minnigh mentioned that the only thing that stopped the charge after exiting the woods was a brigade drawn up in line just ahead of the Reserves. To his surprise, the Confederates suddenly faced left and marched toward the distant tree line on Warfield Ridge. The troops Minnigh observed were most likely Benning’s three other regiments and pursuant to orders marched away from the Union threat to the new line being formed on Warfield and Seminary Ridge. The general mission accomplished, McCandless’ Pennsylvania Reserves gathered up prisoners with their own casualties and likewise withdrew to a secure position, the carnage on that part of the field finally over.

Andy and I also mildly disagreed somewhat in the direction taken by men of the 15th Georgia in their scattered and somewhat panicked retreat. While I still believe, given the chaotic nature of the withdrawal from Rose Woods, some of Colonel DuBose’s men raced back to the location of their previous position on the west slope of Devil’s Den in an effort to escape their Union pursuers and one of these men- the subject of Gardner’s melancholy photographs- died there, Andy believes otherwise, that it could be someone else from the brigade given the amount of shooting and confusion that occurred late that afternoon. Could the “sharpshooter” found by Gardner be from one of the other regiments in Benning’s brigade, the 2nd, 17th and 20th regiments? It is possible. The 2nd and 17th Georgia purportedly lost several soldiers during the withdrawal from their advanced position at the “Slaughter Pen”, and Lt. Colonel James D. Waddell of the 20th Georgia reported seventeen soldiers were casualties in the retreat, “some of whom are known to have been killed and others wounded.” [1] Likewise, General Benning added in his report that the losses among those three regiments were “slight” during the withdrawal to Warfield Ridge.

But what draws me to further conclude this “sharpshooter” was a soldier of the 15th Georgia is the testimony of Minnigh himself who observed the Confederate brigade in line ahead of his regiment when they passed out of Rose woods. Given that the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves were in the right center of McCandless’ line in the attack, which carried them up and into Rose Grove, the brigade “drawn up in line” would most likely have been Benning’s three regiments then in the process of withdrawing (the last from that portion of the battlefield), which had begun earlier than the opening of the fight with the 15th Georgia. Casualties incurred among Benning’s three regiments in the withdrawal would most likely have occurred in the process of movement from the protection of the ridge at Devil’s Den, where the body of the deceased Confederate soldier was found by Gardner and company, rather than in the beginning of the withdrawal from that sheltered area.

Half of Gibson stereoview

One of several photos taken of the body at Devils Den where the photographers found it. In this view, discarded clothing has been thrown into the foreground to add more content to the scene. (Library of Congress

For my part, I mistakenly interpreted the position of Colonel Dubose and his regiment that late afternoon of July 3, 1863, and I’m relieved to correct my error. But this adjustment in the 15th Georgia’s initial position does not change or alter my belief that the deceased soldier photographed by Gardner at Devil’s Den was more than likely a member of DuBose’s regiment. I am grateful as well to Andy Johnson for his consideration and willingness to share his research with the park and truly wish him well with his project, a detailed study of a remarkable brigade and outstanding general.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park



[1] Official Records, Volume 27, Part 2, p. 427.

[1] Henry Minnigh, “The Reserves at Gettysburg”, Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, Ceremonies and Dedications of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Gettysburg, (Harrisburg, PA; Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1904), Volume 1, pp. 118-119.

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Cursed Rocks

stonesThe packages seem totally innocuous. Not very large. Slightly heavier than you might expect for their size. Addressed to Gettysburg National Military Park, but not to a specific department or person.  Often without a return address. Not terribly unusual at all.

Except for the curse.

The boxes in question hold rocks. Rocks that were previously removed from the park, and are now being returned. In almost every case, they also contain a letter, such as the one below,  received  in May of this year:Letter #1

Or this one, from June 2015:

Letter #2

It is important to remember that removing rocks from the park is a violation of Chapter 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Section 2.1(a)(1)(iv) prohibits  “Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging or disturbing from its natural state a mineral resource or cave formation or the parts thereof.”  If these individuals had been caught in the act, they would have been cited and fined $100, plus a $30 processing fee. All in all, they may have preferred that.

Rocks at the Eternal Peace Light

Rocks like these have arrived in the mail at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (only because I’ve had people say this to me): “But it’s only one little rock!” True. But while it may be “one little rock” to you, Gettysburg National Military Park receives over 1 million visitors every year.  What if every visitor took “one little rock”? How long before that starts to have an adverse impact on all of our resources, but in particular, our stone walls? How long before you, our dear readers, and other visitors, start to notice that impact?

Many of the stone walls here in the park are historic, and existed at the time of the battle. Some were erected by the farmers as boundaries for their fields, and some were thrown up in haste by soldiers looking for cover. Later stone walls were repaired and rebuilt along battle lines by the War Department, Gettysburg National Military Park Commission, who oversaw the park before its transfer to the NPS in 1933.  These walls were completed in 1896, and are historic in their own right.

National Parks were created in 1916 (it’s our 100th birthday!) 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 (Organic Act, 1916). All we ask is that you enjoy your time here in Gettysburg without removing anything that would contribute to any kind of impairment.

So no matter how pretty that rock is, or how small it might be, or how much you really want something to remind you of how much you love Gettysburg, please remember that it needs to remain right where it is.

Unless, of course, you want to be cursed.

By Maria Brady, Park Ranger, July 7, 2016


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Memories from the Men in Green: Part 3 of 3


Monument to the 2nd USSS

Monument to the Vermont Companies of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters, Slyder Lane. Image courtesy of Stone Sentinels.

The “Memories from the Men in Green” series is a trilogy of fictionalized accounts based the real events of the Battle of Gettysburg and the accounts and records of three men who fought with the Second Regiment of the United States Sharpshooters (USSS), Company F. Each installment features a first person perspective account from a different member of the company. These men are: George W. Lamprey, William Cornelius Beard, and Henry L. Richards. Accounts, although fictional, are constructed from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and public records of the men and others from within their regiment in order to create the most whole and realistic account possible. This series is brought to you in preparation for the Second U.S. Sharpshooter Slyder Lane Program. The program is scheduled for July 2nd at 6pm and will be led by Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gar Phillips. Find out more about the program and our summer schedule online:

Gun and Cap

A Berdan cap and .52 caliber Sharps Rifle in the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park.

For the final installment of “Memories from the Men in Green” there is an account from the perspective of William C. Beard, better known as Cornelius Beard. Beard was a Corporal of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment of Berdan’s USSS, Company F. He was born September 29th 1841 in New Boston, Hillsborough County, NH to Eleanor M. McMillen Beard and William Beard, Jr. He had one brother,  James Moore Gregg Beard, who was just three years younger than him. Cornelius is reported to have died on July 4th, 1863 at the age of 22 , just a few months before his 23rd birthday at the battle of Gettysburg. However, according to the diary of George W. Lamprey, a member of 2nd Regiment of the U.S. Sharpshooters Company F as well, Beard died the night of July 3rd. The account is therefore written from July 2nd, the main day of the engagement for the Berdan’s in the Gettysburg campaign.

We were also lucky enough to find one of his letters written during the war. Here is a transcription of the letter, which was written before the Battle of Chancellorsville, the battle the Second Regiment of the U.S. Sharpshooters would have fought in before the Battle of Gettysburg:

Camp near Falmouth VA April 8/63

Dear Mother,


I will pen you a few lines and let you know that I am still in the same place and enjoying good health and good spirits. We shall probably move tomorrow and I think I am safe in saying that before ten days more goes by we shall have the handle better of the war and where old fighting Joe Hooker once gets at the rebels he will get most awfully whipped or annihilate them. The boys are in good spirits and will fight well no doubt. A great battle is near, how it will terminate, God only knows, but a victory for us I hope.

Have you heard from James yet, and how does he like the West and the frontier? I saw Ethan Smith’s marriage in the paper and a day or so ago. I saw David Colborn’s marriage beats  /_/ how they are getting married? I never have felt the confidence in war general as that I do in General Hooker and I am almost sure that we can whip them and whoever lives to see next winter will see the war ceased and one favorable to us. I will write a letter for the occasion you spoke of if I live through the next battle, I never have felt so cheerful about giving into the next one although it will fame to be the most terrible one of the war.

How does John Gilmore and father get along now a-days have and how are the rest of the folks around New Boston as they say anything about the conservative bill, it will make them laugh,  I reckon, don’t you? I want you to write me all the news and as often as you can and give my love to all that may ever yearn for me.

From your son,


Cornelius W.Beard

P.S. I have sent you fifty dollars a day or two days ago and write me as soon as you get it. Sent home some card photograph taken with my cloak on before I left N.H. (New Hampshire) I want you to send me one of them; be sure if you have one taken with the cloak on to send it and one dollars worth of Postage Stamps, now let me know soon.



Serial number on the .52 caliber Sharps in the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park.


Memories from the Men in Green (Series 3 of 3)


William Cornelius Beard
Gettysburg, Adams County, Pennsylvania
July 1st and 2nd 1863

It has rained all day, and even now, into the night I can feel those soft percussive droplets hit the tarp above me and roll onto the grass at my side. I was, and still am, thoroughly soaked from the rain and muck in my boots, to the mud caked on my gaiters, to the damp heavy wool still hanging from my body. The flesh of my face and fingers are raw with the cool wet after walking so many hours. The rain started yesterday evening just before we made camp, and we have been marching through it since five o’clock this evening. We started at the border of Maryland, some place called Emmitsburg, and marched along the pike for some ten miles. We finally made it to Gettysburg, where the 1st Corps have been fighting all day, not too long ago.

We are very close to the enemy, so we must bivouac this night. It was nearing dark when we finally stopped marching, and there was no time to set up tents. Instead, myself and the others lie on the ground betwixt tarps and quilts. I can hear the quiet snores of Brixby beside me, and the scribble of pen on paper from Lamprey on the other. Writing a journal, he does this nightly by the light of the moon or matches. Is it madness to try to document this war? What can a few lines nightly really tell of this? Who is it for? I write letters to my mother often, and to my brother. I think that is much different though. I don’t talk about all this, I talk about home and coming home. I want to be home again with them. I did not expect to be out here for so long.

I know there will be a battle tomorrow, that and we must march a bit more. The pleasant truth of rain soaked earth is that it is soft and gives way easily to the shape of the body. Rest seems to be a long, empty field I march towards, but never reach most nights, but as I lie here in the damp darkness the sound of rain fades and I drift into effortless sleep.


            In the early light, the sun stretches out over the hills to the east of us. A light fog has rolled over the valley in the night so the air feels thick and heavy with moisture, but the rain has stopped at least. It is already getting hot, although the sun has barely crested over the ridge of hills. Yesterday we ran out of rations, so there is no breakfast, not that there is truly time for it this morning, as the rebels have moved closer to our line in the night. I simply roll up my tarps and quilt, put on my shoes and gaiters and get into line.


            We marched a bit until we reached a small farm, about two o’clock. A very handsome property with a stone house, barn, and quite a few other buildings, all very good for shooting from, although those of our company have formed a skirmish line not far from the road we came in on. Growing here are peach and pear trees. Pleasantly, I have found a few peaches are just shy ripe, so I have been eating those I can find. For now I am holed up in a stone wall with the others between the house and the barn, I think we’ve been waiting about two hours now. I take a large bite of peach and let what juices there were spill down the sides of my cheeks.

Starr nudges me in the side and I look up. Suddenly, a great yell could be heard coming from the other side of the road. I drop the fruit beside me and pick up my gun. Rebels. All of them butternut and brown. From such a distance, they looked more like a cloud of dust rising over a field than a line of men. It was time to stop waiting.

They weren’t firing yet, the rebels, as they couldn’t see us. I load my gun and fire. One. Pull the lever down. Load the cartridge. Bring up the breech. Fire. Two. Pull lever. Load cartridge. Bring up. Fire. Three. Pull. Load. Up. Fire. Four. Pull. Load. Up. Fire. Five. Many men dropped to the ground in front of me. Closer and closer the mass swarmed and swelled, despite the shots from our side. They fell and fell. Six. But we were far out numbered. Seven. Pull. Load. Up. Fire. Eight. Not much longer now. Pull. Up. Load. Fire. Nine.

The rebels break into battle lines. Maybe three or so men deep. There are so many of them, and they stretch out so far along the road that I can hardly see them all. Pull, up, load, fire. Ten.

I hear the call to fall back.
I’m running.

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Memories from the Men in Green: Part 2 of 3


The “Memories from the Men in Green” series is a trilogy of fictionalized accounts based the real events of the Battle of Gettysburg and the accounts and records of three men who fought with the Second Regiment of the United States Sharpshooters (USSS), Company F. Each installment features a first person perspective account from a different member of the company. These men are: George W. Lamprey, William Cornelius Beard, and Henry L. Richards. Accounts, although fictional, are constructed from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and public records of the men and others from within their regiment in order to create the most whole and realistic account possible. This series is brought to you in preparation for the Second U.S. Sharpshooters Slyder Lane Program. The program is scheduled for July 2nd at 6pm and will be lead by Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gar Phillips. Find out more about the program and our summer schedule online (

Log bOok 1

Image of a Log Book that belonged to a Berdan Sharpshooter

The second installment of “Memories from the Men in Green” is an account from the perspective of sergeant Henry L. Richards. The Sergeant enlisted at age 39 and was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was much loved by his company and was known for being an even-tempered and kind man. It was taken as a bad omen by the company apparently, when he said while marching into Pennsylvania just before the battle of Gettysburg, “G— d— your Pennsylvania. The Rebels ought to destroy the whole state if you can’t afford better roads/ The road is worse than Virginian roads!” According to the diary of George W. Lamprey as well as an account by first sergeant Wyman Silas White, Richards was wounded on July 2nd, 1863 and died the next day. It is recorded that he died from an overdose of ether, as he did not revive after the amputation of his leg. According to his obituary, he is recorded to have died on the 2nd of July after being operated on. Keeping in mind this date discrepancy, the account is given from July 3rd, the most probable day of the sergeant’s death, given the date of the 2nd Regiment of the U.S. Sharpshooter’s engagement in the battle.

Log Book 2

An image of the same log book, open to that page that lists the serial number of a .52 caliber Sharps Rifle in the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park.

Log Book 3

A closer image of the page, listing serial number “57077.”


Henry Lakeman Richards
Gettysburg, Adams County, Pennsylvania
July 3rd, 1863

The pain is so enormous, I can hardly tell where it comes from, except…

Except that I remember it is was my leg that was shot.

I tried to sit up not long ago. It was extremely difficult, but I was able to push up enough to see that there is a hole straight through the knee.

As I did so, my head was all filled with buzzing and my eyes felt fuzzy with light, although it was still quite dark , the only illumination through the trees was by moonlight. My ears rang out as if clouded by cannon fire, and the ground beneath me seemed contorted and rolling, as if it were an ocean.

The sight was enough to make me vomit, and I did.

That leg is shattered; the hole must have been made by Minie ball, as it is clear and open, void of flesh. I know this. I know this.

I am going to lose my leg, I whisper or think over and over, although I have to strain to remember that it is mine at all. That thought recurs and recurs or fades out, as darkness fades away in feathery shades while dawn rises. I may die; I know I may well die from this.

I thought I would die when I was hit in Antietam last year. I thought they wouldn’t let an aging man like me fight again.

And yet.

These thoughts of mine feel useless. Should I cry out for help? Are the rebels near?

I can not know.

I fear that I am making too much noise, I can not be sure these groans are from me. They must be. I am so out of sorts. Swimmy-headed.

From where I lay on the hill in the woods I can see no one. I can hear no one. It is very early still and the luster of dawn is just beginning to creep up over the trees in brilliant shades of pinks and reds. Perhaps I hear the stirring and chirping of birds in the trees overhead. But then again, that may be imagined.

All of my limbs begin to feel heavy and I have no comfort, no reassurance that anyone will come for me. It is becoming difficult to keep my heavy lids from falling.

 I close my eyes. What they see does me no good, and I am too tired to do anything else but listen. I think back to Portsmouth, to Auburn Avenue where the stretch of trees I planted must be growing tall and strong. What a lovely little avenue. In my mind I see the warm sun shining through their branches. A cascade of light across my face, warm and white. I see rivers of time pass as the trees grow out and upward; their branches swell with leaves, as if met with an eternal summer. What an awfully pleasant view to come to me now.

 All too quickly the warm light of memory, of imagination, fades from me.

Out of the silence of the early morning, I hear a rustling in the trees.  There is the distinctive fall of feet on soft ground which seems to surround me.

Someone has come for me.

 I feel my whole body being lifted.

There are voices, but their pitch is skewed and I can hardly make out their words. It is as if my ears are underwater or filled with wax. Thoughts fade in and out as tides until I am blank.


 The smell of blood is all around me, there are groans and cries as well, my senses are trying to rouse me. I lift a hand, flicker an eyelid. Nothing. I can not sit up, although I try.

I smell something faint and sweet.

Brown sugar? No. No. I remember.

It’s chloroform…



By Ela Thompson

Ela Thompson is a Social Media Intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, has an English Writing B.A. from Gettysburg College, and currently studies Creative Writing [Poetry M.F.A.] at George Mason University.

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Memories from the Men in Green: Part 1 of 3

The “Memories from the Men in Green” series is a trilogy of fictionalized accounts based on the real events of the Battle of Gettysburg and the accounts and records of three men who fought with the Second Regiment of the United States Sharpshooters (USSS), Company F. Each installment features a first person perspective account from a different member of the company. These men are: George W. Lamprey, William Cornelius Beard, and Henry L. Richards. Accounts, although fictional, are constructed from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and public records of the men and others from within their regiment in order to create the most whole and realistic account possible. This series is brought to you in preparation for the Second U.S. Sharpshooters in Slyder Lane Program. The program is scheduled for July 2nd at 6pm and will be lead by Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gar Phillips. Find out more about the program and our summer schedule online (

Pic 1 Gun and Hat

Image of a .52 caliber Sharps Breech Loading Rifle, along with a regimental log book identifying who the gun was used by, and an original Berdan’s hat. All are part of the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park.

The U.S.S.S. were made up of two regiments and were a part of the Union Army of the Potomac. They were recognized as elite units of the Federal Army. The U.S.S.S. regiments, though volunteers, were given distinction of US designation as though they belonged to the Regular Army. Sharp Shooters were used in battle as snipers or skirmishers and in order to become one of these expert rifleman, one had to complete a test that required them to place ten consecutive shots within a ten inch circle at two hundred yards and the remaining shots at one hundred yards off hand. Their uniforms consisted of a dark green hat, coat, and pants, which allowed them to be somewhat camouflaged. This tactic was almost unheard of in this time period. The Berdan Sharp Shooters carried .52 caliber Sharps breech loaders. These weapons allowed them to load and fire their weapons three times faster than an infantryman using a muzzle loader. A few Sharpshooters were also outfitted with a heavy muzzle loading telescopic rifle to better snipe rebels from a long distance.


Original cap issued to a Berdan. The red diamond indicates the man belonged to the 3rd Corps, 1st Division of the Army of the Potomac. 

The Second Regiment of U.S. Sharpshooters played a pivotal role on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. This regiment was positioned at the Slyder Farm, about a mile south of Devil’s Den, and was able to divide the advancing Confederates of John Bell Hood’s division,, mostly men from Texas and Alabama,, into two factions, one that went towards Devil’s Den and one that went to Little Round Top. This division diverted some 850 confederate officers and men away from the Union flank on Little Round Top , buying time for Federal troops to occupy the hill. Further details involving the battle tactics and role of the Second U.S. Sharpshooters  will be provided on the program given by Gar Phillips.

Jacket - Berdan

Original jacket worn by the United States Sharpshooters from the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park.

The first account is from the perspective of George W. Lamprey, who survived the Civil War entirely. He was mustered in November 26th, 1861 and mustered out November 16th, 1864. He married Celinda Claflin Trussell on January 29th, 1865 and had two children with her, Ella Stone Lamprey and John Johnson Lamprey. He was from Orford, New Hampshire where he lived until his death in 1911.


George William Lamprey,
Orford, Grafton County, New Hampshire
May 29th, 1873

In the mornings, just before the sun comes up, I like to sit and watch the sun rise over Mount Cube and across the Connecticut River. It truly is a peaceful sight, how the early pink light stretches up and over the summit and into those rosy narrow clouds that hang right above it; the brilliance of dawn making them look like so many berry stained fingers. I think of my Ella and how those clouds look like her pale, little hands after they’ve reached into wicker baskets of blackberries, the purple-red juices running from her fingertips to her elbows. The skyline is that breath of life and exuberance I see in her. Simultaneously though, the red stain easily becomes the color of death, and I strain my mind to remain here, in the quiet of the early morning. Still, I like to sit out here a spell, even some twelve years later, and thumb my way through my war diary. I wish sometimes that I had written more. That I had said something more poetic, that I written something other than a record of where we went, who I got letters from, and who owed me money, who lived and who died… But my mind is jumbled with the story. I wonder often if there even is a story, if a coherent narrative can and should be formed. Every memory is either fleeting or dried up or takes me fully back to it, so much so that I can see and hear nothing else. It scares me how easily I can jump into that other time, like the flick of a fishing rod; my mind is a hook on a line sinking into a pool of memory, immersing me fully, drowning me in that once forgotten moment. I know couldn’t have written more at that time, I was just trying to survive the day to day, trying to keep my sanity. To go back and embellish now, well, I don’t know that I could make it honest.

On this day, ten years ago, I wrote that I received a letter from Frank. We were moving into Pennsylvania, there wasn’t much time from me to say much of anything, save a few fragments of sentences. Frank… Frank Trussell? Frank Lamprey? Frank Tallman? I didn’t bother to say which it was then. Even now I struggle to remember which it could have been; there were so many days and so many deaths that a man can’t stand to remember them all. I thought back then, that all I would need to remember were a few sparse words, that those fragments would be enough to jog my mind. In some ways I wasn’t wrong. In some ways those memories are a prison I am left in.

Now, Tallman… David Franklin Tallman. He was one of my buddies from back before the war. The things we used to do in this town… When I think of him, I can feel the sides of my lips curve up into a compuserary grin. He enlisted just a month before me and was put into New Hampshire’s 5th Regiment, Company C, like so many of my buddies from Orford. There were so many even in my own company… Asel Griggs and George Lane …Guess Frank Tallman would have been there though, in the area of Gettysburg that is, if he had lived long enough to see it. The letter, I realize, must have been from Benjamin Franklin Trussell, Celinda’s older brother.

“Papa,” a soft voice says from behind the screen door of the house. I turn my head to see John sleepily sticking his head out from around the door frame.

My mind is dizzy with memories, and so I strain to ground myself in the here and now. “What’re you doing up so early?”

“It’s not early,” he says, pushing the screen open. He comes and sits next to my chair on the porch. “The sun’s most up already.”

“I suppose it is.” I reach down and tousle his hair with the palm of my hand.

After a moment he says, “What were you doing out here Papa? Reading that book of yours again?”

“Hmm? Yes, you know I like to come out here and settle my thoughts with this.”

“I just don’t see how it helps you. Papa, those things passed by so long ago…”

“And you’re only just shy a decade! But these things, these memories… they aren’t something I can leave behind easily.” Every face, every body, every bloodied piece of earth like a weight and a hook in my flesh.

“Can’t you tell me a story Papa?”

“A war story?”

“Yes!” John nodded, a flush of excitement spread across his face. “I would like that very much, Papa.”

“Don’t—“ I began, wagging a finger at him, “expect too much though. I’ve never really tried to tell one before.”

John nodded again, this time, solemnly.

“And it’s hard to tell about a battle. A battle is filled with nothing but smoke and screaming, the whirl of bullets, the thunder of cannon, and the banging of drums. We used to call it ‘seeing the elephant’.” I’m afraid that my eyes get that lost look in them, the kind of look that makes John and Ella and Celinda scared, when I begin to talk about the war.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” John said impatiently. “Where are you gonna start? The beginning?”

“I don’t know… I don’t think so…” I picked up my war diary, which was still open to the pages from late June and the start of July of 1863. “I’ll tell you all about how I got into the Berdan’s another day.”

“A Berdan?”

“I was a sharpshooter, you know? I picked rebels off like flies,” I laughed,  “not that it shows much now.”

“You did?”

“Well, yes… but never you mind that, I’m going to tell you about Gettysburg.”

“Why Gettysburg?”

“Gettysburg, well…” I begin slowly, like the trickling of a stream, but then all of the sudden, there’s a flash flood in my mind and I find the words form, “Gettysburg was, I do believe the bloodiest battle of the whole war. It’s when, well, I guess it was when things started to really turn around for the Union. It’s ten year anniversary is coming up, so it’s also timely. It’s what I was just thinking on anyway. And, and well… I lost a pard, and one of the finest officers I knew in that battle.”

“Well don’t give it all away! You haven’t even told the story yet!”

“Oh!” I put my hand to my mouth in an overly comical way, “You’re right boy, it won’t do if you already know too much of the ending now would it?”

John shook his head and looked at me expectantly.

“Alright then. It was the end of June when we began moving through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Our last major engagement was in Chancellorsville, which ended in early May. The days leading up to the battle were hot and sunny. I remember that even sergeant Richards, who was also so soft-spoken, was so uncomfortable in the heat, oh, boy, he was fit to be tied! Richards, he, outright cursed those Pennsylvania roads. It was odd to see him that way, but it was the nature of the situation, you see…”

By Ela Thompson

Ela Thompson is a Social Media Intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, has an English Writing B.A. from Gettysburg College, and currently studies Creative Writing [Poetry M.F.A.] at George Mason University.

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With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections on Civil War Art

CW Art Exhibit Poster SmallGettysburg’s first exhibit of artwork focusing on Gettysburg and the American Civil War will open June 29. With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections on Civil War Art features some of the most celebrated artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries – including several who served in the war. The artwork is rendered in oil, pen-and-ink and sculpture and capture battles from the perspective of leaders and the common soldier.

The exhibit debuts in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center’s Gilder Lehrman Special Exhibits Gallery and includes art from the collection of Gettysburg National Military Park, as well as from the collections of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Some of the highlights are:

canteen frontWooden drum-style canteen. This early 19th century military “cheesebox” canteen may have been carried or painted by a Confederate soldier – they were common among Southern forces – to pass the time or reminisce about wartime service. The canteen is an example of how soldiers expressed themselves through creative illustration on or customization of military equipment.

carved walnut cane full length

Carved walnut cane made from a limb of a tree at Devil’s Den, Gettysburg Battlefield. A popular folk-art form of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, battlefield wood souvenir canes provided a tangible link to hallowed ground for veterans and post-war visitors alike. Visitors enjoyed them as mementos of their pilgrimage to the battlefield.  Often fashioned from trees at a battlefield location with special significance or featuring carvings based on familiar military symbols or themes, the canes provided Civil War veterans with connections to their wartime experiences.

Maj Gen George Gordon MeadeFull-length oil portrait of Major General George G. Meade by Thomas Hicks (1823-1890).  A renowned 19th century portrait painter, Hicks completed this large-scale portrait of George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg and throughout the end of the war, in 1876.  The painting incorporates many characteristics of grand-format European portraits.  Hicks started his art studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and continued them in New York, London, Paris, Florence and Rome – experiencing many of the classical portrait styles that came to exemplify his work.

Gen Robert E. LeeBronze bust of Confederate General Robert E. Lee by Moses Jacob Ezekiel (1844-1917). The sculpture is one Confederate soldier’s tribute to his former commander. The first Jewish student to attend Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Ezekiel was wounded in the renowned charge of the VMI cadets at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. After the war, he returned to VMI, graduating in 1866. The prominent American sculptor studied in Berlin and lived and worked the majority of his life in Rome. Ezekiel won a number of competitions and completed significant commissioned sculptures in Europe and America.

The National Parks are great places to visit to learn about history of course, but you can also learn lessons in communication and arts at Gettysburg by studying the Gettysburg Address and monument dedication speeches, for example. You can study character education through Gettysburg’s leadership, citizenship, courage etc., and you can learn about science and nature by study geology at Devil’s Den for example, or Gettysburg’s topographic engineering.

At Gettysburg, the arts are all around us through the monuments, as well as the paintings and photographs and poems that the landscape and its history have inspired.

Admission to With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections on Civil War Art is included with the purchase of Cyclorama, Film and Museum Experience tickets or with purchase of museum-only tickets, all available at the ticket counter in the lobby of the Museum & Visitor Center, online at, or by telephone at 877-874-2478.The exhibit is sponsored by the Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park.

Katie Lawhon, Gettysburg National Military Park

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