“Is the Track Clear to Shohola?” – Gettysburg Fatalities in Pennsylvania’s Second Bloodiest Railroad Cut

King and Fuller Cut

The King and Fuller Cut today.

When one hears the term, “the railroad cut,” students of the Battle of Gettysburg may automatically be tempted to think of the slash in the ground extending through much of the July 1st battlefield, and the casualties it yielded.  However, in purely statistical terms, the afternoon of July 15th, 1864 was also slated to be remembered near tiny Shohola, in northeastern Pennsylvania.

A force of 833 Confederates and some 125 Union soldiers were destined to become entangled in a deadly, unexpected contest in a railroad cut there.  The former combatants, now prisoners and guards, were then travelling from Point Lookout Prison, Maryland, to their new home at the wartime prison in Elmira, New York.  For that leg of the journey, their 17-car train travelled westerly from Port Jervis at a rate of some twenty miles an hour. Unexpectedly, they were thrown headlong against a massive, 50 car coal train proceeding easterly at only twelve.  Both trains were pulled by 30-ton steam locomotives.  The result was predictable, and tragic.


The winding stretch of railroad track that borders the Delaware River was the site for a violent locomotive collision on July 15th, 1864.

In the sharp, blind curve of the railroad cut, only one engineer had time to jump free prior to the impact.  Given the physics involved, with the masses of material and energy in motion, the disaster was a terrible something to behold.  Tons of coal, metal, and wood compressed into the open spaces and softer cavities about them – sometimes with horrific results. One Veteran Reserve Guard, Frank Evans, remembered momentarily seeing how “the two locomotives were raised high in the air, face to face against each other, like giants grappling.”

Inside the cab of the troop train, one of the engineers, a man named Ingram, was pressed against the split boilerplate by the load of wood that had been thrown forward at the instant of the crash.  As Evans recalled, Ingram “was held [there] in plain sight and slowly roasted to death. With his last breath he warned away all those who went near to try and aid him, declaring that there was danger of the boiler exploding and killing them.”

The official report was filed by Captain Morris Church, commander of the detachments of the 11th and 20th Regiments of the United States Veteran Reserve Corps assigned to the train. His report, dated 22 July 1864, listed 14 guards as killed outright, with 3 that died later.  Confederate fatalities were initially marked as 40, plus another 8 that died later. Total dead, therefore, were figured at 65, with 93 injured.  Coffins were constructed ad hoc, from the ruins of the train-cars, and the bodies buried nearby.  It is worthwhile to note, however that Captain Church closed the body of his report with this caveat: “Many of the prisoners killed were so disfigured that it was impossible to recognize them, and five escaping whose names are unknown, I am unable to give you a correct list of killed.”

This bit of Victorian formalism, hinting at the gruesome nature of the accident while deliberately obscuring its details, only further documented the confusion about fatalities.  Today, the combined records serve to highlight the difficulty in obtaining accurate records about those who perished in the Shohola disaster.  Further complicating matters, it is thought that five quick-witted Confederates utilized the attendant chaos to escape. This has not been solidly documented, yet “teasers” remain to suggest such.

Wreckage of the troop train

Wreckage of the collision in the King and Fuller Cut.

The exact number involved, therefore, often varies with the incident’s retelling.  It would not be until June of 1911 that most of those killed in “King and Fuller’s Cut” were finally removed to more fitting surroundings, Woodlawn National Cemetery at Elmira, New York – their ultimate destination so many years ago.  Both the Federal and Confederate soldiers now rest on opposite sides of a common monument, recalling that terrible day.

Shortly after their reburial in Woodlawn, the death total was somehow calculated at 72; yet another death report listed a total of only 60 men, even factoring in two Confederate brothers that remain buried in a nearby churchyard, and not later reclaimed.

The apparent inconsistency in these figures was never officially addressed.  In his 1912 work The Elmira Prison Camp, author Clay W. Holmes offered up his own hypothesis, namely, “to presume that in the disinterring of bodies after so many years a slight error may have been made in the count, or some remains may have totally vanished.”

However, with all of this destruction, confusion, deception, and evasion concentrated in one spot, one student of the disaster noted, “It is highly possible that some of the names on the Shohola monument are those of the escapees; while some of the rebels who were killed were listed as having escaped.”  Recurring flooding of the Delaware River at the original burial site has also made it made it difficult to arrive at a standard number of total casualties. In an article from the Honesdale, PA “Citizen,” dated November 3rd, 1909, entitled Shameful Neglect of Soldiers Graves, the following appeared:

It is the opinion of some people that the graves have been washed away by high water in the Delaware and no less an authority than Edward H. Mott, the author of “Between the Ocean and the Lakes, or the Story of the Erie” holds to that view, for that is what he states in the concluding sentences of his account of that wreck.

Yet, others disbelieved this.  The closest home to the crash site was that of John Vogt, where “As many as twenty-five bodies were laid out until the following morning when there buried in a trench by the Delaware River.”

Mr. Vogt, and subsequently, Valentine Hipsman, of Shohola, [previously of the 151st PA, and yet another Gettysburg veteran, wounded and disabled, though not a member of the VRC, as he had lost his entire right arm,] indicated to government investigators the location of those overgrown graves.

Therefore, it is even harder to answer the secondary question: Were any of those killed in the accident veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg?

Although the names and units of the deceased are listed for the men of both sides, there are numerous errors of type and unit.  This has made easy confirmation difficult.  The simplest thing to do was to run the listing of units that had served in either army that fought at Gettysburg, and to proceed from there.   Tracing the Federal casualties (the United States Veterans Reserves Corps guards) back up to their original Gettysburg units, and thence to their verified time on the battlefield (and potential woundings there,) was the next.  The same was done for the listed Confederate soldiers of Gettysburg units, documenting their post-battle capture and subsequent placement on the train.

Following this methodology, it is possible to state that the men listed below, with a single possible exception, not only fought at Gettysburg, but later died in Pennsylvania’s almost forgotten railroad cut.

On the Federal side:

Private William H. Cornell, Company C, 134th New York, was, according to the History of Schoharie County, “born in Lisle, Broome County, March 5, 1840; enlisted in August 14, 1862. Fought in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburgh, and was killed by a railroad collision July 15, 1864.”  His General Index Card in the Archives file also carries the notation “See V.R.C.”

 Private Edwin Plass, Company F, 24th Michigan, who had initially enlisted on August 8th, 1862; he joined the V.R.C. on May 1st, 1864 following his Gettysburg wounding.

 Private Lyman Weatherby, Company B, 143rd Pennsylvania , who had mustered in on the 26th of August, 1862.  Following his wounding at Gettysburg and recovery, he transferred to the 11th V.R.C. in November of 1863. His name appears on the Pennsylvania monument.

As this was a POW train, it seems appropriate to list a couple of the Confederates that previously fought at Gettysburg:

Private Michael Kane [or Kain,] of Captain McGraw’s Artillery Battery, Pegram’s Battalion.  Kane signed on in May of 1861, and was on “detached service” during the Gettysburg Campaign, serving during that campaign as one of “Willie” Pegram’s couriers.  However, he was captured at Mechanicsville on June 1st, 1864, and sent to Point Lookout, Maryland.  Shortly thereafter, he was sent North for his final ride.

Private J.S. Hatch, Company H, 53rd Georgia Infantry  successfully  survived the Battle of Gettysburg, only to become wounded at Funkstown, Maryland, a week later.  Enlisting on May 5th, 1862, “For 3 years or the war,” Hatch wouldn’t let a wounding stop him – he was back in the ranks by the time his corps transferred to Tennessee, where he was captured on November 29th, 1863.

However, in cross-referencing this soldier between the Fold 3 sourcing and Lillian Henderson’s Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, a curious set of circumstances came to light.  Henderson’s listing merely concludes, “Released 1865,” while a General Index Card in the file of the Archives clearly states that he was again captured at Gaines Mill on June 1st, 1864, and that subsequently, his name “Appears on a roll of prisoners of war killed and missing (?) after R.R. accident at Shohola, Pa., July, 1864.”


Memorial to those killed in the Shohola Crash.

What are we to make of this?  Is Hatch in fact one of the few Confederate escapees of that horrible day, bearing now two terrible experiences in Pennsylvania?  One other unusual fact to ponder – the accident took place in Pike County, Pennsylvania.  Pike County Georgia was the point of origin of Hatch’s company within his regiment, the 53rd.

In any case, this reflects a bit of the confusion that still covers the tragic events of that terrible day, when the only real enemy had been neither Reb nor Yank, but carelessness – an intoxicated switch-thrower named Douglas Kent, in the employ of the railroad.  According to The Tri-State Union, July 23rd, 1864,

“Mr. Kent is a man of intemperate habits, and had, on the night previous to the accident, been to Hawley (PA) to a ball, whence he returned on Friday in an intoxicated condition.  He remained in a partial state of drunkenness during the day, and even after this dreadful calamity, he is said to have gone to another party of pleasure on Friday evening, apparently unconcerned.  On Saturday morning he crawled on board the express train, and went west, since which time he has not been seen.  We learn that a detective is on his track.”

Bert Barnett, Park Ranger

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Gettysburg’s Forgotten Governor: Conrad Baker

Conrad Baker

Conrad Baker, Col. of the 1st Indiana Cavalry and Governor of Indiana. Image courtesy of http://www.in.gov

The town of Gettysburg abounds with stories of interesting people who fought for both the North and the South during the American Civil War.  Many of these stories have been told by historians and educators since the end of the battle on July 3, 1863.  However, one man who made a major contribution to the war effort, and had detached from his regiment two companies of cavalry who fought at Gettysburg has gone relatively unnoticed.  Conrad Baker not only influenced the people of Indiana and Pennsylvania in his private life, but he also served honorably as Colonel of the 1st Indiana Cavalry, Assistant Provost Marshal General of Indiana, and later as the Governor of Indiana.

Conrad Baker was born near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on February 12, 1817.[1]  He was the son of Conrad Baker, Sr. and Mary (Winterheimer) Baker, who were influential farmers in the Chambersburg area.[2]  When Conrad was a teen his attention shifted away from his life on the farm, and he became interested in practicing law for a living.  This decision to led Baker to enroll at Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg, PA where he began the study of law.

Penn Hall, image couresty Gburg College

Pennsylvania Hall on the campus of Pennsylvania College (Now known as Gettysburg College). Image courtesy of gettysburg.edu


Thaddeus Stevens

While a student at Pennsylvania College, Conrad soon caught the attention of the law firm of Stevens & Smyser, who gave the young man the opportunity to learn and study the law profession in their office.  Thaddeus Stevens and Judge Daniel M. Smyser, both prominent citizens of Gettysburg owned this law practice.  Conrad Baker worked hard for his employers, and in 1839, he was admitted to the Bar.[3]  Soon after obtaining his license to practice law, the new lawyer opened a firm in the town of Gettysburg, and served the people of that community for two years.  In 1841, Baker and his family made the decision to pack up their belongings and make the long trek to the Ohio River community of Evansville, Indiana to open a law office in that city.  The state of Indiana was only 25 years old when Baker made it his new home, and this young state allowed Baker’s new law firm to become very successful.  Soon after his arrival to Indiana, he took an interest in politics, and in 1845, he was elected to serve in the Indiana General Assembly representing Vanderburgh County for one term.[4]  In 1856, he was nominated by the Republican Party for lieutenant governor without his knowledge.  His running mate was Oliver P. Morton, but Morton was ultimately defeated by his Democrat challenger, Ashbel P. Willard, during this election.[5]

In 1860, the sounds of rattling sabers were heard throughout the South as the United States began to tumble out of control toward civil war.  During the early morning of April 12, 1861, a Confederate battery in Charleston fired the first shots on Fort Sumter leading the nation into the bloodiest war in its history.  In June of 1861, Indiana issued a call for fighting men throughout the counties bordering the Ohio River, including Vanderburgh County.  Conrad Baker answered his country’s call by organizing eight companies of men for service to the Union, and by the summer of 1861, the regiment consisted of ten companies that were subsequently titled the 28th Indiana Regiment. However, this designation will be changed to the 1st Indiana Cavalry Regiment in August 1861, with Conrad Baker nominated as Colonel.[6]  As Colonel Baker led eight companies of the 1st Indiana Cavalry to Missouri, his two remaining companies were detached for duty in the east.  Companies I and K of the 1st Indiana Cavalry provided escort duty for General Reynolds and General Rosecrans in the Department of Western Virginia. These two cavalry companies ultimately saw action during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, serving with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Baker was not present for the fight at Gettysburg, but it is more than likely that he reflected on the safety and well-being of the citizens of his former home.

INdiana State Monument Courtesy of Gburg Daily

Indiana State Monument. The 1st Indiana Cavalry is one of the few Union units that have no marker or monument on the Gettysburg battlefield. The two companies that served at Gettysburg are however, listed on the Indiana State Monument. Image courtesy of gettysburgdaily.com

Conrad Baker served for over three years as the Colonel of the 1st Indiana Cavalry, seeing action in Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.  On April 29, 1863, Baker received an order from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to proceed from Helena, Arkansas back to Indianapolis, Indiana, and report to the Provost Marshal General.  Once Baker returned to Indianapolis, he was assigned as the Assistant Provost Marshall.  Baker was tasked with the organization of the Provost Marshal’s Bureau for the state of Indiana.[7]   Indiana’s Adjutant General W.H.H. Terrell wrote in Indiana In the War of the Rebellion that Baker’s, “fine ability as a lawyer, superior qualifications as a thorough and methodical business man, with his incorruptible integrity and the experience of eighteen months’ active service in the field, made his appointment eminently fit and proper, and entirely acceptable to the people of the State.”[8]

Baker remained the Assistant Provost Marshal until he was honorably discharged from the army on October 10, 1864.  Once Baker’s military career came to an end, he began to take a keen interest in public service.  Although Conrad Baker was not a candidate or applicant for the position of Lieutenant Governor during the1864 election year, he was unanimously added to the Republican ticket after General Nathan Kimball declined the nomination.[9]  The Republican ticket of Morton and Baker will win the election, but in October 1865, Governor Morton will suffer a paralytic stroke that will incapacitate him.  Morton will temporarily leave office and make a trip to Europe looking for a cure for his paralysis, to no avail.  This placed Conrad Baker in the office of Governor for a short period of time as the Civil War drew to a close.  In 1867, Oliver Morton was elected to the U.S. Senate to represent the state of Indiana.  This placed Baker in the position of Governor until the election of 1868.  Baker was nominated and elected to serve his first full term as the Governor of Indiana.[10] After Baker had served his term as governor, he returned to his law practice for the remaining years of his life.  On April 28, 1885, the man who grew up on a farm, and practiced law in Gettysburg passed away.  He is buried in Evansville, Indiana.

Park Ranger Brian D. Henry

[1] Robert Sobel and John Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1 (Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978).

[2] George Derby and James Terry White, National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 13 (New York: James T. White & Company, 1906), 272.

[3] William Edward Chute, A Genealogy and History of the Chute Family in America (Salem, MA: s.n., 1894), 75.

[4]  John H. B. Nowland, Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876: With a Few of the Pioneers of the City and County who Have Passed Away (Indianapolis: Tilford & Carlon, 1877), 229.

[5] Indiana State Library, “Conrad Baker Papers,” Updated by Barbara Hilderbrand, February 2007. http://www.in.gov/library/4695.htm  Accessed: July 20, 2014.

[6] W.H.H. Terrell, Adjutant General, Indiana, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Volume 2 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1866).

[7] Nowland, Sketches, 229.

[8] W.H.H. Terrell, Indiana in the War of the Rebellion, Volume 1 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1869), 67.

[9] Nowland, Sketches, 230.

[10] Ibid.

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Update – Addressing challenges at Little Round Top – the planning process continues

Breastworks created by Union soldiers at the summit of Little Round Top on the evening of July 2, 1863.  These prominent rocks can easily be located today by looking downhill towards the south from the 44th and 12th New York Infantry monument.

Breastworks created by Union soldiers at the summit of Little Round Top on the evening of July 2, 1863. These prominent rocks can easily be located today by looking downhill towards the south from the 44th and 12th New York Infantry monument.

Little Round Top is one of the most visited landscapes within Gettysburg National Military Park.  A broad area around the summit with numerous cultural landscape features is subjected to a tremendous amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic throughout the year. Overuse without sufficient visitor wayfinding has negatively impacted cultural resources, both battle era features such as earthworks, and commemorative features such as monuments there. Heavy visitor use has also contributed to the degradation of the natural landscapes features, resulting in serious erosion of the site and compaction of soils that inhibits the growth of grasses and other ground cover. One of the primary circulation problems at Little Round Top is the conflict between buses, pedestrians, cars, bicycles and Segways.

A public scoping session will be Thursday, December 4, at the conclusion of Gettysburg National Military Park’s Advisory Commission meeting at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be at the park Museum and Visitor Center, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg. Since the meeting is being held after visiting hours, access will be through the museum’s group tour entrance.

At the scoping meeting the public will be invited to comment on strategies that provide solutions for overuse, overcrowding and landscape degradation, and identify appropriate locations for visitor conveniences at Little Round Top, as part of an environmental assessment (EA) planning process.

Comments from scoping will be incorporated into an EA. In 2012, to better understand the site and its uses today and over the past 150 years the National Park Service (NPS) prepared a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) detailing site history, existing conditions, character analysis and recommendations. Through the CLR, a defined purpose and need was developed for the preservation of Little Round Top: Provide solutions for overuse, overcrowding and landscape degradation and identify appropriate locations for visitor conveniences at Little Round Top, one of Gettysburg National Military Park’s most heavily visited sites.

Stay tuned for your opportunity to comment on this EA in spring 2015. To Eroded paths LRTaccomplish the NPS goal of protecting park resources while providing solutions for use of Little Round Top, we are now conducting an EA planning process to guide decisions on the rehabilitation of Little Round Top. In spring 2015, the EA will be issued for public review, followed by a NPS decision document. The EA will be conducted in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA) and its implementing regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508); the NEPA regulations of the Department of the Interior (43 CFR Part 46); and NPS Director’s Order #12, Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis, and Decision-Making (DO-12) and accompanying DO-12 Handbook (2001).

Primary.NPSCentennialLogo.FullColorIn celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, the Gettysburg Foundation plans on raising funds for the rehabilitation of this important piece of ground, which will include NPS plans for vehicular circulation, parking for cars and buses, pedestrian circulation, and gathering spaces for groups and individuals, determined through the EA.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 12/2/14

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Winter Lecture Series 2015 – The War in 1865 and Beyond

Ray Matlock_NPS_Gettysburg NMP

Photo courtesy of Ray Matlock, Gettysburg Foundation

Winter’s cold does not deter Gettysburg’s rangers from continuing to study and develop programs on the meaning, significance, and impact of the battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. From January through early March, Gettysburg National Military Park will offer a series of lectures that touch on many different aspects of the Civil War in 1865 with programs expanding beyond the boundaries of the Gettysburg Campaign. The consequences of the conflict, presidents and generals, the final battles and profound decisions, the aftermath and reconstruction will all be examined.

Programs are held on weekends in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center at 1:30 PM.  The lectures from January 3 to February 22 will be held in one of the theaters and the lectures on February 28, March 1, 7, and 8 will be held in the Ford Education Center. All lectures are free and open to the public.

For more information, call the Visitor Information Desk at 717-334-1124 ext. 8023

Can’t make it to Gettysburg? All Winter Lectures will be filmed and made available on our park YouTube page: youtube.com/GettysburgNPS 

Winter Lectures Series – 2015
The War in 1865 and Beyond

Saturday, January 3
Robert E. Lee Comes Home from War – 1865 to 1870
Lee came home from Appomattox confronting an uncertain future.  He faced unemployment, failing health, and a potential indictment for treason.  Yet, Lee’s post-war years also represent a remarkable chapter for the once great general as he helped to set the tone for a torn nation beginning the long process of reconciliation and reunion.
– Matt Atkinson, GNMP

Sunday, January 4
“Not Yet!” Longstreet at Appomattox
Join Ranger Karlton Smith and examine the role played by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet in the final movements of the Army of Northern Virginia from Petersburg on April 2 to Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This lecture will trace Longstreet’s role in the fall and retreat from Petersburg, his reactions to Grant’s demands for surrender, as well as Longstreet’s return to his home in Georgia. – Karlton Smith, GNMP

Saturday, January 10
Famous Utterances on the Road to Appomattox: Importance of Rhetoric and Language in the War’s Final Hours
This lecture explores the richer contextual meaning of words uttered in the final days and hours of the war in the East. Because language and rhetoric are so vital in shaping perceptions then and now, it is important to look back at some of the statements made by Lee, Grant, Longstreet and others that helped to define memory of the war. Moreover, these words help us peer into the soul of a generation – Troy Harman, GNMP

Sunday, January 11
“It was, indeed, a scene of unsurpassed grandeur and majesty” – An Audio-Visual Presentation of the National Park Service’s Coverage of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War
Over the past four years, the National Park Service has covered the commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War through extensive photography and video projects. From behind the camera, Jason’s team of passionate and dedicated staff and volunteers have spent countless hours capturing these once-in-a-lifetime events. They have been used for immediate use on web and social media sites for a worldwide audience and have been saved and cataloged for ages to come. Beginning with the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July, 2011, Jason will highlight some of the most remarkable and stunning pictures and videos from the past four years.
– Jason Martz, Visual Information Specialist, Northeast Region, NPS

Saturday, January 17
Rocking the Cradle of the Confederacy – Sherman in South Carolina, 1865
Following his successful capture of Savannah in December of 1864, General Sherman’s next target proved to be South Carolina – “the cradle of the Confederacy.”   The intensity of his next campaign, almost countermanded before it commenced, proved in sharp contrast to his army’s advance through Georgia and North Carolina.  Opposed by relatively few, Sherman’s troops were determined here to leave “a warning to future generations to beware of treason.”    – Bertram Barnett, GNMP 

Sunday, January 18
The Civil War – A Waypoint in Military History
The Civil War provided a transformational platform for innovations in equipment, leadership, procedures and soldiering that had far-reaching impacts on the journey of the American military.  While in some instances these changes were immediate, others came with time. All had their roots in the four year conflict.  In this one hour lecture we will explore the broad and specific impacts the Civil War had on the American military.
– William Hewitt, GNMP

Saturday, January 24
What Gettysburg Meant:  Civil War Veterans Reflect on America’s Most Famous Battle

Few events figure as prominently in the American story as the battle of Gettysburg. In the past century and a half the three-day struggle has come to occupy a central place in our national memory and understanding of the American Civil War. But, what did Gettysburg mean to the Union and Confederate veterans who fought there? How did they reflect on its legacy and meaning in the decades immediately following the end of the four year conflict? Join Christopher Gwinn for a look at the significance of the battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the men who fought there and lived to tell the tale.
– Christopher Gwinn, GNMP 

Sunday, January 25
If These Things Could Talk- 1865

Original objects from the park’s museum collection are examined for the larger stories they tell about the war in 1865 and the end of the four year conflict.
– Tom Holbrook, GNMP

Saturday, January 31
The Final Fourteen Days of Father Abraham

April 1865 marked one of the most dramatic and momentous times in American history. Join Ranger Chuck Teague and discover what Father Abraham experienced as the American Civil War drew to a climax. What would the first two weeks of that month have been like from the perspective of President Lincoln?  Where did he go? Who did he meet with?  What were his conversations? His decisions? His mood each day?
– Chuck Teague, GNMP

Sunday, February 1
“My God! Has the army been dissolved?”  – The Battles at Sailor’s Creek, Virginia, April 6, 1865
In the closing days of the war, a desperate battle was fought adjacent to a slow moving creek ten miles north of Burkeville, Virginia. Nearly one-third of Lee’s army, trapped between closely pursuing Union infantry and cavalry, fought a desperate battle that ultimately failed to prevent the devastating blow suffered by Lee’s command on the banks of this now tranquil stream. The final days of the Army of Northern Virginia were at hand and a mortified Lee was left to rally the remnants on the road to Appomattox.
– John Heiser, GNMP

Saturday, February 7
Going Back: Returning to Fields of Glory

After the Civil War, veterans returned to the Fredericksburg area to tour the fields and forests that witnessed some of the war’s most brutal combat. Some came to dedicate monuments, make speeches, or share camaraderie with old tent-mates. Each faced the hard reality of visiting a site of grief and glory: remembering friends long lost, recalling sites of hospitals and suffering, and noting great deeds and decisions in otherwise ordinary places. What compelled these men to return to these battlefields, and how did they experience these places that had defined their past?
– Beth Parnicza, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Sunday, February 8
Going Home: The Grand Review and Demobilizing of the Armies

In the spring of 1865, even before all the shooting stopped and well before the government officially declared the war to be over, the United States began the awesome task of demobilizing its volunteer armies and sending the boys home. This program will examine the ways in which it did so and will include a look at the famed Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., on May 23-24, 1865, a discussion of the problems encountered in demobilizing the armies, and a look some of the experiences shared by Union veterans upon their return home. Topics related to the demobilization–or disbanding–of Confederate forces will also be discussed. – John Hoptak, GNMP

Saturday, February 14
 “A Peculiar Institution” –  A Century of Licensed Guiding at the Gettysburg National Military Park
October 17, 1915 the Gettysburg National Military Park began active enforcement of a newly enacted regulation requiring anyone conducting a tour of the battlefield to be duly licensed.  Yet the roots of the uniquely peculiar institution that has become the Licensed Battlefield Guides or LBG’s stretch back to the immediate aftermath of the great battle.  What caused the War Department to establish licensing regulations and how has the guide force evolved over the past century?
– Frederick Hawthorne, Licensed Battlefield Guide

Sunday, February 15
“Martyrs of the Race Course” – The Forgotten Decoration Day
On May 1, 1865 Union soldiers, some members of United States Colored Troops regiments, along with thousands of black men and women in Charleston, South Carolina came together to honor Union dead of the late conflict.  Confined in an outdoor racetrack turned prison outside of the city, nearly 300 Union soldiers had perished from illness and disease and were hastily and improperly buried.  With the fall of Charleston to Union troops, numerous formerly enslaved peoples came to properly rebury these men and plan a ceremony in their honor to remember their sacrifice.  Today, the origins of this first Decoration Day have largely been ignored and forgotten.
– Dan Welch,  Gettysburg Foundation

Saturday, February 21
“Injustice must cease before peace can prevail”- Frederick Douglass: The Post-Civil War Years

The self-emancipated Frederick Douglass had long argued and fought for the abolishment of slavery in America, and with the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, had seen the ultimate dissolution of the institution. For some abolitionists, the mission had been accomplished and their work fulfilled.  Frederick Douglass, however, saw much danger in this moment of joy.  For the next thirty years Douglass would continue to fight to ensure that the legacy of emancipation was not lost and guarantee voting rights and equality for the disenfranchised, including blacks and women. In many of his writings and speeches Douglass spoke about the meaning and memory of the Civil War.  As many white Northerners and Southerners began to omit slavery and the role blacks had played, Douglass argued that the war had been an “abolition war” and fought to control how Americans would remember the calamitous struggle and what lessons the nation should learn from it.
– Mark Maloy, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Sunday, February 22
From the Battlefield to the White House—The Civil War Careers of Post-Civil War Presidents
From 1865 to the end of the 19th century, the United States saw enormous and transformative change, from binding the wounds of civil war to becoming an economic and industrial power. During these decades, the country was led by a variety of men who are often forgotten by historians today. These bearded presidents—Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley—were different men seeking to accomplish sometimes conflicting goals, yet they all shared one similarity: the experience of combat during the Civil War. Their Civil War experiences shaped them as men and as leaders, and they carried those experiences with them in their post-war political careers. Join Ranger Dan Vermilya for a look at the Civil War careers of Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.
– Daniel Vermilya, Antietam National Battlefield

Saturday, February 28
Monuments that Place Gettysburg in the Greater Context of the War
Gettysburg features several monuments and memorials that place the battle in context with the war’s overall meaning. They transcend the battle itself to communicate layered truths easily missed without proper perspective. This presentation will go beyond basic facts, dates of dedication and construction materials to decode monumental messages intended to reverberate through time. – Troy Harman, GNMP

Sunday, March 1
Special Film PresentationBuster Keaton in The General
This 1926 silent film is loosely based on a true incident that occurred during the Civil War. The story follows the trials and tribulations of Engineer Johnny Gray and the two loves of his life: his girl, Annabelle, and his locomotive.  The movie, best known for its remarkable sight gags, also represents one of the earliest attempts to apply humor and comedy to the carnage and destruction of the American Civil War.  Unrated. Runtime:  78 minutes
-Introduction and commentary by Evangelina Rubalcava, GNMP

Saturday, March 7
To the Brink of Collapse: The Final Campaign of the Army of Tennessee
On March 8, 1865 William T. Sherman crossed into North Carolina with an army of approximately sixty thousand men. Opposing Sherman was a small, feeble force of Confederates under Joseph Johnston.  Over the next two months these two men and their armies would make North Carolina the scene of chaos and conflict.  This program will explore the last days of the Army of Tennessee in North Carolina as the Confederacy collapsed around and within its ranks.
– Philip Brown, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Sunday, March 8
The Closing Scenes: Admiral David G. Farragut and the End of the Civil War
This program will follow Admiral Farragut from Mobile Bay to the end of the Civil War and examine his part in its closing scenes. The lecture will also explore Farragut’s post-war career through his death in Portsmouth, NH in 1870. – Karlton Smith, GNMP 

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Lincoln Speech Memorial Repair/Rehabilitation

Historic Preservation training Center staff at work on the memorial.

Historic Preservation Training Center staff at work on the memorial.

The National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center just completed this project to address maintenance preservation issues associated with the Lincoln Speech Memorial in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The Lincoln Speech Memorial is unique: it commemorates the speech Lincoln gave at Gettysburg and not the man himself. Thus, it is one of the few memorials in the

masonry out of alignment

masonry out of alignment

world dedicated to honor a speech. The bronze bust of Lincoln, by sculptor Henry Bush-Brown, reveals the heavy toll the war and the nation’s suffering had upon him. Inscribed in bronze on the right is the Gettysburg Address. On the left is the letter Lincoln received inviting him to speak at Gettysburg. To download a pdf of the National Cemetery Walking Tour brochure click here.

Tasks included documentation and evaluation of existing conditions, mapping and documentation of the general configuration and alignment of brick pavers in preparation for possible disassembly. The granite obelisks were disassembled and reset in their original locations as determined by mortar ghost lines. The granite stair units and adjacent concrete

stonework in need of repair

stonework in need of repair

curb units were out of alignment and were removed and realigned. Repointing of all mortar joints was completed. JOS micro-abrasive cleaning was completed on all non-polished granite surfaces.  Areas stone deterioration, spalling or other damage were repaired with dutchmans.

Work started in mid-August and was completed in early November, just in time for the 151st anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19th.

Gettysburg National Military Park wishes to thank the Gettysburg Foundation for funding this project with partial funding from the American Express Foundation and the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation.  We also thank our national Park Service colleagues at the Historic Preservation Training Center for their excellent work and for many of the photos used in this blog.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 11/14/14

Repairs have been completed.

Repairs have been completed.

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Cushing and the Medal

For anyone with even a passing interest in the American Civil War or the battle of Gettysburg, the fact that Alonzo Cushing was just awarded the Medal of Honor is old news. President Barack Obama conferred it today in a brief White House ceremony, attended by many of Cushing’s distant relatives. It would be foolhardy to think that we could add anything to the veritable sea of articles and news reports recently issued about the 22-year-old battery commander. In fact, it may be that young Cushing is in grave danger of becoming the new Joshua Chamberlain, though time will ultimately settle that score.

Our weekly blog post will offer up nothing more than the 9 minute clip of what took 151 years to accomplish: the moment when the 64th American soldier to earn the Medal of Honor for actions performed at Gettysburg gets his award.  It is an award of superlatives. Cushing is the only Gettysburg recipient to die in the act of earning the Medal. He now holds the record for the longest time between the bestowing of the award and the act for which it was earned, just over a century and a half.  It is also entirely possible, thanks to social media, that more Americans saw Alonzo Cushing awarded the Medal of Honor than any other American soldier in history. Slightly over 118,000 viewed it over the Gettysburg National Military Park Facebook page alone.

And then there is the obvious. Barack Obama was the President who, in the name of the American people and their government, awarded the Medal. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is impossible to deny the historic nature of this fact.

In the smokey twilight of July 3rd, 1863, the broken and torn body of 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing was taken from the shattered remnants of his battery where he was killed and brought to the opposite slope of Cemetery Ridge. His face was covered in blood, his thigh and abdomen had been ripped apart and there was a visible wound to his shoulder. The next morning, the Fourth of July, two men began to prepare Cushing for burial. They removed his blood stained and tattered fatigue blouse, the one he had worn in battle, the one he had been killed in. From the battery wagons they procured Cushing’s frock coat, his dress jacket, and went about the duty of dressing the body of their former commander. One of the men was Corporal Thomas Moon. The other we know only as Henry, Cushing’s black servant. Moon kept Cushing’s shoulder straps. Henry was allowed to keep Cushing’s bloody jacket.

A century and a half later, in the Executive Mansion of the United States, another black man finished what Henry started on the rear slope of Cemetery Ridge. He symbolically laid a blue and white ribbon on the dress jacket of that young lieutenant from Delafield, Wisconsin. And that perhaps, is Cushing’s greatest award.

Christopher Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month: A Civil War Connection

October is recognized as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This initiative was originally begun on the Federal level at the end of World War II, with thousands of disabled ex-GI’s who were then seeking some sort of re-entry into society, on the social and economic level.  To highlight this plight, Congress in 1945 therefore enacted a law, known then as “National Hire the Physically Handicapped Week.”  Eventual recognition of wider needs led to its expansion and alteration, at first removing the word “Physically” in 1962, and then, in 1988, expansion from a week into a month.  This year, the theme of awareness, through the message “Expect. Employ. Empower.” is being promoted.

In the fall of 1865 at Raleigh, North Carolina, Captain Will H. S. Banks, of the 9th Michigan Cavalry, sought recruits to sell the poetic works of a recently-liberated slave, George Moses Horton.  In the words of his proposal, “Here is a grand opportunity for ENERGETIC YOUNG MEN, especially those who have been disabled by the casualties of the war, to build up a fortune for themselves.” Although their opportunities for readjustment and participation, post-injury, into a functioning economy would sometimes now prove varied, a new option now lay before them– that of literary agent, or book-seller.  Though the theme of many of Horton’s poems dealt with ‘FREEDOM AND EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL,’ as regarding the death of slavery and its remnants, Banks’ advertisement also proclaimed his desire to employ any capable applicant in his literary endeavor.

The first “disability assistance program” in North America might be said to trace its roots back to 1636, when the warring Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony then pledged that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony, direct medical and hospital care was given to those in need in the early days of the Republic by individual States and communities. In 1811, the first domiciliary and medical facility was authorized by the Federal Government. In the 19th century, this assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions, not only to those disabled, but to families dependent upon the soldier’s income.

Of course, the very vicissitudes of war often tended to change previously-held presumptions regarding the term “disability.”  The Battle of Gettysburg provided a number of examples, from both before and after the conflict.

Howard, Oliver O.

Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard (LOC)

Major-General Oliver O. Howard, commander of the 11th Corps during its time at Gettysburg, had previously received two wounds in his right arm, June 1, 1862, while commanding a Union brigade in the battle of Fair Oaks, which had necessitated its amputation. However, Howard had recovered quickly enough to rejoin the army for the Battle of Antietam, for which he rose to division command in the II Corps. Brig. Gen. Philip Kearny, who had lost his left arm at Churubusco in the Mexican conflict, once visited Howard and joked that they would be able to shop for gloves together! Subsequently, Howard was promoted to major general in November 1862 and then assumed command of the 11th Corps.

In the post-Gettysburg reorganization which followed, Howard and his corps served in the Western Theater, yet he retained his corps command through the remainder of the war, participating in General  William T. Sherman’s Georgia and Carolina campaigns. Postwar, the able administrator oversaw the Freedman’s Bureau, as well as the creation of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Trained as a professional soldier, Howard also served in a number of later campaigns against the Native Americans in the West.

Two other Gettysburg – associated personalities received their life-altering wounds on this field, and went on to develop careers far beyond what might have been expected.

McFarland Photo

Lt. Col. George McFarland. (USAMHI)

Lieutenant Colonel George F. McFarland, of the 151st Pennsylvania Regiment, an educator by profession, was among the multitudes of those severely wounded on the afternoon of July 1st, 1863. As his unit was just west of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, a ball passed through both of his legs. It shattered his left, and required the amputation of his right below the knee.

While his wounds proved exceedingly painful, McFarland seemingly did not dwell upon them. Blessed with an attentive family that had travelled to Gettysburg to help care for him, McFarland turned his mind back to other matters, as the fall season was approaching. Daily diaries, correspondence, and planning for the fall sessions at his McAlisterville Academy consumed his attention.  In mid – September of 1863, he returned to the school, opening it for the fall term.  There were, however, inevitable blows to reality. Over fifty periodic removals of bone shards were ultimately endured (one of them, in 1864, was done by himself, sporting a sharpened pocket-knife, in lieu of a scalpel.)   As standing for protracted periods of time now proved painful, McFarland’s choice of lecturing posture was most often a couch or a reclining bed.

In addition to his work at the school, McFarland revived the practice of writing essays for The Pennsylvania School Journal.  His success in these areas brought him to the attention of Samuel Bates, who sought his employment in “the state school department,” where he oversaw the ten state “orphan’s schools,” of which his own McAlisterville Academy served as one.  The needs of this job brought him to Harrisburg and gave him focus for some years, until their need subsided.  McFarland then turned his attention towards the evils of drink, taking up dual careers in temperance and later, horticulture, eventually operating Harrisburg’s Riverside Nursery for many years.

As was the case with many veterans, McFarland also took interest in memorializing the Union soldier’s achievements.  In spite of his mobility issues, George was elected to the presidency of the 151st Pennsylvania Regimental Survivors Association; he was also chairman of the regimental monument committee.  This role saw him travel back to Gettysburg in 1888 for its dedication on the 25th anniversary of his wounding, July 1st, 1888.

McFarland ultimately sought warmer climates to deal with the pains of his ailments, and it was in Tallapoosa, Georgia, that he died, in December of 1891.  It was observed by a family friend that McFarland

…was a man of wonderful energy and will power, and worked to maintain his family, and…pushed his business affairs against all obstacles when many a well man would have been disheartened.

Another Gettysburg veteran, Private John W. Chase, of the 5th Maine Battery, received a terrible wound on the 2nd of July when an artillery round he was loading “prematured” on him.  As a result of this accident, Chase lost his right arm at the elbow, his right eye, and lacerated his chest and shoulders with forty-eight shrapnel wounds. He was initially thought too far gone to save, and was taken outside to die.  During this time of suffering, Chase later claimed to have experienced a pronounced “out-of-body” experience, observing, “just how I was wounded, how my clothing was blown away from my body just as plain as I see you today.”

John Chase

The wounded John Chase of the 5th Maine Battery. (GNMP)

Upon his examination he was granted a three-quarter disability and discharged in late November of 1863.  After a lengthy period of rehabilitation, in Maine, he later obtained a patronage job in the Maine State House, which allowed him to informally lobby legislators on pension issues.  This proved most beneficial, as Chase was, by the mid 1880’s, married and raising seven children.  His original $8 per month pension payment, as assessed in 1864, was later raised to $46.  Yet, to meet his growing expenses, Chase turned to other opportunities as well; a growing number of credited patents, as well as well as being a guest “delineator,” or guide, at the Brooklyn Paul Phillippoteaux Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The great Florida “Land Boom” of the 1890’s drew Chase to that state in 1895, where he acquired a steamboat, and elsewise busied himself in a speculative project near St. Petersburg, known as “Veteran City.”  He had continued his inventiveness; his final patent had been for “The Chase Aero,” a flying machine.  When he passed on November 17th, 1914, at the age of 71, some fifty-one years following his wounding at Gettysburg, he left his heirs a legacy of success through opportunity and effort.

While not all disabled Civil War veterans enjoyed similar post-war success, a growing need for their support was recognized.  Many State veterans homes were established. Later, domiciliary care was available at all State veterans homes, incidental medical and hospital treatment was provided for all injuries and diseases, whether or not of service origin. Indigent and disabled veterans of the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and Mexican Border period as well as discharged regular members of the Armed Forces were cared for at these homes.

Congress established a new system of veterans’ benefits when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Included were programs for disability compensation, insurance for service persons and veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. By the 1920s, the various benefits were administered by three different Federal agencies: the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.The establishment of the Veterans Administration came in 1930 when Congress authorized the President to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.” The three component agencies became bureaus within the Veterans Administration. Brigadier General Frank T. Hines, who directed the Veterans Bureau for seven years, was named as the first Administrator of Veterans Affairs, a job he held until 1945.

The VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930, to include 152 hospitals; 800 community based outpatient clinics; 126 nursing home care units; and 35 domiciliaries.  VA health care facilities provide a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, and rehabilitative care. The responsibilities and benefits programs of the Veterans Administration grew enormously during the following six decades. World War II resulted in not only a vast increase in the veteran population, but also in large number of new benefits enacted by the Congress for veterans of the war.

The World War II GI Bill, signed into law on June 22, 1944, is said to have had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act of 1862, broadening the opportunities for persons with disabilities. Further educational assistance acts were passed for the benefit of veterans of the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era, Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

As we reflect on the meaning of the various aspects of the 151st commemoration of the Battle and its’ aftermath, note that the protection of those with disabilities – not just veterans –  is now also enshrined as a civil right – (Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act of 1973, and its later amendments.)  It too, may trace its parentage to the outgrowth of this sad war-time need, as America continues in its pursuit of “freedom and equal rights to all.”

Ranger Bert Barnett

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Behind the Scenery: Gettysburg’s Cannon Shop

Cannon mark the Battery A Fourth U.S. Artillery position at Gettysburg

Cannon mark the Battery A Fourth U.S. Artillery position at Gettysburg National Military Park

In an out-of-the-way industrial building in Gettysburg, National Park Service preservation workers grind it out, day after day. Literally. This blog post explores Gettysburg National Military Park’s cannon carriage restoration shop.

This circa 1890 photo taken at Little Round Top shows a collapsed cannon carriage - possibly a 30-year-old wooden carriage  - a compelling reason to purchase new carriages of cast iron.

This circa 1890 photo taken at Little Round Top shows a collapsed cannon carriage – possibly a 30-year-old wooden carriage – a compelling reason to purchase new carriages of cast iron.

More than 1300 monuments mark the fields at Gettysburg and 400 cannon.   Each is a silent sentinel telling the story of the battle.  They were placed here long before “National Park Rangers” were invented.

The majority of the cannon tubes are original but the carriages were wooden during the Civil War and in order to withstand time, early park managers had cast iron carriages created to closely resemble what the artillery units used at Gettysburg. The carriages were purchased by the War Department beginning in 1895 through about 1910. They were manufactured in Gettysburg by the foundry of Calvin Gilbert.

GETT 41106 Drawing 58

Brian Knepper

Brian Knepper at work on the wheel of a carriage.

The park’s cannon carriage restoration program is supported by the Gettysburg Foundation.  The Foundation has rented space for the shop in a former factory building in Gettysburg since January 1999.

The shop is not open to the public.

More than 300 of these historic carriages have been restored by Gettysburg National Military Park staff and returned

Michael Wright with implements that will go onto the carriage before painting.

Michael Wright with implements that will go onto the carriage before painting.

to the battlefield. The current staff includes Michael Wright and Brian Knepper, preservation workers, and a number of very dedicated volunteers.

The first step in the process is sandblasting to remove the primer coat that was initially put on in the late 1990’s after the lead paint had been removed.   Park staff then inspects the carriages to assess their general condition, structural defects and missing hardware.

Many of the load-bearing elements have stress fractures or damaged castings due to their age and to exposure to the elements for more than 100 years on the battlefield. Often the spokes and/or fellows are badly damaged and need to be repaired or replaced. To do this, the wheel must be removed.

Craters and defects are being filled on this cast iron carriage.

Craters and defects are being filled on this cast iron carriage.

All welded repairs are ground and dressed. Craters and defects are filled with polyester based automotive body filler. At this point, the implements are attached to the carriage, including the sponge chain holders, elevator screws and prolonge hooks.

The joints are caulked, and each carriage gets two coats of primer and two coats of official “Gettysburg artillery green” paint, with black paint applied to all the

Gettysburg National Military Park Volunteer Barb Adams paints a carriage.

Gettysburg National Military Park Volunteer Barb Adams paints a carriage.

hardware items. This work is done almost exclusively by volunteers.

Park staff is more than 75% of the way through the process of restoring every single carriage at Gettysburg. Efficiency will improve in 2015 when we move the shop into the three-bay garage at Gettysburg’s former Armory. The Gettysburg Foundation is raising funds for this project   Learn more about how to help here.

This painstaking restoration process for Gettysburg’s cannon carriages requires approximately a month of a craftsman’s time per carriage.  Next time you’re on the Gettysburg battlefield we invite you to take a closer look at these carriages and craftsmanship that goes into their care and preservation.

They are fragile artifacts that commemorate the service of those who fought here.  Please join us in their protection.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 10/23/14

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James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg – Part II

Continued from Part I of James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg.

It is extremely difficult to make sense of Colonel James Jackson’s performance at Gettysburg. The letter he wrote to his wife was quite descriptive of the battle action. It chronicled in much detail the 47th’s movements up and over Big Round Top and their repeated attempts to dislodge Vincent’s men on Little Round Top. Yet it is clear from other sources that Jackson was simply not with his regiment when it went into battle that day. It was, instead, commanded by Lt. Col. Michael Bulger.  Because of this, Jackson most likely based the contents of his letter home strictly on what he had heard from other members of the regiment in the aftermath of the fight.

Jackson Blog Colonel James W. Jackson 47th AL paint

James Jackson, Colonel of the 47th Alabama Infantry. Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama

As the 47th Alabama advanced that late Thursday afternoon at Gettysburg, Colonel James Jackson remained behind and he apparently stayed well to the rear. Perhaps his body had finally given up and failed him; perhaps he was among those many “hundreds” he claimed had fainted or collapsed from exhaustion after so trying a day. There can be no denying that his body had been wracked with illness and with pain ever since he had first donned the uniform in 1861 and especially after his wound at Antietam. It is possible, though, that Jackson intentionally remained in the rear that day. He had already tendered his resignation and he may have been simply looking forward to returning once more to his family, which that year grew to include a newborn son. Perhaps we will never know for certain. But to Major James Campbell of the 47th Alabama there was no question. Left in command of the regiment after the resignation of Jackson and the wounding of Lt. Col. Bulger on the slopes of Little Round Top, it was up to Campbell to write the Official Report of the 47th’s actions on July 2. He wrote it on August 7 and in it, he complained of Jackson’s performance and hinted about Jackson’s cowardice. According to Campbell, there was “some confusion” during the regiment’s advance “owing to the fact that in the charge the lieutenant-colonel [Bulger] expected the colonel [Jackson] to give all necessary commands, and the colonel remained so far behind that his presence on the field was but a trammel on the lieutenant-colonel.” At the end of the report, Campbell wrote that out of the 21 officers in the regiment, “All of these (the 21) acted well. The colonel and adjutant are not included in this number.”[1] It is possible, of course, that Major Campbell may have bore a personal grudge against Jackson for some, unknown reason, but still, and as Gary Bruner pointed out in an article documenting the actions of the 47th Alabama at Gettysburg, “the fact that Major Campbell’s report stood, uncorrected by any higher officer, accusing Colonel Jackson of not only mishandling his troops, but strongly implying cowardice as well, is extremely telling.”[2]

Colonel James W. Jackson paid a high price fighting in support of his cause but despite his physical sacrifice—his sickness and his injury—the deepest wound the young officer sustained in the war may have very well been this post-Gettysburg report, which attacked his character and his bravery. We may never know what happened, exactly, that Thursday afternoon, but since the history of Gettysburg so thoroughly dominates the historiography of the Civil War, Colonel James Jackson’s name, when it is discussed, is oftentimes linked to cowardice. Citing Major Campbell’s report as testimony, some historians claimed Jackson resigned in disgrace following Gettysburg, although he had originally submitted his resignation prior to the battle. Either way, Major James Campbell was unkind to Jackson and his words continue to haunt the colonel’s legacy. Captain Joseph Burton, however, who also served under the sickly young doctor in the 47th, was more charitable when years later he wrote that Jackson was “. . .a good officer and a brave man, but he was so thoroughly disqualified physically to be a soldier.”[3]

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It had been almost two years since Gettysburg and since he had last worn his faded, dust-covered gray uniform. Ever since his resignation in mid-July 1863, Jackson had lived at his parents’ plantation home in Greenville, along with his wife Jennie and their two children—six-year-old Tallulah and two-year-old Clyde. He had spent most of those two years bedridden, having never been able to recover his ruined and wrecked health. But that day in April, 1865, duty summoned him once more to uniform. The war may have been over but Union raiding parties were still out there and now, one of them was galloping fast toward Jackson’s home and family.

Fully dressed, James Jackson ventured outside while his wife, mother, and two young children remained in hiding in the house. He painfully mounted his horse and rode out toward the spot where his father had just taken the family’s livestock. Along the way, however, Jackson came to a sudden halt when he spotted the blue-coated horsemen heading in his direction. They also caught sight of him and, suddenly, half the Union men galloped after him while the other half continued riding to the house. When that half arrived at the house, Jackson’s blind mother, amid much commotion and shedding tears, pleaded with the officer in command of the raiding party to take what they wanted but to spare her son’s life. As she begged, she told them that her son was so weak, so sick that he had essentially come home to die. Hearing the heartache in the elderly woman’s voice, the officer promised that her son, if captured, would not be hurt. The Union men soon galloped away, leaving James’s mother and wife no doubt weeping and the children fearful that they may never see their daddy again. Word soon arrived that Colonel Jackson had been ridden down and captured—and that he was most likely dead—but this proved to be a false report, for not long after, Colonel Jackson was seen limping up the plantation road and toward the house. He had, indeed, been captured but the Union officer, after confiscating Jackson’s horse, ordered him to be released. Now, he was returning home. …for the last time, as it turned out.[4]

grave of Jackson paint

The grave of Col. James W. Jackson, Greenville City Cemetery

Colonel James Jackson did, indeed, come home to die and following this brief but nerve-wracking encounter with the blue-coated Union horsemen in mid-April 1865, he retired once more to the bedroom. He never again rose but remained bedridden for the next two-and-a-half months. Finally, on July 1, 1865, Jackson called upon his father, Hinson, and begged that he look after his beloved Jennie and their two young children; he knew the end was near. Later that same day, Colonel James Jackson breathed his last. He was only 33 years old. Next day—July 2—James Jackson was buried in the Greenville City Cemetery. It was exactly two years from the date of that fateful day at Gettysburg when his 47th Alabama charged up the boulder-strewn slopes of Little Round Top; two years from the date when his reputation was ruined and his wartime record scarred with accusations of cowardice, whether fairly or not. And those accusations continue to haunt Colonel Jackson’s legacy to this day just as tragedy continued to haunt his family. Less than a week after the death of his son, Hinson Jackson collapsed and died suddenly, while dear little Tallulah Jackson died in 1866 at the age of seven.[5]

John Hoptak, Park Ranger

[1] Report of Major James Campbell, in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 27, Part II, page 395.

[2] Bruner, 21.

[3] Burton quoted in Ibid.; In Lee’s Colonels, Robert Krick suggests that Jackson resigned in disgrace [pg. 189], while Stewart Sifakis, in his work, Who’s Who In the Confederacy, recorded of Jackson that “not all of the officers in the Army of Northern Virginia were heroes.” In his article on the 47th Alabama, Gary Bruner also wrote that Jackson “resigned in disgrace immediately after Gettysburg.”

[4] Laine and Penny, 131-132.

[5] Ibid.; “Family Group Record” James Washington Jackson, in 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File, in the Collections of the Antietam National Battlefield Library.

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James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg – Part I

Wearily, the suffering, young veteran sat up in bed; then, slowly, he rose to his feet.  Colonel James Washington Jackson was only 33 years old but the war had wrecked him, left him broken. A few years earlier he was youthful, exuberant, and full of life. Now it was a struggle for him just to stand. Since the outset of war in 1861, the fervent secessionist had battled illness and injury while faithfully and bravely fighting for his cause. Throughout his two years in uniform he had been plagued by disease and battered by bullets. It had been nearly two years since he had left the army, immediately after the great battle at Gettysburg, but now duty had again summoned him to uniform. The enemy was approaching and the sickly young colonel was determined to confront them.[1]

It was mid-April 1865 and America’s civil war was at last drawing to a close. There were still a few small Confederate armies in the field but most everywhere else throughout the Confederacy resistance had entirely collapsed. Richmond had fallen and President Jefferson Davis was on the run. A few days after the fall of Richmond—at a crossroads village known as Appomattox Court House—General Robert E. Lee surrendered his famed Army of Northern Virginia, or at least what was left of it. People throughout the North rejoiced at news of the triumph, yet their joy was vanquished completely just a few days later when news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination fell like a thunderclap across the land.

Things may have been far quieter and more subdued in faraway Greenville, Georgia, but, even so, some trouble did remain. Sherman’s army had left long ago, leaving a smoldering landscape in its wake, but still, small bands of soldiers wearing blue galloped across the countryside, raiding homes and confiscating horses, cattle, or whatever else they might find of value. And one day in mid-April 1865—as the rest of the nation reacted to the news of Lee’s surrender and of Lincoln’s murder—one such raiding party galloped up to the plantation home owned by Colonel James W. Jackson’s father. For the past two years, Colonel Jackson had resided there, along with his young wife, Jennie, their two young children—six-year-old Tellulah and two-year-old Clyde—along with Jackson’s elderly, blind mother and his aging father who was already out that morning, attempting to hide the family’s livestock from the marauding band of blue-clad soldiers.[2]

Upstairs, Colonel Jackson slowly dressed in his faded, dust-covered gray uniform with its gilded gold braiding upon its sleeves and the fading stars upon its collar. Likely this was the same uniform he had worn while serving in Lee’s army as commander of the 47th Alabama Infantry and as he put it on that April day in 1865 to once more confront the enemy, one must wonder if his mind raced back to painful memories of far distant fields, such as those at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, or Gettysburg, where the regiment had suffered such heavy losses. There would have been little time for reflection just then, however, for the enemy was approaching fast, galloping toward his home and family.

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Jackson Blog Colonel James W. Jackson 47th AL paint

James Jackson, Colonel of the 47th Alabama Infantry Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama

James Washington Jackson was born in September 1831 in Meriweather County, Georgia, and was raised in Greenville, the county seat. As a young man he attended the Greenville Military Academy then set off for New York to study medicine. He graduated from the University Medical College (today the New York University School of Medicine) in 1851. Following graduation, twenty-year-old James Jackson returned to Greenville and established a practice. In 1856, he struck out on his own and settled in Lafayette, Alabama, where he again established a medical practice. The Census of 1860 reveals that he was married by 1860 and that he and his wife, Jennie, had a one-year-old baby girl named Tallulah. A second child—a son named Clyde—would arrive three years later, in 1863.[3]

Young Dr. Jackson was working hard to grow his practice and establish a comfortable life for his family when, in November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. An ardent supporter of states’ rights, Jackson cried out for secession and no doubt applauded when, on December 20, South Carolina became the first state to do so. Mississippi was next, seceding on January 9, 1861, followed the next day by Florida and then by Jackson’s native Alabama on January 11. A young and aspiring leader in the community, Jackson helped to raise the Lafayette Guards, a militia company that would become Company A of the 7th Alabama Infantry upon the outbreak of war.

As its captain, Jackson led his company to Pensacola, Florida, where the 7th Alabama Infantry was formally organized and first assigned. The regiment spent the summer training at Pensacola, its soldiers quickly becoming adept in the ways of a soldier. Yet it was there also where the grim realities of life in a Civil War camp set in. Sickness was widespread and disease spread quickly through the ranks. Captain Jackson’s company was stationed at Fort Barrancas where disease took an especially heavy toll. In a July 10 letter to his wife Jennie, the young captain wrote that “[t]here is a great deal of sickness in the camp & a good portion of [the sick] die. I have sixteen [soldiers in the company] down sick at this time. Some with the measles & others [with] Typhoid Fever. . . .I think that if we stay throughout the summer that at least one half [of the men] will die.”[4] Unfortunately, Captain Jackson would soon find out firsthand just how debilitating disease could be. He fell victim to some illness—what, exactly, the records do not reveal—and in October the former doctor tendered his resignation. In poor health, he traveled back home to his wife and daughter in Lafayette to recover. By the spring of 1862, however, the now thirty-year-old Dr. Jackson believed he was once again well enough to return to the army.[5]

That spring, the call for volunteers had once more been sounded and throughout Alabama companies were again being organized. And just as he did the previous spring, James W. Jackson went to work seeking out volunteers. It was not long before he raised yet another company, one that would be assigned to the newly-formed 47th Alabama Infantry. Seeking higher rank, Jackson sought a leadership position within the new regiment, and once the 47th was fully raised, its men took a vote and elected Jackson as their lieutenant-colonel, or the regiment’s second in command. James M. Oliver, and attorney from Tallapoosa County, was elected colonel. Jackson must have been satisfied with the results and with his promotion but there was some grumbling in the ranks. Some of the men of the 47th believed Jackson was simply too sick and too broken down physically for such a high command.[6]

Jackson may have still been quite unwell but in June 1862 he again bade farewell to Jennie and young Tallulah and set off for war. The 47th traveled to Virginia where, outside Richmond, it was assigned to Taliaferro’s Brigade, in Stonewall Jackson’s wing of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. A few days after he and his men arrived, Lt. Col. Jackson took the time to write to his family. He was “happy” to tell them that the climate in Virginia was improving his health considerably and expressed his hope that he “will again become sound.” And although he and his men did not actively participate in any of the fighting that defined the bloody Seven Days’ Battles outside of Richmond, Jackson did write about hearing the sounds of battle at least, with “the heavy peals of artillery & the lesser but more constant roll of musketry.” He reveled in the army’s triumph and boasted about McClellan’s mighty army having been driven back and expressed his hope that the Confederate army would soon try “the game of invasion ourselves.”[7] Sure enough, Robert E. Lee did, indeed, turn his attention north and toward another Union army that had been organized and placed under the command of General John Pope. Seeking to destroy Pope before his force could link with up McClellan’s, Lee ordered Stonewall Jackson’s men north and it would not be long before Lt. Col. Jackson and the rookie soldiers of the 47th Alabama found themselves in the middle of their first fight.

It was at a place called Cedar Mountain where they experienced the shock and carnage of battle for the first time. Just prior to the battle, Colonel Oliver had taken ill and command of the regiment suddenly devolved upon young Jackson. Although new to command and new to battle, Jackson and the men of the 47th put up a commendable effort. They were ultimately driven back, however, and routed from the field but not before losing 12 men killed and 76 wounded. James Jackson was swept up in the retreat. Still suffering from poor health, the young lieutenant colonel was on the verge of collapse yet, the very next day, Jackson found himself formally elevated to regimental command upon the resignation of Colonel Oliver. Now officially as its commander, Jackson would lead the 47th Alabama again at 2nd Manassas where it was also heavily engaged. It was there, at 2nd Manassas, where brigade commander William Taliaferro fell seriously wounded and his place was soon taken by Colonel Edward T.H. Warren of the 10th Virginia Infantry.[8]

After his smashing victory over Pope at 2nd Manassas, Lee continued driving north, and as James Jackson wished, pursued the “game of invasion” by leading his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River and into Maryland. In the days ahead, the 47th Alabama crisscrossed the lush agricultural countryside, marched up and over South Mountain, re-crossed the Potomac River near Williamsport, and helped force the evacuation of a small Union garrison at Martinsburg, Virginia, before continuing south toward Harpers Ferry. Left behind at Martinsburg was the 10th Virginia along with its commander, Colonel Warren. With Taliaferro’s wounding and Warren’s detachment, the brigade would now be led by its next senior commander, who happened to be Colonel James W. Jackson of the 47th Alabama. It had been less than a month since he first assumed regimental command but such was the high rate of attrition among the other regimental commanders that Jackson nonetheless found himself in brigade command. In the days ahead, Jackson would lead Taliaferro’s highly-thinned brigade during the siege of Harpers Ferry and especially into the hell that was Antietam.

When dawn broke on that fateful September 17, 1862, Colonel James W. Jackson’s brigade was positioned just to the west of the Hagerstown Turnpike and a few hundred yards north of the humble meetinghouse of the local Baptist Brethren congregation, whom outsiders referred to as Dunkers. To their immediate rear and rising to their left were the trees of the West Woods. Starke’s Louisiana troops stood directly to their left while several hundred yards to their front were the soldiers of the famed Stonewall Brigade, commanded that day by Colonel Andrew Jackson Grigsby. In all, Colonel J.W. Jackson went into battle that day with four heavily depleted regiments—the 23rd & 37 Virginia and the 47th & 48th Alabama—whose total, combined strength did not exceed 500 men.

The heavy sounds of artillery pierced the eerie early morning silence. Soon a cacophony of noise erupted across the fog-draped battlefield: the sharp crack of musketry mingling with the pitiful cries of the wounded and piercing rebel yell.  Thousands of soldiers in blue advanced through the fog like dark silhouettes, bearing down upon the thinly-held Confederate lines. In front of Jackson’s position, the soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade struggled mightily against the great strength of the hard-fighting Iron Brigade, which was advancing down both sides of the Hagerstown Pike. After a short, sharp contest, Grigsby’s line crumbled and the men broke to the rear in the face of greater numbers. In that second line, however, General William Starke was determined to drive the Yankees back. Once the retreating Virginians had cleared his front, Starke ordered a counter-attack. With a yell, his Louisianans charged out of the woodlot. They were soon followed by Colonel Jackson’s men. Amid a heavy fire, the soldiers of both units turned to their right, toward the post-and-rail fence lining the Hagerstown Pike.  Early in the counter-charge, Starke had been gunned down, shot several times and mortally wounded. This left young Colonel Jackson in overall command of this rather forlorn assault. Writing to his wife just a few days after the slaughter, Jackson recorded that his men advanced “under a heavy shower of grape shot, bombshells, and musket balls,” while Captain R.J. Jennings of the 23rd Virginia wrote that the Federals “just mowed us down.”[9]

Confederate Dead Along Hagerstown Pike at Antietam Gardner Image LOC

Confederate Dead Along the Hagerstown Pike at Antietam. (LOC)

As soon as Jackson’s men reached the fence lining the western side of the Turnpike “they all fell down & began firing.”  Only a few yards away—indeed, from behind the fence that lined the eastern side of the Hagerstown Pike—stood Wisconsin soldiers of the Iron Brigade, distinctive in their black hats. As his casualties rapidly mounted, Jackson made every effort to get his men to charge over the fence but, as he wrote, “the fire was so destructive that they would not rise.”  In the midst of this tempest of shot and shell, Jackson found himself in a dire situation. “I found I was the only man standing for a Quarter of a mile,” he wrote, “all the [soldiers of the] Brigade being in a recumbent position & although they loaded and fired; yet they did not do the exicution they would have done if they had charged up to the barrells of the enemy.”  Taking fire from the front, from their flank, and even from the rear, Starke’s Louisianans and Jackson’s Alabamans and Virginians fell back. Just moments before the retreat commenced, however, a bullet tore into Colonel Jackson’s right arm, with “the ball penetrating to the bone.”  Jackson “hobbled off the field” and attempted to rally as many of his men as possible but the wound would force him to relinquish command. Of the 500 or so men Jackson led into the fight that morning, 173 became casualties, a 35% loss. Casualties in Jackson’s 47th Alabama were so high that the following morning, only 17 soldiers answered the roll call. [10]

James W. Jackson described Antietam as “the hardest fight I was ever in & it seems allmost miracelous that I escaped.” He further reflected that combat “is a terrable thing and it takes nerves of iron to stand the battles we are having in this country.”[11] As he had twice proven, Jackson certainly possessed those “nerves of iron” to stand up to battle, but his body was simply failing him and his poor health would only continue to worsen after the wound he received to his right arm at Antietam. Afterwards, the ailing Colonel took a leave of absence and made the long journey back home to his wife and daughter in Lafayette, Alabama. He would remain there for the next several months but with the return of spring in 1863, Jackson longed to return again to service and to his regiment. Believing himself sufficiently recuperated, the indomitable Jackson, for the third time in the past two years, once again left his home and family behind and headed off to war. Upon his departure this time, however, Jennie Jackson, along with young Tallulah, bade farewell to their home in Lafayette and made their way to Greenville, Georgia, where, for the time being at least, they would reside with James’s parents. Most likely Jennie made this move because by this time she was pregnant with the couple’s second child.

When Colonel Jackson arrived back in the camps of the 47th Alabama he discovered that much had changed. The regiment had been transferred from Stonewall Jackson’s command to General James Longstreet’s First Corps, and placed specifically in Evander Law’s all-Alabama brigade, of General John Bell Hood’s Division. Following a partially successful campaign near Suffolk, Virginia, Longstreet and his men returned to Lee’s Army in early May though not in time to participate in the Battle of Chancellorsville, a battle that many today consider Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. For Lee, however, this brilliant victory had cost him 13,000 of his best soldiers—nearly 20% of his army—including his chief lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson who had been gunned down and mortally wounded. Worse, the army had little to show for its success. It had not achieved any long-lasting gains—not a single foot of ground—while the Union army was simply forced back to its former positions. Longstreet later wrote that victories such as Chancellorsville were “fruitless” and were “consuming” the army.[12] Thus, in the aftermath of Chancellorsville and even as the remains of Stonewall Jackson were being lowered in the ground, Robert E. Lee set out to achieve more. With the clock ticking ever louder against the Confederacy, Lee planned to once more take his army north and seek out a smashing victory on Union soil.

The result, of course, was the Gettysburg Campaign.

Lee’s army began marching away from its campsites near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in early June 1863. At first, the men headed west toward Culpeper but then they turned to the right, and marched north, down the Shenandoah Valley, toward the Potomac River and the Mason-Dixon Line beyond. Colonel James Jackson led the 47th Alabama as it marched north with Longstreet’s columns. On June 24, the head of Longstreet’s corps reached the Potomac. Covering more than 100 miles on foot in just three weeks, the march north was a grueling one, especially in the early summer heat and along the dust-covered roadways. Hundreds of men in butternut and gray—as well as hundreds of others in blue—fell out, collapsing from exhaustion or from heat stroke. The march north must have also been a particularly exhausting one for Colonel James Jackson. Despite his strong desire to remain in the army—fighting for his cause and for his country—he simply was not physically capable. Though he possessed an unconquerable and determined spirit, the young, sickly officer finally recognized his physical condition and on June 23, 1863, he submitted his resignation.[13]  Unfortunately for him, however, his resignation would not be approved and accepted until the second week of July and after the armies had come to blows at Gettysburg.

Colonel James Jackson and the soldiers of the 47th arrived near Gettysburg sometime around noon on July 2. There were few soldiers, in either army, who were more thoroughly exhausted upon their arrival at Gettysburg than these Alabama soldiers. On July 1, when the advance elements of both armies collided west and north of Gettysburg, the 47th, along with the rest of Evander Law’s brigade, was nearly thirty miles away, on the western side of South Mountain, though they could still hear the muffled sounds of battle emanating from the other side of the mountain. They bedded down that Wednesday night at a small hamlet known as New Guilford with instructions to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Their orders arrived early the next morning and by 4:00 a.m., they were on their way. Marching east from New Guilford, Law’s men marched up and over South Mountain and covered more than twenty miles even before arriving at Gettysburg.[14] Their legs were sore and aching, their canteens had long since been emptied, and all the Alabamians looked forward to was just a little break—a quick breather—but it was simply not to be, for when they arrived and rejoined the other brigades of Hood’s Division just to the west of Gettysburg, General Longstreet set all his men in motion, moving them south in order to carry out Lee’s planned assault for the day.

Lee’s plan for that Thursday, July 2, called for Longstreet to launch the major attack upon the Union left flank while at the same time Richard Ewell was to commence a demonstration against the Union right, to be converted into a general assault should the opportunity present itself. It is well known that Longstreet did not like the plan. Indeed, he did not much like the prospect of attacking at all at Gettysburg. Several times he tried to talk Lee out of it, seeking instead to persuade the army commander to shift the army further to the south and east in effort to draw the Union army out of its strong defensive position and force Meade into attacking them. Yet Lee insisted and Longstreet ultimately complied. So, despite his protestations, when Law’s exhausted and parched Alabamians arrived sometime just before noon, Longstreet began shifting his men south, to their designated jumping-off point: a point just to the west of a large peach orchard—a point that Lee believed would be opposite the Union left flank. What Longstreet discovered, however, upon his arrival there, was that the Union army was simply not holding the position Lee had thought.

Instead of his men being opposite the Union flank, Longstreet’s leading division—under Lafayette McLaws—found itself directly across from a heavy line of blue-coated soldiers in and among the peach trees, just five hundred or so yards away. Worse, the Union battle lines also extended north along the Emmitsburg Road and further to the south and east, stretching off toward the Round Tops. It was immediately apparent that Lee’s entire plan of attack was based on poor intelligence and a poor understanding of the Union position. Longstreet was now forced to change his plan of attack. It was originally intended for McLaws to kick off the assault but now it would be left to John Bell Hood. As directed, Hood, the hard-fighting Kentuckian, led his men further to the south and lined them up to the right of McLaws’s Division.  Going into position on the far right of Hood’s first line—and thus on the extreme right flank of the entire Confederate army—were the thirsty and fatigued soldiers of Law’s Alabama brigade. To their front, rising up roughly one mile to the east were two hilltops, which history would soon label as Big and Little Round Top. Closer still, and just in front of Little Round Top, was a bizarre, jumbled collection of tremendous rocks and boulders known as Devil’s Den. Atop these rocks and all along the ridgeline that stretched to the far left-front of Law’s men were soldiers in blue backed up by artillery.

It was nearing 4:00 p.m., and though the fighting that second day at Gettysburg had yet to begin, Law’s Alabama soldiers had already been awake and on their feet for well over twelve hours that day and already they had marched nearly 25 miles. Sweaty, overheated, and breathing deep, Law’s men formed with the 4th Alabama on the left of the brigade line, followed to their right by Colonel Jackson and 47thAlabama and then the 15th, 44th, and 48th Alabama Infantries. The ground to their immediate front was rolling, uneven, and broken up by a series of fences while in the distance loomed those rocky hilltops. It would be difficult ground to advance across and few, if any, of the soldiers relished the prospect of attacking the Union troops in such a strong, naturally defensive position.   Hood repeatedly urged against it while General Law formally protested the orders to attack. Like Longstreet had done earlier, Hood and Law now argued to shift even further to the south and work their way around the Union left and behind the Round Tops instead of attacking them head on. But there would be no relenting on Lee’s part; only a few hours of daylight remained, tempers had already flared. . .there would be no talking Lee out of it. The orders would stand and the attack would go forward as directed.

Longstreet’s grand assault kicked off sometime just after 4:00 p.m. when Evander Law’s Alabama soldiers stepped forward from the trees lining the southern extension of Warfield Ridge and across that rolling, broken ground. To their left the Texans and Arkansans of Jerome Robertson’s brigade swept forward, while to their rear, two brigades of Georgia soldiers—under Generals Henry Benning and George “Tige” Anderson—prepared to move out in support. Immediately all these men came under heavy artillery fire from the Union guns posted atop Devil’s Den and from those posted further to the north in and around the Peach Orchard. The terrain further disrupted formations. General Hood, the divisional commander who objected to the attack, was soon seen being carried from the field, having suffered a severe wound that would leave his left arm paralyzed for the rest of his life. Command and control of his division began to fall apart even as his four brigades pressed onward. At one point during the advance, Evander Law halted the two regiments on the far right of his line—the 44th and 48th Alabama—and directed them to move in a northerly fashion, behind the other regiments of his brigade, and toward the Union guns that had been raining shot and shell upon them from Devil’s Den. These two regiments soon became entangled with the regiments of Robertson’s Brigade in their own struggle against the Union soldiers atop the boulder-strewn ground.


The Confederate assault on Little Round Top, as painted by Edwin Forbes. (LOC)

When these two regiments redirected their advance to the north, it left the 47th and 15th Alabama now constituting the far right of Law’s line. They, too, had suffered fire from the artillery fire but they pressed on ahead, driving toward the tree-covered western slopes of Big Round Top. They were especially pestered in their advance by the green-clad soldiers of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters who were well-positioned behind the numerous stone walls and fences that crisscrossed the ground. The Sharpshooters fell back slowly—steadily—in the face of the oncoming Alabamians, who pursued them every step of the way. . .and all the way up the steep western slope of Big Round Top. In their exhausted, worn-out condition, the 650 or so soldiers of the 15th and 47th Alabama nevertheless climbed and crawled and panted their way to the very summit. But again there would be no rest for these weary men; orders soon arrived for the 15th and 47th to sweep down the northern side of the mountain then attack up Little Round Top, where, just minutes earlier, Union soldiers from Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade had arrived and taken up position. So, down the hillside the Alabama men went, all the while they could hear the steady sounds of combat raging to their left and to their front as the fighting at Devil’s Den reached a fever pitch and as the soldiers of the 4th Alabama and 4th and 5th Texas attacked the right of Vincent’s line on Little Round Top. Then—suddenly—a crash of musketry broke out directly to their front as the soldiers of the 83rd Pennsylvania and 20th Maine rudely welcomed these Alabamians to the brawl. Several times the Alabama soldiers surged up the southern slope of Little Round Top but all to no avail. The contest would rage until just after 6:00 p.m. when, alone and unsupported, the soldiers of the 15th and 47th Alabama fell back, being hurried along the way by the bayonet-wielding, charging soldiers of the 20th Maine Infantry.  It had been an especially rough, trying day for these Alabama soldiers and their losses were heavy.

Several days after the bloodshed and while the army was in the midst of its retreat from Gettysburg, Colonel James W. Jackson penned a lengthy and insightful letter to his wife Jennie describing the battle action and recording his thoughts about Lee’s decision to attack on July 2:

Camp Near Hagerstown

My Dear Wife

Providence had been kind enough to take me once more through the dangers of a battlefield. I am now with the army at Hagerstown seven miles from the Potomac. We have had one of the bloodiest battles of war without a favorable result for us. We met the enemy near Gadesburg [Gettysburg] Pennsylvania. [H]e had intrenched himself on a mountain ridge & extended his line about seven miles. General Lee, contrary to the opinion of every one, attacked him in his strong position. I will give you an idea of the part of the field I fought on & you can get an idea of the whole for our part was a sample of the whole. It was about three o’clock in the evening of the second of July that we approached the mountain. I saw at once that the position was a very strong one & concluded the enemy would have to leave his position before he could get a fight out of us. But contrary to my expectations & the advice of his Generals, as I am told, Gen. Lee ordered us to advance. The distance we had to charge was at least a mile & a half without a shrub to protect us in our advance. I drew the men in line & ordered them to advance. It would have done you good to see the brave fellows answer the order with a shout & clash of bayonets. The charge begun; my Regiment had the line at the distance of fifty to a hundred yards. The enemy seeing the determination of my men began to throw grape canister & shell into us thick as you ever saw hail stones. But it would all do no good; the men would advance. The Regiments continued to advance, though not all at the same rate. For before half the distance was cleared my Regiment was in advance of the line. . .at least a hundred & fifty yards. My men being very much fatigued we halted for a moment behind a stone fence [which was] the only covering from the place we had started to the foot of the mountain. I gave them only a moment to rest & gave the order to advance. Then the slaughter commenced in earnest[;] we were in good range of their sharp shooters; but we could get no crack at them; from the fact that they were entrenched behind stone fences. We got in about a hundred yards of the first line when the men gave a shout & charged it at double-quick. The Yanks waited until we come in forty or fifty paces & gave way and fled. We pursued & they fled, making a stand behind any rock on the mountain which were as thick as they could be. We followed them to the very top which was the distance of one mile to the foot. By the time we reached the top we had but half our men. When the [Union] army arrived on the [Little Round] top, they made a stand; we reformed our line to charge them. We approached in a five paces of it & found it almost perpendicular with a breast work of rock at the top that reached to the shoulders of the enemy behind it. We were ordered to take it & our gallant boys walked up to the very top, but as fast as they did so they were sacrificed. Our men had marched that day a distance of thirty miles & were completely exhausted before they began this charge & they fainted on the field by hundreds. We made four efforts to take the top but failed. We then fell back about three hundred yards & then up a breast work of rock. . . .We lost a great many in killed & wounded. . . .”[15]

Toward the end of the letter, Colonel Jackson also informed his wife, bluntly and quite succinctly, that he had resigned and that he would “come home as soon as I can get off.”[16] It will be recalled that Jackson had tendered his resignation almost two weeks earlier—on June 23—though it was not until after the Battle of Gettysburg before it was accepted. As we shall see next week, for Colonel Jackson and especially for his legacy, this was to be most unfortunate.

John Hoptak, Park Ranger

[1] Gary Laine and Morris Penny, Law’s Alabama Brigade in the War Between the Union and Confederacy. [Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Publishing, 1996]: 131-132.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Biographical Information found in 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File in the Collections at the Antietam National Battlefield Library; 1860 U.S. Census, Chambers County, Alabama, population schedule for LaFayette, Alabama, p. 2, Dwelling 7, Family 7.

[4] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, July 10, 1861, from Pensacola, Courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[5] Robert K. Krick, Lee’s Colonels [Morningside Bookshop, 1992]: 189.

[6] Laine and Penny, Law’s Alabama Brigade, 28-29.

[7] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson and Family, July 6, 1862, from Near Richmond, Courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[8] Penny and Laine, Law’s Alabama Brigade, 32.

[9] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, September 21, 1862, from “On the Potomac River,” in the 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File in the Collections of the Antietam National Battlefield Library; R.J. Jennings to Ezra Carman, 12/15/1897, in Carman Files, Antietam Battlefield Library.

[10] James W. Jackson to wife, 9/21/1862; Laine and Penny, 32-40.

[11] James W. Jackson to wife, 9/21/1862.

[12] James Longstreet quoted in Stephen Sears, Gettysburg [New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2003]: 6.

[13] Morris M. Penny and J. Gary Laine, Struggle for the Round Tops: Law’s Alabama Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. [Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Publishing, 2007]: 164.

[14] Gary P. Bruner, “Up and Over Big Round Top: The Forgotten 47th Alabama,” Gettysburg Magazine, No. 22 (January 2000): 9-10.

[15] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, July 7, 1863, from “Near Hagerstown,” Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[16] Ibid.

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