The Enduring Might of Melody and Verse- Sentimental Songs of Gettysburg

Confederate commander Robert E. Lee has often been quoted as stating: “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”  If he were to issue that statement again today, he might change it to: “I don’t think we can have a teenager without an iPod.”  Music utterly permeates our culture.  Individuals worldwide have access to the medium of music through mp3 downloads, internet streaming, and CD’s.  Music is used to express pleasure, pain, and everything in-between.  Different styles of music have told these tales throughout the decades: various varieties of pop, rock and roll, and jazz…yet even before these more modern genres the Civil War soldier used music as well.  Music gave soldiers a way to fight boredom, both in camp and on the march.  Music not only helped give orders in battle, but also sometimes assisted in rallying men.  Soldiers and civilians across both North and South expressed political opinions through music; they also took inspiration and solace in song, just as they do today.  Furthermore, song can be used to commemorate major world events.  The most famous American example of this might be our own national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the verses of which were inspired by the British attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  Even so, there are other examples…and nothing seems to capture the American imagination quite like the Battle of Gettysburg.  The events surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg, fought for three days on July 1, 2, and 3 of 1863, leave a plethora of incidents to inspire song and verse.  Indeed, there will be several songs composed during the Civil War in the wake of America’s bloodiest battle, about America’s bloodiest battle.  The information and sheet music images for the following songs in this series of blog posts are drawn mostly from the Library of Congress; the information and image for the Pickett’s Charge March comes from the University of Virginia library.

The Children of the Battlefield

Children of the Battlefield

(Library of Congress)

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“The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” Revisited, Part III

Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg

The body behind the sharpshooter’s “covert” with extraneous equipment placed in the scene by the photographers for better effect. (Library of Congress)

Can the uniform of the dead soldier in “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” provide us with additional details about his identity? Possibly, but understanding how Lee’s vast army was uniformed in the summer of 1863 is a challenge unique to itself.

By the spring of 1863, a majority of the soldiers in the “Army of Northern Virginia” were clothed in uniforms provided by their home states, shipped to the army from state-operated depots located in major southern cities. Georgia, for example, had clothing depots in Atlanta, Columbus and Athens where uniforms based on a state-adopted pattern were manufactured, gathered for inspection and shipment to Richmond where these items were then distributed to Georgia units serving in Lee’s army. When compared side by side to the uniform patterns adopted by other southern states such as North Carolina and Virginia, there were distinctive differences.  “Uniformity” of the army was anything but and without doubt, the variety of styles and intermittent issue of clothing were some of the primary reasons for the somewhat ragged appearance of southern ranks; that as well as the different material and dyes used for coats, jackets and trousers made from southern manufactured cloth or material imported from Europe. Even so, the logistical nightmare of getting clothing to Richmond warehouses followed by transport to the army caused countless shortages and more often than not, soldiers were forced to improvise by acquiring clothing through other means, primarily from sources directly at home, by purchase or even through theft. Though the old commutation system (towns and counties provided uniforms for their own volunteers) had failed by early 1862 in favor of the state depot system, home-made uniforms still came to the army through the kindness of ladies’ support groups, sewing circles, and individuals. As it turned out there was little on any Confederate uniform that identified its source other than a distinctive pattern or a state seal impressed on the buttons.

The individual in this photograph wears a skirted coat (commonly referred to as a frock coat) of a design often seen worn by troops from states where skirted coats were first adopted in 1861 as a state pattern- Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia troops come to mind. And though the typical short-waisted jacket was more common by the summer of 1863, contemporary photographs of Confederate soldiers from Tennessee and Texas reveal men from those states in skirted coats as late as 1864. Yet those examples appear to be a state-issue pattern and quite different from the coat on the Devil’s Den “sharpshooter”, which appears to be made of a coarse jean material with an uneven six button front, large exterior pocket on the left breast and unadorned collar and cuffs. Large exterior pockets similar to this example show up in photos of Confederates wearing battle shirts (a large overshirt, meant to be an exterior garment) and some early commutation jackets, but those examples slowly disappeared after a few month’s wear and it’s doubtful any could have existed in the Army of Northern Virginia’s ranks at this time of the war.

Uniform detail

Detail of the uniform coat with its large exterior breast pocket.  The black canvas bag at the shoulder is the deceased’s haversack. (Library of Congress)

A very good examination of this  soldier’s uniform has been previously offered at “Blue and Gray Marching”, a site hosted by James M. Schruefer specializing in study of army uniforms and logistics at and many others have also tried to analyze the coat and compare it with known examples. Mr. Ben Tart, who has a degree in textile history and many years of research into southern cloth and historic dyes, has likewise studied these photos and points out that the material composition of this soldier’s coat and trousers appear to be the typical jean cloth produced by southern mills- a wool mix on a cotton warp, the pattern having an effect of “dizziness” with its single direction of weave. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify what mill produced this cloth or the region from which it possibly came since this style of weaving was common in numerous southern mills. Remindful of the early commutation days of supply for southern regiments, the coat is quite possibly one manufactured by the ladies of a small town, shipped with other coats of a similar pattern to the army quartermaster for eventual issue to Georgia soldiers serving in Virginia. Or could the uniform be one made specifically for the soldier who wears the garment? In either case, the coat’s details are certainly not typical when compared to uniform coats and jackets in photos of soldiers taken in 1863, including those that still cling to the bodies of dead southerners photographed elsewhere on the battlefield.

21st NC INF, Mast, p. 45

Cousins Nathan Gwynn and Alexander Chatham, 21st NC Infantry in 1861. (Mast, State Troops & Volunteers.)

Is this soldier’s coat truly a-typical? Maybe not. As Mr. Tart pointed out, a remarkably close match to it appears in a wartime photo of two cousins from Surrey County, North Carolina, published on page 45 in the excellent study by Greg Mast, State Troops & Volunteers, A Photographic Record of North Carolina’s Civil War Soldiers of North Carolina (NC Division of Archives & History, Raleigh, 1995). Cousins Nathan Gwynn and Alexander Chatham both served in Company H, 21st North Carolina Infantry and stand for the camera in uniforms that certainly do not fit any typical pattern of the style provided by the North Carolina state quartermaster, and are very similar to the coat on the body of the individual in Devil’s Den. The dress and equipment in the Gwynn and Chatham photo suggests it was taken sometime in the summer months of 1861- Chatham was elected 3rd lieutenant in September 1861 and Gwynnn was discharged that December. But could any coat like this have survived after two years of hard campaigning and wear? It’s possible, but given the conditions of average field wear, a uniform item such as this would exhibit a lot more discoloration and wear to the material’s finish than what is revealed in high resolution versions of the Gardner photographs.

So does this possibly identify the man as a North Carolinian? Doubtful, since there were no soldiers from North Carolina in Hood’s Division or in the battalion of sharpshooters that occupied this area of the field on July 2 and 3, 1863, and the uniform is not typical of North Carolina-issue clothing in 1863. As noted before, Devil’s Den was occupied by Georgians. Could this soldier have acquired this early, non-typical coat from a North Carolina soldier? Also doubtful, given that Georgia (like North Carolina and Virginia) was very successful at manufacturing and providing clothing to its native troops on the east coast throughout the conflict. Why would a Georgia soldier draw clothing from the North Carolina quartermaster’s stores?

Thomas Kitchen, 8th GA INF

Cpl. Thomas Kitchen, 8th Georgia Infantry, sits for his portrait in the Georgia state regulation uniform. (Library of Congress)

As discussed previously, this deceased soldier was most likely a member of a Georgia regiment, a state that in 1861 adopted “a single breasted frock coat of Georgia Cadet gray, with a skirt extending one half of the distance from the top of the hip to the bend of the knee,” as the official dress uniform for enlisted men. The early coat, seen here as worn by Corporal J. Thomas Kitchen, Company I, 8th Georgia Infantry (at left), indeed has some similarities in style and design to the uniform coat in question. In an effort to stretch the supply of material, the regulation was modified in 1862 or early 1863 and the short-waisted jacket adopted for enlisted men, but that first regulation coat evidently survived within companies of Georgia regiments as well as among some individuals. While the sharpshooter’s coat is not a 100 percent match, it does have some characteristics of the early Georgia regulation coat and unlike the common depot pattern jackets, was most likely produced by seamstresses in a small Georgia town, meant for one of the native sons from their area.  (For more on early North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia uniforms, visit the informative pages at

Little can be discerned from the trousers or additional clothing items other than being examples of Confederate-issue trousers and private purchase clothing (the shirt), though this individual’s shoes are not typical of the examples of Confederate shoes found on the battlefield that have survived in museum collections, including those at Gettysburg National Military Park. A well-known post-battle account written by Isaac Moorhead about his visit to the battlefield in October 1864, included his discovery of a skeleton in Devil’s Den and retrieval of one of the dead man’s shoes, “a ‘Georgia state shoe’ made from canvas, with leather tips and heel stiffeners.” (Isaac Moorhead, “A Visit to Gettysburg – October 1864”, GNMP Library) It’s unclear how Moorhead knew or could identify that relic shoe’s heraldry to Georgia. The state had 125 shoe and boot makers producing footwear for the state’s troops during the war, but any specific pattern in Georgia that substituted canvas for the leather top is unknown to this author. Moorhead’s discovery of the bones and shoe in 1864 was most likely not this individual. Our deceased soldier’s footwear is a low-quarter shoe with leather tops, more common to civilian attire than military.

Though nothing in particular about this man’s uniform can help identify the state from which he came, it does technically provide us with a possible clue when combined with other data gleaned from the Official Records and objects found in the series of photographs taken by Gardner and his associates. We rely on the course of battle action and subsequent events that occurred in the area where his body was first discovered and where casualties were incurred as late as the afternoon of July 3, 1863, when the 15th Georgia Infantry made a desperate race to extricate itself from the grasp of a substantial Union force.

Was this man a Georgia soldier? Most likely, yes. Was he member of the 15th Georgia Infantry? Again, the answer is most likely yes. Was the 15th Georgia Infantry uniformed in the same fashion as this soldier? Possibly, but photographic evidence outside of these images at Devil’s Den have not yet come to light. Will we ever know the true identity of this “sharpshooter” whose image in death is so closely identified with Devils’ Den and the Battle of Gettysburg? Probably not. His name, company and regiment were lost the moment his comrades raced away to safety on that warm July afternoon, leaving him on the field to the care of other men who only saw him as just another “dead Rebel”. His living record lost, only later would the riddle of his post-mortem service at the site where he fell and later as the primary subject of “the covert of a rebel sharpshooter”, (Gardner, Sketchbook, plate 41) be recognized by Frederick Ray and explained by William Frassanito.

Home of a Rebel Sharphooter, Gettysburg

A long time battlefield curiosity, the stone barricade where the “sharpshooter” was photographed stands today, though not in its original form. Re-built several times after the war, the stones were last cemented in place during the 1950’s.

Comparable to the subjects in other pitiful scenes of the dead photographed at Gettysburg, this young southerner had a name, unit and state affiliation. His family lived somewhere in Georgia, praying for his welfare and for a safe return home possibly on the same day and at the same hour these images were being preserved on glass, their son or father destined to become the dead sharpshooter in “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” at one of the deadliest sites on the Gettysburg battlefield- Devil’s Den.

Yet, did he ever sit for a likeness in some photographer’s studio or field camp and could that photo, with a faded name scribbled on the back or in the case that holds the glass, be hidden away, long forgotten in a box in someone’s attic or closet? The possibility of such a discovery keeps us searching and hopeful to finally answer the question, who was that young Rebel sharpshooter found by Alexander Gardner and his photographers in Devils’ Den so long ago?

John Heiser
Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in 15th Georgia Infantry, Historical Memory, Photography, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

“The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” Revisited, Part II

There are several points to consider in our attempt to identify the regiment to which the deceased “sharpshooter” belonged, which also tells the story of his death on this hillside at Devil’s Den. The first begins with the Confederate regiments that fought in this specific area- the 1st Texas followed by the 15th, 17th and 20th Georgia regiments passed through or were positioned here on July 2-3, and suffered casualties here. That leaves a wide choice of units though we can also narrow this to the regiments remaining here after the initial fight on July 2 when the area was occupied by General Benning’s brigade and the handful of sharpshooters attached to Hood’s Division sent here to do harm against the Union soldiers occupying Little Round Top. Those clues, as discussed in our last blog entry, come from the official reports and first-hand accounts from battle participants, favoring the final battle action at this location that involved the 15th Georgia Infantry.

Half of Gibson stereoview

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

More clues can be derived directly from the photographs taken by Gardner’s crew at the initial or original location of the body on the western slope of Devil’s Den. Reliant upon Bill Frassanito’s timeline as published in Journey in Time, and the action that occurred in this area on July 3, the initial series of four photographs were exposed where the soldier fell in battle. As previously noted, southern dead on this western side of the slope of Devil’s Den were carried away and buried by General George Benning’s men overnight of July 2, so it’s doubtful this man would have remained here uncared for if he had been a casualty on that day. Indeed, what appears to be the remains of a small campfire is no more than a foot or more above the deceased’s head, the small patch of white ashes prominent in the flattened grass surrounded by sticks and branches not used to feed the fire, giving weight to the idea that this area was one of brief refuge and safe enough to have at least had a small fire for preparing a meal. Few soldiers would have bothered to find some small comfort by a campfire with a dead comrade but a few inches away. Likewise what appears to be a discarded square bottle or flask, the round spout of the container obvious in the debris of the foreground, is another clue to what may have been consumed here and then the container tossed aside. Did this dark colored flask hold liquor, molasses, powders or was it a bottle of liniment taken from a nearby home?

Detail of the Sharpshooter's Last Sleep

Detail of O’Sullivan’s photo with the remains of the small campfire (white area), unused sticks, the bottle or flask, and wandering tin cup.  The discarded clothing item in the foreground will be shifted again for the Gibson stereoview image, shown at the top of this blog entry. (LOC)

Unlike the series of images of dead southerners taken by Gardner on the Rose Farm where the burial process had been interrupted, the body was not dragged into a row with others for a burial never completed or any attempt made to leave an identity with his remains. His clothes are in disarray, frantically pulled aside in his final minutes to locate the injury he suffered while most of his equipment and other belongings are strewn about him, indicating a hastiness displayed by his comrades in withdrawing from this area. With no time to do anything more for him, his fellow soldiers raced away from his side, leaving his corpse as the sole testament to the last fight that occurred at this location on July 3 when the 15th Georgia raced through this area in their fighting retreat.

Another clue as to the time of his death has to do with the level of decomposition that has occurred. The shattered, bloated bodies photographed on the Rose Farm and in the nearby “Slaughter Pen” exhibit all of the grotesque details of decomposition, accentuated by the warm, humid conditions of the area during and after the battle. The case of the Rose Farm dead has to do with the interrupted burial process on July 3 while the situation in the Slaughter Pen was markedly different. Southern troops who occupied the Pen area and the foot of Big Round Top were constantly exposed to the deadly accuracy of Union sharpshooters positioned around Little Round Top, making any movement outside the protection of boulders and trees an invitation to certain death. Concern for the dead in that area was outweighed by the conditions of battlefield survival, so the results of July 2’s battle action remained. The marked difference between those bodies and the lone soldier in Devil’s Den is obvious and does add some weight to the timeline of his death, twenty four hours after those men killed on the Rose Farm and in the Slaughter Pen.

Rose Farm image

Southern dead on the Rose Farm, probably photographed the same day as the Devil’s Den “sharpshooter”. (Library of Congress)

As Frassanito theorized, the physical condition of the dead soldier may have influenced Gardner and his team to take so much time photographing the initial scene followed by the relocation to the “sharpshooter’s covert” several yards away. But there was obviously something more about this setting that attracted Gardner and his men, possibly the loneliness of the soldier’s death site, isolated from the other locations where battle scars were so evident? There are evidently no other bodies scattered nearby on the hillside; otherwise Gardner would have also included them in his series of photographs. Union dead left behind from the fight on July 2 were buried by details of Union troops on July 4-5, leaving the southern dead for later work. Photos of Union graves near this area were not Gardner’s priority at Gettysburg when there were other opportunities to capture, such as this lone figure.  Gardner’s labors did, however, alter evidence as to when and where he fell in battle including the addition of items to the scene as each of the four photographs was taken here. Discarded clothing appears in the foreground of one of the Gibson stereoviews while these same items are not there in a second photo from the same camera position. Relocating the tin cup or an adjustment of the discarded rifle’s placement were simple attempts at artistic license.

Gardner photo of dead Confederate

The body from another angle. A discarded garment lying on a rock in the background will be moved by the photographers to the foreground for subsequent photos. (Library of Congress)

In all probability, it was a combination of things that made the scene so photographically interesting though it was not until the body had been moved uphill to the “sharpshooter’s covert” when the head was turned toward the camera that the youthful face of the dead man could be seen by the viewer did the body display something more than the loneliness of a battlefield death some 72 yards away. And again, additional personal and military items were added to the scene- a cartridge box, broken bayonet scabbard, a discarded knapsack under the man’s head; a combination of many things that would tell a different story to the viewer than just the sight of a bloated, abandoned corpse. Though it’s impossible to know what Gardner’s thoughts were at the time this series was taken, it was probably not long after when he realized the potential story he could fabricate that made “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” so romantically tragic and typical of many published sentiments of the Victorian period.

Was this man actually a “sharpshooter” as identified by Gardner? Since members of southern sharpshooter battalions were not uniformed differently from other infantrymen, there is nothing in this man’s dress to identify him specifically as a member of the small sharpshooter group that occupied this area during the second and third day of battle. Nor does the equipment scattered about him make his role in the army specific other than that of a volunteer infantryman. Likewise, the rifle, a US Model 1861 Springfield, a prop weapon carefully placed by the photographers for composition purposes, finishes the scene.  As we know now from memoirs and studies, the Springfield was not a favorite of southern sharpshooters who relied on a wider variety of specialized weapons, including imported rifles such as the highly valued Whitworth Rifle and this rifle had no personal connection to the dead soldier.

With nothing specific in any photograph to point to, we can conclude that his only specialty was that of a regular Confederate infantryman. It’s only the soldier accounts and post-battle guide books describing sharpshooting activities at Devils’ Den that identifies the deceased as a sharpshooter, the genesis of which came from the pen of Alexander Gardner. But is there more in this soldier’s uniform to tell us about who he was and perhaps where he came from? To be continued…

-John Heiser
Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in 15th Georgia Infantry, Historical Memory, Photography, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

“The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” Revisited, Part 1

One of the most iconic images of Gettysburg is the photograph of a deceased young Confederate soldier lying behind a stone barricade at Devil’s Den. This graphic image was first published in 1866 in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, a collection of wartime images taken by Alexander Gardner and his team of photographers. Entitled “The Home of A Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg”, Gardner describes the melancholy scene as he discovered it with the young sharpshooter lying prone behind a stone barricade, and wondered in his narrative if thoughts of home and loved ones filled the young soldier’s mind as he perished.

1-home of Rebel Sharpshooter

“The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” by Timothy O’Sullivan (Library of Congress)

There is more to this tale of course, but suffice it to say that we now understand the scene depicted in the photo was staged by the photographers and was not, as Gardner claimed in his narrative, to be a scene untouched since the end of the fighting a few days previous. The careful observer would have noticed that this rebel sharpshooter looked very similar- nay, identical to the corpse photographed in a rocky field on the previous page of the Sketch Book in a photo entitled “A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep”. Gardner’s explanation of the scene is just as fanciful and imaginative as the narrative is for “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter,” but perhaps more misleading in using this photo to describe the role of sharpshooters not only at Gettysburg but on other battlefields as well.

2-Last Sleep

“A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep”, one of the first photographs taken of the dead southerner where his body was discovered by Gardner and team. (Library of Congress)

Whether anyone in 1866 noticed the similarities of the body in these photos is undocumented, but for well over 90 years viewers took in these dramatic scenes and believed this individual to be two different soldiers. Then in October 1961, Frederick Ray, artist and illustrator of Civil War uniforms and subjects for Civil War Times Illustrated magazine, published a short article in which he highlighted the similarities of the deceased soldier photographed in two different locations, though offered no theory as to how or why this would have occurred. It was not until 1975 when historian and author William Frassanito took Ray’s article and further developed the story behind the sharpshooter’s home in Gettysburg, A Journey in Time, and again in his 1995 book, Early Photography at Gettysburg (Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA, 1995). Based on his knowledge of the 1863 battlefield photographs and area where Gardner’s team worked, Frassanito described the course taken by the photographers to set up the scene by transporting the body from the first site where the soldier fell to a position behind the stone barricade, a distance of some 72 yards, where two photographs were taken, the first by James Gibson with his stereoview camera (two lenses) followed by Timothy O’Sullivan with his single-lens camera. It is O-Sullivan’s sharply focused image most often reproduced in books and magazines.

But why would Gardner choose this particular corpse over the many others probably still scattered about the area for this staged scene? “Ironically,” Frassanito wrote, “one of the primary reasons for this fascination may well have been related to the fact that this body was not disfigured by bloating, thereby providing the cameramen with a more ‘life-like’ subject- or at least a subject that was less grotesque than most of the other bodies they had previously encountered on the field.” (Early Photography at Gettysburg, p. 271) As seen in the other images taken in this area of the battlefield on July 5 or 6, 1863, the unburied dead, exposed to the elements for a minimum of three to four days, were grotesque beyond description. Yet, the corpse found near the large boulders on the western slope of Devil’s Den did not exhibit such extreme disfigurement, so it was almost the perfect model to place behind the “sharpshooter’s covert” that Gardner considered to be “an ideal backdrop for this soldier”. The addition of discarded equipment and a US Springfield rifle made the photograph complete and, more importantly, believable; rather than a disfigured corpse it was a handsome young soldier asleep in death, the perfect tragedy as Gardner described it.

So what does this suggest for historians with little expertise on the science of forensic pathology? To me, it suggests this individual was killed in action much later than those poor souls who fell in the fighting that swept around the Den on July 2. In that case, what additional event occurred here to cause this young soldier’s death?


Henry Benning, photographed after the war. (Generals in Gray)

The site where the body was first photographed on the western slope of Devil’s Den was occupied by Henry “Rock” Benning’s Georgia brigade after the fighting had ended as evening fell on July 2. During a short span of three hours, the Den and surrounding ground was witness to some of the most savage and chaotic fighting of the battle. Scattered behind boulders at the western base of Big Round Top, the 2nd Georgia was ordered to sleep on their arms while the groans of wounded men lying beyond their reach filled the night. “(We) slept that night… at the foot of the mountain,” Lt. James Lewis wrote, “on ground that there was scarcely a place to lie down without touching a dead soldier.” (Memoir of 2nd Lt. James Ferrell Lewis, GNMP library) The 17th, 20th and 15th Georgia regiments occupied the bloody ground of Devil’s Den, massed in the pasture and rugged low ground on the west side of the ridge. Despite apparent exhaustion, details used the cover of darkness to remove wounded comrades and bury the southern dead. After passing through the danger of that day, Private William Fluker, Company D, 15th Georgia Infantry, remembered the night: “We began to realize that we were surrounded by death and suffering that no pen can picture. Our determination to destroy life had changed to sympathy and sorrow for the suffering ones about us. Men risked their lives crawling on the ground to carry water to their suffering foes. Other spent the night silently digging graves (for) comrades… a dear brother, a loved messmate or officer.”(Robert Willingham, Jr., No Jubilee, The Story of Confederate Wilkes, pp. 33-34.) Among those men involved in that sad task was Private William Ware of Company G, who buried his fallen brother Thomas under a willow tree, scribbling a short prayer in Thomas’s preserved diary as an epitaph. (Thomas Ware Diary, Southern Historical Society Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill). Accordingly, the dead were quickly buried in the woods near the western base of the ridge adjoining the J. Weikert (also known as Timbers) farm and on the nearby John Slyder Farm.

J. Weikert Farm

Fields owned by Philip Snyder on the west side of Devil’s Den where Benning’s regiments sheltered from Union sharpshooters on Little Round Top throughout July 3. (NPS photo)

By the morning of July 3, this western slope of Devil’s Den was one of the few safe areas for Benning’s Georgians where they could remain out of view of Union sharpshooters and cannon deployed on Little Round Top.  If anything, the site where the body was first discovered had been a place for the living to gather, to rest and find protective cover.

It was after the failure of Pickett’s Charge and Elon Farnsworth’s failed cavalry charge that afternoon when orders were received for Benning to withdraw his command with the rest of the division to a defensive line on Seminary Ridge. Yet, Benning had a dilemma- only a few minutes before the dispatch arrived, he had sent the 15th Georgia Infantry, under the command of Colonel David M. DuBose, into the Rose Farm woods on his left flank after receiving word that troops there had been withdrawn, leaving his left uncovered. Benning observed as Colonel DuBose march his men into the woods and reinforced his orders to DuBose by mounted courier- hold that position on the left flank. Now Benning had no recourse other than to begin withdrawing before he could recall the 15th Georgia.

15th Georgia on July 3

The 15th Georgia in Rose’s Woods, late afternoon of July 3, 1863. (NPS Staff)

Orders to return may have been sent but they never reached DuBose, who unknowingly was leading his men to a headlong collision with part of two Union brigades just then on a reconnaissance toward the Peach Orchard. Skirmishers spotted the southerners and one Union brigade quickly turned toward them, sweeping around the Georgians who were just then positioned near the top of the wooded ridge between Devil’s Den and the Wheatfield. An exasperated Colonel DuBose had only received additional orders from General Benning to hold the hill he then occupied, yet, “The enemy came up rapidly in heavy force, turning my left entirely and also advancing in front and moving upon my right in the space between my right and the… position where I had left the balance of the brigade.” (Official Records, Vol. 27, Part 2, p. 423) Faced with overwhelming odds, DuBose ordered his regiment to fall back to the relative safety of the brigade line where his fellow regiments could provide assistance. Unfortunately, DuBose arrived to find the brigade gone along with every other southerner who could offer anything to help with the colonel’s predicament.

Utilizing the stonewalls that divided the fields south of Rose Woods, the 15th Georgia first made a determined stand at the stonewall bordering the woods before retiring to other parallel walls and eventually to the relative safety of the woods on Warfield Ridge, the same woods from which they had begun the attack the day previous. During the course of the withdrawal, the regiment passed through the boulder-strewn hillside where barely a half-hour before they had enjoyed some shelter from Union guns, leaving behind prisoners, the wounded and the dead. Though the running fight was all but brief, the cost paid by the regiment was high. “How any of us escaped I do not see,” Du Bose plaintively added in his report followed by his casualty figures including 101 officers and men lost in the action on July 3. (OR, Vol. 27, Part 2, p. 424.) Though Benning somewhat downplayed this episode in his official report, he did heap praise on Colonel DuBose’s fighting abilities was apparently satisfied that only “about 80 or 90” men were lost considering that it could have easily been a disaster. (OR, Vol. 27, Part 2, p. 417)

Gibson stereoview 02-a

Gibson stereoview of the “sharpshooter” where Gardner and team discovered the body. (Library of Congress)

Two or three days later, Alexander Gardner and his photographers came upon Devil’s Den where they discovered near several large boulders, the body of a single soldier lying as he fell, his haversack slung across his body just as he had hung it over his shoulder on the day he was killed.  Unlike the grisly and horribly bloated corpses found nearby, this lone body exhibited only the first stages of deterioration, his features still youthful and only slightly distorted. Federal soldiers had already passed through gathering arms and burying their own dead, but the ground was still strewn with equipment and personal belongings, signs of a hasty retreat. None of the living standing there that day had any idea of what had occurred on the site, only that a great battle had been fought over this very rugged landscape and one body remained among the scattered refuse on the hillside.

Was this lone man one of the 15th Georgia’s casualties from July 3, 1863? We’ll take a closer look in a future blog post.

-John Heiser
Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in 15th Georgia Infantry, Aftermath, Burials, Historical Memory, Photography | Tagged | 8 Comments

Decoding the Invasion: Part 2 – A Gettysburg Mystery Solved

Last week we highlighted a Gettysburg Campaign related letter found by our research intern Nick Welsh in the Pennsylvania State Archives. The letter, while intriguing, was completely unreadable as a result of the 151 year old cipher in which it was encoded. Wishing to solve this Gettysburg mystery, we turned the challenge of figuring out its contents over to the readers of this blog. A number of you responded with thoughts and suggestions, though we are most indebted to the expert sleuthing of Ranger and Law Enforcement Officer Maria Brady. Ranger Brady rose to the challenge and has humbly submitted the work below, proving that even old mysteries can be solved. 


Cipher 1

I love mysteries, puzzles, codes and ciphers. When I saw the blog post about the enciphered message Nicholas Welsh found, I was hooked. I had to find out what the message said, and I decided that knowing who the sender and receiver were would be a good starting point.

Sees Pension

A portion of Oliver W. Sees pension file, listing him as a former Chief of Transportation and an Aide de Camp.

I began by entering G. W. Baldwin from Baltimore, MD into, but that provided very little information. So I moved on to O. W. Sees in Pennsylvania and was rewarded with Oliver W. Sees, born about 1836, living in Harrisburg, PA in the 1860 United States Census. Occupation – telegraph operator.  That sounded like a good match. Further online investigation brought me to a transcribed entry from the Historical Review of Dauphin County, provided by the Dauphin County Genealogy Transcription Project for Major Oliver Washington Sees, born October 27, 1835 in Philadelphia, PA. Sees began working as a messenger in Harrisburg’s first magnetic telegraph office at the age of 12, and over the course of time became a proficient telegraph operator himself. So good was he at his job, that on December 23, 1861, PA Governor Andrew Curtin appointed him Chief of Telegraph for the state, with the rank of major. He was later named Chief of Transportation in addition to his telegraph duties. During the Gettysburg Campaign, Sees was appointed to the staff of Major General Darius Couch, in command of the Department of the Susquehanna, and stationed in Harrisburg, PA.

My research then led me to telegraphy in the Civil War, specifically the United States Military Telegraph Corps. While the name implies that this was a military operation, it was not. Civilian operators were assigned to armies and general staffs, but reported directly to the War Department, functioning outside the immediate authority of the military officers to whom tMIlitary Telegraphhey were assigned. The USMT strung telegraph lines and manned telegraph keys for the Union Army, with the main telegraph office located in the War Department. Numerous articles about the USMT referenced a book published in 1882 by W. R. Plum, a former telegrapher with the USMT, entitled The Military Telegraph During the Civil War in the United States, With an Exposition of Ancient and Modern Means of Communication, and of the Federal and Confederate Cipher Systems, of which I purchased a copy. In it, Plum mentions G. W. Baldwin, assigned in June of 1863 to General Schenck’s headquarters in Baltimore, MD. Baldwin had been involved with the USMT since at least June of 1861, and would serve until the end of the war, ending as one of the four primary cipher operators in the War Department office.


Anson Stager

At this point in the war, the USMT was sending messages using the Stager Cipher, developed by Anson Stager, Department Head of the USMT. Stager began his career as an apprentice printer, but when his employer switched from printing to telegraphy, Stager did as well, becoming the first General Superintendent of the consolidated Western Union Company in 1856. Once the Civil War broke out in 1861, Stager was requested by Ohio Governor William Dennison to devise a cipher that would protect telegraphic communications between Dennison and the Governors of Illinois and Indiana. Word of the cipher reached General George McClellan, who asked Stager to devise something similar for military communications. By December of 1861, Stager had been appointed general manager of military telegraph lines by the War Department, and one year later was named the Superintendent of all telegraph lines and offices.

The Cipher itself is based on writing the message in a matrix of varying sizes, and then assigning a route through the matrix that would comprise the transmitted message. Simple, right?

I thought I was ready to tackle the message itself. I wrote each word on a numbered index card so I could keep track of the routes I was using. Having found a number of routes on the Internet, and having the complete Cipher #9 as an appendix in Plum’s book, I thought it would be relatively easy. It was not.Not so fast. In addition to the route through the matrix, the messages also contained “key” words, which designated which Cipher was to be used for that message; “null” words, which were extraneous words thrown into the message to confuse anyone trying to decipher it; and “code” words or “arbitraries”, which were substituted for terms, people, and places deemed too sensitive to transmit in the clear. Over the course of the Civil War, ten different cipher groups were created, each one more complex than the last.

The next day I spoke with Nicholas about the message and found that he had a number of deciphered messages from the same record group at the State Archives. He provided me with copies of them in hopes that I could apply the “routes” from those messages to our mystery transmission. Looking at the dates, senders and recipients of the messages, one caught my eye: a message from General Meade to General Couch, dated June 30th.  Upon opening and reading this message, I realized that the words sounded very familiar to me. I knew I was on to something when I saw the word “physique”. Really, how many military telegrams were floating around in 1863 using that particular word?  I began comparing the solved message to the enciphered message and lo and behold, that was it.

The message is actually broken into five different ciphers, using the key words: Wise, Halleck, penny, Sibley, and guard. The code words are after, Francis, Mohawk, Ida and leghorn, which stand for General Couch, 11 AM, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. In the transcription below, the key words are marked in orange, the null words in blue, and the code words in green.

Wise thirtieth in advancing hold between three my northern well speed day trains with force me brigades Chambersburg hill enemy Emmitsburg after water Taneytown I + the Cashtown their are + is all eleven the moving my between five + P the between for coal Francis position upon a Gettysburg to right central concentrated that this the tolerably the on cavalry pass enemy Westminster am June Halleck to in in Ewell to am July physique soft of without the the front good your local push is be + as I + number the definite whereabouts latter of spirits relief Cambridge the we the presume long positive will order men + of I you + or caps shall army to street information bear roads penny movements dispositions you I likely indicate + information the flag enemy we while as to am + of so pirate as enemy information to to prudent the during circumstances first engagement + the marches + ultimate hear of + [  ] far the get anxious lead most on receive as hunger of the day may most success from the his Sibley movement Susquehanna line to I or them do if otherwise should be of as may address my the the accumulated Mohawk communication know Frank you with like thrown the circumstances make cloth advisable require central me + Ida in hand are leghorn supplies to northern may most Blake or or on spies + Telegraph you guard Eckert Meade am enemy my the communications to house period the with Cavalry right from very major boats to G I the on by my dispatch B please general him of can crossing respectfully Gen’l apple sent George river keep enemy interrupted chief my miles communicate in are the you the signed have fifty.

Translated, this becomes (punctuation added for ease of reading):

Taneytown, June thirtieth, 11 AM, for General Couch. I am in position between Emmitsburg and Westminster advancing upon the enemy. The enemy hold (A P Hill) Cashtown pass between Gettysburg and Chambersburg. Their cavalry, three to five brigades, are on my right between me and the Northern Central. My force is tolerably well concentrated moving with all the speed that the trains, roads, and physique of the men will bear. I am without definite and positive information as to the whereabouts of Long Street and Ewell, the latter I presume to be in front of you. The army is in good spirits and we shall push to your relief or the engagement of the enemy as circumstances and the information we receive during the day and while on the marches may indicate as most prudent and most likely to lead to ultimate success. I am anxious to hear from you and get information of the disposition of the enemy and his movements so far as you know them. If you are in telegraph communication or otherwise with Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, I should like supplies and spies accumulated to be thrown to me on the line of the Northern Central of the Susquehanna as circumstances may require or my movement may make most advisable period. Please communicate my dispatch to the General in Chief. My communications with him are interrupted by the cavalry of the enemy on my right. Can you keep the enemy from crossing the river? I am, very respectfully, signed George G. Meade, Major General. Have sent to Eckert.

Eckert was Major Thomas Eckert, in charge of the War Department telegraph office.

My problems with solving the cipher stemmed from three areas. First, I had mis-transcribed about half a dozen words, two of which were key words, leaving me unsure as to where to split the message into its component parts. Second, the key words and code words in Cipher # 9 did not match up exactly with this particular message. Wise, for example, should have started a six column, nine row matrix, but actually started a 6×10 matrix. Third, I missed out on valuable clues on the handwritten copy of the message. The null words were all marked with an “x”, and the key words with a kind of loop. I was having too much fun playing with my index cards.

Cipher #9 was issued in January 1863, and used through February 1864, so it was possible that this message was using Cipher #9, but the number of differences is too great. While “Francis” does denote 11 AM, the remaining code words found in the message have very different meanings. For example, Ida would have been Abingdon, leghorn would have been Helena, and Mohawk would have been Newburn. As mentioned above, the key words are found in #9, but they do not denote the same matrices as #9. I do not have access to Ciphers #10 and #12, which would also have been in use at this time, so I cannot determine exactly which codebook was used.

Given enough time, I’m sure I could have cracked it on my own.

No, really, I could have.

- Maria Brady, Park Ranger

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“A Fighting Withdrawal” – Humphrey’s Division on July 2nd, 1863: A Gettysburg Battle Walk with Ranger Karlton Smith

The almost half a mile stretch of the Emmitsburg Road, where Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys and his five thousand Union soldiers were positioned on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, is one of the overlooked locations on the Gettysburg battlefield. Humphreys and his three brigades were attacked on the left flank by Mississippians under Confederate General William Barksdale, and along the front by elements of General Cadmus Wilcox and Colonel David Lang’s Floridians. The brutal fighting along that roadway, and the stubborn withdrawal of Humphrey’s men, cost over two thousands federal casualties and represented a stubborn resistance to the Confederate onslaught which tore across the southern portion of the battlefield that day. Follow along as Gettysburg National Military Park Ranger Karlton Smith explores the story of Andrew Humphreys, the men he commanded, and the trying ordeal they went through at Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863.

Map 2 Humphreys Division


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Decoding the Invasion: A Gettysburg Mystery

Over the years Gettysburg National Military Park has had the great fortune to work and partner with a number of local colleges and universities. Chief among these is Pennsylvania State University. The staff and faculty at Penn State have graciously assisted us with a multitude of projects and events over the years, and have also sponsored an annual public history internship at the park. The Penn State / Gettysburg interns have been responsible for some fantastic interpretation conducted on the battlefield and many have gone on to permanent jobs in the National Park Service and at leading academic  and public history institutions.

This year, in addition to our interpretive intern, Penn State has graciously provided us with a researcher. Nicholas Welsh, a class of 2015 history major, has done some tremendous work traveling to archives and repositories all over the east coast gathering Gettysburg related documents for our park research files. His journey has taken him to the National Archives in Washington D.C., the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, and a number of other fine institutions. Nick has developed a fantastic working knowledge of Gettysburg historiography and has been able to identify a number of previously unpublished and unutilized Gettysburg documents, which will now be made available to park staff and park researchers. While it is difficult to say anything that is fresh or new relating to Gettysburg, perhaps these documents will play a role in shaping how we think about the events of June and July, 1863.


Nicholas Welsh, Penn State Research Intern for Gettysburg National Military Park

Over the summer Nick has discovered what so many who have undertaken the study of the Gettysburg Campaign already know: Armies on campaign produce massive amounts of paperwork. Much of this has been preserved for posterity, though little of it dramatically changes the way we think about the battle or the campaign. This veritable ocean of paperwork encompasses everything from mundane orders and requisitions, to crucial telegraphs, reports, and circulars that have become ingrained in the legend of the Gettysburg story. Nick has uncovered a little of everything this summer, from dispatches sent by Col. Sharpe of the Bureau of Military Information, to a report of an escaped slave who overheard Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill say to his staff on June 2nd, 1863 that, “they were going to throw dust in the eyes of the Yankees .”

That being said, perhaps the single most interesting document Nick has uncovered comes to us from the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg. It is a dispatch from what appears to be a “G. W. Baldwin” written to an “O. W. Sees.” The date on the document is July 2nd, 1863 and it was apparently written from Baltimore, Maryland and clearly deals with the military situation then existing in Pennsylvania. Those are the only concrete facts that can be gleaned from the document, everything else is speculation.

When Mr. Baldwin penned his letter he encoded it, with the intention no doubt of keeping its contents a secret that only Mr. Sees, with his key, would be able to decipher. In this effort Mr. Baldwin was more successful than he could ever have imagined. Not only were the possible Confederate spies or sympathizers stymied by the seeming nonsense of the document, so too are historians a century and a half later.

While other such documents in the collection of the Pennsylvania State Archives have been decoded, the contents of the July 2nd Baldwin letter have not.  It is an easy enough letter to transcribe and there is no complex system or collection of numbers, symbols, and dots. The words are generally clear and legible, but placed in such a sequence that they lose all meaning and context. Take for example the first paragraph:

“Wise thirtieth in advancing held between three my northern well speed day trains with force [?] brigades Chambersburg hill enemy Emmitsburg [?]  water Taneytown I + the Cashtown there are + is all eleven the morning…”

Lacking a background in sleuthing or cryptology, we turn this Gettysburg mystery over to you. If any of you have the skill, patience, or ability to help us decode this century and a half old Gettysburg mystery, let us know. You will certainly have our thanks. The letter, in its entirety, appears below.

Christopher Gwinn, Acting Supervisory Historian


Cipher 1


Cipher 2

(Image courtesy of PA State Archives)


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“Great in heart and mighty in valor” – General Gabriel Paul and his Mortal Wounding at Gettysburg

No other battle of the American Civil War claimed more generals’ lives than did the three-day fight at Gettysburg. At Antietam, fought in September 1862, six general officers fell either dead or fatally wounded. Six others died at Franklin, fought on the last day of November 1864. But it was during the slaughter on the fields and rocky hilltops surrounding the south-central Pennsylvania town in July 1863 that nine generals—four Union and five Confederate—were either killed or listed among the mortally wounded. This number climbs to ten if we include Strong Vincent, who fell atop Little Round Top and who was posthumously honored with a promotion to brigadier general.  

Oak Ridge, where Gabriel Paul was wounded – July 1, 1863. (NPS)

Over the past 151 years, the final moments of these men have been recounted, discussed, and described innumerable times in print, whether by those who there and witnessed their deaths or by later-day historians. Many artists have rendered sketches, paintings, and even bronze sculptures of the deaths of some of these men, attempting to capture the anguish, the agony, and the gallantry of their life’s last moments. On the big screen as well, a number of well-trained, seasoned actors have done their best to recreate or reenact those final moments—those final pained breaths—of some of those hard-fighting generals who here gave their lives at Gettysburg. Some students of the battle even pride themselves on how quickly they can list all nine (or ten) of these generals while many a visitor to the battlefields at Gettysburg wish to see and to stand on the spot where the generals fell. For some, such as John Reynolds, Samuel Zook, and Lewis Armistead (and, yes, Strong Vincent), monuments stand to mark that spot, while the location where Stephen Weed fell is indicated in a rock-carving atop Little Round Top. For all the others—Paul Semmes, William Barksdale, Dorsey Pender, Richard Garnett, Elon Farnsworth—we have only either a fairly good or at last a general idea of the location where they fell.

Missing from all of these discussions, however—from all the books and articles, from the paintings and the sculptures, from the big screen, and from all the “can-you-name-all-the-generals-who-died-at-Gettysburg” type trivia questions—is still yet another general whose death can be—indeed, was—attributed to the wound he received at the battle;  a general who succumbed to his Gettysburg wound some 8,345 days after falling wounded there; a general by the name of Gabriel Rene Paul.

 His name may not be a familiar one, but there were few generals in either blue or gray who had as long and distinguished a military service record as did Gabriel Paul. Born on March 22, 1813, in St. Louis, Missouri, Paul came from an illustrious family of French ancestry and with a strong military tradition. His father, Rene Paul, was a military engineer who had served as an officer in Napoleon’s army and who was dangerously wounded at Trafalgar. He later immigrated to the United States, settling, ultimately in St. Louis where he put his engineering background to good use by becoming a surveyor of the city. It was there, in St. Louis, where Rene Paul met and fell in love with Eulalie Chouteau. Eulalie’s father, August Chouteau, a prominent fur trader, helped found the city in the early 1760s.[1]

Gabriel Paul was the first child born to Eulalie Chouteau and Rene Paul. In 1829, at the age of sixteen, he obtained a commission to the United States Military Academy and on July 1 of that year—exactly thirty-four years before his injury at Gettysburg—he entered West Point. He graduated smack-dab in the middle of the Class of 1834, ranked 18th in a total graduating class of 36. Commissioned a lieutenant in the 7th United States Infantry, Paul served a number of years at a variety of frontier posts before being assigned to Florida where in 1839 and again in 1842, he battled the Seminole. During America’s war with Mexico, and as was the case with so many other United States officers destined to wear the general’s stars in the Civil War, Paul served under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott and he served with great distinction. He saw battle action at Fort Brown, Monterrey, Vera Cruz, and at Cerro Gordo where he fell wounded. Several months later, he fought at Churubusco, Molino del Rey and in September, 1847, he led a storming party upon the walls of Chapultepac and captured a Mexican army flag. For this, he was given an honorary promotion, or brevet, to the rank of major and presented with an ornate sword by the grateful people of his home city of St. Louis.[2]

The years following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo witnessed Paul assigned to a number of frontier army posts: at Fort Leavenworth, Jefferson Barracks, and at Corpus Christi, Texas. Throughout the 1850s, he participated in a number of expeditions up the Rio Grande and in Utah. It appears that at some point during this time, Gabriel Paul and his wife Mary divorced. Paul and Mary Whistler had been married since 1835 and together the couple had four children. After this marriage ended, however, Gabriel Paul, in 1858, remarried, this time to Louise Rogers, a widow from Cincinnati and to their union would come two more children. After their marriage, Gabriel and Louise Rogers Paul would make a home in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.[3]

Gabriel Rene Paul, detail

Gabriel Paul prior to his Gettysburg wound.

When the long-gathering clouds of civil war finally erupted into a violent storm in April 1861, Gabriel Paul was serving as the major of the 8th U.S. Infantry and was stationed at the far-away frontier post of Fort Fillmore, New Mexico. He would remain there for the next fourteen months, organizing and training volunteers and, as colonel of the 4th New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, participating in some action there, helping to turn back Confederate forces under General Henry Sibley. Mustered out as colonel of the 4th New Mexico in late May 1862, Gabriel Paul next ventured east and that summer was assigned as an inspector general in the defenses of Washington, D.C.[4]

With Gabriel Paul now assigned to the defenses of Washington and still holding the rank of Major in the Regular Army, despite his many years of service, Louise Paul ventured to the White House and called directly upon President Lincoln himself, seeking promotion for her husband. This was nothing unique. Indeed, Lincoln had to deal daily with those seeking government positions or an officer’s commission in the military. But there was something about Louise Paul’s comportment and bearing that left an impression on Lincoln. In late August, Lincoln noted: “Today Mrs. Major Paul calls and urges appointment of her husband as a Brigadier [General]. She is a saucy woman and will keep tormenting me until I may have to do it.” Less than two weeks later, President Lincoln signed Gabriel Paul’s commission as a Brigadier General of volunteers. Unfortunately, over the years, the short, off-putting note from Lincoln describing Louise Paul and her efforts has been used solely to explain why Gabriel Paul was promoted to general, while his long and distinguished service record all-too-often gets forgotten in the telling of this rather dismissive and anecdotal tale.[5] 

Gabriel Paul acknowledged receipt of his promotion on September 11, 1862, and soon after entered upon his new assignment as brigade commander in the First Army Corps, leading troops at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville. During this latter engagement, Paul’s brigade formed part of the First Corps’s First Division. But with the restructuring and reorganization of the Army of the Potomac following this battle, Paul was transferred to assume command of the First Brigade of General John Robinson’s Second Division, First Corps. Paul was thus a relatively unknown newcomer to the 1,600 or so soldiers he would lead upon the fields of Gettysburg: the soldiers of the 16th Maine, 13th Massachusetts, 94th and 104th New York, and 107th Pennsylvania Infantries. Still, by this time, Gabriel Paul was a seasoned, well-experienced and respected officer while his men were hard-fighting, veteran soldiers.

The smoke was just beginning to lift from the rolling fields and ridgelines west of Gettysburg when the soldiers of Robinson’s division arrived and took up position near the Lutheran Seminary sometime around 11:30 on the morning of Wednesday, July 1, 1863. Timely-arriving First Corps soldiers from Wadsworth’s division had, just a short time earlier, successfully repulsed the attacks of two Confederate brigades from Harry Heth’s Division but it had come at a heavy price. First Corps commander John Reynolds was dead, struck down early in the fight, and already the fields stretching to the front of Robinson’s men were a scene of vast carnage. But the fight at Gettysburg was only just beginning.

As affairs seemed to be settling down to the west, a new Confederate threat emerged to the far right of the First Corps line, on a prominent rise of ground known as Oak Hill. There, Confederate soldiers from Rodes’s Division, Second Corps, had arrived, some 8,000 in number, along with 16 cannons, which soon unlimbered and which soon began hurling shot and shell toward the First Corps’s exposed right flank. To meet this new and developing threat, Major General Abner Doubleday, who had inherited command of the First Corps upon Reynolds’s death, called upon the heavily-bearded John Robinson. Robinson, in turn, called upon his Second Brigade, under General Henry Baxter, whose regiments were soon racing their way to the north, with orders to link up with the right flank of Lysander Cutler’s men in position in the trees that topped Oak Ridge, the southern-arm or extension of Oak Hill.

Summit of Oak Ridge, Gettysburg

Oak Ridge. Paul’s brigade was involved in the brutal fighting that occurred here on July 1st, 1863. (LOC)

Hurrying north, Baxter’s men arrived just in time to turn back attacks launched from the north and from the northwest by Alabama troops under Edward O’Neal and North Carolinians under Alfred Iverson. By this point, division commander Robinson had arrived on the scene and though proud and pleased by his men throwing back these two initial attacks, Rodes’s Confederates proved relentless and, according to Robinson, the Confederates soon “brought up fresh forces in increased masses.”[6] Soldiers in butternut and gray continued to bear down upon Baxter’s front and right flank. Because of this—and because Baxter’s men were beginning to run low on ammunition—Robinson sent a staff officer galloping back toward the Seminary, with orders for Gabriel Paul to bring his brigade forward.

Paul’s men were busy throwing up makeshift barricades and entrenchments in front of the Lutheran Seminary building when Robinson’s orders arrived. Paul quickly directed his regiments to fall in and, turning to their right, his soldiers were soon advancing northward, crossing the Chambersburg Pike and the unfinished railroad cut, and passing behind the blue-clad First Corps soldiers who were holding onto their positions in the trees atop the ridgeline. Arriving on Oak Ridge, Paul’s men traded places with Baxter’s beleaguered soldiers on the front line and soon began trading volleys with Rodes’s Confederates. “Our men,” wrote Major H.J. Shaeffer of the 107th Pennsylvania, “went into action with the determination to conquer or die.”[7]

The musketry was fierce; the smoke heavy. Over the next several hours hundreds of Paul’s men would fall as they clung ever more desperately to their precarious position on the ridgeline. Just after 4:00 p.m., however, First Corps troops behind them and to their left as well as Eleventh Corps soldiers below them to their right broke under the weight of heavy Confederate numbers and began the retreat through town. It was around this time that Robinson received orders from Doubleday to retreat. Extracting themselves from Oak Ridge and from the Confederate soldiers who seemed to be closing in from all sides, Baxter’s and Paul’s men fled. Racing their way south along the streets of Gettysburg, the division ultimately reformed on Cemetery Hill, or at least what was left of the division. Robinson later reported that his Second Division/First Corps went into battle with approximately 2,500 on the morning of July 1. Of this number, 1,667 became casualties, a 67% loss. Colonel Richard Coulter of the 11th Pennsylvania, who filed the report for Gabriel Paul’s First Brigade recorded that on July 1, the brigade’s loss totaled 776 men killed, wounded, or missing. 


Gabriel Paul after Gettysburg. (NPS)

Gabriel Paul was among this number. It was soon after his men had arrived on Oak Hill and while he was “gallantly directing and encouraging his command,” that the fifty-year-old general fell with a ghastly, horrific wound.[8] A bullet tore into his head, entering about 1 ½ inches behind his right eye then passing through his head before exiting his left eye socket, carrying his left eye out with it. He was instantly left blinded, while his senses of smell and hearing were also both seriously impaired. Falling to the ground, many believed that Paul had been killed. Yet, somehow, the tough old soldier would survive. Carried to the rear and taken to a field hospital for treatment, Paul likely returned to his home in Newport, Kentucky, to be looked after and cared for by his beloved wife Louise and his two younger daughters. For the next seventeen months, he was on leave of absence from the military on account of disability and on February 16, 1865, was retired from active duty “for disability resulting from wounds received in the line of duty.” A week later, Paul was brevetted a Brigadier General in the Regular Army “For Gallant and Meritorious Service at the Battle of Gettysburg.” Still, though, despite his total blindness and despite frequent headaches, Gabriel Paul would continue to serve his nation and its soldiers in an administrative capacity. He served for a few months as Deputy Governor of the Soldier’s Home near Washington before being placed in charge of the Military Asylum at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, a position he held until his retirement on December 20, 1866.[9]


“[I]t was an everyday sight in Newport,” recorded the Kentucky State Journal in 1888 “to see Mrs. [Louise] Paul, with the hero on her arm, walking the streets of that city.”[10] The hero, of course, was her blind husband, Gabriel Paul, who, in the years following his retirement, would require almost continual care and attention as his health deteriorated. Because of the effects of his Gettysburg wound, he suffered from intense and frequent headaches and developed epilepsy. During the final years of his life, seizures were an almost daily occurrences. A report released by the Senate Committee of Pensions noted that in some cases, Paul sometimes suffered up to six epileptic attacks a day. At some point during the post-war years, the Pauls moved to Washington and it was there, finally, on May 5, 1886, that Gabriel Paul’s long years of suffering at last came to an end. He passed away that morning at the age of seventy-three after suffering from an epileptic attack “of unusual severity.” The attending physician pronounced his death came about from an “epileptiform convulsion, the result of a wound received at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa,” a wound received twenty-two years, ten months, and five days earlier atop Oak Ridge, on July 1, 1863. Now at peace, the remains of General Gabriel Paul were soon laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The career of General Paul was a series of gallant exploits in his country’s defense,” summarized the Senate Pension Committee in late May 1886. Louise Paul applied for a pension following her husband’s death and included a statement from Surgeon R.M. O’Reilly, who determined that the general’s death was caused by his Gettysburg wound. It was a finding seconded by the Committee and in August 1886, Louise Paul began receiving a pension of $50 per month. Two years later, it increased to $100 per month, which she received until her own death in December 1898.[11]     

In his landmark Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of U.S. Military Academy, George W. Cullum paid hearty tribute to the service, sacrifice, and suffering of Gabriel Paul. “[T]hough small in stature, [he] was great in heart and mighty in valor, particularly shown when leading the storming party and capturing the enemy’s flag on the walls of Chapultepac. His modesty was equaled only by his courage, and his aspirations were only of duty to his country. He was a soldier whose gentle mien engaged at once both confidence and love, and whose fearlessness in the presence of the greatest peril gave his face the glow of true heroism. Through all the years of his terrible affliction, he made no complaints, but only praised God that his life had been spared amid the carnage of the battlefield. Unselfishly he thought more of the happiness of his family than of himself; they had been eyes and everything to him during the weary days of his long isolation from the outer world.”[12]  

Gabriel Paul’s life may have been spared “amid the carnage of the battlefield,” but the wound he received on July 1 at Gettysburg plagued him and pained him for the rest of his life. The wound left him blind, caused frequent and intense headaches, and resulted in numerous epileptic seizures until it finally did claim his life some twenty-three years later. The pain, the suffering of Gabriel Paul’s final agonizing years have never been depicted on canvas or on screen; the spot where he received his grisly wound is not marked by a monument or an inscription upon stone; and seldom is his tragic story told.

Yet his story is an important one for it forces us to consider the last-lasting impact of America’s Civil War. Just how many did give their lives? And when do we stop counting those whose lives were cut short by the four-year fratricidal conflict? Gabriel Paul was but one example. There were countless others.

                                            Park Ranger John Hoptak



[1] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg,” from Campbell County [KY} History News, January 1999,, accessed June 9, 2014. William E. Foley and Charles David Rice, The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis [University of Illinois Press, 2000]: 188.

[2] George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy of West Point, N.Y. Vol. I, 3rd Edition.[Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891], 575.

[3] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[4] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886.

[5] Abraham Lincoln note of August 23, 1862, found in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 5, edited by Roy P. Basler [Rutger’s University Press, 1959]: 390.

[6] Report of General John C. Robinson. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 27, Part 1.

[7] Letter of Major H.J. Shaeffer, 107th PA, to Lebanon Courier, July 23, 1863, in regimental file, Gettysburg National Military Park Library.

[8] Robinson, Official Report.

[9] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886.

[10] “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[11] Report of the Senate Committee on Pensions, 49th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1262, To Accompany Bill S.2502, June 1886; “General Gabriel Rene Paul: The Forgotten Hero of Gettysburg.”

[12] Cullum, 576-577.

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The Wheatfield: A Gettysburg National Military Park Battle Walk with Ranger John Hoptak

Every day throughout the summer months the staff of Gettysburg National Military Park lead visitors through the battlefield park on “Battle Walks.” These interpretive programs are a fantastic way to explore the battlefield in-depth and from the perspective of the soldiers who fought here: On the ground and through the woods, fields, and valleys that comprise the Gettysburg battlefield.

4th Mich Meld 3

The past and present collide in the Wheatfield. To the left, veterans of the 4th Michigan dedicate their monument. On the right, modern visitors explore the battlefield.

No spot on the field is as confusing as the famous Wheatfield. Owned by Gettysburg farmer John Rose, the Wheatfield was the scene of brutal and chaotic fighting on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863. Regiments from no fewer than three Union corps were thrown against Confederate troops in a series of confused attacks and counterattacks. By the end of the fighting that day the Wheatfield had been trampled into a carpet and the ground had been stained with the blood of the over 6,000 men killed, wounded, and missing in the fighting. What happened in that Wheatfield and had did it effect the remainder of the battle? What had those 6,000 men gained or lost with their lives?

Join Ranger John Hoptak in this special “Digital Battle Walk” as he explores the Wheatfield and demystifies the confused story of Gettysburg’s most chaotic three hours.


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“Who Will You Follow?” – Pickett’s Charge and the Story of the Common Soldier: The Results

Last week we asked you to take part in an experiment. And hundreds of you did.

We asked the readers of this blog, and our friends on Facebook, to help us shape one of our anniversary Battle Walks by selecting the individuals we would follow into battle on July 3rd, 2014. We profiled nine different Confederate soldiers who took part in Pickett’s Charge, alongside the units they belonged to. Each individual and each story was different. The men represented different geographic locations, different walks of life, different ages. They all experienced the events of July 3rd in a unique way. Of those nine soldiers, three were selected. They were chosen by you, the readers of this blog and the participants of this interpretive program. Never before at Gettysburg National Military Park have the participants of a program, both digital and real, taken such a large role in shaping what we do on the battlefield. For that we are thankful.

And so, without further ado…Image

We invite you to join us on July 3rd, 2014  for “Who Will You Follow” – Pickett’s Charge and the Story of the Common Soldier. Ranger Jim Flook will follow the path of Lt. John James and the men of the 11th Virginia of Kemper’s Brigade. Ranger Philip Brown will examine the story of A. D. Norris and his comrades in the 7th Tennessee, while Ranger Bill Hewitt will share the experience of the Coffey Family of the 26th North Carolina. The program will begin at 2:30 PM at the Virginia Memorial. We hope to see you there for the program you helped create.






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