1 I love to steal a while away
From every cumbering care,
And spend the hours of setting day
In humble, grateful prayer.
2 I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear;
And all his promises to plead
Where none but God can hear. […]
5 Thus, when life’s toilsome day is o’er,
May its departing ray
Be calm as this impressive hour
And lead to endless day.
Corporal Charles A. Rubright of the 160th Pennsylvania Volunteers found little solitude during the beginning days of July 1863. He arrived at Gettysburg on July 2nd after days of arduous marching, the final leg ending early that morning. The commander of a detachment of “Pioneers,” he was soon ordered to the front and left of his brigade on Cemetery Ridge to clear intrusive trees, fences, brush, etc.
Throughout the afternoon, Confederate artillery shelled the Union line. Then began the offensive. A Georgian brigade marched for the exposed Union regiments to the left of the “Copse of Trees.” Rubright and his men were soon overtaken, trapped in a nearby hole and for the moment captives of the Confederates.
The men of Rubright’s brigade who stayed on the ridge held back the Confederate assault and made a countercharge, pushing the Georgians back past Emmitsburg Pike. During the charge, a comrade of Rubright took notice of the Corporal and his men. He observed, “prior to our passing the hole our men had surrendered – but after we had gone by … our men under Rubright demanded their [the Confederates’] surrender.” The Confederates who refused to submit were killed by Rubright’s men. This was done with axes because they had no guns at the time.
After nearly 24 hours without respite, the morning of July 3rd offered brief quiet. But Rubright’s regiment was once again placed as a reserve on Cemetery Ridge, plugging holes in the Union line during Pickett’s Charge. Even after Confederate defeat, the following two days kept the Union Army and its soldiers on edge.
Not until July 6th did Rubright find relief – put simply in his diary as “every thing quiet.” The continuing hardships of camp life, the memories of battle, the anxiety over future engagements, these held no worth over the calm found in those hours.
Throughout the war, Rubright devotedly recorded the affairs of most days. Yet his diaries are filled with the recurring phrase “every thing quiet.” It says little of the day’s activities but goes deeply into his state of mind. He yearned for humble moments to steal away from the difficulties faced day after day.
He also carried a small book titled Soldiers’ Hymns. These hymns provided the weary soldier some reflection after the toilsome day came to close. With them, one can imagine that solitude became therapeutic, not a weight on the soldier’s mind.
After weeks of marching to Gettysburg and days of brutal fighting, the moments of solitude spent in prayer and reflection held his spirits together. Reading these hymns in solitude allowed him to reflect on God or country and to reassert his faith in both. Whether or not a conscious relationship, these songs provided a way to set right the horrid events of the day. For Rubright, on those frequent days without action, the quiet was indispensable.
Months later, during his time spent in the infamous Confederate Andersonville Prison, Rubright’s peace with solitude could only have helped his chances, spending time in prayer rather than ruminating on what had been lost. He survived prison, Gettysburg and the war, silence not being an enemy but an ally through the adversity.
“Comrade C. A. Rubright: One of the Dreadful Sufferers in the Andersonville Den.” Elmira Telegram, January 31, 1897. Gettysburg College, Musselman Library Special Collections and College Archives, MS-061 Charles A. Rubright Collection, Box 1 Folder 7.
Rubright Journal Entries, July 1-7. Gettysburg College, Musselman Library Special Collections and College Archives, MS-061 Charles A. Rubright Collection, Box 1 Folder 3.
Soldiers’ Hymns. Gettysburg College, Musselman Library Special Collections and College Archives, MS-061 Charles A. Rubright Collection, Box 1 Folder 5.
Gottfried, Bradley M. Brigades of Gettysburg. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2002. Pgs. 143-151, 593-599.