Something Must Be Done: The Construction and Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Not only did the armies leave something of a state of chaos behind them after the battle of Gettysburg; they also left their dead buried poorly almost everywhere. Within days, the combination of rain and pigs rooting around the battlefield had exposed multiple skeletons and partially-decomposed bodies. The smell was horrendous, and residents and visitors alike were shocked by the state of the burials.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin was among these visitors. After seeing the state of affairs during his tour of the battlefield on July 10th, Curtin appointed local attorney David Wills to act as his “agent” in affairs related to Pennsylvania’s dead. As agent, Wills did everything from helping families locate loved ones’ bodies to disinterring and sending those remains home. This process was made more complicated by the fact that those grave markers that existed were only partially legible, if at all.

Wills also got to know other state agents, including William Yates Selleck of Wisconsin and Henry Edwards of Massachusetts. It was Edwards and Massachusetts officials who brought up the idea of purchasing part of the battlefield to turn into a cemetery. Wills also got the head of the Christian Commission of Pennsylvania, Andrew B. Cross, in on the idea. When Wills wrote to Governor Curtin about it on July 24th, the governor quickly authorized him to get to work. Continue reading “Something Must Be Done: The Construction and Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg”

Remember Harpers Ferry: Masculinity and the 126th New York

By Annika Jensen ’18

“The Harpers Ferry Cowards” is not an enviable nickname, but it is the one with which the 126th New York Infantry was stuck after September 15, 1862, the date that saw the largest capture of United States troops until the Battle of Bataan roughly 70 years later. The regiment, which had been active for a mere 21 days, was stationed on Maryland Heights and had been successful in fending off Joseph Kershaw’s brigade on September 12 and 13, but when the 126th observed their colonel, Eliakim Sherrill, being carried from the field after receiving a wound to the face, a few companies lost all bearings and fled. After the surrender on September 15, the 126th was paroled at Camp Douglas in Chicago until November.

In retrospect, the treatment these New Yorkers received for cowardice and the reputation they bore seems difficult to validate (after all, only about 20% of the regiment fled, while the rest stood their ground), but Civil War era notions of masculinity were far too strict to excuse them; they would remain the Harpers Ferry Cowards until their actions at Cemetery Ridge on July 3 reinforced their honor. An account of the regiment’s experience by Captain Winfield Scott (not to be confused with the Winfield Scott of The Anaconda Plan) during Pickett’s Charge bathes the regiment in golden light: “That cheer struck terror into the heart of the wavering foe, and nerved to desperation and deeds of valor the boys in blue.” Scott’s account is a romantic one, extolling the bravery of the 126th, men who were cowards no more. “Thus officers and men, with perfect composure, and in confidence, formed the line,” he writes; “They poured in a terrible fire upon us. We answered it with another more terrible.”

Monument to the 126th New York Infantry at Ziegler's Grove. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Monument to the 126th New York Infantry at Ziegler’s Grove. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Remember Harpers Ferry: Masculinity and the 126th New York”

Joshua Chamberlain on Mars: Chambermania and Beyond!

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to observe one fact about Mars: it has a lot of rocks. While each is typically given a name based on protocols of scientific classification, many are known by informal, often humorous names like “Grandma” and “Space Ghost.” And now on Mars, there’s a rock for fans of Civil War history—“Chamberlain,” named of course for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top.

Chambermars
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is now on Mars.

Aileen Yingst, the NASA scientist who named the rock, is a resident of Brunswick, Maine—the southern Maine town where JLC notably spent most of his adult life. And to this day, his presence there is inescapable. In Brunswick’s old town center, one can find pictures honoring him in numerous nearby restaurants, including one explicitly named for him. A local ice cream store reminds visitors to recycle their dishes because “Joshua Chamberlain would.” A bronze statue of him stands in a highly visible location close to the gates of the local Bowdoin College—the institution which Chamberlain attended as a student, taught at as a professor, and later served as president. Continue reading “Joshua Chamberlain on Mars: Chambermania and Beyond!”

Unfortunate Events and Special Circumstances: Why the Rupp Family Tells the Civilian Experience at Gettysburg

By Savannah Rose ’17

Is the Jennie Wade story important to remember? Is she the ideal image of the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg? When it comes to the civilian experience at Gettysburg, tourists flock to the Jennie Wade House Museum to hear the tale of a young girl caught in the crossfire of a major battle. Wade’s circumstances were unusual for the battle, but her story is better known due to its excitement and tragedy than because of its representativeness. The lesser-known story of the Rupp family gives us a better idea of what civilians experienced when the two armies entered their town. Like most families during the battle, the Rupps escaped danger by avoiding the conflict, emerging unharmed. So what was the civilian story of the Battle of Gettysburg? Whose struggle better conveys the civilian experience? Is it the tragic story of a single civilian casualty, or the experience of a family that hid in their basement to escape harm?

The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.
The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.

Continue reading “Unfortunate Events and Special Circumstances: Why the Rupp Family Tells the Civilian Experience at Gettysburg”

Noble Sacrifice or Meaningless Death? Interpreting the 116th PA Monument

By Sarah Johnson ’15

Any visitor to the Gettysburg battlefield will no doubt be almost overwhelmed with the numbers of monuments and memorials to various Union and Confederate units strewn about the field. Sculpted soldiers with sabers, rifles, even fists raised in defiance of the enemy, ever charging forward into the heat of battle are commonplace. In the case of most Union monuments, a culture of just victory and celebration of noble sacrifice emanates from gray stones and bronze figures. One monument, however, tucked along Sickles Avenue in the Rose Woods, portrays a different message. The monument of the 116th Pennsylvania, erected by regimental survivors in 1888, is the only monument at Gettysburg that depicts a dead soldier. While other monuments, such as the Freemason monument at the Soldier’s National Cemetery, the Louisiana state monument, and the Mississippi state monument depict wounded soldiers, these monuments are accompanied by themes of fraternity and noble sacrifice as the focal point rather than the fallen soldier himself.

These two examples of Confederate monuments at Gettysburg feature wounded soldiers, but in each there is a focal point of another theme. In the Louisiana monument, the wounded soldier clutches his heart while Spirit Triumphant flies overhead. The Mississippi monument depicts a comrade standing over his fallen brother wielding his rifle as a club against oncoming attackers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
These two examples of Confederate monuments at Gettysburg feature wounded soldiers, but in each there is a focal point of another theme. In the Louisiana monument, the wounded soldier clutches his heart while Spirit Triumphant flies overhead. The Mississippi monument depicts a comrade standing over his fallen brother wielding his rifle as a club against oncoming attackers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Recruited from the Irish-American population of Philadelphia, the 116th was a part of the famed Irish Brigade. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, the 116th performed well by rescuing a Maine battery from capture. For this action, the 116th’s commander, Major St. Clair A. Mulholland, received the Medal of Honor. By the battle of Gettysburg, the 116th had been reduced to barely four companies. During the morning of the July 2, the 116th moved in to support the right flank of the III Corps and fought in various support capacities throughout the day. At the end of the battle, the 116th had lost two men killed, twelve wounded, and eight missing. Continue reading “Noble Sacrifice or Meaningless Death? Interpreting the 116th PA Monument”

Heavy Metal Gettysburg and the Allure of Emotive History

By Kevin Lavery ’16

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In July 1863
A Nation Torn In Tragedy
A Trick Of Fate, Two Great Armies Merge
Gods Of War At Gettysburg
Devastation Lies Ahead
50,000 Bodies Litter The Land
Hell Rages Three Full Days
The Reaper Sows, There’s The Devil To Pay.

Thus begins the first song in Iced Earth’s three-part ballad inspired by the Battle of Gettysburg. The heavy metal epic is intense, dramatic, brutal, tragic, and romantic. Released in 2004 on their album The Glorious Burden – which, incidentally, also features songs inspired by Attila the Hun, the Red Baron, Waterloo, and Valley Forge – Iced Earth’s “Gettysburg (1863)” trilogy offers listeners a vivid musical interpretation of the memory of Gettysburg popularized by Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. Beginning with the “The Devil to Pay” and continuing in “Hold at All Costs” and “High Water Mark,” each song in the trilogy is devoted to the events of a single day of the battle. Encapsulating some of Gettysburg’s best-known moments, the songs each convey a sense of the battle’s epic scale and its powerful legacy. In consequence, however, the ballad reinforces an exclusively emotional interpretation of the Civil War that can obscure a more meaningful understanding of the battle and its larger implications. Continue reading “Heavy Metal Gettysburg and the Allure of Emotive History”

A “friendship . . . born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg”: The Barlow-Gordon Incident

By Brianna Kirk ’15

Blocher’s Knoll, now known as Barlow’s Knoll. Photo credit to the author.
Blocher’s Knoll, now known as Barlow’s Knoll. Photo credit to the author.

July 1, 1863. It is the first day of what will come to be known as the Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces, upon firing the first shot in the early morning hours of that Wednesday, were pushed back from their position near Herr’s Ridge and McPherson’s woods towards Cemetery Hill. Following orders given by Schurz, twenty-nine year old Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow moved his division to the right of Schimmelfennig’s division and placed them on top of an elevated piece of land known as Blocher’s Knoll. The Eleventh Corps had yet to begin their retreat through Gettysburg, but they would soon after Barlow’s men extended the already thin line further north.

Attacking the knoll was Major General Jubal Anderson Early’s division, who arrived on the Eleventh Corps’ right flank in time to force their retreat into town. Seeing George Doles being pushed back, Brigadier General John Brown Gordon received orders to attack Barlow with his Georgians. The fighting became fiercer as Gordon descended upon the knoll, driving the Union troops back past the Almshouse and into the town. Barlow remained on the knoll as his men retreated, rallying them to form another line to attack, allowing enough time for a bullet from Gordon’s men to strike him. Dismounting his horse and desperately attempting to get out of the line of fire, Barlow worked his way to the rear, with two of his men offering their help. One eventually succumbed to a wound and fell, the other ran for safety. Barlow, now alone, was hit again, knocking him to the ground. Bleeding out, he remained there as the Confederates rushed the position on the knoll and pushed his division further and further into the town. Gordon approached Barlow, noticing the severity of his wounds and offered him water, recognizing the life draining from his face. Knowing he did not have much time left to live, Barlow asked Gordon to tell his wife he died in the front lines doing his duty to his country, and to destroy the letters he had on his person. Gordon found Mrs. Barlow near the end of July 1 and relayed the message to her under a flag of truce. His duty to Barlow over, and assuming he died on the field of battle, Gordon forgot about the man. Continue reading “A “friendship . . . born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg”: The Barlow-Gordon Incident”

Superlative Sacrifice: The 26th North Carolina’s Losses at Gettysburg

By Matt LaRoche ’17

In the wake of any tragedy, people cannot resist asking with an honest, if gruesome, fascination, “How bad was it?” The question is unavoidable with regards to a tragedy like the Battle of Gettysburg, and the answer is evasive. As the experience of battle is so surreal that few can begin to understand it, the story of a regiment offers one of the best avenues for someone who was not there to look in on the carnage. While many regimental stories provide visitors to Gettysburg with a glimpse of the tragedy, one regiment’s tale stands out in particular.

26th North Carolina Infantry Monument, Meredith Avenue at Herbst Woods, Gettysburg Battlefield. Wikimedia Commons.
26th North Carolina Infantry Monument, Meredith Avenue at Herbst Woods, Gettysburg Battlefield. Wikimedia Commons.

Early on the afternoon of July 1, 1863, the men of the 26th North Carolina formed the center of Brigadier General Heth’s Division’s final assault on McPherson’s Ridge, aimed at driving the left flank of the Army of the Potomac’s I Corps off that high ground.[1] They stood opposite Brigadier General Meredith’s famed Iron Brigade, known for their black Hardee hats and their discipline under fire.[2] The 26th North Carolina formed up in a wheat field before the imposing ridgeline, which was concealed by McPherson’s Woods and screened by Willoughby Run, a natural moat sure to slow down any attackers.[3] Continue reading “Superlative Sacrifice: The 26th North Carolina’s Losses at Gettysburg”

The Mystery of Penn Hall

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

In academic terms, I do not consider myself a “Civil Warrior.” I find the Civil War to be very interesting, but unlike many of my fellows here, do not pursue its study as my main focus. In a way, this proves to be a minor difficulty writing for an institute dedicated to Civil War research. Experts – in this case, true Civil Warriors – often seem to have a way of drawing leads and context for events and sources out of thin air, much like a Sherlock or Poirot solving a seemingly unsolvable mystery by the power of sheer deduction and individual mastery. For me, however, I must take the route of a gumshoe, working step by step to solve the puzzle.

Tyson Brothers. "Pennsylvania College (1862)." 1862. Special Collections/Musselman Library, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Tyson Brothers. “Pennsylvania College (1862).” 1862. Special Collections/Musselman Library, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

For writing history is indeed a lot like solving a mystery. Oftentimes, much like the work undertaken for many of the articles on this blog, you begin with a single source of information or a single subject to study—your first clue on the case, existing outside of all contextualization when first viewed. “What can I possibly do with this?” one might ask when reading an old letter that seems largely irrelevant to most studies. “What kind of case am I dealing with?” Continue reading “The Mystery of Penn Hall”

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Coster Avenue Mural

By Brianna Kirk ’15

The Gettysburg Battlefield has over one thousand monuments dedicated to a host of brave men who fought and gave their lives during the three day engagement in July of 1863. Littered alongside well-traveled roads and points of attraction on the battlefield, most do not go unnoticed. There are a few, however, that do. One of them commemorates Captain Heckman’s Battery K of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, an oft-passed but unnoticed monument on Gettysburg College’s campus and the focus of one of my previous blog posts . Another cluster of monuments in the vicinity of the Gettysburg College campus and Heckman’s monument is just as much, if not more, removed from what one would consider the traditional battlefield and is often overlooked if not forgotten about. But if the readers of the Gettysburg Compiler are anything like me, the stories behind these forgotten monuments, the ones rarely told, are the most interesting ones of the battle.

If you were to turn down Stevens Street from Carlisle Street, you would eventually determine that you hit a dead end road. At least that was what I thought when the van carrying thirty Gettysburg College students on an unconventional battlefield tour turned down the street and came to a stop in front of a grassy area. Confusion set in as we were instructed to unload off the bus. This wasn’t the battlefield; we were in a neighborhood.

Coster Avenue Mural, photo credit to Randy Drais.
Coster Avenue Mural, photo credit to Randy Drais.

Continue reading “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Coster Avenue Mural”