A New York Cavalryman’s Civil War: The Letters of Private Eli S. Knowlton, Company M. 3rd New York Cavalry

By: Abigail Adam

This past Fall, the Special Collections & College Archives of Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library received, through the generous donation of Kerry Cotter of Easton, Maryland 21 letters penned by her ancestor, Private Eli S. Knowlton of the 3rd New York Cavalry. Over the course of the Fall semester, CWI Fellows Abigail Adam (’22) and Ziv Carmi (’23) transcribed these letters for future researchers and interpreted them through additional contextual information from census records, pension files, and secondary source reading.  The following is a post authored by Abby offering her reflections on some of the main interpretive themes and take-aways she gathered from her transcription work with Knowlton’s letters.

Like many Civil War soldiers, throughout his nearly two-and-a-half years of service in the Union army, Private Eli S. Knowlton of the 3rd New York Cavalry penned numerous letters to his family. Some of the letters from January of 1863 through December of 1864 still survive. Eyeing the yellow pages and faded ink, modern readers can imagine the scent of campfire smoke while Knowlton sweated in the North Carolina and Virginia heat. Many times, Knowlton’s military obligations left him exhausted by the time he picked up his pen. Other times, he complained that sitting in the shade and writing was the only thing to do amidst the monotony of camp life. He talked about daily life as a soldier and his battle experiences, and reacted to the news his family shared with him. He openly relayed his opinions about army life, his comrades, the Confederacy, and the war as a whole, and was not afraid to let his emotions direct his writing. Anger, homesickness, happiness, and disgust pepper his accounts. Through such candid writing, modern readers can examine, among other interesting features of Knowlton’s life, the motivation behind his initial enlistment in the army, his sustaining motivations for remaining on the front lines, and his own evolving views of the continuously evolving Union war effort.

Eli S. Knowlton was born around 1843 to Seneca and Polly Knowlton. The Knowltons owned a family farm in Clarkson, New York. Though Eli attended school when he was young, he later admitted to being a poor student. His lack of attention to formal education is also evident through the spelling in his letters: ‘Any’ became “enny”, ‘month’ became “munth”, and ‘guerillas’ became “Garilleyes,” to name just a few examples. Modern readers can imagine him sounding out particularly difficult words, carefully penning them exactly as they sounded. On August 13, 1862, Knowlton enlisted in Company M of the 3rd New York Cavalry. He would serve for two years and nine months. But why did he enlist, and why did he wait until sixteen months into the war to do so?

The 3rd New York Cavalry’s standard.

In his letters, Knowlton appears unenthusiastic about serving, demonstrating that he did not enlist for glory or adventure. He also makes numerous racist and disparaging comments about African Americans, forcefully declaring that he did not enlist for the abolitionist cause, and lamenting being forced to fight for the freedom of the slaves. On January 28, 1863, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation (which made it legal for black men to join the army) went into effect, he wrote that he would rather be captured by the Confederates than serve alongside African Americans.  Such a declaration is revealing, considering how dishonorable and shameful many soldiers regarded allowing oneself to be captured by the enemy! Knowlton’s stance on race was certainly common amongst numerous Union soldiers, most of whom enlisted to restore the Union, and not out of any affection for African Americans or any strong inclinations toward emancipation or abolition. However, Knowlton’s home community was notoriously in favor of emancipation. Many community members were even abolitionists. As such, Knowlton’s views may have caused some tension within the regiment. Or, perhaps Knowlton knew his opinions were unpopular and thus saved them for his letters.

Interestingly, while Knowlton may have fancifully wished, in early 1863, to be captured by the Confederates rather than serve alongside black soldiers, his notions of martial masculinity, duty, and honor appear to have ultimately helped to sustain his commitment to remaining in the Union army as the months wore on. Knowlton wrote strongly about his disgust for army deserters. In one instance, he called a deserting man a “Coward” and a “pisspot,” and regularly disparaged the manhood and courage of those who left the front lines. 

However, as was true for many other soldiers, Knowlton’s views on matters such as duty and desertion were not necessarily one-dimensional, and at times, came into direct conflict with each other. Throughout his army career, Knowlton was perpetually homesick. On January 28, 1863, he wrote of his wish to enjoy cider and donuts in his parents’ new house—one of the countless references to his longing for home, family, and familial traditions. He followed this statement with a rather dejected message: “the old Saying is I cant allways be with you”. Sometimes, Knowlton would address parts of his letter to his younger brother, Randolph “Ran” Knowlton. Eli clearly missed Ran. He asked him to relay how the neighborhood “Gals” looked that spring, emphasizing that he wished he could be there, too. He also asked Ran to relay local adventures with friends. As he wrote, “tell me what for a time you had and all about it for as I Cant take a peace of that fun I wood like to hear how the rest of you take it”.  Such longings for home at one point caused him to toy with the idea of deserting the army. At the very least, he wished he could do it. On January 28, 1863, Knowlton wrote that some of his friends had “dug out” of the army, reflecting that “all I have to regret is that I had not dug to”. Nevertheless, Knowlton’s desire to leave simmered down as time went on. He became increasingly interested in seeing Union military success, as well as connecting his honor and masculinity to the success of his regiment.” Knowlton himself directly addressed this change in his attitude. He admitted that, in the past, he would have considered desertion. However, by August 13, 1863, he would not even entertain the idea. In a spirited flourish, Knowlton ended that same letter in which he called a deserter a “Coward” and a “pisspot” with the following crass, yet honest statement: “thay can kiss my US ass all of them.”

Another theme that runs throughout Knowlton’s letters—and a thread that sheds considerable light on why he may have chosen to enlist in the first place—is his continuous, open discussion of his finances and the money he routinely sent home to his family.  This trend suggests that he may have seen military service as an opportunity for steady employment, and may have finally chosen to enlist in the late summer of 1862 out of financial necessity, or perhaps fear of the draft, combined with community pressures to join up. One aspect of Knowlton’s life suggests that his enlistment was economically motivated. The 1860 census listed that the Knowlton property was worth $1,960. This value is the equivalent of $61,451.67 in 2020. In comparison, only 7% of homes in modern-day Clarkson, New York, fall between $50,000 and $99,000. The average home value is $150,100. Thus, the Knowltons were certainly not a wealthy family.

Eli Knowlton’s letters also had a large financial emphasis. On January 10,1863, Knowlton wrote that he sent $15 to his family and planned to send an additional $20 upon his next paycheck. This was a considerable amount, considering that he had received a total of $54.80 thus far. A few months later, Knowlton defended his inability to send more money to his parents. They presumably caught wind that John, a fellow soldier, was sending more money home than Knowlton was. Modern readers can imagine Knowlton tensing up as he defended himself through his writing. He was quick to explain that he was ill over the winter and thus needed to buy nutritious food. He also iterated that John gained his money from sources outside the military. If anything, Eli and John were paid the exact same amount. Eli, perhaps feeling guilty or under pressure, finished his tangent by promising to send more money upon his next paycheck. Such continuous, and sometimes quite passionate, references both to his own finances as well as to the economic viability of his parents and the family farm seem to suggest that economic stability may have loomed large as a motivating—and sustaining—factor for Knowlton’s army service.  Again, such motivation was hardly unique among Union soldiers, and often times it was a blend of reasons—economic, political, social, cultural, and ideological—that shaped men’s decisions to enlist, and helped, alongside commitment to comrades, to sustain them through the dark days of the war.

            Eli S. Knowlton’s letters provide fascinating insights into the daily life of a Union cavalryman during the Civil War. But, his surviving letters also highlight his humanity as a loving son and brother who cared deeply about his family. He was a complex man of numerous opinions, many of which shifted and changed throughout the war. Those opinions were complicated, sometimes contradictory, and could even cause conflict among his fellow soldiers. Soldiers such as Knowlton used the war to bolster their notions of pride, honor, duty, and masculinity, which, in turn, gave meaning to soldiers’ wartime experiences. Those experiences also changed many men as they navigated the horrors of war, interacted with new people of diverse backgrounds, and underwent challenges that were completely new to them. Many travelled farther than ever before and witnessed events so incredible that paper accounts could only hint at their impact. In fascinating and sometimes unexpected ways, these experiences both transformed the emotional and ideological worlds of soldiers such as Knowlton, while also reinforcing their commitment to the fight ahead.


Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Grand Army of the Republic Records, 1866-1931 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.





The Eli S. Knowlton letters

Killed at Hunterstown – Saddler Charles C. Krauss, 6th Michigan Cavalry

By Jaeger Held

Charles Christian “Carl” Krauss was born on April 5, 1832, near the town of Herrenberg in the Kingdom of Württemberg in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany. He was the second of four children born to Georg Heinrich Krauß, a glove maker by trade, and Friedricke Catharina Krauß, née Oerthle. His parents were married as Lutherans. In 1848, revolutions swept across Europe and in 1849, at age seventeen, Carl and his family, including one older and two younger brothers immigrated to the United States. His youngest sibling, Paul, only eight years of age, died at sea during the Atlantic voyage, and Charles’ surviving younger brother Gustavus was deaf and could not speak. Ten years after the family’s arrival in America, his mother died, leaving his father a widower at age sixty. Charles eventually settled in the small town of Lowell east of Grand Rapids in western Michigan where he kept a saddle shop. He was living there in 1862 as the American Civil War entered its second year. On August 1, 1862, at age thirty, Charles Krauss enlisted in the Union army, and on August 28 he was officially mustered in as saddler of Company A, 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. Eighteen men from Lowell, out of an 1860 population of 547, enlisted in the 6th Michigan Cavalry—including seven in company A, eight in company M, and one each in companies G, H, and the regimental staff. Carl likely formed bonds with some of these men who came from the same small community he called home.

6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry regimental flag, image courtesy Michigan Capitol Committee.

Shortly before Carl’s enlistment, his father had fallen ill with chronic rheumatism and as a result was unable to continue his trade. Charles’ regiment was sent to Washington, D.C. in December 1862, and that month, he sent his father forty dollars from his army pay to help sustain him and his handicapped younger brother. During the winter of 1862-1863, the regiment served in the defenses of the capital city, participating in several scouting missions in northern Virginia until June 1863, when the Michigan cavalry brigade, consisting of the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan cavalry regiments, was designated as the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The entire 5th regiment and two companies of the 6th were armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles, advanced weaponry at the time. On June 23, 1863, while Charles’ regiment was camped near Gainesville, in northern Virginia, he wrote home to his father in Michigan in his native German language:

[Translation of letter] “Gainesville, Va.  June 23, 1863.  Dear father, I write to inform you that our Regiment together with the whole division, 9 Regiments of Cavalry have started from Fairfax and are now in this neighborhood. I have at present very little opportunity to write, I have ways to work to prepare for march; have been very unwell since several days. I have sent you today my watch, together with forty dollars in greenbacks through our regiment’s saddler, who is going to visit his family in Lansing. He will leave the package in Detroit in the Express Office. Please write me whether you received the same. I must conclude having received notice to join my Co[mpany]. My respects for You & Gustav.  Your faithful Son, Charles C. Krauß.”

6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry regimental flag reverse, image courtesy Michigan Capitol Committee.

The Wolverines rode north in pursuit of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry and one week later fought their first battle on June 30, 1863, near Hanover, Pennsylvania. The 6th Michiganders, 611 strong, arrived near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 2, and were ordered to move northeast toward the small town of Hunterstown, Pennsylvania, about five miles from Gettysburg. A brigade of Confederate cavalry under General Wade Hampton were posted near the village to guard the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. Upon their arrival, the Union cavalry brigades of Brigadier Generals George A. Custer and Elon J. Farnsworth, both newly appointed to their commands, of H. Judson Kilpatrick’s division deployed to attack. Cavalrymen dismounted and formed into skirmish lines as Battery M, 2nd United States Artillery unlimbered and began firing toward the Confederates south of Hunterstown.

Around sundown, the brigade commander, Custer, led Company A of the 6th Michigan Cavalry down the Hunterstown road in a mounted charge against the Confederate position. Charles’ company was fired on and counterattacked by several companies of Cobb’s Georgia Legion. During the fighting, Saddler Krauss suffered a gunshot wound through the spine. The wound proved mortal, and he died soon thereafter, with some records listing his death as occurring that evening and others the next day. Custer himself was unhorsed and nearly killed by a southern cavalryman during the charge, but he was rescued by one of the Michigan men. Firing continued for a short time, but no further mounted attacks were made that evening. Private Krauss had lost his life in a skirmish where relatively few casualties were sustained on either side. The engagement in which he died has been referred to locally as North Cavalry Field.

The area south of Hunterstown where Saddler Charles C. Krauss was mortally wounded on the evening of July 2, 1863, image courtesy J. David Petruzzi and Steve Stanley.

On July 3, the 6th Michigan Cavalry moved off to the southeast and was positioned in support of Captain Alanson Randol’s U.S. Artillery Battery on the edge of what is now known as East Cavalry Field, while the remainder of the Michigan Brigade led by Custer fought Confederates under J.E.B. Stuart. During this engagement, the regiment suffered additional losses, and total casualties for the regiment during two days of fighting numbered one killed, twenty-six wounded and one missing. Saddler Charles C. Krauss was the only member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry at Gettysburg who would not live to see the battle’s end.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the 6th Michigan Cavalry, along with the rest of the Michigan Brigade, pursued the retreating Confederate army through the mountains into Maryland, skirmishing heavily along the way. The regiment later saw service through the Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1864 and was present at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered. At war’s end, the regiment was transferred to the western plains and fought in the Indian Wars in present-day Wyoming and Montana during the summer and fall of 1865 before finally being mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on November 24, 1865.

The Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument at East Cavalry Field near Gettysburg, dedicated in 1889, image courtesy Steve Hawks.

In the fall of 1863, the remains of Charles C. Krauss were interred in the Michigan plot, section I, site 9 of the newly created Gettysburg National Cemetery, the only soldier buried in the cemetery identified as a member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. In 1866, his widowed father successfully applied for a disability pension from the government, stating that his son who was killed at Hunterstown was his only support. It is not known if he was ever able to visit his second son’s final resting place. On his grave marker, his name is incorrectly rendered as “Charles Crouse,” a sorrowful end for a soldier who served and fought and died for his adopted country.


1860 U.S. Census, Lowell, Michigan.

6th Regiment, Michigan Cavalry. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UMI0006RC.

Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans. The National Archives. Fold3.com. https://www.fold3.com/image/301296504?terms=krauss,war,us,165789,civil,148838,charles,rel&xid=1945.

Charles C. Krauss (1832-1863). Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29061113/charles-c-krauss.

Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers who Served in Organizations from the State of Michigan. The National Archives.

Gettysburg Stone Sentinels, Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument. https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/michigan/michigan-cavalry-brigade/.

Hunterstown – Then and Now. http://hunterstown-thenandnow.com/id19.html.

Krauss Family Tree. Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/164013811/family/familyview.

Petruzzi, J. David and Steve Stanley. Hunterstown Part 1. https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/hunterstown-part-1-with-authors-jd-petruzzi-and-steve-stanley/.

Petruzzi, J. David and Steve Stanley. Hunterstown Part 2.https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/hunterstown-part-2-with-authors-jd-petruzzi-and-steve-stanley/.

Roster, 6th Michigan Cavalry, Company A. http://www.migenweb.org/michiganinthewar/cavalry/6cava.htm.

Spencer Rifles at Gettysburg.https://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/weapons-at-gettysburg-the-spencer-repeating-rifle/.

U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Ancestry.com.https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1555&h=934251&ssrc=pt&tid=164013811&pid=312132443958&usePUB=true.

U.S., Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, Michigan. Ancestry.com. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2123&h=282496&ssrc=pt&tid=164013811&pid=312132443958&usePUB=true.

Württemberg, Germany Emigration Index, Carl Christian Krauss. Ancestry.com https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=3141&h=30124&ssrc=pt&tid=164013811&pid=312132443958&usePUB=true.

James Bedell: The Inhumanity of War

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

This semester, I am continuing to work on the Killed at Gettysburg digital history project. This time, I selected James T. Bedell, Private in Company F of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. I was introduced to his story while transcribing Henry Janes’ Case Book for Gettysburg National Military Park as a part of my work study program. Henry Janes was the doctor in charge of Camp Letterman, and after the war he compiled the bed cards of many soldiers treated at the hospital, creating his Case Book. Bedell’s record on a page entitled “Skull, Fractures of, with Injury of the Brain” was one of the first cases I transcribed back in September 2017, meaning that my year at Gettysburg will conclude with a nice tie back to the beginning. However, Bedell’s story became incredibly personal to me and shows just how inhumane the American Civil War really was.

Camp Letterman
Camp Letterman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Enlisting on January 1st, 1863, Bedell was thrust into the world of a cavalryman. As a farmer, he may have had experience with horses, explaining why he didn’t go into an infantry regiment. Winter was filled with training, and spring was composed of light guard duty and a handful of small skirmishes. Gettysburg would be Bedell’s first and final major battle. On July 3rd, the Michigan Brigade was deployed east of town on what is now called the East Cavalry Battlefield. While Pickett’s Charge assailed the front of the Union lines, Confederate cavalry clashed with Union troopers in the rear. The untested 7th Michigan Cavalry, led by George Armstrong Custer, was sent to charge Confederate troops to prevent them gaining momentum for a charge of their own. It was a disaster.

The regiment charged directly into a fence and became disorganized. During this chaos, Bedell’s horse was shot out from under him, and he was unable to withdraw with the rest of his unit. Uninjured, though likely disoriented, he was captured and led to the rear. The Confederate officer leading the column of prisoners was furious at Bedell for not keeping pace. He struck Bedell with his saber and left him beside the road to die.

Photo credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Bedell was brought to the Cavalry Corps Hospital and ultimately to Camp Letterman. There, his wound was described as “on the left side of the cranium by a sabre stroke crushing the skull from a point one inch above the lambdoidal suture extending anteriorly nearly 4 inches on a line parallel to the saggital suture.” The saber had opened his skull, and he was weak with a slow pulse. He was completely lucid, and when roused from his depressed state was able to communicate effectively. He survived in this state until August 30th, when his pulse suddenly increased, and he suffered from a severe chill. This increased stress led to the brain protruding from the wound, and he went blind. Throughout all this his mind remained clear for hours until he finally died.

On May 21, 1862, Surgeon General William Hammond had issued Circular No. 2. This order instructed medical officers to “collect and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General, all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical and medical, with may be regarded as valuable.” It also established the Army Medical Museum as a repository for these unusual cases. Hammond hoped to use the war as a way to further medical knowledge and believed that gathering battlefield specimens in this new museum would allow them to be studied in more depth. James T. Bedell’s wound was considered one of these valuable specimens. Saber wounds were rare, and doctors were undoubtedly curious as to how he had survived for nearly two months. Following his death, his skull was removed from his body. It was shipped to the Army Medical Museum where photographs were taken, and the remainder of his body was laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Gettysburg. It is highly unlikely that his family was ever asked for consent. These images accompanied with his medical history would be published in medical journals through the 1870s.

Nat Cem stone
Photo credit to the author.

The sheer inhumanity with which Bedell was treated in both life and death shocked me. A Confederate officer struck down a prisoner of war, utterly shattering the 19th century bonds of masculine honor. Bedell was left for dead and brought to a hospital, where he clung to life for nearly two months experiencing extreme discomfort. Following his death, he still was not treated as a human being. He was given a named place in the National Cemetery, a place of honor. However, Bedell’s skull does not read beneath that stone with the rest of his body. Instead, it still sits in the National Museum of Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Treated poorly in both life and death, I can only hope that my telling of his story returns some level of humanity to a man regarded only as interesting for medical science.


Busey, Travis and John Busey. Union Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record, Volume 1. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc, Publishers, 2011.

Dr. Henry Janes Case Book. University of Vermont – Special Collections. Transcription at Gettysburg National Military Park.

National Museum of Health and Medicine. James T. Bedell File.

Reports on the Extent and Nature of the Materials Available for the Preparation of a Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion: Circular No. 6 War Department, Surgeon General’s Office, Washington, November 1, 1865. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1865. Pp. 40.

Say “Neigh” to Abuse: On the Treatment of Horses and Mules in the Civil War

By Annika Jensen ’18

The stuffed head of Old Baldy, General George Meade’s favorite horse, can be found mounted on the wall of the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Philadelphia. General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveler, received gifts and international adoration even after the war’s end, and General Ulysses S. Grant’s three war mounts, including one pony stolen from a plantation belonging to Jeff Davis’ brother, rested comfortably in fame and verdant pastures until the ends of their lives.

Old Baldy’s head hangs on the wall of the GAR Museum in Philadelphia. I personally think this is immensely weird.
Old Baldy’s head hangs on the wall of the GAR Museum in Philadelphia. I personally think this is immensely weird. Picture courtesy of ushistory.org.

Ignoring blissfully the morbidity of Old Baldy’s taxidermization, I might speculate that these heroic animals and their dedicated riders demonstrate an ideal camaraderie between soldier and mount in the American Civil War: respect, trust, compassion. But unfortunately, it is just so:  an ideal, not a reality. The truth behind the war horse is that its wartime life was a hellacious one; it fell victim to a systematic neglect, and the unspoken bond, the one that every equestrian shares, was abandoned in the desperation of the war. Continue reading “Say “Neigh” to Abuse: On the Treatment of Horses and Mules in the Civil War”

“Consternation was depicted on all their countenances”: Gettysburg’s African American Community and Confederate Invasion

By Brian Johnson ’14

On June 15, 1863, Albert Jenkins’s Confederate cavalry brigade became the first of Lee’s men to enter the North when it crossed the Potomac River and headed for Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Lee had issued strict orders forbidding his men to damage or confiscate private property unless it was a requisition made for necessary supplies, and overseen by authorized Confederate staff. Jenkins’s men half-heartedly obeyed, and scoured the area for anything valuable, including African Americans, fugitive or legally free, who might be sold into slavery. One horrified Chambersburg resident watched local blacks attempt to hide in cornfields only to have troopers chase them down through the young stalks. Others capitulated after troopers fired at them. When Lee arrived in Chambersburg on June 27, his horror at scenes of looting and robbery compelled him to reissue his order concerning private property. But he made no mention of over 200 captured African-Americans – some of whom had been born in Chambersburg – removed south by Jenkins’s cavalry. On the same day in nearby Mercersburg, one startled local watching fugitive-filled wagons roll towards Maryland asked a guard how he could do such a thing. Confederates, he replied, were simply “reclaiming their property.” Continue reading ““Consternation was depicted on all their countenances”: Gettysburg’s African American Community and Confederate Invasion”

A Wounded Alabamian at Gettysburg

The final drama of the Battle of Gettysburg was an ill-fated Union cavalry assault launched against the extreme right of the Confederate lines. It was likely during this fight on July 3rd that twenty-three year-old Lieutenant J.P. Breedlove, of th…


The final drama of the Battle of Gettysburg was an ill-fated Union cavalry assault launched against the extreme right of the Confederate lines. It was likely during this fight on July 3rd that twenty-three year-old Lieutenant J.P. Breedlove, of the 4th Alabama, received his wound. A Minié ball entered the right side of his abdomen just above the inguinal ligament (approximately where the seated man above has an entry wound in his front) and traveled downward, severing part of Breedlove’s large intestine before exiting his body. As terrible as this wound was, Breedlove could count himself lucky. From experience, many surgeons knew wounds of the large intestine to be less fatal than wounds of the small intestine. One of the reasons for this higher rate of survival was the relative infrequency with which large intestine wounds became infected. Breedlove’s own experience seems to confirm this, for despite feces escaping from his wound, it healed steadily with only simple dressings for treatment. With this said, however, his wound had not healed over until well into November, some four months after Gettysburg, and was serious enough to necessitate him being left behind at the close of the battle.

With the devastating repulse of Pickett’s Charge, the Army of Northern Virginia was left in a precarious position. Though the Army of the Potomac had been badly worn down during three days of fighting, the specter of it mounting a counterattack remained. General Robert E. Lee had to get his army back across the Potomac River as quickly as possible in order to effectively disengage the enemy. To accomplish this, any man wounded too seriously to travel in a wagon train had to be left behind – Breedlove and some 5,000 other Confederates all told. Continue reading “A Wounded Alabamian at Gettysburg”