Family, Fraternity, and Ferocity – The Story of Private Elias Gage, 136th New York

By : Felicia Marks

Freshman students in CWI’s all-volunteer First Year Experience Program spent the year discussing scholarly articles about the soldier experience, attending workshops with practicing public historians, participating in on-site interpretive battlefield experiences, and researching and writing about a soldier of their choice for the Compiler blog. Their pieces roughly follow an abbreviated format of the CWI’s “Killed at Gettysburg” digital history project.

Authors Note: I would like to thank Mrs. Virginia Gage for graciously providing me with family history and additional resources that allowed me to learn more about the 136th New York. Although the 136thhas long been overlooked, she, alongside numerous other descendants, continue to memorialize these men and their contributions through their Facebook page today.

Elias Gage was born on April 4, 1835, in Danbury, CT. He was one of seven children born to parents Elias P Gage and Mary Oakley. He was a tall young man with light hair and blue eyes. He and his family later moved to Burns, Allegany County, New York, and established a successful farm. Family stood at the forefront of his moral values; rather than attending college, he continued to work on his family’s farm into adulthood. On June 2, 1860, he married Lodorsca Miller, the eldest daughter of Joseph and Eunice Miller, in Almond Village, New York. With little money to his name, Elias became a paid farm laborer to a member of Lodorsca’s family in exchange for residency. On July 5, 1861, the two welcomed their first daughter, Susan Ann Gage. By spring of the following year, Lodorsca was expecting her second child.

In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more troops. Men were to enlist by August 15, and if this quota were not met, vacancies would eventually be filled through conscription. Elias now faced a moral dilemma. With a pregnant wife and infant daughter at home, he was struggling to support his family financially, and he was in no position to leave them. However, by staying home, he risked being drafted into the ranks. Volunteering would offer him greater financial support as he would receive a $100.00 bounty and a higher salary than he would as a conscript. Additionally, if he lived to see the end of the war, how would his reputation play out? Would he be remembered as a valiant patriot who volunteered to serve his country at a time of need, or would he go down as a coward who was forced into the ranks or evaded service entirely? After Lincoln’s deadline passed, Elias was consumed by a heightened sense of urgency to choose between his family and his nation. On August 25, 1862, Elias and his older brother, Joshua, enlisted at Burns, New York, to serve in Company B of the 136th New York Volunteer Infantry at the rank of Private. The Gage brothers were mustered into service on September 25, 1862, and Elias bid his final farewell to his family.

 Before deployment, Elias arrived in Portage, New York, for training. Initially, life in the ranks had been a pleasant surprise. He served under Col. James Wood, who was well-respected by his troops for his willingness to cultivate camaraderie with Privates, a practice not common in other units. Military service brought many fortunes to Elias. His barracks were comfortable, and he was well fed. His need for his familial companionship was fulfilled not only by serving alongside his brother, but he additionally received a furlough for his hard work. These pleasantries, however, were not permanent. With immense pressure to deploy, Elias and his regiment had only trained for two weeks before leaving Portage on October 2, 1862.

Two days later, Elias and his regiment arrived at Arlington, VA, where they joined the 11th Corps. The harsh realities of military service quickly set in. On their first night after settling at an encampment near Fairfax Court House, all of the men slept on the ground without tents. They had gone to bed hungry because their supper that night was practically inedible as it was riddled with dirt and grease. New problems continued to emerge even after men became fully settled in camp. Each day was a battle against the elements as large periods of rain prevented them from getting adequate amounts of sleep or being able to cook their food properly. Whereas Sundays had once been a sacred day for prayer and relaxation, officers now expected men to work on Sundays as if it were any other day. Days became weeks, and Elias became accustomed to the same repetitive patterns of long marches and keeping watch, but he had yet to see any action. By the end of November, the arrival of the extreme cold weather had a detrimental impact on morale and health. Many of Elias’s comrades grew ill and were discharged for poor health. Others, now disillusioned with the war, deserted and returned home to their families. Elias and Joshua, however, found strength in each other. Their companionship acted as a constant reminder of the promises of life after the war and how they might one day be able to return home and reunite with their family. Elias, in particular, looked forward to one day meeting his second daughter, Mary, who was born on February 2, 1863.

Battle flag of the 136th New York (New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center)

For months, Elias had only engaged in minor skirmishes with the enemy, and he had yet to see action. Hardened by his experiences at camp, he was anxious to one day experience true combat. The spring of 1863 brought new hope to his regiment, self-nicknamed “the Ironclads.” On April 30, the regiment had been out on reconnaissance when the rest of the 11th Corps was attacked at Chancellorsville. They arrived the next day, and they were drawn into line in the evening. Waiting on a plank road, they were ordered to cap their guns and lie down on their stomachs. Hearing the firing of cannons, musketry, and faint screams from the battlefield, Elias had long anticipated this very moment with both excitement and anxiety. The night soon fell, and the men still waited to be called into battle. Eventually, they were ordered to move down the road and go to bed for the night. For the remainder of the battle, the regiment saw no action; they primarily waited on standby or helped other regiments to bring back men after engagements with the rebels. By the end of the battle, the regiment had only lost two men. Although disappointed with his lack of engagement, Elias was likely content that he and Joshua remained in good health and were safe after seeing the tremendously bloody carnage wreaked upon friend and foe alike by the great battle. Doubtless, the enormous Union defeat at Chancellorsville weighed heavily upon his mind; however, Elias had more on his mind beyond battles at this point as he anxiously awaited news of his second child’s birth back in New York. The men eventually returned to camp, and the weeks following Chancellorsville were uneventful. With the exception of certain tests to measure how quickly the regiment could deploy in the event of an attack, life at camp returned to its previous state of waiting.

            Six weeks later, rumors began to spread about movement, but no one knew quite how far the men would travel. On June 12, they received orders to prepare to march by the afternoon. Once they began moving, it was evident that this march would prove to be the greatest challenge Elias had encountered yet. Marching an average of twenty miles per day, many men in his regiment succumbed to physical exhaustion and were left behind. Water was scarce, as many creeks had dried up, leaving men to depend on the few springs they encountered for survival. The intense summer heat, coupled with the long marches through alternately muddy and mountainous terrain fatigued Elias more and more each day. Nevertheless, he persisted as his regiment continued northward through Maryland. Beginning in the afternoon of June 28, these men would complete a whopping thirty-eight-mile march from the Boonsboro Gap to Emmitsburg in twenty-four hours with no food or rest. However, the difficulty of this stretch was no match for the Ironclads; finding strength within their martial brotherhood, they fought off physical and mental exhaustion, completing the march with no stragglers. Their arrival at Emmitsburg had been a highlight of their journey. Many men were enticed by the rolling wheat fields and beautiful countryside and were thrilled to be back near northern soil. However, their sense of relief was relatively short-lived. Less than one day after their arrival, there was a general muster of the army in preparation for a battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

            Early in the morning on July 1, the 11th Corps began marching toward Gettysburg with Col. Orlando Smith’s Brigade. They arrived in the midst of a raging battle. The brigade was halted by General Steinwehr, who promptly formed it into a line of battle at the rear of Cemetery Hill for support. Smith’s men advanced through the cemetery to the front of the hill. He strategically placed his four regiments to resist any attack made on the hill, which 11th Corps commander General Oliver Otis Howard had deemed the lynchpin of the entire battle. Inundated with excitement, Elias knew that Gettysburg would provide him with the long-awaited opportunity to engage in combat. After a long day of fighting on the northwestern edges of town, which had resulted in the retreat of the 1st and other portions of the 11th Corps back through town and up to Cemetery Hill, the Confederates paused as they awaited orders to renew their pursuit of the beaten Federals and attack Cemetery Hill. However, the weariness of the Confederates, combined with a lack of immediately available fresh reinforcements, and the resolute appearance of the 11th Corps atop the formidable hill, forced Confederate generals to waffle and their opportunities to launch a successful attack were soon lost. By the end of the first day of the battle, the 136th New York had once again been denied the chance to fight. The long lines of wounded and bloodied comrades from the 1st and 11th corps streaming up the hill and the tales of the brutal fighting earlier that day likely weighed heavily on Elias’s mind as he contemplated when—or if—it would finally be his turn to “see the elephant” at Gettysburg.

During the second and third days of fighting, the 11th Corps maintained the same position. The 136th New York held the leftmost position of the 11th Corps line along Taneytown Road. Elias was introduced to heightened levels of intensity beginning on the second day, and the reality of hard war utterly transformed his perceptions of battle. Black clouds of sulfurous smoke consumed the landscape. The Confederate army deployed skirmishers and sharpshooters to rain down a constant fire upon the brigade, who were deployed within easy musket range. Col. Wood deployed his own line of skirmishers and sharpshooters from the Ironclads to meet this imminent threat. Somewhere in the midst of this utter ferocity of chaotic combat, Elias was struck and killed by the bullet of a sharpshooter. Of his regiment, seventeen other men were killed, eighty-nine were wounded, and three went missing.

Letter written by an unknown member of the 136th New York who mentioned Elias Gage’s death

Despite the smashing Union victory at Gettysburg, Elias’s former comrades experienced a drastic shift in morale. The harsh realities of war had now crushed the once prideful Ironclads. As the surviving members of the regiment returned to the skirmish line on July 5, they were met with a sea of wounded men groaning in the field, begging for someone to simply put them out of their misery. In a journal entry written by John T. McMahon of the 136th New York, he recounted his impressions of that day, writing, “This is the first battle field [sic] I ever went over and never wanted to see another.” The fact that the unit had lost so many, such as Elias Gage, to the sinister bullet of the sharpshooter weighed particularly heavily in their mind. For a relatively green unit to have been picked apart by unseen and unexpected foe at all hours of the day and night, rather than to have been martyred in the idealized “glorious charge” for the world to behold and admire, was utterly demoralizing. The Ironclads took their seventeen losses hard. Another soldier, writing a letter to his family, noted, “It is pretty tough. When will this cruel war end? Elias Gage was killed in Gettysburg battle.” No one, however, was impacted by loss quite like Joshua. After the death of his brother, he was now alone. An unmarried man with no children of his own, he now had no motivation to live to see the end of the war. During the corps’ return from Gettysburg, Joshua became ill with typhus. Only twenty days after Elias’s death, Joshua died in Washington DC. 

One can only imagine the grief that Elias’s family in New York experienced upon hearing of the deaths of both men within a month of each other. But Lodorsca had taken the death of her twenty-seven-year-old husband especially hard. She had only been twenty-one years old at the time of his death, but she never remarried. She collected a Widow’s Pension of $8 per month from July 3, 1863, with an additional $2 for each of her children, yet this money was not enough to sustain her family. Struggling for financial support, she took her daughters with her and temporarily moved in with her parents. She eventually saved enough money to establish her own household. Enticed by cheap land and the financial promises of the emerging west, she took her daughters and moved to Topeka, Kansas. Susan and Mary later married and established their own households. As she got older, Lodorsca joined Mary’s household, where she remained until her death on May 5, 1908.

Monument of the 136th New York on Taneytown Road. (Author Photo)

Like the contributions of the 136th itself, the monument which stands today to commemorate the 136th New York’s actions is often overlooked in the greater context of Gettysburg. Situated across the street from the infinitely more iconic National Cemetery (in which lie the remains of Elias Gage himself), along Taneytown Road, the monument depicts an infantryman’s equipment hanging from a war-torn tree trunk. It is simple, serene, and lacks any of the romance and martial stoicism portrayed by so many of the other regimental monuments, particularly those featuring images or sculptures of soldiers under fire.  It features a sculpted crescent moon, which was the symbol of the 11th Corps, and, in addition to a brief notation about the unit’s muster-in and muster-out dates, bears a simple inscription on the side reading, “Casualties; Killed 17, Wounded 89, Missing 3, Total 108;” a conspicuously uncarved block remains where it would otherwise indicate the number engaged. The relatively spartan, utterly unromanticized nature of the monument speaks volumes about how the regiment perceived and sought to represent its experiences at Gettysburg: The regiment dutifully performed the martial responsibilities expected of it, but was stripped away like the shredded, pock-marked bark of a firmly rooted tree under fire. For men who had waited so long to “see the elephant,” and to have sacrificed so much when they finally did, one might expect a more grandiose or elaborate monument. Yet, the almost haunting simplicity of the Ironclads’ monument speaks to the solemn, unsanitized, grim realities of the nature of Civil War combat.

It is unfortunate and ironic that the 136th New York’s monument and the men it commemorates are so frequently overlooked in favor of the cemetery atop the hill in whose shadow it lies, and for which Elias Gage and his comrades gave their lives in defense; had Cemetery Hill fallen during the fighting, the battle of Gettysburg may very well have had a vastly different outcome.  Yet, even in the shadows, the story of Elias Gage and his comrades–and their collective sacrifice at Gettysburg–speaks quietly and humbly to the legacy of the battle in which they gave their lives, and help give meaning and purpose to the deaths of the thousands of fellow Union comrades lying just yards from their monument, surrounding Elias himself, atop the iconic hill.

Gravesite of Pvt Elias Gage at the Gettysburg National Cemetery ( Ancestry.com)

Bibliography

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Busey, Travis W., and John W. Busey. Essay. In Union Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011.

Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.


Havens, Lewis Clayton. Historical Sketch of the 136th New York Infantry, 1862-1865. Dalton, NY s.n. 1934.

Hawks, Steve A. “136th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.” The Civil War in the East, 2019. https://civilwarintheeast.com/us-regiments-batteries/new-york-infantry/136th-new-york/.

Hawks, Steve A. “Monument to the 136th New York Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg.” Stone Sentinels – Gettysburg. 2020.

McMahon, John T. John T. McMahon’s Diary of the 136th New York, 1861-1864. Shippensburg, PA, USA: White Mane Pub. Co. 1993.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D. C.

“136th Infantry Regiment” New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/infantry-2/136th-infantry-regiment.

Staff. “Here Men Died for their Country: In the Footsteps of the 136th New York.” From the Fields of Gettysburg – The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park. 2016.

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.

Sources:

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.

The Complexity of a Soldier: Mitchell Anderson’s Life, Death, and Legacy

By Ryan Bilger ’19

It is hard to believe that this is my last semester as a Civil War Institute Fellow, but that time has indeed come. When offered my choice of projects for this term, I figured it would only be appropriate to finish out my work on the Killed at Gettysburg project with one last deep dive into the life and legacy of a soldier who died here in Pennsylvania. I know I have stated this several times in my previous reflections on the project, but I feel that Killed at Gettysburg profiles offer an excellent way to consider the battle from a micro perspective and to remember the human element behind history. As such, I am proud to have worked on the project during my years as a CWI Fellow, and I hope you have enjoyed learning about the men behind the stories as well.

Anderson.jpg
Mitchell A. Anderson (via Stockton Archives, Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee)

For my final KAG profile, I wanted to ensure that I selected a soldier with a unique and compelling story, and I believe I have done just that. Mitchell A. Anderson was a native of Lebanon, Tennessee, a small town outside of Nashville. His father, Rev. Thomas Anderson was the president of Cumberland University in Lebanon during the Civil War, and Mitchell served as a teacher in the town in the years leading up to 1861. At approximately age 22, he enlisted in the 7th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. before Tennessee had formally seceded from the Union. He initially held the rank of corporal, but due to unknown circumstances, he was demoted to private in 1862 before the regiment had even seen battle. This loss of rank must have severely damaged Mitchell Anderson’s personal sense of honor, forcing him to emotionally come to terms with what had happened and to work to demonstrate his value once again. As an enlisted man, Anderson endured some of the most brutal battles of the war, including Gaines’ Mill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. He fell ill around the time of Second Manassas and served as a nurse, treating wounded soldiers. Anderson regained the trust of his comrades following his demotion, and in May 1863 they elected him to serve as junior second lieutenant. This promotion would have constituted a significant boost in morale for Anderson, giving him a brighter outlook on his situation as the Confederate army moved northward that summer.

As part of Archer’s brigade, Anderson led Company K, 7th Tennessee into the thick of the fight on July 1, 1863 and performed ably, though his unit suffered heavy losses in Herbst Woods. While resting that night and the next day, Anderson surely took time to reflect on his journey to this point and to prepare for what the next day might bring for himself and his soldiers. The Tennesseans were called upon once more on July 3, and Anderson received a mortal wound during the climactic Pickett’s Charge. He died thousands of miles away from home, on enemy soil, and his final resting place is unknown today.

Mitchell Anderson’s story appealed to me for several different reasons. For one, Tennessee is likely not the first state you think of when considering the Confederacy, and I have often taken an interest in digging into comparatively understudied subject material. Additionally, the Volunteer State fell to Union forces relatively early in the war, and before he had even seen combat, Anderson had to cope with news of Federal soldiers occupying his hometown. This traumatizing event left Anderson and his comrades questioning where they truly belonged, as they could do nothing to protect their homes and families while stationed in Virginia. The shame and sense of dishonor that he must have felt at his demotion surely compounded his psychological suffering further at this time, making him unique among his fellow Tennesseans. The Army of Northern Virginia’s foray into Pennsylvania offered him an opportunity to exact some revenge for what had happened to Lebanon, as now he and his Confederate comrades could make the impacts of war hit home for Union civilians as they had for his family in Tennessee. Lastly, Anderson’s return to a leadership role stands out as something of a redemption arc, as he clearly found some way to prove himself as a man and a soldier within the hyper-masculine world of the Confederate Army. That he was struck down in his first battle after this promotion adds a final note of tragedy to the tale. These various elements combined to make Mitchell Anderson the perfect soldier for my final Killed at Gettysburg profile.

Yet, despite the intriguing nature of Mitchell Anderson’s life and death as I just described it, I have also found it extremely important to remember and emphasize his humanity in the course of the project. As a historian and a lover of history, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at a life like Anderson’s and simply thinking “wow, what a great story!” To do this, though, is to lose sight of the fact that this story is not a fictional tale, but that of a human being, who felt the same emotional highs and lows, the joy and the pain, that you or I do today. These elements of his life deserve careful consideration as such, because to Anderson, his struggles and his triumphs were all too real. Additionally, when visiting or thinking about the Gettysburg battlefield, considering the lives of men like Mitchell Anderson helps us all remember that generalizations about Civil War soldiers can only go so far, and that a rich world of human experiences lies just beneath the surface. These individualized nuances all contributed to the stories of Gettysburg and of Civil War armies, and twists and turns like those in Mitchell Anderson’s life make this portion of our past unique and complex. Keeping these essential bits of perspective in mind, whether considering the story of Mitchell Anderson or Patrick O’Rorke, Charles Phelps or Minion Knott, is key to truly reckoning with the lives and deaths of those men who gave their lives on the hills and fields of Gettysburg.


Sources:

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Ancestry.com. 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.

Cottrell, Steve. Civil War in Tennessee. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Venner, William Thomas. The 7th Tennessee Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2013.

A TIGER’S REST: A REFLECTION ON THE KILLED AT GETTYSBURG PROFILE OF HORTHERE FONTENOT

By Zachary Wesley ’20

As soon as I was assigned to the Killed at Gettysburg project, I knew that I wanted to work with a French Creole soldier. I have a soft spot for Louisiana troops, you see (along with Mississippians, but that is irrelevant here), partly because of my childhood filled with Scooby Doo. One film I remember particularly well is Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. To any of y’all who are unfamiliar with the film, let me give you a brief run-down. Scooby and the gang visit Moonscar Island out in the Louisiana Bayous with the promise that they will find real ghosts. Sure enough, the gang encounters ghosts and zombies, ranging from pirates and Confederate soldiers to more recent tourists – all lured to their doom by the two ladies. “That’s great,” many of y’all are thinking, “but what’s the point?” Well, one of the only ghosts to receive a name is Col. Jackson Pettigrew of the Eighth Louisiana.

After perusing a list of Louisiana dead for Killed at Gettysburg, I stumbled across Horthere Fontenot. As soon as I saw that he served in the Eighth Louisiana, childhood memories encouraged me to take on his story. His life, just as for countless other members of his community, represents trends that are easily forgotten in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon Confederate Army: The stories of Catholic, French Creole soldiers who were just as willing as their compatriots to fight and die for the young Confederacy.

Horthere was born in 1844 near Opelousas, St. Landry’s Parish, Louisiana. His family were farmers of modest means, likely not owning any slaves. The Fontenots, like most of their neighbors, were farmers who lived by the calendar of the Catholic Church. Opelousas had only been under the control of the predominantly-Protestant United States for about forty years, previously having been ruled by Catholic France and Spain. Indeed, the Protestant majority in America was suspicious of its Catholic neighbors, viewing the monarchical structures within Catholicism and loyalty to the Pope as very real threats to American democracy. The diverse society of French Creole Louisiana was different from typical American society in other respects, too. African, French, and Native American cultural traditions blended in the music, foodways, architecture, and language of the region. With this mixed heritage, Horthere’s society had much to prove to its fellow Americans. The young Confederacy would be no different.

Horthere enlisted in March of 1862, joining the Opelousas Guards of the Eighth Louisana. At least three of his brothers served alongside him. In a society where we often hear the words “brothers in arms,” these young men were literally brothers in arms. Like Louisianna itself, the company Horthere served with was ethnically diverse. At least one of the men from Opelousas– Charles F. Lutz – was a free African American man. Others were Irish immigrants that rubbed shoulders with the French Creole and Anglo-American men of the regiment. Nevertheless, all the men who served in the Opelousas Guard were from St. Landry’s Parish. This local connection made the unit far more cohesive than a unit of complete strangers, but it also meant any casualties impacted the company, and thus home, in a devastating way. Thus, Horthere’s absence from the ranks during many of the early battles around Richmond and then Second Manassass and Antietam must have weighed considerably upon his brothers. Horthere had taken ill and spent several months in the general hospital of Lynchburg, VA, no doubt greatly concerned about the well-being of his brothers at the front. After a lengthy recovery period that included a furlough home, Horthere was well enough to return to the ranks in the Spring of 1863, participating in heavy fighting during the Battle of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign.

Flush with victory, Horthere and his comrades turned proudly towards Gettysburg in June. The Army of Northern Virginia seemed invincible, and a victory on northern soil might be the knockout blow to finally end the war. The fighting on July 1, in which Horthere participated in driving the last Union elements from the field, must have confirmed this feeling. However, as his regiment moved to the base of Cemetery Hill under cover of darkness, they could hear the sound of Union soldiers hard at work preparing their positions. Union sharpshooters and skirmishers kept the Eight hunkered down until nightfall on the evening of July 2, when Horthere and his comrades received the order to advance. The attack initially went well, but no reinforcements arrived to aid the Louisianians in their assault, forcing them to ultimately pull back with the loss of their colors. Horthere’s brother Hypolite was wounded during the assault, though he would survive. The regiment, spirits dashed, returned to their position from the previous day in the town.

Horthere was wounded the next day, on July 3, though not in any grand assault or valiant defense against overwhelming odds. He was wounded in the streets of Gettysburg while skirmishing with Union soldiers and avoiding fire from Union sharpshooters. This was far from the battlefield scene – with perfectly dressed battle lines and men facing each other across the field – that most soldiers and the public imagined when they pictured war casualties. Street fighting in this vein was considered some of the most ungentlemanly fighting styles that a soldier could engage in. Horthere was lucky, though: he was wounded at a point on the field from which he could be quickly retrieved and brought to a field hospital on the William Douglas Farm. Unfortunately, the hospital fell into Union hands following the Confederate withdrawal on July 4 and 5, but Horthere would not be a prisoner for long. He passed away on July 12, 1863, and was buried nearby.

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Three of the Fontenot Brothers: Hypolite, Denis, and Horthere, from left to right. They, like thousands of their fellow Louisianans, quickly rushed to the colors during the early years of the conflict. Hypolite, too, died in the war and Denis was a prisoner of war. This photograph alone shows the high cost that the citizens of the Confederacy were willing to pay that their new nation might live.

Horthere was one of the few Confederate soldiers whose name and burial place was not forgotten. Gettysburg physician Rufus Weaver exhumed Horthere’s remains in 1872, sending them to Richmond for burial in Hollywood Cemetery where Horthere was celebrated as a hero of the physically vanquished but emotionally alive Confederacy. At home, however, the return of Horthere’s body to southern soil was a bit more bittersweet. Horthere’s family suffered terribly over the course of the war. One of Horthere’s brothers, Hypolite, was mortally wounded during the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864. Another brother, Denis, was captured at Spotsylvania Court House and spent a considerable amount of time at Point Lookout, Maryland. The return of Horthere’s body to the South would have served as a reminder of all the Fontenots had lost to the war, and perhaps made them even question what that great sacrifice had been for.


Sources:

Busey, John W. and Travis W. Busey. Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record. Vol 1. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2017.

Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in the 8th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, National Archives, Washington D. C.

Eble, Connie. “The loss of French in antebellum Louisiana: a social network perspective.” LACUS Forum 32 (2005): 91-98. Literature Resource Center.

Furgurson, Ernest B. Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Gottfried, Bradley M. Brigades of Gettysburg: The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg. Skyhorse Pub Co, 2012. Kindle.

McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrade: Why Men Fought in the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Kindle.

Mingus, Scott L. The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign: June – July 1863. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009. Kindle.

Nordmann, Chris. “A Commitment to Leisure: The Agricultural Economy of St. Landry Parish, La., 1850.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 26, no. 3 (1985): 301-12. JSTOR.

Woods, James. M. A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011.

A Soldier of the North and South: The Remembrance Day Legacy of Minion Knott

By Ryan Bilger ’19

For the third straight semester, I have returned to the Killed at Gettysburg project to chronicle the life and death of another soldier who lost his life in southern Pennsylvania. My personal interest in this project has not waned since I authored the first of my five profiles of Union soldiers in Dr. Carmichael’s “Gettysburg in History and Memory” course in the spring of 2017. I firmly believe that no interpretation of the Battle of Gettysburg is complete without a strong understanding of the unique lives that were extinguished there. This reminds us all that the battle was fought by men with their own personalities, hopes, and dreams, rather than faceless chess pieces on a map, and promoting this mindset has become a key goal of mine.

This semester, I faced a different challenge than those presented by my past projects. Our collective task for the fall 2018 cadre of soldiers was to profile Confederate soldiers, adding a greater diversity of narratives to the project. Admittedly, this initially posed some challenges for me. I am Pennsylvanian born and raised, and a Unionist through and through. Yet I knew I had to set aside my personal foibles in order to truly gain an appreciation of the Civil War as a whole, and I feel that it has made me a better as a historian to have done so. Another difficulty of studying Confederate soldiers comes in the relative lack of documentary evidence compared to men who fought for the Union. The excellent compiled service and pension records of men like Charles Phelps and Augustus van Horne Ellis, two of my past Killed at Gettysburg soldiers, were not to be found in this instance. However, in the course of my preliminary research, I came across one man with a story so captivating that I knew it had to be told. It is a story of tragedy, of evolving ideas, and of a state torn asunder by the cataclysm of civil war, one with a legacy that continues to this day. It is the story of Private Minion F. Knott, 1st Maryland Battalion, C.S.A.

Even after all the research I have conducted in these past three months, Minion Knott remains, in many ways, an enigma. He grew up in a state wracked by contradictions and shifting allegiances as Maryland teetered on the edge between North and South, with a wide gulf separating supporters of the Union and the Confederacy. Slavery remained legal in Maryland during the war, providing a further point of contention. Knott seems to embody these conflicted loyalties within his own life. He enters into the historical record at only two points. The first of these, originating in the spring of 1861, shows that he spent three months in a company of the Washington, D.C. Union militia, fighting to protect the United States’ capital. Considering his eventual turn to the Confederacy, this poses fascinating questions as to why he enlisted to serve both the North and the South.

Knott likely enlisted with the Maryland Confederates in the spring of 1863, joining veterans of the former 1st Maryland Infantry, C.S.A. He first saw battle at the Second Battle of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley during Lee’s army’s march northward, and as part of Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division of Ewell’s II Corps, he participated in the attacks on Culp’s Hill near Gettysburg on July 2 and 3, 1863. At some point on July 3, Knott was mortally wounded in the side. He may have received care on the battlefield from Maryland Union soldiers in a moment that exemplified both reconciliation and the great tensions that wracked this border state during the war, as the Federals likely felt a mixture of compassion for their fellow Marylanders and deep anger at the Confederates’ decision to betray their country.

Minion Knott’s second foray into documentary history comes in the form of the record of his death at the Union hospital facility known as Camp Letterman on August 24, 1863. He was only fifteen miles from his home state. However, due to administrative confusion and the hectic nature of the preparations for the new Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Knott’s remains were somehow labeled as those of a Union soldier. He now rests in the cemetery’s Maryland section, a location intended to be off-limits to the Confederates of the Old Line State, amid the very same soldiers whom he and his comrades sought to kill.

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Minion Knott’s grave in the Soldier’s National Cemetery.

Every November, Minion Knott’s grave in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery is decorated with the flag of the United States of America. Though he spent time in the Union forces, he died under the banner of a nation that sought to rip the United States in two, presenting a complicated contrast that characterizes his legacy. On Remembrance Day, he will be among those soldiers referenced in the various ceremonies and speeches, despite his status as a Maryland Confederate. His memory, to the majority of those who visit the National Cemetery, has been fully absorbed into that of the Union through his mistaken burial. Knott’s sacrifice is honored in the same way as those of the soldiers at whom he aimed and fired his gun, a fact that infuriated many Federal veterans after the war.

This Confederate soldier, buried in one of the most sacred spaces within the Union, poses several questions that remain unanswered today. How would Minion Knott have felt about being laid to rest in a Federal national cemetery, where his legacy has been subsumed by that of the Union to all but the most intrepid visitors? What can his final resting place say about war and reconciliation in Civil War-era Maryland and the United States? Should greater efforts be made to highlight his difference as a Confederate, or should he be treated the same as all the dead of the National Cemetery, as an American soldier? On Remembrance Day, we should all ponder these questions as we reflect on the complex and intertwined legacies of the Civil War. These themes of a state and a nation ripped apart, of a man who took up arms for both the North and the South, and of a difficult reunion and attempts at reconciliation must all come to mind when we gaze upon the simple carved words “M.F. Knott Co. F Regt. 1” in the Maryland section of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.


Sources:

Coco, Gregory A. Wasted Valor: The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1996.

Goldsborough, William Worthington. The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. 2nd ed. Gaithersburg, MD: Butternut Press, 1983.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993.

A Common Soldier: William H. P. Ivey

By Isaac Shoop ’21

When I set out to pick a soldier for my first Killed at Gettysburg project, I did not know what I would find. I chose to research a Confederate soldier named William H. P. Ivey simply because he was born and raised on a farm, like me. As I did my research, I realized that Ivey’s life tells us a lot about the motivations and thoughts of a common southern soldier in the Civil War. Like most Confederate infantrymen, Ivey’s family was of the lower class and they were not slaveholders. Ivey, along with his brother Hinton, enlisted in the 8th Alabama on May 8th, 1861. Ivey was 20 years old at the time and his brother only 16, which was under the legal age to enlist, but that did not stop him. They likely enlisted to protect their homes and family, as well as to protect their stake in the institution of slavery. Even though the Iveys did not own slaves they still benefited from the institution: They would have been able to hire out slaves when they needed extra labor and slavery assured them a higher social standing than the bottom rung of the ladder. The Ivey brothers came from the small town of Radfordsville, Alabama which had a population of 1,100, with roughly half of the population being enslaved peoples. Notions of masculine honor and patriotism undoubtedly also played into their decision to enlist.

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Members of the Independent Blues of Selma, Alabama. Later became Company D of the 8th Alabama.

The Ivey brothers and the 8th Alabama fought in numerous, bloody battles, including the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to name a few. In fact, the 8th Alabama was the first regiment mustered into Confederate service for the duration of the war. During the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5th-6th, 1862, Ivey was wounded in the groin and spent time as a prisoner of war in Union hospitals. Ivey was admitted to both the Mill Creek U.S.A. General Hospital and the Chesapeake U.S.A. General Hospital in the Fort Monroe, Virginia area. After four months, Ivey recovered and was exchanged, so he rejoined his regiment in time for to the Battle of Antietam. Ivey was probably happy to be out of the hospitals and back with his friends and especially his little brother whom he likely felt great responsibility to protect. At Antietam, Ivey was a relatively “green” soldier because of his wounding, but his comrades were veterans and Ivey likely fed off of their courage in the heat of battle. Following the Chancellorsville battle, the 8th Alabama marched north into Pennsylvania and arrived at Gettysburg on July 1st, but they were not engaged until July 2nd and 3rd.

On July 2nd, the men of the 8th Alabama were positioned north of the Peach Orchard and participated in General Longstreet’s attack on the Union left flank. The widespread death and carnage of July 2nd, mixed with Confederate defeat, likely weighed heavily on Ivey. However, like many other Confederate survivors of the July 2nd fighting, Ivey saw how close the Confederates had come to cracking the Federal line, and likely held out hope for the next day’s attacks. On July 3rd, they found themselves marching over much of the same ground which they had trod the day before in support of the Confederate artillery batteries that participated in the cannonade prior to the infamous “Pickett’s Charge.” Ivey was unfortunately wounded again on July 3rd and he was cared for on the Adam Butt farm, a field hospital located to the west of town, until his death on July 12th. His brother was also wounded on July 2nd, but he would ultimately survive the war and return to Alabama. Ivey’s body was buried on the Butts’ property until he was disinterred and moved to his final resting place in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery in 1872. Ivey’s death had a detrimental impact on his family because it forced upon them a larger workload and likely forced the women in the family to assume new roles, such as increased manual labor around the farm.

Today the 8th Alabama is memorialized through the monument to the State of Alabama. This monument shows a woman pointing the way for two soldiers to go perform their patriotic duty and fight. This woman may be a mother telling her sons to go and fight. These two common soldiers, just like the Ivey brothers, were fighting to protect their women, their home, and their way of life, particularly slavery.

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Battle Flag of the 8th Alabama. 

Finding information on Ivey and his family proved to be a challenge. Ivey did not hail from the aristocracy and he left no letters behind. That meant I could not learn about Ivey from Ivey himself. I began my research by searching the United States Census, and with a little luck, I was able to find Ivey and his family. From the census, I was able to determine who William’s siblings were, the town they lived in, and that he was a laborer prior to enlisting. In addition to his brother Hinton, Ivey had a sister, Milly, and his parents, Henry and Mary. Through secondary readings, such as James McPherson’s What They Fought For and Gary Gallagher’s The Confederate War, I was able to piece together the background of a common southern soldier like Ivey and provide social and cultural context for the world in which he lived. Non-slaveholding southerners, such as Ivey, fought to protect their families and to protect their right to own slaves. All common southerners aspired one day to become slaveholders. I used various online sources, including the Alabama Department of Archives and History, to find information on the 8th Alabama and their actions prior to Gettysburg. To find information on the 8th Alabama at Gettysburg, I made a trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park Archives. These sources provided me information concerning the 8th Alabama, including the muster-in date of the regiment, the battles they fought, and reports on their actions at those battles. Although reading through census records, historical documents, and secondary readings was more time consuming than I had anticipated, I was rewarded when I came across useful information and was excited to see Ivey’s story unfold in front of me.

As I was researching Ivey, I realized that he was a perfect embodiment of the common southern soldier. Although he came from a poorer background and he owned no slaves, like many other southerners, he fought for the right to own slaves and the benefits of a slaveholding society. He also fought for the protection of southern women from the ravages of African American men, whom many southerners feared posed an immediate threat, as well as the protection of his home from invading Yankees. Ivey is also an embodiment of the common Civil War trope of communities and families literally fighting in arms, as he and his brother joined the same regiment and fought together in numerous battles. Ivey has an important story to tell because through him we can personalize and thus better understand the worldviews of ordinary southern soldiers and how they experienced the Civil War. For many, stories like Ivey’s are not nearly as romantic as those of Confederate officers, and can easily be overlooked or oversimplified. However, through Ivey’s story, we are able to see how his experiences compare to that of the iconic, wealthy, slave-owning southern aristocrats. In doing so, we can not only gain a fuller understanding of the rich texture of southern society, but we can recognize important differences between these two classes, as well as the key similarities that bound them together in common goals, interests, and worldviews as they fought together for the future of the Confederate States of America.


Sources:

Alabama Civil War Service Database.” Alabama Department of Archives and History. Last updated July 19, 2013.

Ancestory.com 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Ancestory.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestory.com 1860 United States Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestory.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Busey, John, and Travis Busey. Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive
Record. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017.

Complied Service Records. William P. Ivey. Accessed through Fold3 by Ancestry.

Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Herbert, Hilary. A Short History of the 8th Ala Regiment. Accessed through Gettysburg National Military Park Library.

Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2009.

McPherson, James M. What They Fought For: 1861-1865. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

More than a Stereotype?: A Reflection on the Life of Benjamin Watkins Leigh

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

For my most recent, and likely final, foray into the Killed at Gettysburg digital project, I delved into the story of Major Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Adjutant for “Alleghany” Johnson’s Division. This has certainly been a departure from my previous projects, Private Hannibal Howell of the 76th New York Infantry and Private James Bedell of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. Rather than examining unknown stories of Union privates, I worked to narrate the life and death of a Confederate officer. This was certainly a challenge, both because I lacked familiarity with Confederate primary sources and because of my inherent Unionist biases. I decided that the best way for me to approach the topic was to research someone with clear causes that motivated him as he joined the Confederate army. This way I wouldn’t need to presume his motivation and would instead be able to be fairly confident about why he chose to serve. Leigh’s immense wealth, familial upbringing by a father who was a vocal defender of slavery, and ownership of dozens of human beings makes it painfully clear that he understood the cause of the Confederacy to be the cause of furthering slavery.

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Major Benjamin Watkins Leigh

In many ways, Leigh first appears to be the stereotypical Confederate officer. He was born into an influential Richmond, Virginia family. His father, Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Sr., was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and even a United States Senator. Leigh was surrounded by the benefits of class prestige built upon human bondage, personally owning 34 slaves in 1860. Using his political and social connections, he received the rank of Captain, personally recruited Company A of the First Virginia Battalion, and went off to “whip the Yankees” when the war began.

Leigh later helped to reorganize the 42nd Virginia Infantry in late 1862, a unit that Brigadier General John R. Jones had called “almost entirely disorganized for want of a commanding officer competent to discipline it and manage its officers.” Leigh worked hard to reshape that unit, and though he would not receive promotion to Colonel as Jones had requested, his administrative abilities became evident. He was transferred to the staff of General A. P. Hill to serve as an Adjutant. The role of Adjutant is not one that catches the attention of public audiences. It isn’t a glorious job. It doesn’t come with the valor of front-line command, leading troops into battle and toward victory. Instead, according to the 1862 publication of the Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field, it carries out tasks such as “publishing orders in writing; making up written instructions and transmitting them; reception of reports and returns…establishing camps; visiting guards and outposts; mustering and inspecting troops; inspecting guards and detachments; [and] forming parades and line of battle.” Though less dramatic than front-line command, these tasks were absolutely necessary for the functioning of the enormous armies that emerged in the Civil War.

As Hill’s Adjutant, Leigh was present at one of the most famous events within the Civil War. On May 2, 1863, in the midst of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hill and Leigh accompanied Thomas L. “Stonewall” Jackson on a reconnaissance. As they returned to Confederate lines, southern soldiers opened fire on them, mortally wounding Jackson. In the chaotic aftermath, Leigh rushed to Jackson’s aid. Leigh ran in search of a litter, and then personally carried Jackson’s stretcher out of danger as artillery shells rained above him. Reflecting upon Jackson’s death in a letter to his wife Hellen, Leigh wrote, “The sleeve of my overcoat – the new one which you had made for me – is stained with Gen. Jackson’s blood which fell upon it as I was assisting him when he first rose and walked a short distance; and also are my gloves. I have a notion of preserving them as relics, and would do so if I had not daily need of them.” Leigh’s account of Jackson’s wounding is one of the definitive primary sources of the event. Written the same month, it accurately describes the aftermath and earns Leigh a mention or a footnote in nearly every scholarly history of Chancellorsville, even if he didn’t gain much fame for his actions at the time. Nevertheless, Leigh’s attachment to this story of duty and honor enhanced his reputation, allowing him to gain a small portion of Jackson’s reputation based off association.

Leigh performed yet another famous act, though it is less well known than his first. Reassigned to serve as the Adjutant for Johnson’s Division for the Gettysburg Campaign, he assisted in the planning for that division’s assaults on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd and 3rd. Around 11am on the 3rd, the final assaults were grinding to a halt. Trapped behind a rock ledge as most Confederates withdrew, approximately 40 men faced a difficult choice: Make a break for Confederate lines and risk certain death or face the shame of surrender? They chose surrender and began to wave a makeshift white flag. Leigh, watching from the base of the slope, rode up the hill to stop what he saw as a cowardly action. A Union volley immediately felled both horse and rider, with some accounts stating he was pierced by no fewer than seven minie balls. Riding up that slope into the jaws of near-certain death show the importance of southern notions of chivalry and martial masculinity. If anything, the fact he died attempting to carry out what he saw as his duty is potentially more heroic than if he had succeeded and lived.

Leigh’s final, somewhat well-known, distinguishing factor is his unique burial situation. His martial heroism gained the respect of both Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Rather than burying him as an unknown in a mass grave, a fate that befell most Confederates who died on Culp’s Hill, Union soldiers brought Leigh’s body within their lines and buried him in an identified grave. The grave is even one of the handful of labelled burials on S.G. Elliot’s famous map of Gettysburg burials. For decades, Leigh captured the attention of scholars such as Gregory Coco who believed that he had been brought to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and buried as an Unknown there. However, following a long and complex search for his burial and reinterment process, his relatives ultimately ensured that he would be buried in the family cemetery in Richmond. He left behind a wife, Hellen, and three children, one of whom had been born while Leigh was off on the Gettysburg Campaign. Despite the family’s hardship, Victorian notions of the “Good Death” meant that it was extremely important to bury Leigh in an identified grave in a place that could be visited by loved ones.

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A part of Elliot’s map of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Leigh’s grave is marked right in the center.

Leigh’s story proved to be a great deal more complicated than the stereotype of a wealthy slave owning officer initially suggested. Although he commanded combat troops for a time, he spent much of his service in an administrative role; he neither solely fits the romantic idea of field command nor solely the stereotype of an easy office job. His role as Adjutant is a task often overlooked by historians in favor of more dramatic actions, though the task of Adjutants was vital to the successful operations of armies. Of course, it does still conform partially to the stereotype, as Leigh’s high class and social position doubtless assisted him in attaining his Adjutant’s rank. Although his merit did assist him, rank in the Army of Northern Virginia often depended just as much on social status and pre-war connections as on personal ability.

Additionally, Leigh’s two famous acts do tend to conform more to the romantic stereotype of brave southern officers shepherding men through battle and not the tasks done by an Adjutant. Almost any Confederate nearby at Chancellorsville could have chosen to carry Jackson’s stretcher, and the task of rallying the wavering soldiers under fire is one suited for a combat officer. Although Leigh’s actions live on in historical narratives, there is no monument to Leigh or the men who carried out the key role of Adjutant on Civil War battlefields. Memorials tend to focus on heroic combat acts rather than administrative processes that brought men to those positions.

Leigh’s story is one that implores the public to look beyond his surface achievements and wealthy background. Leigh was more than the initial stereotype of a wealthy southerner who either romantically led gallant troops into battle or enjoyed the more “comfortable” life of war-time administrator. Indeed, Leigh was both. Furthermore, beneath the surface of Leigh’s Adjutant career lies a life not defined by romance, but often beset by bureaucracy: Denied promotions, tasked with largely “behind-the-scenes” administrative work, and a much-delayed return home due to the complex process of disinterment. Although his two “heroic” actions gained him fame and remembrance, Leigh’s other actions were the ones that actually made an impact on the war effort. Leigh’s administrative ability shaped the courses of battles a great deal more than his failed attempts to save Jackson or rally a small group of Confederate soldiers. Public attention, however, tends to focus on individual, dramatic moments in history rather than the day-in and day-out actions that often have more impact on historical events. Due to his unique background, Leigh’s life thus transcends simple classification and becomes far more complicated, but also somewhat more understandable. Rather than a marble man, these complex aspects of his life trajectory help to humanize his story.


Sources:

1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2009.

Chapla, John D. 42nd Virginia Infantry. Berryville: Virginia Book Company, 1983.

Craighill, William P. Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1862.

Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers: Subject File, circa 1835-1899; Leigh, Benjamin Watkins, undated. Library of Congress.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Pictures:

Detail of Elliott’s map of the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Library of Congress.

Digital Image, Benjamin Watkins Leigh. Virginia Historical Society.

Perspectives on Our Past: The Killed at Gettysburg Stories of Franz Benda and Augustus van Horne Ellis

By Ryan Bilger ’19

Once again, I have spent the semester working on the Civil War Institute’s Killed at Gettysburg project. This project continues to be one with which I feel a strong connection, as I have always taken an interest in the stories of Gettysburg’s fallen. As such, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work on it again.

As before, I have focused on two soldiers in my research this spring, one an enlisted soldier in the ranks and one a regimental commander. The latter, Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry, has a life-sized statue of him on the battlefield, while the former, Private Franz Benda, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, remains obscure. Both of them, though, lived fascinating lives, and each of their deaths reverberated far beyond the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. Through text narratives and interactive story maps, I sincerely hope that both of their stories can be told to broader audiences who can thus gain a greater appreciation for these men who heroically gave their lives for the cause of the Union.

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Company H, 26th Wisconsin Infantry. These men would have been among Franz Benda’s comrades. Photo courtesy Oshkosh Public Museum.

Writing about these two soldiers has been extremely valuable for me in that it has encouraged me to think about different perspectives. For example, Franz Benda immigrated to the United States from his birthplace in Bohemia at a young age. He and his parents built a new life for themselves as farmers in Wisconsin, and the young man appeared well on his way to achieving a piece of the American dream. Everything changed in 1862 when he joined a regiment that made up part of the ethnically-diverse Eleventh Corps. The unit’s failures at Chancellorsville brought down heavy nativist criticism against Franz Benda and his comrades, making them feel as though they did not belong as fighters for the Union.

His story also ended in a heartbreaking fashion, as after his death at Gettysburg, his parents lost their farmland and died in poverty. While I knew the stories of the Eleventh Corps before this project, I had never taken the time to deeply consider what it must have been like for a young man like Franz Benda to experience that sort of pain and shame, much of which was undeserved. To consider his family’s tragic loss of both the human life of their son and the way of life they had made together. Benda’s story provides a powerful example of how soldiers could reach such psychological lows in the Civil War, and how the friends and relatives of those who died often lost so much more than their loved ones. As such, I feel proud to have developed a concise narrative of his life and legacy so that more people can learn about these themes as I did.

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A statue of Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis atop his regiment’s monument gazes out over the field where he gave his life for the Union. Photo by the author.

The story of Augustus van Horne Ellis has raised other valuable questions in the course of my research. For example, what qualities of a man and a leader could inspire those he commanded to include a statue of him atop their monument decades after his death? Ellis’s story is one of leadership and loss delicately intertwined. He clearly had the sort of strong personality to win over the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, as they elected him captain in his first term of duty. Ellis led his men well at First Bull Run but also had to grapple with the heartbreaking loss of his brother at that battle. He became known as a strong disciplinarian and a good recruiter, leading to his becoming colonel of the 124th New York, a regiment he played an instrumental role in raising and with which he forged a strong bond. Ellis died near Devil’s Den leading his men in a valiant but ultimately brutal charge, sealing his place in their memories as a brave commander to the last. Yet, his young wife of just four years had to deal with the loss of her husband in a profoundly emotional way that changed the course of her life. These twin narratives intersected throughout the short life of Augustus van Horne Ellis in different ways, raising issues of what it meant to lead men in the Civil War and what it meant to lose loved ones as well. Just as Franz Benda’s story creates certain important questions in the mind of the reader, Ellis’s does too, and I am happy to be able to bring the New Yorker’s story to the public.

The stories of the past continue to hold relevant connections to the lives of the present, and the Killed at Gettysburg project this semester has been valuable to me in this way. Considering the perspectives of others, whether that of a young, poor immigrant private or of a colonel born and bred in the nation’s largest city, remains extremely important today, in addition to the specific details of their lives and legacies. Working on the Killed at Gettysburg project has once again been highly enjoyable for me, and I hope that through it more people can ponder the lessons of the past and how we can apply them to our presents and our futures.


Sources

Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.

McAfee, Michael. “The Sons of Friends and Neighbors: Orange County’s 56th and 124th Regiments of New York Volunteer Infantry.” The Hudson River Valley Review 22, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 1-9. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/pdfs/hrvr_22pt1_mcaffee.pdf.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pula, James S. The Sigel Regiment: A History of the Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865. Campbell, CA: Savas, 1998.

Weygant, Charles H. History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment N.Y.S.V. New York: Journal Printing House, 1877.

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.

BedellCard
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.


Sources

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.