A Gun With a Story: Waller Patton’s Civil War Pistol

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Musselman Library Special Collections is home to a wide variety of artifacts, including a rather impressive number of Civil War era items. One Civil War artifact, the Patton Pistol, stands out from the rest by virtue of the story attached to it. The 1861 Navy Colt revolver originally belonged to Waller Tazewell Patton, who was the great uncle of General George S. Patton Jr. of WWII fame.

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The 1861 Colt Navy Revolver owned by Confederate Colonel Waller T. Patton and donated to Gettysburg College Special Collections by James D. Patton ’13. Courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Waller T. Patton was a Colonel in the 7th Virginia Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was mortally wounded during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863, when a piece of artillery shrapnel removed much of his jaw. He was brought to the Pennsylvania College Hospital (now known as Pennsylvania Hall at Gettysburg College), where he eventually died on July 21, 1863. Continue reading “A Gun With a Story: Waller Patton’s Civil War Pistol”

Remember Harpers Ferry: Masculinity and the 126th New York

By Annika Jensen ’18

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

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

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

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

Heavy Metal Gettysburg and the Allure of Emotive History

By Kevin Lavery ’16

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

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

Gettysburg 150th Commemoration

By Avery C. Lentz ’14

It is almost impossible to comprehend the fact that 150 years ago today, the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was still rebuilding itself from the destruction, death, and decay that resulted from the climactic battle between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on July 1-3, 1863. I must say that it was a tremendous honor to have worked with the National Park Service so far this summer and I look forward to the rest of it. Without a doubt, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was my true test of the summer, and it was an extremely rewarding and, at times, trying experience. To describe the events that took place during the anniversary, I suppose I should start from the beginning.

The anniversary officially kicked off on June 30th, when throughout the day, the NPS and Gettysburg Foundation staff began to receive the mass amounts of the visitors that were flooding the town. While most of the permanent staff members began their anniversary programs with specific key moment stations, I was still assigned to my normal schedule, which for that Sunday included giving my 10:30 a.m. Third Day Program, which is basically a walking tour of the High Water Mark at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. I had my biggest group yet of over forty-five people and it was extremely well received by them, especially those who were visiting Gettysburg for the first time. The big climax to the 30th was the commemorative kickoff at Meade’s Headquarters in the evening, where the U.S. Army Brass Band was accompanied by a 21 gun salute from howitzers.

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Part of crowd at one of the Voices programs, which concluded each day of the anniversary

Continue reading “Gettysburg 150th Commemoration”

July 3, 2013 Reflection: A Chance Encounter

By Ian Isherwood ’00

In a July 4 letter to his father-in-law, General Alexander Hays expressed reserve. “Yesterday was a warm one for us,” he wrote. “The fight of my division was a perfect success […] We are all sanguine of ridding our soil of the invaders.”

The “perfect success” for Hays was his command’s role in the repulse of Pettigrew’s division in what has become known as Pickett’s Charge. It was an unquestionable victory for his division and the Army of the Potomac. Yet Alex Hays’s matter-of-fact letter was not buoyant with the egoism so easily ascribed to generals after their victories. Hays does not mention, in any detail, his actions of July 3, where he remained in the saddle under artillery fire, inspiring his troops with his personal bravery so that his example would assuage their own fears of the looming Confederate assault. Nor does he detail the fight itself – the laying down of a wall of brutal fire by his men against their attackers – the melting away of enemy brigades to his front, the rebels falling dead and wounded as his men cheered for their destruction. Perhaps the greatest moment of Alex Hays’s life, certainly the pinnacle of his career as a soldier, his famed dragging of a Confederate battle standard in the dirt in front of his cheering men (and also in front of dying enemy soldiers) is also unmentioned, though, to do so in a after-action letter to his father-in-law would have been viewed, perhaps, as gauche.

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Edwin Forbes drawing of Pickett’s Charge (Library of Congress)

Continue reading “July 3, 2013 Reflection: A Chance Encounter”

“A great weight at my heart:” A Personal Reaction to Pickett’s Charge

By Becky Oakes ’13

When our great victory was just over the exultation of victory was so great that one didn’t think of our fearful losses, but now I can’t help feeling a great weight at my heart. Poor Henry Ropes was one of the dearest friends I ever had or expect to have. He was one of the purest-minded, noblest, most generous men I ever knew. His loss is terrible. His men actually wept when they showed me his body, even under the tremendous cannonade, a time when most soldiers see their comrades dying around them with indifference.

When twenty-one year old Henry Livermore Abbott penned these words on July 6, 1863, I highly doubt he expected his letter to be reconsidered by twenty-one year old Becky Oakes on July 6, 2013. Aside from being the same age, the Henry Abbott of 1863 and I have very little in common. He was a Harvard graduate from Massachusetts, and an officer in the Army of the Potomac. I am a graduate of Gettysburg College, originally from Ohio, and I study the Civil War. He wrote these words for his father, I type these words for a blog.

However, Henry Abbott and I happened to be standing at the exact same spot on July 3rd, one hundred and fifty years apart.

Becky Oakes, '13, next to the 20th Massachusetts monument
Becky Oakes, ’13, next to the 20th Massachusetts monument

Continue reading ““A great weight at my heart:” A Personal Reaction to Pickett’s Charge”

Bravely on the Battlefield: 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff

Throughout the Civil War, many West Point graduates chose either to fight for or against the United States. In the first days of July 1863, many of these West Pointers fought against each other on the battlefield in Gettysburg, and many of them lo…

This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog901 Stories from Gettysburg.
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Throughout the Civil War, many West Point graduates chose either to fight for or against the United States. In the first days of July 1863, many of these West Pointers fought against each other on the battlefield in Gettysburg, and many of them lost their lives. One particular West Point graduate, 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff, fought bravely during the battle but lost his life on July 4th after being mortally wounded during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. He was a member of Battery I, 1st United States Light Artillery. While he never saw the end of the Civil War, Woodruff contributed to the Union’s victory through his actions on those three days in Gettysburg.

Continue reading “Bravely on the Battlefield: 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff”

The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama in Philadelphia

Following the first two days of fighting at Gettysburg between Union and Confederate troops, Robert E. Lee believed that his gray-clad veterans had nearly achieved victory and was determined not to leave Gettysburg without it. He also believed tha…

Following the first two days of fighting at Gettysburg between Union and Confederate troops, Robert E. Lee believed that his gray-clad veterans had nearly achieved victory and was determined not to leave Gettysburg without it.  He also believed that his army had weakened Meade’s center.  Thus, Lee’s plan for July 3rd was to open with a massive artillery barrage, and then strike the Union center with three divisions, including that of General George Pickett.  Then, according to Lee’s calculations, General Jeb Stuart would circle around the Union rear and General Ewell would assail the right flank to clamp the pincers when Pickett broke through the front.

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Continue reading “The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama in Philadelphia”

“I had tried to avoid the responsibility of the decision, but in vain.”: James Longstreet, Edward Porter Alexander, and Pickett’s Charge

???I had tried to avoid the responsibility of the decision, but in vain.???: James Longstreet, Edward Porter Alexander, and Pickett???s ChargeIn the years following the Civil War, Pickett???s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg became synonymous with both …

By Mary Roll ’12

In the years following the Civil War, Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg became synonymous with both the height of Confederate promise and the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Much of the blame for Confederate failure at Gettysburg has historically been placed upon the shoulders of Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who was second in command to General Robert E. Lee. There are many reasons for this: some of Longstreet’s subordinates insisted that he deliberately hesitated in executing Lee’s wishes so that the charge would be made only in desperation with diminished likelihood of Confederate victory. Others maintained that Longstreet simply acted out of anger and frustration when Lee refused to adjust his plans to reflect what Longstreet desired. However, attempting to peg Longstreet as guilty or to absolve him of any wrongdoing is not what matters. It is much more useful to objectively examine the events of July 3 from existing evidence and accounts to try to understand the choices Longstreet made in relation to the orders he both received and gave, and to recognize how those decisions were perceived by Longstreet himself and others both during the Battle of Gettysburg and after the Civil War.

July 1st, 1863, was an encouraging victory for the Confederates, with the Union driven through the town of Gettysburg from the high ridges and hills to its north and west.  On July 2nd, the Confederates made an effort to sweep Union troops off the Round Tops and Culps and Cemetery Hills.  These brought the Confederates nearer still to success. Thus, July 3rd was crucial to Confederate success at Gettysburg. General Lee believed that one final push would break the Union line. He chose to attack the Union line at its center at Cemetery Hill, where he believed the line was weakest and most easily penetrable. He desired to first launch an artillery bombardment, then to follow up with a main infantry assault. It was essential that the attack be coordinated and well timed. Lee’s plan for the grand infantry assault of July 3rd, which would come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, relied upon the assumption that the Confederate cannonade preceding it would do significant enough damage to the Union artillery to weaken and break it down. This assumption allowed Lee to believe that his troops could successfully make the attack.

General Longstreet was in a difficult position on the final day of the battle. Devoted to a defensive-offensive strategy at Gettysburg, which he hoped would force Union commander George Gordon Meade to attack first, Longstreet believed Lee was committed to the same fighting style and should execute the battle accordingly. When Lee demonstrated his desire to deviate from this plan on July 3rd, Longstreet tried – repeatedly but unsuccessfully — to caution Lee against making the charge. He could not, however, convince Lee to take another course of action. Longstreet believed his best option for ensuring that he carried out his commander’s orders and that any chance for success was not wasted was to put the opening bombardment, upon which the effectiveness of the entire operation weighed, into the hands of the gifted young artillerist Lieutenant Colonel Edward Porter Alexander. From his position at the Peach Orchard, remembered Alexander, he was to “give the enemy the most effective cannonade possible. It was not meant simply to make a noise, but to try & cripple him—to tear him limbless, as it were, if possible.” Continue reading ““I had tried to avoid the responsibility of the decision, but in vain.”: James Longstreet, Edward Porter Alexander, and Pickett’s Charge”

First Sergeant Frederick Fuger, First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, and the Medal of Honor

???His noble death . . . should present an example for emulation to patriotic defenders of the country through all time to come???: First Sergeant Frederick Fuger, a native of Germany, arrived on the field at Gettysburg with Battery A of the 4th U.S. …

By Mary Roll

His noble death . . . should present an example for emulation to patriotic defenders of the country through all time to come.

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First Sergeant Frederick Fuger, a native of Germany, arrived on the field at Gettysburg with Battery A of the 4th U.S. Artillery early on the morning of July 2, 1863. This battery was attached to General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  Fuger spent most of that day in command of a section of the battery, which volleyed with Confederate guns on and off throughout the afternoon. Despite the steady exchange of fire, Battery A reported minimal losses on the 2nd. However, July 3rd would prove to be the true test of the battery’s might and the loyal Sergeant Fuger’s leadership qualities.

On the afternoon of July 3rd, from their position near the Angle behind the now-famous stone wall that lines Cemetery Ridge, members of Battery A readily awaited the onslaught of southern troops charging across the open field before them. As Pickett’s Charge reached its climax and the great wave of grey swept up the ridge, the twenty-seven year old Fuger found himself in charge of the battery’s guns. Battery commander First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, 22, had fallen dead in the melee, and all of Fuger’s superior officers were killed or severely wounded. Continue reading “First Sergeant Frederick Fuger, First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, and the Medal of Honor”