** Please check out my tribute page to two of my Civil War relatives who never made it home **

Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012

Of all the places on the Gettysburg battlefield, there is one place that stands out as being particularly sanctified: the Soldiers’ National Cemetery located along Taneytown Road. Since childhood I have noticed a very heavy and tangible ambiance, sacred, somber, and overwhelming at times. At night it seemed that that blanket of valor, honor, pride, and sorrow was heaviest . . . there was a presence there, not necessary in a ghostly manner, but simply there.

A walk through the National Cemetery is enough to drive many to tears or at least to grief and sorrow. The thing I noticed first and the thing that touches me most today is the sheer number of gravestones. Small, white slabs stretch as far as the eye can see. So many. Each stone represents a man lost, a life taken prematurely. And of course there are unknown graves as well. The Soldiers’ National Cemetery holds not only the graves of Union soldiers killed during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 but also of World War II soldiers as well as other individuals. It seems as though the black wrought-iron fence that separates the National Cemetery from the older Evergreen Cemetery was brought from Washington D.C. The stone wall that one can see most clearly along Taneytown Road is not the original, but was restored in 1980 to appear just as it did in the 1860s.

Especially after dark, the National Cemetery exudes a sort of
heavy somberness that demands respect for those who lie there.
In 1863 this area, like most of the battlefield, was farmland. A cornfield was located on this spot. In August, David Wills, credited with setting the ball rolling for the National Cemetery, bought this land and later saw it turned into one of the most hallowed places in the nation, if not the world. Burials likely began in November after the dedication and after President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

During the next three decades, bodies long-forgotten were interred here. In 1889, for instance, construction workers came upon Civil War remains. In 1899 there were two separate incidences of Civil War dead being discovered over thirty years after the battle of Gettysburg. These men, too, found a final resting place in the sacred ground of the National Cemetery.

Still more were found in 1900 and in 1915. The last Civil War-era remains were interred here in 1997 after an unidentified soldier was discovered near the railroad cut along McPherson’s Ridge. There is much speculation that although only Union soldiers were to be buried here, it is very likely that the soldier was a Confederate. Other Confederates, who have since been identified, are known to have been accidentally buried here as well.



Co. E, 21st Mississippi Infantry (“Hurricane Rifles”)

Born April 23, 1828 --- Died July 03, 1863 at age 35

Cpt. Stamps had the distinction of being the nephew of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, a fact which likely shaped his life (for better or for worse, none can say). When he died at Gettysburg at age 35, he left a two-year-old daughter, Mary, at home. It is likely that he met his death in the Peach Orchard during Gen. William Barksdale’s charge. Cpt. Stamps is buried at the Davis Family Cemetery in Woodville, Mississippi. An image of him can be found here.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 28, 2012

Cannon in desperate need of attention -- photo taken in 2003
Of the many Union artillery pieces that helped win the battle of Gettysburg, some of the most famous belonged to Lt. Charles Hazlett’s Battery D 5th U.S. Artillery. These cannon might be considered the inanimate “Saviors of Little Round Top,” working in tandem with men like Col. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine and Col. Strong Vincent of the 83rd Pennsylvania. The story of how Hazlett’s Battery got to Little Round Top is quite interesting in and of itself.

If you’ve stood at the summit of this most important Union “high ground” and noticed the steepness in both directions, you might have wondered how the artillery got up here. Not in the usual way. It was nearly impossible to guide horses across the rugged terrain, making it imperative for soldiers to literally pull and shove the artillery pieces of Battery D to the summit. I can’t imagine how difficult this task must have been . . . especially in the July heat.

The cannon of Battery D overlooked Devil's Den
Once at the top, Hazlett’s battery went to work. The view from Little Round Top must have been as amazing in 1863 as it is now. Hazlett and his subordinates fired off round after round at Southerners coming up the hill and swarming the Plum Run valley soon to be known as the Valley of Death. His guns likely found more targets hiding within the boulders of Devil’s Den and coming across the distant Triangular Field. On the next day, July 3rd, this battery helped repel Confederate actions before and during the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.

A reproduction “Hazlett’s Battery” at Little Round Top, consisting of Parrott Rifles, shows the pieces’ original position. It is easy to see the advantage this battery would have had and to understand why capturing and destroying them would have been virtually impossible without holding the high ground --- unless the Southern artillery had reached that far. A large marker with a bronze plaque explains the chain of command and how the artillery here was engaged. The top photo, taken after a cold October sunset, shows one of the artillery pieces as it appeared in 2003.



Co. C, 16th Vermont Infantry

Born April 30, 1839 (in Qu├ębec) --- Died July 03, 1863 at age 24

Pvt. Ashley led a rather interesting life before enlisting in the Union army. Born in Canada, he came to the United States as a youngster and lived first in Pennsylvania and later in Vermont. He married Marie Dubay and became the father of a daughter and a son before losing his life on the fields of Gettysburg. Pvt. Ashley died at age 24 and is buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery’s Vermont section. A photo of him can be found here.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

When we think of states that participated in the battle of Gettysburg, Arkansas might not readily come to mind, yet the second day of fighting brought forth a hearty band of Arkansans under General John B. Hood’s command, members of the 3rd regiment. These men were set up along a place known as Warfield Ridge, which has a commanding view of Little and Big Round Top. On the afternoon of July 2nd Hood’s Arkansans were marched through the woods and across the open ground that would later become known as Triangular Field.

The Arkansas State Memorial is a simple but elegant structure. It was sculpted from granite and was placed along Warfield Ridge in 1966, with a formal dedication fourteen days before the 103rd anniversary of the battle. The face of the monument shows silhouetted soldiers in action and also sports a cut-out of the state of Arkansas. It is one of the smaller state memorials on the field but is just as attractive as the others, stunning in its fluent design and simplicity. As a human interest fact, the 3rd Arkansas was the only Arkansan unit to fight in the battle of Gettysburg.



Co. C, 11th New Jersey Infantry

Born February 28, 1839 --- Died July 02, 1863 at age 34

Sgt. Righter died a hero, as did every man, both North and South, who fought the enemy valiantly and gained a warrior’s laurel. His death came at the Klingel farm along Emmitsburg Road while he and his comrades repelled Southerners who were intent on using the property for their own purposes. Sadly, though Sgt. Righter was ceremoniously buried at the Gettysburg National Cemetery four months later, his stone is marked “James B. Rister.”

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012


Gettysburg’s old Visitor Center had its flaws. It was old, and small, and the parking lot overflowed more often than not. But having visited the new Visitor Center in 2008 and in subsequent years, I much prefer the old. It’s not difficult to say why. First, I liked that the old Visitor Center was small. It was homey if crowded, and the displays, kind of back in the shadows, were cozy. Without ten million (all right, an exaggeration) people trying to crowd into one room, I could really go along and learn. I could look at the displays and listen to the electronic voices detailing the battle and get a real feel for history.

I remember three things in particular: the “wall of faces,” detailing those who fought at Gettysburg, although I can’t remember the exact name for this heart-wrenching display; a large cannon and caisson on the first floor; and display rooms chock-full of battle relics and tasteful exhibits. The muted lighting was peaceful. I never liked bright-white, in-your-face museum experiences. The fact that the museum was dimly-lit and small and somber seemed to fit well with the solemnity that a town with 53,000 battle casualties ought to express.

The building did indeed feel old. I liked that too. Gettysburg is a Civil War-era town. The fact that the museum seemed to match the “aura” and atmosphere of everything else in town was an added bonus. The only downfall was the lack of space; parking was a nightmare at times, but we always managed. The book store was always crowded, but I always found what I wanted, and there was a nice selection. As for more perks, I particularly liked the open “circle” on the second floor where you could look down at the displays on the first floor. Of course I always looked for the cannon (the beginning of a lifelong love of Civil War artillery).

In May 2008 I went out to the new Visitor Center. It was . . . impersonal. Bright, white, in-your-face, impressive to some, but not to me. I didn’t even go inside the museum itself. The shop had some beautiful things but was in my opinion much overpriced. The whole complex has a very “new” feeling although it was supposed to look “old,” whereas the old Visitor Center looked and felt old and was in a great location.

I know many visitors love the new museum and that’s their right, but I miss the old building. If they’d left it standing --- even if it remained empty --- I could have at least relived the memories every time I visited. But that building was destroyed in 2009. I watched a video of the demolition, and it hurt me. A lot. I could hardly bear to see machinery picking away at the bricks and scattering piles of debris, tearing away the insides of a building that I had always loved and where I first fell in love with Gettysburg. The video was playing the haunting Civil War melody “Ashokan Farewell.” Very fitting, I think.

This was probably the first museum I’d ever visited in Gettysburg. Probably where I grew to love cannons and other Civil War artifacts. I couldn’t wait to come here and was always very excited when we toured the museum and poked around in the book shop. My love of history had budded and had been indulged here. I miss the past.


Co. C, 26th North Carolina Infantry

Born 1845 --- Died July 01, 1863 at age 18

Pvt. Boylin was one of many North Carolinians who fell during the fight along McPherson’s Ridge, possibly while repelling the Iron Brigade. The battle between the Tarheels and the Michiganders was considered to be some of the harshest combat of the entire battle of Gettysburg. Almost as grievous as Pvt. Boylin’s death at age 18 is the fact that he enlisted at the young age of 16 in 1861. A cenotaph was erected at Eastview Cemetery in Wadesboro, North Carolina, but his actual burial site is uncertain.

(c) Skies of Blue and Gray

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

Gettysburg is a place well-known for unexpected twists and turns. Though it seems like a large battlefield, a visit in the fall or winter with the leaves off the trees will prove that most farms and fighting fields are relatively close to each other . . . yet there are still some surprises you don’t expect to see. One of these little-known spots is the 32nd Massachusetts field hospital across from the Irish Brigade monument. While the monument with its bronze Irish Wolfhound is one of the most popular monuments on the field, the field hospital is not exactly what you might expect.

If you’ve seen previous Gettysburg field hospitals, you’d probably expect a lovely old farm or other venerable brick or stone structure, often with existent outbuildings and a large plaque detailing the property’s uses during and after the battle. Yet this hospital was merely a jumble of prehistoric boulders, and operations took place even while the fight was still raging. Doctor Z. Boylston Adams was afraid that the wounded Massachusetts soldiers would be captured by the enemy and was concerned that there would not be enough time to transfer the wounded to better facilities. He designated this pile of rocks as a “field hospital” and began treating soldiers.

I have visited this spot often, and I believe this is one of the quietest places on the battlefield. Here one is surrounded by monuments, woodland, ancient boulders, and open sky. I’ve often felt uncomfortable or at least alert while standing near the rocks. I could feel that something had happened in this area, something “heavy,” though I didn’t know about the field hospital until recently. It is entirely possible that much of this instinctual discomfort might have come from the area’s proximity to the “Bloody Wheatfield” and the fact that its location (“Stony Hill”) was heavily contested during the battle.

A bronze marker (placed directly in a boulder) reads, “Behind this group of rocks, on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, Surgeon Z. Boylston Adams placed the field hospital of the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Div., 5th Army Corps. Established so near the line of battle, many of our wounded escaped capture or death by its timely aid.” The hospital site is mainly reached by taking Sickles Avenue up “over” Devil’s Den along Houck’s Ridge, driving past the Wheatfield, and then taking the “Loop” straight ahead. The Irish Brigade monument is on the left of the road and the hospital marker is on the right.


Co. G, 17th Connecticut Infantry

Born June 03, 1835 --- Died July 01, 1863 at age 28
Sgt. Pickett was a resident of Ridgefield, Connecticut and was known as a man of high moral character. He was well-loved by everyone who knew him, especially his fellow soldiers. Contemporary accounts emphasize his courage, patriotism, and faithful spirit. He was buried in Titicus Cemetery in Ridgefield. Left behind was his wife of six years, Sarah, and a two-year-old son, Edwin.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Monday, December 17, 2012

December 17, 2012

Anyone who loves history and historic structures will view Gettysburg as a goldmine of battle-era homes and farms. I have a particular soft spot for fieldstone; there is something about those old stone houses and barns that evokes a sense of nostalgia to me. Because of this, one of my favorite battlefield homesteads is the George Weikert farm, which is nestled underneath iconic Little Round Top and sits along Cemetery Ridge not so very far from the site of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.

The George Weikert farm, sometimes confused with the John Weikert farm which also lies on the battlefield, has a haunted past. (Many say literally). It was built in the late 1790s (making it one of the oldest farms of the battlefield) and still has many of its battle-era outbuildings intact. It is located on the “last leg” of the tour (if you are ending at the site of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge and not taking one of the offshoots) along United States Avenue. Just to the left is the New York Officers monument and the Pennsylvania State Memorial.

This farm was spared widespread bloodshed, but was still briefly used as a hospital. It was also vastly important to Union troops who used it as a temporary refuge from the rain of bullets. The house itself is not the only thing of interest . . . the beautiful white barn, which sits back a bit, is quite striking and is a good example of Gettysburg farm architecture.


Co. C, 9th Georgia Infantry

Born October 02, 1828 --- Died July 02, 1863 at age 34

Pvt. Atkinson was one of many Georgians lost in the prime of life during the hot fight for “Stony Hill” just beyond the famous Wheatfield. At the time he was a member of the 9th Georgia Co. C, known as the “Hillyer Rifles.” His death was mourned by his wife Elizabeth, whom he had married at a very young age, and their four children, James, age eight, Emma, age six, Charles, age three, and Tommy, was only two. His final resting place is the Waynesboro Confederate Memorial Cemetery in Waynesboro, Georgia. It is probable that his wartime residence was in Walton County.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

Devil’s Den is without doubt my favorite place I have ever visited. To stand alongside these boulders which pushed through the earth’s core millions of years ago and to ponder their random and beautiful patterns would be fascinating enough, but the added knowledge that they played such an important part in the battle of Gettysburg makes the concept even more intriguing. Southern soldiers fired their rifles from within the crevices of the rocks on July 2, 1863. In return, Northern soldiers laid heavy fire on them from above (Houck’s Ridge), from just a few feet away (along current-day Sickles Avenue), and from across the valley (the “Valley of Death” and Little Round Top).

Both armies had their moments of glory at Devil’s Den. Northerners, including the 4th Maine, the 99th Pennsylvania, and the 124th New York, as well as Smith’s Battery, proudly defended the boulder den and the land surrounding it. Conversely, the 1st Texas laid claim to Smith’s 4th New York Battery, located on modern-day Sickles Avenue above Devil’s Den. It was mostly Southern soldiers who used the rocks to their advantage. The view above shows boulders that were probably used as hiding places, while directly to the left, out of view, is the parking lot which was once a rock-strewn field. This is where the 4th Maine made their stand.

After the battle the dead were supposedly thrown into crevices between the boulders by townspeople more eager to “get the job done” than to give soldiers a decent burial. One wonders if the children who climb and cavort among the boulders have any idea of the horrid events that took place in and among the rocks. And of course there is the tale of the “sharpshooter” in the “Sharpshooter’s Nest” up above, who was not a sharpshooter at all . . .

In the future I’ll have more posts about Devil’s Den, focusing on particular units and their accomplishments, and pointing out sights in more detail.


Co. I, 153rd Pennsylvania Infantry

Born January 01, 1840 --- Died July 01, 1863 at age 23
Samuel was killed on the first day of battle while fighting along the Eleventh Corps Line. Though his body was moved several times, his final resting place is Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in Indianland, Pennsylvania. His entry in the “U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles” states that his pre-war residence was Plainfield Township, Pennsylvania, and that he had only enlisted eight or nine months before Gettysburg. Some sites list Samuel’s birthday as January 14.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

One of the most well-known battlegrounds on McPherson’s Ridge is the Railroad Cut, which was not actually open to railroad passage at the time. One can easily imagine the intense, brutal combat in this small place, and it is easy to see how soldiers would have felt trapped in this glorified trench where it was impossible to scramble up to ground level without presenting oneself as a moving target.

Unfortunately, this “secluded” position had initially seemed inviting to Gen. Joseph Davis’ North Carolinians and Mississippians, but the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” was proven with deadly force when New Yorkers and a regiment from the famed Iron Brigade aimed their rifles into the Cut in an attempt to retake it. It must have been terrifying for the Confederates to have no knowledge of what was going on above them, only to see enemy rifles peering down over the sides of the Cut. One of these beleaguered units was the 2nd Mississippi.

Of the two photos above, the top photo shows the Railroad Cut from the small bridge that crosses it, while the bottom gives a clear view of the Cut and the tree-line beyond. The two monuments belong to the 95th New York (closest to the Cut) and the 6th Wisconsin, part of the Iron Brigade.


Co. G, 52nd Virginia Infantry

Born about 1841 --- Died July 03, 1863 at age 22

Sgt. Bull’s prewar life consisted of farming, probably in Rockingham Co., Virginia. One of the saddest facts of his story is that nothing is known of his burial, which may mean he still rests at Gettysburg. Though he was killed in a Virginia unit on July 3rd, his death would not have come in the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, as they were not engaged in this particular struggle. Enlistment papers give a rare treat, a physical description that helps put a face to the man: Sgt. Bull was 5’8 with blue eyes and dark hair.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012

Stevens Knoll, located between the base of Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill, hosts one of my favorite Gettysburg battlefield views. From here one can see the back of Cemetery Hill with its rolling dips and curves, the iconic Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse, Gettysburg’s famous rock walls, and beautiful split-rail fences. Known at the time of the battle as McKnight’s Hill, this area was renamed in honor of Cpt. Greenleaf Stevens, whose 5th Maine Artillery dominated this section of the field. The cannon shown in this photo is a 12-pounder Napoleon assembled in 1857. Though it was not used in the battle of Gettysburg, it certainly saw service in the war.


Co. D, 24th Michigan Infantry

Born February 10, 1842 --- Died July 01, 1863 at age 21

William H. Houston was a member of the famed “Iron Brigade” that was so heavily crushed during the first day’s battle along McPherson’s Ridge. His regiment, along with hearty soldiers from Indiana and Wisconsin, found themselves blasted by members of the 26th North Carolina who were just as eager to dominate the day. It is very likely that William was killed during this engagement that was described as the most intense fighting in the entire battle of Gettysburg. He is buried at Old Wayne Cemetery in Wayne, Michigan. It is known that he fought in other iconic battles such as Fredericksburg in December 1862, as a letter written from that location is still in existence. A picture of William can be found here. (The first picture is of William's brother. William is the man standing in the second picture)

(c) Skies of Blue and Gray

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 07, 2012

Gettysburg’s “Triangular Field” is inundated with the memory of the Southerners who crossed this open ground on Houck’s Ridge just past Devil’s Den. For battlefield visualization, Triangular Field is located just past and to the left of Devil’s Den along Sickles Avenue. Like the ill-fated Confederates of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, which would occur the next day, soldiers from Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas marched out over open ground and were raked with gunfire. Opposing units included the 99th Pennsylvania, the 124th New York, and the 4th Maine, and artillery from Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery.

Deforestation in the past few years has helped return Triangular Field to its 1863 appearance. The photo at the top of the post shows how it looked in 2008, while the photo (left) from 2004 demonstrates how many trees were removed. Though the previous appearance seemed somehow more “haunted,” playing into the declaration that Triangular Field is one of the creepiest places on the battlefield, the new look helps visitors better visualize the battle. The stone wall shown on the older photos is still there and is partially visible on the bottom right of the top photo. It is quite likely that this is the original wall. If not, it was certainly painstakingly recreated to look as it did in 1863.


1st Louisiana Infantry

Born 1821 --- Died July 02, 1863 at age 42

Col. Nolan emigrated from Ireland and led a perhaps average life before the war, enjoying the American dream by working as a grocer in the colorful city of New Orleans. By the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) in September 1862 he had risen to the rank of colonel and was already commanding the 1st Louisiana. He suffered a wound in that battle but later recovered. At Gettysburg Col. Nolan and his Louisianans found themselves at Culp’s Hill, and it was here that he fell. Some believe he was laid to rest near Rock Creek. A photograph of Col. Nolan can be found here.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 05, 2012

Some of us have a slight love affair with historic artillery; we find ourselves taking countless photos of old cannons for no apparent reason. If you’re an artillery lover, Gettysburg is the place to go. I myself have found cannons fascinating and photogenic for many years. Some of the artillery pieces in Gettysburg have interesting and quite unusual stories to tell, such as this Confederate 24-pounder Howitzer along Confederate Avenue.

(For reference, this is just past the Mississippi State Memorial. The road up ahead leads to the Peach Orchard (left) and the beautiful Sachs Covered Bridge (right).) This cannon and its twin, which sits nearby, were made in Austria. Viennese Howitzers are appropriate to display on the battlefield as they were in the Civil War (or War Between the States, or whichever name you prefer) but were not very popular and soon fell out of favor.


 Co. F, 4th Michigan Infantry

Born 1841 --- Died July 02, 1863 at age 22

Cpl. Fountain’s wartime residence was probably in or near Pittsford, Michigan, as he is in the 1860 census at this location. He is buried at Goodrich Cemetery in Pittsford. Concerning Gettysburg, the 4th Michigan was best known for their role in the “Bloody Wheatfield,” where Col. Jeffords mounted a gallant personal charge. Though Cpl. Fountain’s exact fate is unknown, it is safe to say that he too fell in what would become the most famous wheatfield in the country if not the world.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 03, 2012

History has a curious way of remembering some and forgetting others.

This photo taken at the site of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, at the "Angle", shows the small marker of the 26th North Carolina Infantry. If you look across the fields you can see the basic trajectory of Gen. James J. Pettigrew’s men on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. Pettigrew’s men shared the distinction of being “not-Virginians.” Have you seen the movie "Gettysburg"? “For Old Virginia!” rings out the cry. For many years it may have seemed as if the fateful Pickett’s Charge was made only by citizens of the Old Dominion State. Yet there were quite a few North Carolinians involved as well, as well as Mississippians, Tennesseans, and others.

The 26th North Carolina, was example, had suffered heavily during a previous fight at McPherson’s Ridge on July 1st. Over six hundred men had become casualties; the unit only had about 200 men left to offer up at the altar of what would become known as Pickett’s Charge, but they did their duty faithfully. On the North Carolina State Memorial along Seminary Ridge there are various plaques, markers, and a beautiful bronze statue commemorating the North Carolinians of this fated march. One of the markers explains that out of every four Confederates who died at Gettysburg, one was a North Carolinian. If you get the chance to stand at Pickett’s Charge and honor the brave Virginians who fought and died there, don’t forget to tip your hat to the North Carolinians as well.


2nd Co., Richmond Howitzers, Albemarle, Virginia

Born January 30, 1843 --- Died July 03, 1863 at age 20

Little information is available on Pvt. Maupin. He was originally a member of the Virginia Albemarle Light Artillery but later reenlisted in the 2nd Co. Howitzers Light Artillery. He was buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia, and it seems that Charlottesville was his residence before the war.

(c) 2012 Skies of Blue and Gray