Stories of Gettysburg

Last month, I wrote about reminiscences and how they represent a personal account of past events in a person’s life.  This month, I want to share some poignant letters, diaries, and reminiscences that tell of individuals before, during and after the Battle of Gettysburg.

We have just added a new letter to our digital collections, written by James J. Harris, Captain of Company I, 30th Regiment, North Carolina Troops. He wrote a twenty page letter to his friend Burton on August 24, 1863, in which he describes the movements of his brigade and his observations of the Gettysburg Campaign. Captain Harris, who was from Nash County North Carolina and had enlisted at the age of 27, was elected 2nd Lieutenant, promoted to 1st lieutenant on April 1, 1862 and then again promoted to Captain on July 1, 1862, after the death of Captain William T. Arrington. Captain Harris was later subsequently killed at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, May 12, 1864.

With the addition of this letter, and with last month being the 150 anniversary of Gettysburg, I started to think that this may be a good time to revisit the items we currently have in our digital collection that pertain to Gettysburg. So I took a look back at the letters, diaries, and reminiscences that we have pertaining to Gettysburg. Below are a list and a short recap of these items.

We have the diary of William B. Howard; this diary is part of the Williams–Womble Collection. Howard was killed at Gettysburg while serving with the 7th Regiment, North Carolina State Troops. Howard recounts his march to Pennsylvania in his diary, which ends on August 27th 1863, just a few short days before his life is ended at Gettysburg.

The William Burgwyn Papers include both his personal diary and a letter William Burgwyn wrote to his mother, and a letter from J. J. Young. These items portray the some of the feeling that the family and friends felt at the death of Henry K. Burgwyn, Jr. [Harry] known as the “Boy Colonel” of the 26th North Carolina Troops. In his diary, he describes some of his feelings as to the news that his brother has been killed, “I could hope no longer that my dear beloved brother who I just began to appreciate for his good + noble qualities was taken from us.”

A Letter from Willis L. Jones to his friend Richard B. Paschal, in which he states “God knows that I saw enoughf at Gettyesburg to make any man shed tears hundred being wounded some dying other bleding to death other crying and saying oh cant you do something for me or I shall die.. I shall have to stop saying any more about that bloody field for the thought of it allmost makes me shed teares.”

In another letter written to Richard Paschal, this one from W.W. Edwards, Edwards describes the Battle of Gettysburg where he was wounded, and his arduous journey to Winder Hospital.

We also have several reminiscences that cover Gettysburg, some in great detail and others just touch on their participation in the battle.

  • The “Story of War” a reminiscences written by Emanuel Arthur Patterson, 57th North Carolina Troops, Company E.
  • A reminiscence of William Dorsey Pender, who died of a wound he received at Gettysburg, written by his aides-de-camp.
  • The reminiscence of Jeremiah Morrison who was a private in 55th North Carolina Troops, Company C. He reflects on his time at Gettysburg and the wound he obtained during the battle.
  • There is also a short biography of Brigadier General Collett Leventhorpe, who fought at Gettysburg.
  • “A Tall of the Civil War” As told by C.K. McNeely 34th North Carolina Troops, Company D.
  • A recollection of events during the Civil War as told by Samuel Daniel Marshbourn, who was part of the 4th North Carolina State Troops, Company F.
  • Finally, the reminiscences of Thomas Perritt, who was a member of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Company G. This reminiscence goes into great detail of movements of the 26th North Carolina Troops leading up to the battle of Gettysburg. The author also gives a blow-by-blow description of the first day’s events during the battle as well as names and how many of the men died that day.

The Avery Letter, which is not part of the Civil War Collection, but has a place in the State Archives vault as one of our “treasures” had a blog post written about the compelling origins just last month.

The last collection of letters I will mention today is that of the John Futch. John lost his brother during the battle of Gettysburg. He wrote to his wife five letters after the battle, and in these five letters, you start to see the impact that Gettysburg had on John. In the first letter, he only mentions that his brother died, but in subsequent letters he explains that he carried him off the battlefield, and stayed with him as he died, how lonely he was without him, and how much he just wanted the war to be over and be able to come home. His last letter mentions that he is going crazy and is thinking of deserting, which he does and is later subsequently shot.

This upcoming Monday, we will be discussing Tar heels at Gettysburg during our Second Monday lecture series.  We hope you can join Bill Brown, Debbi Blake, and Mark Holland as they recount the active parts some of the men of North Carolina had in the Battle of Gettysburg. Join us on Monday August 12 at 10:30 AM at 109 East Jones Street.

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