Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Soldier's Grave

"When then we'll hear St. Peter tell us loudly with a yell, 
Take a front seat you soldier men, 
For you've done your hitch in Hell!"1

It was just past 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the sounds of battle to the north came rolling in the direction of the men of the 50th Pennsylvania.  Their brothers of the Ninth Corps had worked much of the morning and early afternoon attempting to cross Antietam Creek against pesky Georgians that held the western bank.  With shear determination under a withering fire, the last attempt to land on the Confederate side of the creek was successful.

Advance of the Ninth Corps at Antietam.  Author.
Unfortunately for the men of the Ninth Corps the western side of the Antietam was only the first step in their assignment that day, and even that proved to be in some ways, quite a disaster.  The men of the 50th PA crossed newly christened 'Burnside's Bridge' with the rest of Willcox's Division and deployed in line of battle in the low marshy ground adjacent to the creek.  

The regiment had just seen action a few days ago in Fox's Gap on South Mountain.  Luckily in their support of a battery along the wooded crest of the mountain they suffered very little from Confederate fire, although they helped to repel at least one charge in the Union victory.  Now, as the men looked up through the trees of the Sherrick Farm, clearly they were about to face an entirely contrasting situation that might prove quite volatile.

In the ranks of the 50th PA on that day were the veterans of Company A, hailing from the borderlands of northeastern Dauphin County and western Schuylkill County, known today as the Hegins Valley.  These men had already done a lot of travelling so far in the war.  They began their service and saw their first action in South Carolina on the coast.  They then came north to join up with Pope's Army for the Second Manassas Campaign where they participated in the charge on Jackson's men in the railroad cut, losing heavily.  Only a few days later they were in the thick of the thunderstorm and lead at Chantilly.  

50th PA Monument and crest of the hill at Antietam. Author.
Finally around 3:30 pm the order to advance arrived.  The 50th PA in the center, Christ's Brigade lurched forward towards the high ground beyond around Sharpsburg.  As the crested the rise near the creek bottom they stepped out of the trees and once more entered into that man-made hailstorm.  Confederate artillery positioned around the town cemetery just over one thousand yards away, started plowing holes all through the battle line.  Men started falling like grass before the scythe, but forward the brigade went, all the while driving before them some crack South Carolina sharpshooters that wouldn't go easily.  

Pressing on to the north of the Sherrick Farm buildings, the regiment crested the highest ground to the east of Cemetery Hill and the town of Sharpsburg beyond only to realize that the units to their left were lagging behind because of the difference in navigable terrain.  And so, under a storm of shot and shell, they halted in the open fields on the crest of the hill, more men falling by the minute.

Finally as Welsh's Brigade came up on the left of Christ, the advance resumed and the drive towards town was on.  Some Federal units reached the outskirts of Sharpsburg and it looked as if once more, Lee's Confederates might be swallowed.  After a brilliant march from Harper's Ferry though, A.P. Hill's Division was just arriving on the Federal left.  Without waiting for direction, these worn out Confederate soldiers came smashing down on the Ninth Corps' flank like a sledge hammer.  Word passed along the line and before long, Christ's Brigade and the 50th PA were ordered to abandon their attempt to capture the visible spires of the town beyond.  They retreated back to the creek bottom on the western side of the Antietam and spent the night on their arms, worn out and disappointed.   

The 50th PA had paid dearly for their rocky advance, losing 8 men killed, 46 wounded and 3 missing.  Among the wounded was my Great Grandfather Sergeant Samuel Schwalm.  He wrote poignantly of his Antietam experience and had clearly been changed by what happened like so many men that were there.2  

"Camp 3 miles south of Sharpsburg, Maryland September 21, 1862

Dear wife, children, brothers, sister and all my friends,
I take once more the pleasure to write you a few lines and I will let you know that we were in hard fighting since I wrote you the last letter.  The first day our Regt. Was in was on the 14th.  William Bliles got wounded on his thumb and on the 17th Edward Harner got killed by a cannon ball and a bullet went in my cap and cut the skin a little on my head and one ball hit my rifle.  O God the dead and wounded lay by hundreds and thousands on the field the next day.  Our company is very much crippled and many are sick.  Since the 13th of August we have marched and fought nearly every day
Private Samuel Schwalm.  Author's Collection.
and many nights we have sometimes 4 days rations in our haversacks to carry and no tents to sleep.  O that the almighty God in heaven would make an end of this war.  We drove the Rebels out of Maryland.  They are on the other shore of the Potomac on the Virginia side.  I received a letter since I wrote last.  It was dated August 17th.  This is the first day we had time to write.  I did see in the letter that you would like to have the strut hores...I do believe it is too late in the fall for this summer, but you might ask J. Folk if it is not too cold, then you might get him cut and about the money, you might do just what you think would make a little interest and about...Shadle.  I see in the letter how you fixed it.  That is right enough.  I can't tell you how you should do it, just do how you think and further I let you know that I am well.  I was able to go with the Regt. The whole time, but I must say our boys look very hard worn down...we had in our company are sick.  Dear wife, how do you think the citizens in Maryland feel that the Rebels destroyed everything, burn the buildings down and steal what they can get.  Corn & buckwheat and everything's tramped down on the ground.  The line of battle was twice as broad as our valley at home.  The wives and children hardly knew where to go so they wouldn't get shot.  The name where the battle was on the 14th was near Middletown, on the Blue Ridge & on the 17th near Sharpsburg.  You might think how I did feel when I saw so many boys fall out of our Regt.  All I have to say is to take good care of our children.  O my dear children, whatever you do don't curse nor sear so if I can't see you any more in this world, that we can meet in heaven where no war and no fighting can be anymore.  I nearly forgot to write you that I see E.W. Klinger about a week ago...Ossman...Bull Run fight and Philip Wiest since we left Culpepper.  I will come to a close.  I hope that these few lines find you all in good health.  May the Lord bless you all. Excuse me for not writing more and all the mistakes.  I will send my love to you Elizabeth Schwalm.

From your husband,
Samuel Schwalm"3

Since I was a kid, I remember hearing stories of my ancestor at Antietam and other battlefields.  In a large part, this connection is what spurred my passion for Civil War history and so, early on I began researching the 50th Pennsylvania in great detail.  There are a number of great books out there and a regimental history, but as many of you may know, in some ways we are only scratching the surface of the vast ocean of stories and perspectives.  No resources have moved me more however, than the letters written by my ancestor.  His words are so tangible to me as I'm sure other descendants experience.  

50th PA Monument at Antietam.  Author.
One of my early missions was to find the burial locations of all the 50th Pennsylvania's Antietam dead.  I found five of the eight fairly quickly and in some ways lost the trail for the remaining three men.  My thoughts have often gone back to my ancestor's letter and the man that he saw fall, Private Edward Warner, "killed by a cannon ball."  The regimental history also reports him as killed and not being able to find any more information in my research, I assumed like so many others that he was buried among the hundreds of unknown soldiers at Antietam.

On Saturday December 27, 2014, I was out perusing some of the cemeteries near my hometown with my wife for some known Civil War graves.  We made our way up the Hegins Valley and stopped at a number of cemeteries and found quite a few of the men from Company A of the 50th PA.  Finally after looking through the Union Cemetery at Gratz and getting late in the afternoon, it was either turn right and head home, or turn left and continue another few miles to one more cemetery.  After getting approval from the boss (the beautiful weather helped!) we drove a few more miles to St. Paul's United Church of Christ Cemetery in the small Hegins Valley village of Sacramento.  

I had a list with me of a few men from the 107th Pennsylvania and we found them fairly quickly.  Then my wife called my name and said, "there are three stars in a row over here!"  She was referring to the GAR stars and of course I quickly made my way up the hill.  Interestingly as I came around to the front of the headstones I noticed that they were nearly identical, with the names and dates as the only differing feature.  The stones were also in German.  The first one was for a man named Johannes R. Updegrof who died in 1863.  Further research has revealed that he was a member of Company F of the 173rd Pennsylvania.  The stars had aligned because my mother and my grandparents both speak German and so it was easy to transcribe the gravestone.  Updegrof had just been discharged from his service and tragically died on his trip home at Harrisburg, only twenty-three years old.

The grave of Private Edward Herner, killed on September 17, 1862 at Antietam -
St. Paul's United Church of Christ Cemetery, Sacramento, PA.  Author.
I then moved onto the next gravestone which was identical in format.  The name was 'Edward Herner' and although I could not read the German, I saw at the bottom the date 17 September 1862.  Immediately the wheels started turning and we got our pictures and hopped in the car excited about what we may have discovered.  After getting a translation to verify, the man whose grave we had found was Private Edward Herner (also spelled Harner) of Company A, 50th Pennsylvania, the same man that my ancestor wrote about more than 150 years ago after the horrible experience at Antietam.  Among the first to enlist with the 50th PA in 1861, Edward Herner was only twenty-four years of age when he was killed.  

To some this may seem to be a bit of a dour and anticlimactic discovery, but for me, it is a bit easier to rest at night and I now have plenty of motivation to find the remaining two men from the 50th PA that gave their lives for their country at the battle of Antietam.  Thank you grandfather Samuel, Their stories are not forgotten. 


1. Camp, Frank. Our Hitch In Hell. 1917.
2. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume IXX, Part 1 (Serial Number 27), page 196.  Interestingly the 50th PA Regimental History by Lewis Crater and Pennsylvania at Antietam list the regiment with nine men killed.  There are a number of possibilities with this discrepancy, however, the regimental monument tabulations show 8 killed, 46 wounded and 3 missing; total: 57 
3. Schwalm, Samuel, John David Hoptak, and David Schwalm. The Civil War Letters and Experiences of Samuel Schwalm of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 1st ed. Scotland, PA: Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, 2011. 27.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

History on Paper: The Ambush at Cedar Run

This is a clothing requisition from late 1862 written by, at the time, Captain James Harvey Larrimer of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves (34th PA). It is also endorsed for approval by Colonel Joseph Fisher of the 5th Reserves, later brigade commander and Brevet Brigadier General.

Larrimer was a lawyer from Clearfield County and has quite an interesting story. He enlisted on May 15, 1861 as a 1st Lieutenant in Company C of the 5th Reserves. Showing much promise he was promoted to Captain of Company E on July 12, 1861. His star continued to rise and on May 1, 1863 he was promoted to Major and appointed to the staff of General Samuel Crawford, in which capacity he served through the Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns.

In February of 1864 he accompanied a scouting party across Cedar Run south of Brentsville (just a few miles west of the Bristoe Station Battlefield) under orders from General Crawford to scout the south side of the stream to feel out the enemy. Upon crossing the run, the group was ambushed.

Major Larrimer
Captain James Carle of the 6th Reserves reported afterwards on the action. 
"When the head of the column had reached the opposite side several shots were fired from a thicket of pines a few rods in advance to the right of the road, and being in an exposed position which afforded no chance to oppose the adversary, the head of the column (about eight persons) who had crossed with the officer in charge dashed rapidly forward to a point opposite the thicket, about fifteen rods beyond, where it terminates to a point extending toward the bridge , when Major Larrimer, who accompanied the expedition, and two men fell killed and four were wounded by a volley (apparently from carbines) proceeding from the thicket. This brought the party to a halt, except two officers (the one in command) and one man, who had gone so far and were under such headway as to make it prudent to go ahead, which they did, passing the enemy masked close to the road on their right. Being thus separated from the officer in command, I assumed command of the party (consisting then of thirteen men) and went back to the terminus of this neck of timber, intending to advance along on its right to endeavor to get a view of the rebels and if possible to cut off and attack them, but the men evinced much reluctance and hesitancy in following, and it was only by force that a party would go dismounted through the thicket to where the major was lying, upon which being done, however, he was found to have been stripped of his boots, and the enemy had gone (apparently retired) to a more elevated position a little farther on, as vedettes could be seen at various points and in different directions. At first I thought to pursue and attack them, but the other officers, Captain Restieaux and Lieutenants Scudder, Schutt, and Quail, denouncing the policy of doing so with so small a party, and considering the diffidence evinced by the men from the beginning, I deemed it expedient to return to Brentsville, where I posted the men and came into camp to report to General Crawford, who ordered out two companies of infantry and all the available cavalry force attached to his headquarters to pursue the enemy. We went this time about five miles beyond Brentsville, encountering no obstacle, when it became dark and we returned to camp, having seen no traces of the enemy beyond where the skirmish had ensued except fresh tracks of horses upon different by-roads, indicating their departure in groups of from three to five each. It is impossible to judge what force they may have had concealed, but I doubt whether those engaged exceeded our own number. Our casualties were 1 officer and 2 men killed and 4 men wounded. The enemy’s could not be determined, there being one dead body on the ground and traces (by pools of blood) of some two others having lain and being carried off."
Larrimer's Grave in Clearfield.
From findagrave.com.
Larrimer, dead at 36, was taken home to Clearfield and buried at Hillcrest Cemetery.  It may seem a bit insignificant at the price of a life, but fittingly after the war, the Clearfield, PA G.A.R. Post No. 179 was named in his honor.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY

For this post, a trip through Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY and a number of famous Civil War soldiers who are interred there.

The grave of Major General George H. Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga."  One of the most well known officers of the Civil War, Thomas actually hailed from Virginia.  At the outbreak of the war his family was shattered with his allegiance to the Union.  The fractures were never repaired with his siblings, even after the war ended.  Thomas died in April of 1870 and was laid to rest here.  In attendance of his funeral were approximately 10,000 people, including Generals Meade, Hooker, Sheridan, Rosecrans, Schofield and Sherman.  President Grant and his cabinet were also in attendance.

The grave of Private William Henry Freeman, 169th New York Infantry.  As you can see by his plaque, he is a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He won the award because of his actions in 1865 during the attack on Fort Fisher, North Carolina.  The brigade color bearer went down and he picked up the flag, continuing forward through a hail of shot and shell.

Here lies Colonel George Lamb Willard.  Willard was born in New York City and served in the Mexican War and antebellum army.  He became Colonel of the 125th New York Infantry and shared its fate through the debacle at Harpers Ferry in September of 1862.  After being paroled, the unit finally rejoined the Army of the Potomac in time for the Gettysburg Campaign.  Willard, being the senior officer, commanded the Third Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps.  On the evening of July 2, Willard's Brigade filled the gap in the Union line on Cemetery Ridge and careened head long into Barksdale's Mississippians in the Plum Run Valley.  After driving back the Confederates, Willard ordered his men back towards the top of the ridge when a shell came screaming in and hit the Colonel, killing him instantly.

Corporal Edwin Moss Jr., Company H 104th New York Infantry - Moss was wounded at Antietam and captured at Weldon RR in 1864.  He died at the young age of 32 and one can only ponder if it related to his war wounds.

Brevet Major General Joseph Bradford Carr - Carr worked in the Tobacco industry before the war in Troy, NY.  At the war's outbreak he recruited the 2nd New York Infantry, of which he became the Colonel.  He served through many of the Eastern Theater's greatest battles and eventually commanded a Brigade in the Third Corps, which he led at Gettysburg and was wounded.  Eventually Carr led a division but because of appointment issues with rank he was moved by Grant to the 18th Corps under Butler where he served the rest of the war, commanding a division of African-American soldiers.

The view from Oakwood Cemetery across Troy, NY and the Hudson River Valley. 
Brigadier General William Badger Tibbits - His father was the mayor of Troy, NY.  Before the war he attended law school and when the war broke out he helped to recruit a company of Carr's 2nd New York Infantry, for which he became its Captain.  He served at Big Bethel, on the Peninsula, at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, by which time he was the regiment's Major.  In 1864 he re-enlisted as the Colonel of the 21st New York Cavalry and he commanded a Brigade at the battle of New Market in The Valley.  He then commanded a division as Colonel and was finally promoted to Brigadier General at the close of the war.  

Reuben Richards mustered into the 12th New York Independent Battery in September of 1862.  The battery was part of the Army of the Potomac's Artillery Reserve and saw action on numerous battlefields.  He was captured at Petersburg in June of 1864 and mustered out in June of '65.

Captain Thomas F. Sheldon, 125th New York Infantry - Commanded Company A and was captured at Harpers Ferry in September of '62.  He served with the regiment through the war and was discharged for disability in September of 1864.
2nd Lt. Charles Sheldon, 12th New Hampshire - He enlisted in 1862 with Company G of the 12th New Hampshire Infantry.  He was promoted to Sergeant and was wounded on July 2, 1863 along the Emmitsburg Road at Gettysburg.  In June of  1863 he was acting as the company's 2nd Lieutenant and he was mortally wounded in the leg at Cold Harbor (his leg was amputated).  He died of complications from the amputation, receiving his 2nd Lt.'s commission, too little, too late, on July 16, 1864.  He lays side by side with his brother.

Colonel Daniel D. Tompkins - He was a West Point Graduate and commissioned Colonel in 1856 in the Quartermaster Department.  He was serving as the Assistant Quartermaster General in Brooklyn, NY when he died of disease in February of 1863 at the age of 63.

Major General John Ellis Wool - Wool was born in 1784 and served as a Major (and was wounded) in the War of 1812.  He became a Brigadier General in 1841 and participated in the Mexican War, choosing the battlefield at Buena Vista, for which he was Brevetted Major General.  He commanded the Department of the East and Pacific on different occasions before the Civil War.  At the outbreak of the Civil War he was commanding Fortress Monroe.  He was given command of the Department of Virginia until May of 1862.  He was then commissioned Major General and sent to Baltimore to command the Middle Military Department.  He was then moved to New York City, where in July of 1863 he commanded the troops who quashed the Draft Riots.  Finally in August, after a storied military career, he retired and died in 1869.

Soldier's Plot at Oakwood Cemetery - There are men from the 54th, 66th, 77th, 125th, and 132nd New York buried here as well as men from the 57th PA, 4th MN and numerous other veterans from all our wars.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blandford Church Cemetery Photo Tour

Many folks visiting the Richmond/Petersburg, Virginia area to see the numerous Civil War battlefields will probably at some point eventually make their way to one of the area's National Cemeteries...Poplar Grove, Seven Pines, City Point, Glendale.  A followup question to one of these visits might reasonably be, where are the Confederate soldiers buried?

Well the quick answer is, all over the place.  That said, more than 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried in the Petersburg city cemetery, or Blandford Church Cemetery, not far away from the earthworks they defended for nearly nine months during the Siege of Petersburg.  For this post, we'll take a photo tour through this truly remarkable cemetery.  If you ever get the chance to explore this place, don't hesitate!

Blandford Church and the marker to "Fort Steadman Heroes"...an unknown plot of those who were killed at Fort Stedman in 1865.

Entrance to the Confederate Cemetery at Blandford.

Monument to the fallen Confederate Soldiers

The grave of Major George E. Hayes of the 3rd Georgia...KIA at Weldon Railroad in '64.  The back of the monument reads..."Erected by his family Sept 13, 1869."  Hundreds of other unknown Georgia soldiers lay around him.

The grave of Clement S. Fayssoux of the 23rd South Carolina Infantry, killed in action during the Petersburg Campaign only a few miles distant.

Colonel Powhatan Robertson Page of the 26th Virginia, killed in action during the Union Army's initial attacks against Petersburg.

Monument marking unknown Confederate dead.

Private John T. Griffin of the 41st Virginia, killed in action at Spotsylvania.

Captain Samuel Venable of the 13th Virginia Cavalry

The grave of 1st Sergeant Benjamin White in the family plot at Blandford.  He grew up on Adams Street in Petersburg and was mortally wounded at the Wilderness.

Blandford Church - 1735

Private John E. Friend in the family plot, killed at Rives Farm.

Private Charles William Pollard of the Albermarle Light Artillery, killed in action at Cold Harbor.

17 year old Lt. Wayles Hurt of the 3rd Virginia Reserves..."Fell in defence of his native city."

The grave of Nora Fontaine Maury from whom General Logan got the idea for Memorial Day, or in the South, Decoration Day.  She was also a Civil War nurse.

Memorial to Major General William Phillips, British General in the American War of Independence who died of disease and is buried in the churchyard.

This is the oldest known burial at Blandford, that of Richard Yarbrough who died in 1702.

The mausoleum of Confederate Major General William "Little Billy" Mahone.

Brigadier General Cullen A. Battle from Alabama.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Croatia at Gettysburg

Dusk has settled upon the undulating landscape along a little stream near a far off town with a very foreign sounding name.  As Corporal George Petrovich surveys the landscape around him, he knows that the order to move forward will inevitably pass along the line.  His comfort lies in the fact that his friends are beside him as they have been on every previous field of battle.  They are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in two ranks and brimming with confidence in the fact that this formation, this group of men, has survived previous travails with a stern brow and an invincible passion.  The ranks on this night are also a radiant reminder of those friends who have been left behind at places like Williamsburg, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  In fact many of the men ready to move forward, including Corporal Petrovich, carry with them the scars of these previous encounters with the enemy, but there is no time for these thoughts now.  The only cogitations racing through the minds of these veteran warriors involves what might lurk through those dark menacing woods.  Finally the order came down the line from Major Powell., "Forward!"  The 10th Louisiana lurched ahead with the rest of Colonel Jesse Williams' Louisiana Brigade.  Their target was a twin-peaked eminence known locally as Culps Hill.

George Petrovich came to the United States from Croatia well before the bells of war tolled across the North and South.  When he came to the United States he joined thousands of other Croatian-Americans who had already settled in large numbers in the Mississippi Valley.  Petrovich set his roots in the South's largest city, New Orleans, and started up his own business as a merchant on Chartres Street.  Some sources list him as a fruit merchant.  George's newly adopted nation provided the young lad with a great deal of opportunity and social prosperity in quick fashion.  The vibrant and fairly prosperous lifestyle in the 'Crecent City' was unfortunately on short order, not just for George Petrovich, but for all Americans.  The smoldering storm clouds of war crowded across the land.  With the firing on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, localized units started popping up all over the South and New Orleans certainly provided its fair share. 1

One of those units was the 10th Louisiana Infantry, raised in July of 1861 by Colonel
Antoine-Jaques-Phillipe de Mandeville de Marignyat, a graduate of France's Saumur Military Academy and former French Cavalry officer.  The regiment was mustered into Confederate service at Camp Moore in Louisiana to serve for the duration of the newly hashed "war of Northern aggression."  At muster, the regiment boasted 953 officers and men.  Among that fully complemented regiment was George Petrovich, one representative of numerous nationalities within the unit.  In fact within the diversified ranks were men from Austria, Canada, Corsica, Cuba, England, France, Germany, Gibralter, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Martinique, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sardinia, Scotland, Sicily, Spain and Switzerland. 2

As the war progressed to an alarmingly volatile head, the 10th Louisiana found itself as an active member in the midst of what would eventually become Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The 10th would eventually become christened, "Lee's Foreign Legion." In contrast to other immigrant population participating in the war, this nickname was no chastisement. These soldiers representing the state of Louisiana were one of Lee's most reliable units and their participation in some of the war's early engagements lends evidence to the extent by which the Confederate high command was willing to lean on them. 3 

In May of 1862 the 10th Louisiana was involved in their first major fighting of the war on the Virginia Peninsula at Williamsburg.  In this comparatively minor scrape, the 10th Louisiana was in the middle of the melee and suffered a number of casualties.  George Petrovich was one of those soldiers that went down with a wound in the first fight.  Eventually he would recover from this initial roughing up and rejoin the unit for the eventual renewal of the bloody struggle. 4

By the time the Gettysburg Campaign began, Corporal George Petrovich and his comrades of the 10th Louisiana were some of General Lee's staunchest veteran soldiers, albeit at a great cost.  As the 'Crescent City' soldiers marched north their ranks were thinned down to the tune of a total mustering strength of 226 officers and men.  The regiment had seen four commanders come and go, all but one lost as a result of the battlefield, and most recently, their beloved Lieutenant Colonel John M. Leggett who was killed in action at Chancellorsville.  For those men that still comprised the 10th Louisiana, these losses only stiffened their resolve and vengeful convictions for the coming fight. 5

After a overwhelming Confederate victory on July 1, 1863 on the fields north and west of the town of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee was looking to keep the initiative on the second day at Gettysburg.  He came up with a two-pronged plan of attack that involved a prize-fighter mentality.  His main attack of the hammer and anvil approach was to be led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet.  The goal was to envelope the Union left along Cemetery Ridge, driving the Yankees all the way back across Cemetery Hill.  As for the other end of the line, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was to make a demonstration against the Union right at Culps Hill, and if practicable, to turn the demonstration into a full scale assault.  The success of this plan completely depended upon the ability of General Lee's army to coordinate their efforts.

From Culps Hill Observation Tower - Johnson's Division's Attack
The 10th Louisiana and the rest of Jesse Williams' (Nicholls') Brigade had barely been engaged to any great extent on the first day and they would figure prominently in the planning by General Ewell to assail the Union citadel at Culps Hill on July 2.  As Longstreet was running into difficulties on the south end of the battlefield after a 4:00 pm advance, Ewell's artillery became engaged in a duel with the Federal guns on Cemetery and East Cemetery Hill that ended disastrously for the Confederate gunners in position on Benner's Hill.  Finally after some more delay, Ewell got the wheels moving on his "demonstration" just before sunset.

Colonel Jesse Williams wrote in his official report that it was about 7:00 pm when Nicholls' Brigade finally got moving towards their objective.  They were positioned to the left of John Marshall Jones' Virginia Brigade to the northeast of the Hanover Road and behind Benner's Hill.  The 10th Louisiana was in the center of the brigade line.  As the order to move forward rang along the line, the Louisiana Brigade was ordered to guide on the left of Jones' Brigade.  Very little could be discerned about what kind of enemy force resided in the concealed terrain ahead.  On top of that disadvantage, the sun was about to go down and there was still heavy firing on the other end of the line just a few miles distant with no indication of how Longstreet's battle was going. 6

Corporal George Petrovich and his comrades followed Major Thomas Powell steadily forward, first to the south side of Benner's Hill to get behind Jones' Brigade, and then wheeling right as they descended the slope towards the visible high ground beyond.  Culps Hill must have been perfectly silhouetted against the setting sun.  Finally as they neared the base of the hill, sporadic firing started to break out on their right.  Jones' Virginia Brigade had finally made contact.  Unknown to the advancing Louisianans, their first substantial obstacle lay directly ahead, a little meandering stream called Rock Creek.

From Upper Culps Hill looking into the
ravine between the two summits
The brigade line continued forward facing little resistance, their initial advance having already covered three quarters of a mile.  What few remaining rays of sunlight still bathed the treetops very quickly vanished as the Confederates entered the woods east of Culps Hill and then, the shadow of the eminence itself erased those last filtered beams.  The unit stumbled around a bit as they tried to contain their formation in the dark and unfamiliar terrain.  Eventually they splashed into Rock Creek and the firing started to pick up as they stepped ashore on the western bank.  The 78th New York of Brigadier General George Greene's Brigade was out on the skirmish line at the base of Culps Hill and ready to meet the Louisianans as they neared the ascending grade.  A Union captain on the hill above recalled that "the blaze of fire which lighted up the darkness of the valley below us; the desperate charging yell and halloo of the rebel troops, convinced us of an immediate engagement...The Seventy-Eighth fell back in good order before the heavy columns of the foe..." 7

Somewhere in that crowd of hallooing rebels was Corporal George Petrovich among his noisy comrades.  Very quickly the darkness became a cauldron of shooting flames as the 10th Louisiana and the rest of the brigade continued up the slope.  The smoke started to make a murky situation even more inky until the only guiding light was the flash of the muzzles ahead.  Men were now dropping like flies with every step forward.  Colonel Williams, commanding the brigade, wrote in his official report that "the brigade engaged the enemy near the base of these heights [Culps Hill], and, having quickly driven his front line into the entrenchments on their crest, continued forward until it reached a line about 100 yards from the enemy's works, when it again engaged him with an almost incessant fire..."  As the attack of the Louisiana Brigade started to bog down within one hundred yards of the Federal works on the upper hill, the men continued to drop all along the line.  Lee's 'Foreign Legion' was clinging for dear life on the steep slopes and ledges of a formerly indifferent Pennsylvania hillside that meant little to even the farmer that owned it before the battle. 8

The most bitter of the odds against 'Lee's Foreign Legion' that night was a mere accident of geography.  The position taken by the brigade on Jones' left brought them against Culps Hill perfectly centered between both the upper and lower summits of the hill.  The steep valley that separates the two summits virtually left the Louisianans at the bottom of a soup bowl with Federal troops surrounding them along the peripheral high ground, nearly on three sides, that is, until Steuart's Brigade came sweeping in on their left.  Up until this point, the mixed North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia brigade of George Steuart was playing catch up.  Being at the southeastern most point of the division's line, when Jones and Williams moved forward, Steuart's men had to cover much more ground as the large right-wheel was made towards Culps Hill.  Eventually, with no small loss, Steuart's Brigade would push the right flank of George Green's New York Brigade off the lower summit of Culps Hill.

Battle-scarred trees on Culps Hill after the fight. Library of Congress.
All of this gain for the Confederates attacking Culps Hill provided little relief to the men of the 10th
Louisiana who were trapped in the valley below the upper summit of Culps Hill.  The Union soldiers above them continued to pour in a devastating fire down the darkened rock strewn slopes.  Men continued to fall all around and several efforts were made to push even farther up the hill.  To the right of the 10th Louisiana, the 1st Louisiana's color bearer ended up too close to the Federal works, and he knew it.  Instead of allowing the regiment's colors to be taken by Yankees, he took the flag of its staff and wrapped it around his person, concealing it all through his imprisonment until the following winter when he was exchanged.  Colonel Williams wrote after Gettysburg that his brigade fought under an incessant fire for four hours that night, "pending which several attempts to carry the works by assault, being entirely unsupported on the right (Jones' brigade having failed to hold its line on the right), were attended with more loss than success." 9

Somewhere in the pitch black, as the fight carried on, a Yankee bullet was targeted for Corporal George Petrovich and down he went like so many of his comrades on that horrific evening.  As the deadly bullet hit the young Croatian soldier in butternut, along with him went a sort of American dream that he had so recently been vividly realized.  His newly adopted home had, in the end, cost him his life.  As the volcano roared on the following day all along the slopes of Culps Hill for nearly seven hours on Friday, July 3, many many more men would fall into the silent ranks with George Petrovich.  By the time the unsuccessful bid to wrest Culps Hill from Federal control had ended, the 10th Louisiana Infantry, which entered the fight as an apparition of its former glory, could now count only 116 men left in the skeleton ranks.  Corporal George Petrovich was one of twenty-two men in the 10th who were killed in action during the futile attempts to take Culps Hill at Gettysburg. 10

As General Lee and his army, including the tattered remnants of the once viable 10th Louisiana, withdrew towards Virginia, they left a swath of death and destruction on the eastern slopes of Culps Hill.  Whether the work was done very hastily before the retreat by his Confederate comrades, or whether it was done with only slightly more care by Union soldiers, Corporal Petrovich was at some point interred near where he fell on the slopes of Culps Hill shortly after the battle.  Wherever that resting place may have been, it was only temporary.  Most of the Union dead at Gettysburg were very quickly re-interred into a new 'National Cemetery' later that same year.  For George Petrovich and thousands of other Confederate soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg, they would remain in the Pennsylvania soil until efforts were made by citizens of the south to have them removed and brought home.  From 1871 to 1873, 3,320 Confederate remains were disinterred and taken south.  Among them was Private George Petrovich who was finally laid to rest, once and for all, at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.  The young Croatian's story of adventure and sacrifice now rests outside the former Confederate capitol among the thousands of other Confederate dead scattered across the hillside. 11

Corporal George Petrovich's grave at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
1. Reid, Graham, Tom Brooks, and Mike Jones. "10th La. Vol. Infantry "Lee's Foreign Legion"" Usgwararchives. Accessed August 26, 2014. http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/state/military/wbts/units/lavol10.txt.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. "Croatian Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865." September 14, 2011. http://www.slavorum.com/forum/index.php?topic=741.0.
5. Floyd, Steven. Commanders and Casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg Publishing, 2014. 59.
6. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the  Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Hereafter O.R.), 1880-1901, Washington, D.C., Ser. 1, Vol. xxvii, Pt. 2, p. 513.
7. O.R., Pt. 1, p. 864-865.
8. O.R., Pt. 2, p. 513.
9. Pfanz, Harry. "Johnson Attacks!" In Culp's Hill & Cemetery Hill, 216. Chapel Hill, London: Chapel Hill.
10. Floyd, Steven. Commanders and Casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg Publishing, 2014. 59.
11. Coco, Gregory. "A Charnel House of Death." In Wasted Valor: The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg, 39-42. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1990.


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