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|
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
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.|
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.|
END NOTES1. 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.
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.