Saturday, March 18, 2017

Among the Last Sacrifices

John D. Gillespie was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not too far outside of Philadelphia. Little is known about his formative years, but the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself in 1861 when Gillespie was only 17 years old. War had broken out and after Lincoln's call in the summer of that year for 500,000 volunteers, the young man enlisted in August for three years of Federal service, probably with many friends, in Company B of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as a corporal.

Monument to the 49th PA at Gettysburg
The regiment earned a reputation through its list of engagements that continued to mount as the war lurched ahead; Seven Days, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Church, and Gettysburg. In late 1863 John Gillespie re-enlisted with the regiment. Their worst battles ensued with the commencement of the Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864. From May 4 -14 the regiment suffered 392 casualties. There were only 130 men left for service and one of them was young Corporal John Gillespie, who had passed unharmed through every single battle. Due to a combination of attrition and experience, he was promoted to sergeant.

The regiment was at Cold Harbor, with Sheridan in the Valley Campaign, and at Petersburg, and Gillespie was still unscathed. He was again promoted, this time to first sergeant of Company E. In April of 1865, Grant finally forced Lee out of his defenses at Petersburg and the Army of the Potomac pursued the wavering Confederates vigorously.

The 49th Pennsylvania saw their last major action at Sailor's Creek on April 6, 1865. They were pressing the enemy, specifically Ewell's Corps and the fight was nasty, but short-lived as they overwhelmed the tail of Lee's disintegrating army. Seven men in the regiment went down with Rebel lead that day. After three years and eight months of service, the luck of 21-year-old John D. Gillespie finally ran out.

He was taken to Carver Hospital in Washington, D.C. and surely he received news of the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Over the following month though, he continued to decline. John D. Gillespie succumbed to his wound on May 12, 1865, among the last sacrifices of the bloody struggle. His remains were transported home where he was buried in the Saint Agnes Cemetery, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania with other members of his family. Although I have not been able to find any wartime documents that corroborate this information, his tombstone reads "Lieut." He may very well have been acting in that capacity at the time of his wounding, and surely if he had survived he probably would have received a promotion. Rank means little to the sacrifice, but in some way it might be an appropriate epitaph to the bravery of this young man.

Finally, here is a picture of young John D. Gillespie, so much youth and seemingly plenty of life ahead, but it was not to be.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Brandy Station Photo Tour

A strangely warm Saturday in late February is the perfect time to tour Brandy Station, but there's never a bad time when Bud Hall is involved. This post will take you on a photo journey around the Brandy Station battlefield in Culpeper County, Virginia saved for future generations thanks to the Civil War Trust and the efforts of many, but especially Bud Hall...

A panorama from Buford's Knoll, just west of the Rappahannock River...

From the Cunningham Farm looking towards the easternmost stone wall that figured prominently in the fighting between "Rooney" Lee's Brigade and Ames's Brigade of Buford's command. Yew Ridge is visible in the distance.

Breastworks constructed by the Sixth Corps along the Hazel River during the winter of '63-'64.

Confluence of the Hazel River (left) and Rappahannock River (right) just above Beverly's Ford.

Beverly's Ford from the west bank... This is where Buford's troopers splashed across the Rappahannock in the fog on the morning of June 9, 1863.

The old Beverly's Ford road as it moves towards Brandy Station.

Bud Hall at Beverly's Ford
Beverly's Ford from the east in August of 1863... by Edwin Forbes
This is where the Beverly's Ford Road crests the ridge, now at the end of the runway at Culpeper Regional Airport

Bud holding up a wartime sketch of St. James Church.

Meade's Headquarters during the winter of '63-'64 were located where you see the buildings in the distance. Fleetwood Hill is behind and to the left of this view looking north.

From Brandy Rock looking towards the northwest and the Cobbler's Knob just visible through the storm clouds.

Bud interpreting the battle of Brandy Station at Brandy Rock, the home of WWII Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss.

Farley (or Welford) Plantation... this is privately owned today but was the headquarters of "Uncle John" Sedgwick during the winter of '63-'64 at Brandy Station. See the following picture taken during the war... Sedgwick is in the group.

The "front" of Farley

From Fleetwood Hill looking towards the Rappahannock River... J.E.B. Stuart's Headquarters were located just north (left) of here on June 9, 1863.
Third Corps Headquarters atop Fleetwood Hill in March of '64
Barbour House, now known as Beauregard Farms... This is where Lee arrived on June 9, 1863 before noon as the crisis was unfolding from where this photo was taken around Fleetwood Hill.

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