He has been identified as L. Purnell, according to the photograph image catalog. He served in Company I of the 11th Mississippi Infantry and was wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. According to notes within the photograph’s case, Purnell had this photograph taken at Fredericksburg, Virginia on June 1, 1863, and he was wounded at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.[i]
So far with the internet resources available, this is all the information about Purnell—and even those notes in the Library of Congress record are open to question. Why? Because of the battle record for Purnell’s regiment at Gettysburg.
The 11th Mississippi gathered around Corinth in May 1861, recruited from the counties of the region. They mustered into the Confederate military in Virginia at Lynchburg. The unit first saw action at Manassas in July 1861, and would fight through most of the other battles of the war in the east. During the Pennsylvania Campaign in the summer of 1863, the 11th marched in Davis’s Brigade of Heth’s Division in A.P. Hill’s Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.[ii] They fought at Gettysburg with 592 soldiers in their ranks, presumably including Purnell.
If the identification is correct that the soldier in the photograph is Corporal Purnell who served in Company I of the regiment, then he was likely from Monroe County, Mississippi, on the eastern border of the state.[iii]That company was nicknamed the “Van Dorn Reserve,” and reserve is the first foreshadowing part of the unit’s history at Gettysburg.
According to General Joseph R. Davis, the brigade commander, “Early on the morning of the 1st, I moved in the rear of Archer’s brigade with three regiments of my command (the Eleventh Mississippi being left as a guard for the division wagon train) from camp on the heights near Cashtown, by a turnpike road leading to Gettysburg.”[iv] Thus, the 11th Mississippi missed the first day of battle due to their assigned duties guarding the wagon train. Davis reunited his brigade by July 2 and bivouacked the regiments in the rear of Seminary Ridge.
As far as possible to explore from Davis’s reports and other regimental sources accessible at this time, the 11th was not under fire on July 2, creating a mystery. Was Purnell actually wounded on July 2 or is this a minor inaccuracy? I wasn’t able to track down an answer over the last few weeks, but my current hunch is that it could be a typo. The 11th Mississippi lost heavily in battle…but on July 3. Mathematical probability alone makes it more likely that Purnell was shot on the afternoon of the third.
Davis’s second report explained that day:
Early on the morning of the 3d, the enemy threw some shells at the artillery in our front, from which a few casualties occurred in one of the brigades. About 9 a.m. the division was moved to the left about a quarter of a mile, and in the same order of battle was formed in the rear of Major Pegram’s battalion of artillery, which was posted on the crest of a high hill…
About 1 p.m. the artillery along our entire line opened on the enemy, and was promptly replied to. For two hours the fire was heavy and incessant. Being immediately in the rear of our batteries, and having had no time to prepare means of protection, we suffered some losses. In Davis’ brigade, 2 men were killed and 21 wounded. The order had been given that, when the artillery in our front ceased firing, the division would attack the enemy’s batteries, keeping dressed to the right, and moving in line with Major General Pickett’s division, which was on our right, and march obliquely to the left.
The artillery ceased firing at 3 o’clock, and the order to move forward was given and promptly obeyed. The division moved off in line, and passing the wooded crest of the hill, descended to the open fields that lay between us and the enemy. Not a gun was fired at us until we reached a strong post and rail fence about three-quarters of a mile from the enemy’s position, when we were met by a heavy fire of grape, canister, and shell, which told sadly upon our ranks. Under this destructive fire, which commanded our front and left with fatal effect, the troops displayed great coolness, were well in hand, and moved steadily forward, regularly closing up the gaps made in their ranks. Our advance across the fields was interrupted by other fences of a similar character, in crossing which the alignment became more less deranged. This was in each cade promptly rectified, and though its ranks were growing thinner at every step, this division moved steadily on in line with the troops on the right. When within musket-range, we encountered a heavy fire of small-arms, from which we suffered severly; but this did not for a moment check the advance.”[v]
Could Purnell have advanced in the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge? Or had he been wounded earlier—perhaps on the 2nd, perhaps during the cannonade, or perhaps in the march toward the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge?
“The right of the division, owning to the conformation of the ridge on which the enemy was posted, having a shorter distance to pass over to reach his first line of defense, encourered him first in close conflict; but the whole division dashed up to his first line of defense—a stonewall—behind which the opposing infantry was strongly posted. Here we were subjected to a most galling fire of musketry and artillery, that so reduced the already thinned ranks that any further effort to carry the position originally held, which was done in more or less confusion.”[vi]
The 11th Mississippi was one of the regiments in the “more or less confusion” battering over the stonewall and trying to break significantly into the Federal lines. Clashing into the 39th New York, the 11th lost their battle flag and 34% of their soldiers.[vii]
Corporal L. Purnell—of the fallen numbered in that 34% casualty rate—slips in and out of the historical record. The details of his wounding and even if he survived are missing at this time. However, his photograph remains, and when we look at it, we look at the face of a soldier from a regiment that went to the stone wall at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 3, 1863.
[i] Library of Congress, Online Archive Photographs, L. Purnell. https://www.loc.gov/item/2013650218/
[ii] National Park Service, Battle Unit Details, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=CMS0011RI
[iii] National Park Service, Soldier Database, L. Purnell. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers-detail.htm?soldierId=305E5BC5-DC7A-DF11-BF36-B8AC6F5D926A
[iv] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 27, Part 2. Report No. 553.
[vii] National Park Service, Battle Unit Details, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=CMS0011RI