Commanding the Regiment: Galusha Pennypacker: The Civil War’s Youngest General


PHILADELPHIA, October 1—1916

General Galusha Pennypacker, U.S.A., retired,

died here today in the Jefferson Hospital from

a complication of diseases brought on by

wounds suffered in the civil war. He was in

his seventy-third year, and was the youngest officer

in either the Union or Confederate Armies

to win the brevet of Brigadier. [1]

And yet, for some reason, Galusha Uriah Pennypacker is almost completely forgotten. From a prominent Pennsylvania family, he was the only child of a mother who died when he was an infant. His father served in the Mexican War but decided to stay in California to seek his fortune. The baby was given to his grandfather, who died in 1853. His Aunt Elizabeth raised Galusha until her marriage, and then he went to live with his great-uncle Elijah, who had nine other children, all younger than Galusha. [2]

Galusha was sixteen years old when President Lincoln issued his first call for troops. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the 9th PA, a ninety-day regiment. Galusha was elected a lieutenant but resigned from that title because he felt too young and inexperienced to do the job. Instead, he served as quartermaster sergeant. When the 9th PA term of service expired, he helped to recruit a company for the 97th PA Infantry. This time the boy was commissioned captain for Company A. Now seventeen, Galusha was promoted to major on October 7, 1861. His regiment left West Chester for Washington amid cheers and cascades of flowers on November 16. It was initially stationed at Fortress Monroe, VA. From there, the 97th was ordered to Port Royal, SC, and attached to the Department of Virginia. [3]

At sixteen…

Pennypacker and the 97th participated in the siege of Fort Pulaski, GA, on February 7, 1862. A combined naval and army assault took the fort after only one day’s battle. The 97th also took part in the occupation of Fort Clinch in Jacksonville and the naval port in Fernandina, FL. On June 10, 1862, the 97th participated in the Battle of Grimball’s Station, SC, and on June 16, 1862, the Battle of Secessionville, James’ Island, SC. At this point, Pennypacker’s men were assigned to the Army of the James under the overall command of General Ben Butler. [4]

Butler reorganized much of the Army of the James, but the X Corps under General Alfred H. Terry, which had fought well despite reverses, remained the home of the 97th PA. On May 20, 1864, the 97th was engaged in the Battle of Green Plains/Ware Bottom Church, a part of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. Pennypacker’s 300 men were held in reserve until the advance line was broken. Pennypacker then led his men to staunch the flow of Confederates and refuse the Union line. Colonel Henry R. Guss then ordered him to charge the right of the Rebel lines. Col. Guss wrote:

           The major was in command and gallantly led the van. I saw every move they made. His word to them was, ‘Now boys, we charge, and I will go first,’ and away they went with cheers. [5]

Pennypacker did indeed go first. When the 97th got within one hundred yards of the grey-clads, the rebels opened fire on them. Outnumbered 10 to 1, Galusha Pennypacker was wounded severely in the right arm. He rose and was immediately wounded in the left leg. His third attempt resulted in wounds to his right side, at which point he was forced to retire. Pennypacker was sent to recuperate at Fortress Monroe and later sent home to West Chester. He returned to the regiment in August. After the resignation of Colonel Guss on June 22, 1864, now-Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Galusha Pennypacker was picked to lead the regiment. [6]

Map of Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher, located on the peninsula of the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, was the last Confederate seaport still garrisoned. It was an earthen fort with sixteen traverses extended across the sands. On January 15, 1865, a combined land-and-air assault took place. Major Adelbert Ames’ Division was to take the fort. His first brigade (commanded by Brevet Brigadier General Newton M. Curtis) entered first. When it became stalled, Pennypacker led the second brigade, which carried the division into the fort. When the color bearer for the 97th PA fell, Lt. Col. Pennypacker picked up the flag. He led the regiment and brigade over the third traverse, but while planting the colors in the sandhill, he was severely wounded in the thigh and pelvis. The minié ball fractured the upper portion of the pelvic bone, exiting through his genital area. [7] 

Young Pennypacker was presumed to be dying. A coffin was ordered for him, and he was tended to by Sergeant Jeptha Clark, of the 124th regiment, on the beach at Fort Fisher. Sergeant Clark accompanied Pennypacker on shipboard until they reached the Chesapeake Hospital. [8] General Terry promised the young officer that he would receive a brevet promotion for his conduct that day. Terry called Pennypacker “the real hero of Fort Fisher” and remarked that the fort would not have been taken without his bravery. Pennypacker later responded:

           As to the “Hero of Fort Fisher:” There were several of them- a good many of them. – The men who carried the muskets! [9]

The capture of Fort Fisher closed the last seaport of the Confederacy. In a few months, the war would be over. Galusha was promptly promoted to Brevet Brigadier-General, making him the youngest man to hold that rank in the US Army. At twenty years old, he was not even old enough to vote for Lincoln in the 1864 election. By March 1867, six additional brevets earned him the title Brevet Major-General of the US Army. He spent more than a year recuperating from his wounds at Fortress Monroe and came home to West Chester on November 11, 1865, to a great deal of fanfare. Galusha then resigned his commission on April 30, 1866. But, with the reduction of the military, Pennsylvania was granted a colonelcy in the Regular Army, and Galusha accepted it on December 1, 1866. He served in the South during Reconstruction before transferring to Fort Riley, Kansas. He again retired from the military in 1883.

Major General Galusha Pennypacker, USA

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on August 17, 1891, for his actions and injuries at Fort Fisher. His citation reads: “Gallantly led the charge over a traverse and planted the colors of one of his regiments thereon, was severely wounded.” His appointment to Brigadier-General was made on April 23, 1904. [10]

Part of a stereopticon slide of Pennypacker in civilian clothes


[1] Obituary, New York Times, October 1, 1916.

[2] Galusha A. Pennypacker Papers, Chester County History Center,

[3] “The Making of a Hero—The life of Major General Galusha Pennypacker.” Friends of Pennypacker Mills.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Edward G. Longacre, Army of Amateurs: General Benjamin Butler and the Army of the James, 1863-1865. Stackpole Books (Mechanicsburg, PA), 1997. 104-110.

[7] Isaiah Price, History of the 97th Regiment, PA Vol. Infantry. (Philadelphia, PA), 1875. 415.

[8] Chester County History Center Newspaper Clippings. October 22, 1908.

[9] New York Times, December 20, 1914.

[10] Chester County History Center Newspaper Clippings. October 22, 1908.

4 Responses to Commanding the Regiment: Galusha Pennypacker: The Civil War’s Youngest General

  1. Pennypacker also fought near Deep Bottom on August 16, 1864. Describing the collapse of the Federal position above Fussell’s Mill under Confederate counterattacks, he wrote:
    “I have seldom been so close to the enemy before. Our corps was flanked on the left completely, and driven back. Union and rebel colors waved from the same parapet. The flag of a Virginia regiment and the flag—tattered and torn—of the 97th P. V. were planted not six feet apart. That was hot work, but we brought the flag off in safety.”
    [There were, however, no Virginia regiments on that part of the battlefield.]
    John Horn, “The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864” (Savas Beatie, 2015), 98.

    1. I am not sure how far I want to go with Pennypacker. He is amazing! There is so much about his story that needs to be told. Maybe I will start the work & someone else will finish it. Ordered the book from amazon!! Thanks for the hint.

  2. Meg, thanks for this post. I remember reading about Pennypacker in a book about Fort Fisher. Great story, very self aware and humble for someone his age.

    1. He seems to have been the same type of individual that Ellsworth was in several ways. “The ability to command men at so young an age…”

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