Brothers in the 8th Virginia

Battle flag of the 8th Virginia. The regiment’s flag was captured by the 16th Vermont at Gettysburg. (Public Domain)

The 8th Virginia Regiment charged toward the stonewall on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, as part of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge during the battle of Gettysburg. Sometimes called “The Bloody Eighth, this regiment lost nearly 70% of its strength in the charge. This regiment is difficult to determine official strengths and losses. According to one set of numbers, 243 men started the attack and only 75 answered roll call afterwards.

The regiment mustered at Leesburg in May 1861, after recruiting from surrounding counties in northern Virginia. Their baptism of fire took place at First Bull Run. During the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, the regiment boasted its highest enlistment number: 780 soldiers. Battles throughout that year along with the usual bouts of illnesses thinned the ranks prior to Gettysburg. As the Confederate Army of Norther Virginia headed into Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863, “The Bloody Eighth” marched in Garnett’s Brigade of Pickett’s Division.

On the afternoon of July 3 after an intense artillery barrage, the Confederate infantry attack intended to break the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge formed lines of battle and stepped off. The 8th had approximately three-quarters of a mile of open ground to cover. When the regiment hit the Emmitsburg Road and came in range of their enemy’s rifles, they angled toward the Codori Farm and mixed with regiments of Kemper’s brigade as they closed toward “The Angle.” By this time, all the 8th’s field officers and many of the company officers 0had been killed or wounded, leaving a lack of leadership. At least six of the regiment’s members reached the infamous stonewall. The 16th Vermont captured the battle flag.

Among the men who charged and fell in the ranks of the 8th Virginia at Gettysburg were several sets of brothers. While not uncommon in Civil War regiments, the large numbers of siblings in the regiment is noteworthy. Continue reading

Posted in Battles, Regiments | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The “Dutch” Artillery Sergeant Declares He Is NOT Retreating

The 123rd New York Infantry, part of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac, built substantial earthworks on Culp’s Hill on July 2, 1863. However, as the Confederate attacks on Day 2 of the battle of Gettysburg pressured the Federal left flank first, the 123rd New York became part of the XII Corps contingency that left Culp’s Hill (right flank) and hurried toward Cemetery Ridge and points threatened as the Confederates pushed through the exposed III Corps and dashed toward the heart of the Union line.

In the regimental history is an interesting incident during their journey from Culp’s Hill toward the fighting lines, and it involves an artillery sergeant and a hurried mission: Continue reading

Posted in Artillery, Battles, Immigrants | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sykes, Chamberlain disagree on who sent Vincent up Little Round Top

The 20th Maine Infantry’s veterans read the air while positioned near Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.

While home on leave in early February 1863, Col. Strong Vincent posed for a photographer at Dolph Bros/ in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Library of Congress)

Along with the other soldiers in Col. Strong Vincent’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Division (Brig. Gen. James Barnes), V Corps (Maj. Gen. George Sykes, effective June 28), the Maine boys had endured the rain- and scorching sunlight-plagued march north from Falmouth, Virginia before arriving at Gettysburg early on this Thursday.

The Mainers felt the heat, certainly unfamiliar at home, but typical in a sultry southern Pennsylvania summer that could resemble central Virginia’s, with a merciless sun leaving men perspiring badly, the sweat clinging to their skin.

Continue reading

Posted in Battles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saving History Saturday: American Battlefield Trust Battlefield Restoration Projects

The American Battlefield Trust is currently fundraising to do building demolition and land restoration. To return the land to its wartime appearance, on three battlefields.

At Fredericksburg, the Trust is needing to take down five modern houses on land at the southern end of the battlefield. Once they return the land to its wartime appearance this land, along modern-day Benchmark Road, will be turned over to the National Park Service for inclusion in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and will eventually provide access to the Meade Pyramid. The costliest of the three projects, it’ll take at least $125,000 to restore this important land.

Continue reading

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What if John Reynolds had not been killed at Gettysburg?

Alfred Waud’s sketch of Reynolds death.

John Reynolds’s unexpected death on July 1, 1863, in the opening hours of America’s most famous battle, has elevated him to near-mythic stature. His fans are tantalized by the possibilities his survival might have offered (no less so than Stonewall Jackson fans who are likewise tantalized by What Ifs). I’m not a Reynolds fanboy, per se, but asking about his possible survival does provide us with an excellent opportunity to better understand what was supposed to happen on July 1, 1863. Would it have happened that way had Reynolds lived? Continue reading

Posted in Battles, Leadership--Federal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Weekender: Gettysburg 159th

It’s the 159th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg this weekend. If you can’t be there yourself but wish you could be, the American Battlefield Trust is offering the next best thing: live videos all weekend long.

Watch along here on the Trust’s YouTube page:

Garry Adelman, Kris White, Sarah Kay Bierle, and a bevy of guests will go through the action, day by day. You can also follow along on ABT’s Facebook page.

Get your Gettysburg fix with the American Battlefield Trust!

Posted in Civil War Events, ECW Weekender, Preservation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

John Burns: The Cantankerous Neighbor

John Burns, photographed after the battle.

John Burns of Gettysburg seems to have several images in Civil War memory. The grim-looking fellow seated in a rocking chair when his photograph was taken. The old, oddly-dressed man who appears alongside enlisted Union volunteers with an ancient musket, wanting to take some shots at the Rebels. And the idea of a nice, elderly hero who walked with President Lincoln through the street of Gettysburg on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, as they went to a church to hear Charles Anderson’s address.

Most of those memory snapshots might have been unfamiliar to those who know John Burns in real life. Most of his neighbors didn’t have great things to say about him…until after he got famous (and some not even then!). There are so many stories and legends about Burns that it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. For an in-depth study, check out Timothy H. Smith’s book, John Burns (2000).

Today, let’s take a little closer look at a few accounts of cantankerous fellow and his famous volunteerism during the first day of the battle of Gettysburg—July 1, 1863.

Continue reading

Posted in Battles, Civilian | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Tardy Daniel Sickles and the First Slow Steps Toward Controversy

When people think of Dan Sickles at Gettysburg, the first thing that comes to mind is his ill-fated move toward the Peach Orchard on July 2. Ordered to hold a position that extended the Union line south from Cemetery Hill to the northern slopes of Little Round Top, Sickles instead advanced a mile forward to the high ground around the Peach Orchard—a move informed by Sickles’s unfortunate experience at Chancellorsville’s Hazel Grove two months earlier. (Eric Wittenberg’s 2015 post here offers some details.).

Army of the Potomac commander George Gordon Meade was flabbergasted by Sickles’s move. By the time he could do anything about it, though, Sickles’ found himself hip-deep in Confederates—bad enough that it literally cost him his right leg. The episode triggered one of the war’s ugliest political fights, pitting the self-serving Sickles and the dutiful Meade.

But the tension between the two men started well before Sickles’s Peach Orchard move. Continue reading

Posted in Campaigns, Leadership--Federal, Personalities | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Unpublished: Conclusion

We’re wrapping up the blog series “Unpublished” with the usual end-of-series list of all the posts. Sending a big thank you for the writers and to all the blog readers for making this series interesting, lively, and unique.

We hope it may inspire you to enjoy some archive work to read and research from unpublished resources. Or maybe you’ll consider sharing or donating unpublished, historic family papers to an archive for safekeeping and further study!

Unpublished: An Introduction

Unpublished: Learning about the Civil War in Notre Dame’s archives (Max Longley)

Unpublished: A Trio of Favorite Unpublished Primary Sources from the Civil War and Beyond (Neil P. Chatelain)

Unpublished: Transcribing for Research & Publication (Sarah Kay Bierle) Continue reading

Posted in Primary Sources | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Unpublished: Chatting about Civil War Women’s Writings

A couple weeks ago, a few of the women at Emerging Civil War discussed unpublished primary sources on a Zoom call. The conversation lasted nearly two hours and rambled a bit. While the notes have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity, we’ve tried to keep the feel of the discussion between Cecily Nelson Zander, Meg Groeling, Sheritta Bitikofer, Caroline Davis, and Sarah Kay Bierle. (Bierle took and edited the notes with everyone’s permission.)

  1. Are there different factors or challenges to consider when approaching women’s unpublished primary sources?

Cecily: Scarcity is a huge problem. We have lots of men’s memoirs, and women saved letters from their male friends and relatives. In that process, women preserved history but often left out their own stories. When we look at what look at what me wrote to their wives and daughters, and the published and unpublished primary sources by women, it’s clear that women had a significant role in the war behind the scenes. As far as what’s been published, we have a lot of Southern women’s writings. There should be many Northern women’s voices sitting unpublished in archives. I would have to have more Northern women’s voices in print, not just looked at in the libraries. A little more “Little Women” and a little less “Gone With The Wind.” (smiles)  Continue reading

Posted in Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments