Looking back on Remembrance Day, 2011

Posted on November 20, 2011 by


I’ve been to Gettysburg lots of times, but have only been there twice for Remembrance Day. My first Remembrance Day was in 2002, as a commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans camp. Working in the spirit of a Blue-Gray reunion that had taken place, between Confederate veterans of my home county, and Union veterans of Carlisle, Pa., I worked with the Sons of Union Veterans camp from Carlisle, in getting as many of our members as possible to Gettysburg for the day… almost a decade ago. We had a pretty good turn-out, met, initially, at the Pennsylvania Monument, and the day went exceptionally well (if I can ever find the picture, I’ll post it here).

On that day, I came aware of my Confederate ancestry, and knowing very little in the way of Union ancestors. If I recall correctly, we spent some time, that day, looking (once again) at many of the sites associated with my Confederate kin (and a lot of them were present at the battle)… from Culp’s Hill to Seminary Ridge.

Yesterday, I came to Remembrance Day under different circumstances… as a commander of a department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and having, after some twenty years, abandoned my membership in the SCV, several years ago, for a number of reasons… though I most certainly did not abandon interests in my kin who wore gray.

As in the previous Remembrance Day, yesterday was also quite a day, starting with ceremonies held at the Albert Woolson Monument, and followed-up with participation in the parade that made its way through the town. Once again, I enjoyed good company among others who were there… but this time, I spent it with others… all of us sharing that bond that we have to our respective ancestors who served the Union.

At the Woolson Monument event.

As this is Remembrance Day, as in the other day, when I was present, I sought out the sites where my relatives served… this time, those in blue. Regretfully, I know very little as to the location of my closest related ancestor in blue, in the battle (the regiment was serving as scouts and guides mostly… and I think most of those were from Co. C of Cole’s Cavalry… local boys… while others were back in Maryland, watching out for the B&O RR and C&O Canal), and have only visited the site where a distant cousin (second cousin, five times removed) served as an officer of the Pennsylvania Reserves, near Little Round Top, and in the Wheatfield. Yet, I arrived yesterday, with new knowledge… of other relatives (recently discovered, when going through my data on the Nicholson family) who served in blue, who were present.

Still, first cousins, five times removed, seems just about as distant as a cousin who is a second cousin, five times removed… that is, until, you put yourself out of the picture, and the people who lived back then, in the picture. Here’s what I mean… my fourth great grandmother was a sister to Jesse Columbus Nicholson, and Christopher Columbus Nicholson. Their children were all raised together in Nicholson Hollow. She knew his boys (her nephews), and probably saw them regularly (remember, it was close living in Nicholson Hollow), up until the time they left the hollow, with their parents (her brothers), around 1859. In short, they weren’t strangers to my lineal Nicholson ancestors.

Who knows if they kept up with each other after they moved away, but… those boys she knew into their teens, went on to wear blue (by current count, in excess of twenty Nicholson kin)… and, at least three of them were with the 7th West Virginia Infantry, at Gettysburg… Newton, James, Silas.

Before I went to Gettysburg, I knew that James was wounded there…

… but, I didn’t quite understand the circumstances of the action in which they were involved. I pulled-out my copy of Harry Pfantz’s book, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, and tried to begin to make sense of it, between the three mentions of the regiment in the book, and the markers found in the Historical Marker Database…

I originally sought the main monument, but as Craig Swain pointed out, there are three markers, in addition to the monument for the regiment.

So, twice yesterday, I scoped out the location. First between the Woolson Monument ceremony, and later, after the parade. During the latter visit, it all began to come together.

In short (Pfantz covers it in two chapters, of almost 30 pages)… while the 7th West Virginia was in a comfortable position back along the Taneytown Road, at Zeigler’s Grove, Harry Hays’ Louisianians, and Robert Hoke’s Tarheels (under Isaac E. Col. Avery) swept across the fields, from Winebrenner’s Run, in an arc-like attack, just before dusk, upon the line of Adelbert Ames’ 1st Division of the 11th Corps, along brickyard Lane, just under the brow of East Cemetery Hill.

Close-up, showing the area of the attack. This is from a larger map, from the Civil War Preservation Trust.

Hays' assault, showing the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse in the background. Sketch by Edwin Forbes.

After fierce fighting, the Confederates punched through the line and began sweeping up the hill, toward the lunettes where the batteries of Ricketts and Wiedrich were planted.

The fighting at the guns, as portrayed in the bas relief inset of the 73rd Pennsylvania Infantry monument, just behind the position of Wiedrich's guns, and to the left of the Howard statue.

Interpretive marker for the action here.

In an effort to shore-up the line, and push back the Confederates, Samuel S. Carroll’s “Gibraltar Brigade” (the 7th West Virginia being one of the regiments in the brigade), of the 2nd Corps, 3rd Division, was rushed to meet the assault. Moving through Evergreen Cemetery in the dark, the brigade emerged and formed to the right of the cemetery gatehouse.

The Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse, along the Baltimore Pike.

Because the ground to their front was heavily occupied with battery horses, and strewn with material, the brigade could not move in battleline, but stepped forward with no more than a 75 yard front. When the brigade was formed, Carroll “in his clarion voice,” commanded, “Halt! Front face! Charge bayonets! Forward, double quick! March! Give them ____!” The 14th Indiana lead the way, toward Rickett’s guns, followed by the 7th West Virginia, and the 4th Ohio.

The view, as seen from near the Baltimore Pike, opposite the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse. The monument to the 7th West Virginia is on the right of the photo. The Oliver O. Howard statue is to the left of that, amidst the lunettes where Wiedrich's battery stood. Rickett's battery was just to the right of the interpretive sign, which is to the right of the 7th WV monument.

From Pfantz book… details of the action that occurred as Carroll’s brigade rushed down the hill:

Carroll’s brigade charged through Rickett’s battery and probably through Reynolds’s as well, sweeping the Confederates from Rickett’s guns and driving them down the hill. The Hoosiers [14th Indiana] advanced at a double-quick as rapidly as they could int he darkness, some of them probably stumbling over the bodies of wounded and dead men that must have been in their path. The charge went over the crest of the hill and down its east slope…

The monument to Rickett's battery. Carroll's brigade charged through the guns here, and rushed down the hill below, meeting what amounted to a dying-out assault by Hays' Louisianians. Note also, to the right, and behind, stands the statue of Gen. W.S. Hancock, commander of the Second Corps, to which the 7th West Virginia belonged.

If you were standing here on the evening of July 2, you would have seen the 7th West Virginia move in front of you, from right, at an angle, down the hill to the left.

… until the Indiana line reached the wall along the lane at the base of the hill. The Hoosiers halted there and fired two or three volleys into the darkness. When there was no return fire and it seemed that the enemy had disappeared from their front, Carroll ordered them to cease fire.

During the charge, the brigade received a brisk fire from behind the wall to its left. Col. John Coons of the 14th Indiana rushed toward the wall and shouted, “Who are you?” Someone answered “Union” from out of the darkness, but there were more shots. Coons emptued his revolver in the direction of the voice, and his regiment went on. Colonel Carroll turned the 7th West Virginia toward these attackers and drove whatever enemy there was there away.

Looking back up the hill, from the point where the charge of the 7th West Virginia ended. The statue at the top is that of O.O. Howard.

As the brigade marker, back at the top of the hill, indicates, Carroll’s men were put into line along Brickyard Lane, and remained there through the end of the fighting on July 3. While, unlike their comrades in the rest of the Second Corps, they were not exposed to the fighting that occurred as a result of “Pickett’s Charge”, they were subjected to sniper fire from the town, as well as artillery fire.

The marker for Carroll's Brigade. Note the monument to the 7th West Virginia just behind the "shoulder" of this marker, to the right.

Looking atop, and to the front-right of the marker for the July 3rd position of the 7th West Virginia Infantry marker

Looking atop the marker of the July 3rd position for the West Virginia, out into the fields over which Hays' Louisianians advanced on the evening of July 2nd.

From the July 3 position marker of the West Virginia Infantry, looking back up the hill down which they charged on July 2. The O.O. Howard statue is at the top. The road you see just in front of this marker is Wainwright Ave.

Walking back up the hill, let’s take a look at the monument to the 7th West Virginia Infantry…

Looking from the left-rear of the monument, toward the position of Rickett's guns.

Looking at the plaque and inscription, on the back of the monument.

And, oh yes, this is something, in particular, that strikes home with me…

This, dear readers, is a reminder. This is a symbolic “Golden Horseshoe”*, from Alexander Spottswood’s Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. The “Knights”, of course, made their exploratory journey into the Shenandoah Valley, in 1716. This is solid Virginia history, yet, portrayed on a monument to West Virginia soldiers. Spottswood, in his “Golden Horseshoe” adventure, never made his way into what is known as West Virginia, yet, for the non-West Virginia Virginians who were in the ranks, I wonder if this took on a special meaning. To me, it’s yet another reminder of solid Virginia Unionism, especially when I consider my Nicholson kin, who were born and raised in Madison County, east of the Blue Ridge Mountains… the same mountains that were crossed by Spottswood and his party of “knights”.

It also dawns on me that, no matter whether I reflect on my first Remembrance Day, or yesterday’s Remembrance Day, I was remembering, and reflecting on Southerners… all who had the courage to stand for what they believed… and all worthy of recognition in the larger history that is that of the South (as Brooks Simpson also took note of recently).

It makes me wonder… what are those Southerners, who are so unwilling to embrace this other aspect of the Southern history of the Civil War, so afraid of?

In fact, this brings to mind a quote, from the movie Gettysburg

The same God, same language, same culture and history, same songs, stories, legends, myths – different dreams. Different dreams.

Indeed… and not necessarily different, from the North-South angle, but when considering Southerners, by themselves.

Ultimately, I’m marking this up as a personally fulfilling day, for me. I can now go to this amazing battlefield, and reflect on a broader scale, about how my closest kin… all Southerners… on both sides… saw the battle, and, perhaps, reflected on why they were there.

Of the eleven known West Virginians buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery, with the exception with the one at the end of this line, all of these are from the 7th West Virginia Infantry.

Badge of the 2nd Corps, 3rd Division



*The medal, ribbon, and clasp shown on the monument was the badge of the 7th West Virginia Veterans Association. The horseshoe on top, which contains the inscription “We Have Crossed the Mountains,” is the Spottswood award. It was named after colonial Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Alexander Spottswood. He played an important part in encouraging the settlement of Western Virginia. The trefoil, or cloverleaf, below the red, white and blue ribbon is the symbol for the Second Army Corps, to which the 7th West Virginia belonged. It is inscribed “7 W. VA. ROMNEY TO APPOMATTOX.”

Image from "Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments as Told by Battlefield Guides", by Frederick W. Hawthorne, , 1988 (page 106).