Monday, May 30, 2011

"...never forget what they did here": Memorial Day 2011

As I get ready to head out into town today, for a big parade and the typical festivities here in Gettysburg, I wanted to make sure we put up something special for Memorial Day here.

PD / A Tipton cabinet card layout depicting the National Cemetery in the collection of GNMP

One of my pleasures on this holiday is to buy and place a flag on the monument to the 14th U.S. Regulars in the valley of death. Along the banks of Plum Run, the Regulars held back an onslaught from a pell-mell group of charging Confederates in what would be the final phase of the fight in the Wheatfield and Devil's Den area on July 2nd, 1863. As they retreated back across the swampy lowlands, Confederates hot on their heels, their own gunners on the slopes of the hill had no choice but to fire into the mangled mess of friend and enemy. Canister whizzed through the blue and butternut uniforms alike.

At the end of the day, my Great-Great-Grand Uncle lay dead in that field. William Henry Francis, killed at Gettysburg. We have no photo of him. He has no marked grave in the cemetery. He has no marked grave at home. He most likely sleeps beneath the sod in plum run valley where he fell. That's the only tangible place I have that can connect me to him.

So today I'll be heading down to place a flag there to honor him. He was an average soldier. He had his doubts. Nonetheless, he died that they might be free. He died that we might be free. He died that we might be free.

I'd like to share his words with you today, as he wrote them. This is a letter he wrote home in November of 1862, as the army was changing and the war seemed so uncertain to the men in the field:

Camp near Warrington Nov 13th12th /62
Dear Father
Your letter received to day
and glad to hear your were all
well. but sorry to hear of cousin
death. I feell verry well at
present. I presume you see
by the head of this that
we have changed positions
since I last wrote.
we started from Sharpsburg
the 29th and came here via
Harpers Ferry Snickers Gap
and White plains arived
here on the 9th where our next
trip is for I do not know
I hope it is for Washington
our leader is gone you cannot
immagine the disapointment
of the men by the loss of Mc Clene
all of their trust was placed in
him they fo wouled follow
him through worse than fire
and water. yes through the
regions of lower blacknes.
most of the small Officers
in the 5th group, (ours) are
resigning. what it will
amount to I do not know.
I am afraid I shall be tempted
to shoot Baxter when I get
home. with Martha Rixon I
think she done well. Emma
Gray I think is an equal
mateh, as reopeets your neighbors
I must say you have a splendid
set I wish I was there.
what ails old Stanton he must
be in a bad way.
By the way did you ever hear
whether Aunt Pulia got
that money three or four months
a go I sent you some I never
heard from I will send
more and if that does not
go I will stop sending enny
more I have no more to write
as I think of now
hopeing you will write soon
I remain you
W H Francis

PS I received a letter from
John the same day I got
I have seen the 157th NYSV
Kenyon Gleason and the boys
are well I believe they think
Soldiering is rough.==
send us a paper occationly I
dont care what it is.



  1. God bless your great-great-grand uncle for his service and bravery, and thank you for posting his letter. I love reading the letters and journals of the men who fought. I can't imagine the homesickness, anxiety, and weariness they must have struggled with on a day-to-day basis.

    I really enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Sara,

    Thanks for the well wishes, and I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

    One of my favorite things about my G-G-Grand Uncle is that he was often un-brave. Not cowardly, just scared. His letters for the most part (we only have about 5-6 from his pension files) talk about how he hopes to get away from soldier life soon. In essence, he's telling his family he hopes either the war will end or he'll desert.

    All this from a U.S. Regular, a young man who joined the career military and not simply the NY state volunteers. It speaks to the humanity of these guys. I can, just like you, relate to that fear and anxiety. I can feel that in my gut.