Eyewitness Account of H.L. Burlingame's Capture at the Battle of Gettysburg

The lasting legacy of the American Civil War

At the time of this writing (June 2013), there are over 70,000 Civil War reenactors expected to descend in Gettysburg in the next two weeks for the 150th anniversary of the great battle. The connecting bonds of the American Civil War and the seminal Battle of Gettysburg is felt very deeply today by many descendants of veterans -- even after the passage of 150 years of history. It is so rare for a history buff to find an eyewitness account of the battle that involves a battle veteran who is an ancestor -- but that is exactly what we discovered after reading just a footnoted reference in the book "Culp's Hill" and some correspondence with the Chief Historian at the Gettysburg National Military Park. In May 2013, the Associated Press reported that the federal government is still making payments to two people who are the children of Civil War veterans. In so many ways, this war is still with us.

The 150th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment - one of the famed Bucktail Regiments

HL Burlingame was a corporal at the time of Gettysburg and he was assigned to Company G, of the 150th Pennsylvania -- one of the regiment's skirmisher companies. (See the roster of the 150th PA Vol Regiment) He and his comrades saw extensive action in the defense of McPherson's Ridge on July 1, 1863. Company G of the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was comprised of many men from McKean County and several from Smethport. Created after the fame and reputation of the original Bucktail Regiment (Kane's First Rifles, later the 42nd Regiment) had reached Washington and Secretary of War Stanton, twenty companies of Pennsylvania men were mustered and two more regiments were formed. Both of the regiments drew some troops from the so-called Wildcat District of Pennsylvania, which included McKean County. Like the 149th regiment, the men of the 150th wore distinctive bucktails on their hats. First derided as merely "Bogus Bucktails" by the veterans of Kane's First Rifles, the later Bucktail units were tested in many battles and proved to be especially formidable in the defense of Gettysburg.

Burlingame family stories in Smethport, PA by descendants of HL Burlingame
: "We have come to stay!"

The family stories about the actions of H.L. Burlingame at Gettsyburg  were carried forward through history by his son Clifford Herman Burlingame, his grandson, Frederick Clifford Burlingame, Sr. (World War I veteran) and his grandson, Frederick Clifford Burlingame Jr. (World War II veteran). The audio recording of a 1982 audio interview with Frederick Sr.'s wife, Gertrude Cooper Burlingame (see that section of this website), summarizes what had been previously passed on down about HL Burlingame at Gettysburg.

HL Burlingame survived the many hours of battle and he and his comrades (part of Stone's Brigade) fought bravely to successfully stave off the attacks of three Confederate Brigades -- Archer's, Davis', and Daniel's. The men of the150th held strategically important ground at McPherson Ridge from mid-morning until early afternoon. One of the men shouted out, "We have come to stay!". And indeed they did stay and during those critical hours, they suffered great casualties but permitted the rest of Gen. Doubleday's regiments to get into position on the other high ground of Gettysburg.

As the family story told, late in the afternoon of July 1, the men of the 150th heard their orders to retreat from McPherson's Ridge. Lt. Col. Huidekoper, with his arm broken, determined that the retreat was unavoidable to save the cannons of Reynold's Battery in place behind them. The Iron Brigade was pulling back to the left of the 150th, so the order was given to withdraw from the ridge. At that point, nearly one half of the men in the 150th had been killed or wounded in the defense of that ridge.

Again, according to the family stories, as the regiment moved from the fields back toward the town of Gettysburg, HL was shot by a wounded Confederate who was lying on the ground. HL's wound was near his ankle in his right leg. The family story went on to say that he was captured at Gettysburg and was taken to a Confederate prison camp. There, Gertrude Burlingame recalls, the wounded men were laid in cots, "side by each". HL's leg wound was cauterized by a Confederate surgeon. This staunching of the possible infection no doubt saved his leg from amputation. But not much more was passed on down about the incident.

An amazing find -- an  eyewitness account of H.L. Burlingame's capture at Gettysburg

In a book titled, "Culp's Hill", retired Gettysburg NMP Chief Historian Harry Pfanz was writing about the Union retreat through Gettysburg. In that book, in a footnote actually, he mentioned that an 18 year old boy, Henry Eyster Jacobs was at his father's home at Washington and Middle Streets in Gettysburg and heard a pounding at the door during the battle. Two Union soldiers appeared carrying a third man who was wounded. His name was Burlingame. Jacobs wrote his first hand account after the War -- but it tells much about what happened to HL Burlingame. Here is just an excerpt:

"There came a lull in the stream of runners and their hunters. Then came a thunderous pounding fell upon our door of fists and boots. I ran upstairs. One of our own Bucktails named Burlingame, wounded in the leg was there supported by a group of his comrades who would not desert him, and demanded shelter. We took him in, with the two of the others, who said they would stay with him. Half an hour later a detail of Confederates arrived and insisted on searching the house. It was impossible to conceal the wounded man. They found him in father's study. His comrades they ferreted out of the cellar.  Those they took with them,  prisoners; but Burlingame they allowed to remain with us because of his wounds. But they did not forget him. Two days afterward they returned and carried him off. His wounds, while severe were not so dangerous that he could not be moved safely."
Source:Henry Jacobs - eyewitness account

From other sources, we learned that it was troops from Georgia who found Burlingame in the Jacob's house. They transported him along with many other prisoners to Libby Prison in Richmond,Virginia. It was there that his leg wound was cauterized.

The death of HL Burlingame: He may be the last Civil War veteran to die from battle wounds

In August of 1931, HL Burlingame was ill and staying at nursing home in East Smethport. According to Gertrude Burlingame, HL's grand daughter-in-law, (source: audio transcript), the wound on his leg which had never fully healed throughout his long life, became infected. He suffered from sepsis and died. There is good evidence to believe that HL Burlingame, not famed General Joshua L. Chamberlain, was actually the last veteran of the Gettysburg battle to die from his war wounds.

(Also on this website, see excerpts from HL Burlingame's Civil War letters and the references to him in the audio tapes of the interview with Gertrude Cooper Burlingame).