In 1861, Adolphus Wagner, a native of the Grand Duchy of Baden, joined the ranks of the 39th New York, aka the Garibaldi Guard. It was the most diverse regiment in the Union Army, its ranks made up of men from nearly fifty different countries. It is remembered as one of the most colorful regiments of the American Civil War, but also one of the most controversial. In the years leading up to Gettysburg, Adolphus would bear witness to mutinies, ethnic riots, high-ranking court-martials, and more. Despite their controversial beginnings, the Garibaldians ultimately proved their mettle at Gettysburg, where Adolphus was mortally wounded on July 2. He lingered on for nearly two months in a Union hospital, reflecting the experience of thousands of Civil War soldiers who did not face their fate immediately on the battlefield, but slowly met their demise with a painful whimper, far from the loving touch of friends and family. His story speaks to the myriad contours of immigrant-soldiers’ experiences in America during the Victorian era, and the important international context and geo-political framework in which the American Civil War unfolded.
An impoverished farm laborer from the northern Piedmont of North Carolina, Ezekiel Wilmoth held $50.00 to his name in 1860. At twenty-seven years old he was the father to a young family, including his wife Martha aged twenty-five, his son Bird (5), and his daughters Tallitha (3) and Elizabeth (6 months). As a farm laborer, he held little status in the hierarchy of the Old South. Nonetheless, he was still a white man, free from chattel slavery, able to sell his labor as he pleased, move as he wished, own property, and vote. In 1861 he likely voted for secession, as he enlisted May 20, 1861, the first day of the state’s new found ‘independence’ within the Southern Confederacy. Fighting with the 21st North Carolina Volunteer Infantry from First Manassas to Gettysburg, he was a veteran by the time he arrived on the field July 1, 1863. However, he fought not with rifle, but with a fife, a martial instrument utilized by militaries on both sides of the war for communication, command and control, and comradery. He likely perished in the fighting around the Brickyard and through the streets just northeast of town on July 1st.
An Irish immigrant who fled the Irish Potato Famine, John Carroll settled in New Orleans, where he began to construct a new life. He established strong cultural ties with the Irish American community while working as a laborer for eleven years. In 1860, Carroll became a dance professor, which connected him with the middle and upper classes of New Orleanians, whose daughters he instructed. He enlisted at Camp Moore in order to protect this fragile new life that he built for himself in Louisiana and to prove that he was an American. Carroll fought in every major engagement in the eastern theatre of the war through the Battle of Gettysburg, before tragically losing his life in the second day of the fighting.
Only nineteen at the time of his enlistment, Thomas Seymour seemed ill-prepared for military life. He was used to hard labor and factory discipline, but no prior experiences would have adequately prepared him for his military service. Hailing from a family with both Northern and Southern roots and originally residing in Philadelphia and Baltimore, for whatever reason, he cast his lot with the state of Delaware when he enlisted in the army. At the age of twenty, Thomas received his “baptism of fire” at Antietam as a private. By the time the 1st Delaware fought in the Battle of Gettysburg two years later, Thomas and his fellow soldiers were veterans of combat. Thomas proudly carried the regimental flag into Gettysburg as a color sergeant; a role which marked him as a prime target on the battlefield. He gallantly upheld this duty until he met a brutal end during the Pickett-Pettigrew Assault, when a cannonball hit him directly in the chest as he guarded the 1st Delaware regimental flag.
A family man at his core, Elijah Hayden deeply loved his wife and two children, but when war broke out in April 1861, he signed up for a three-month term. As soon as his term ended, he immediately re-enlisted for another three years, knowing that his country needed him just as desperately, if not more, than his family did. Despite numerous struggles with illness, homesickness, personal loss, and the stresses of combat, Elijah remained committed to the Union cause and his comrades, all the while maintaining an active correspondence with his family at home. Rising through the ranks, he earned the deep admiration of his subordinates whom he inspired through his personal demonstrations of bravery, loyalty, and persistence—qualities he exemplified through his actions during his small but valiant regiment’s stand against Pickett’s Charge, which ultimately took his life.
A young Canadian immigrant who grew up in an impoverished Vermont household surrounded by staunch republican politics, Marcell impatiently awaited his turn to perform his patriotic duty to his adopted country while supporting his widowed, invalid father through his army pay. Gettysburg would be his first and last battle. Left out of the heat of battle on July 2 as his fellow Vermonters rushed forth in defense of Cemetery Ridge, Marcell would finally receive the chance to prove his martial mettle during his regiment’s repulse of Kemper’s brigade during Pickett’s Charge on July 3. In the midst of the Vermonters’ counterattack, Marcell would fall with a bullet to the head and eventually be interred as an unknown in Soldiers’ National Cemetery . Years later, his surviving comrades, haunted by memories of their youth and drawn together by their shared experiences in battle, would return to Gettysburg and proudly record the history of their regiment in stone and with the pen, recalling the courage of the fallen and those who survived the war.
Mitchell A. Anderson was 24 years old in 1863, meaning he was born around 1839 in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was born into a family of great influence, largely due to the status of his father, Reverend Thomas Constantine Anderson. More often known as T.C. Anderson, Thomas served as a circuit minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian […]
Born in Wiltshire, England, Charles Appleton emigrated to Concord, Massachusetts in 1854 where he worked as a farm laborer. In 1862, possibly motivated by the political activism of his historic hometown as well as by the steady pay afforded by military service he said goodbye to his wife and two young children and enlisted in the Union Army as a Sergeant in the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry. Appleton would receive a mortal wound in Gettysburg’s bloody Wheatfield , joining the ranks of Concord patriots who sacrificed their lives for ideals that stretched back to the Revolutionary War itself.
Minion F. Knott grew up in the sharply-divided state of Maryland on the eve of the Civil War. He served in a Union unit in 1861 before joining the 2nd Maryland Battalion, C.S.A. in 1863. Mortally wounded in the Confederate attack on Culp’s Hill, Knott died at Camp Letterman, within 15 miles of his home state, and through administrative error was buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. His final resting place symbolizes the complex contradictions and themes that characterized his life and his home state.
A young, single farmer from Opelousas, Louisiana, Horthere Fountenot served in Company F of the Eighth Louisiana Infantry, participating in the night-time assault on Cemetery Hill on July 2 prior to his mortal wounding on July 3 in the streets of Gettysburg. His story is at once contrasted with an agonizing, anti-climactic death in a military hospital near Gettysburg and the romantic, martyr’s death depicted on the Louisiana State Monument.