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.
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.
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.
Franz Benda emigrated from Bohemia to the United States at a young age. He joined the 26th Wisconsin Infantry in his new homeland, part of the much-maligned, ethnically diverse 11th Corps. His mortal wounding and death at Gettysburg left his parents destitute and badly in need of his soldier’s pension.
Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis held a variety of careers after growing up in New York City. He proved to be a natural-born leader, and he died at the head of his “Orange Blossoms” near Devil’s Den. The colonel remains an enduring part of the battlefield landscape, with a life-sized statue of him atop his regiment’s monument.
A private in the 7th Michigan cavalry, James Bedell enlisted on the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863. Having been assigned to light patrol duty and seeing only small skirmishes, Gettysburg would be both Bedell’s first and final large battle. Brutally injured and left to die after being captured, he lingered on for weeks. Following his death, he was treated as a medical oddity to be studied, the human details of his life supplanted by scientific inquiry.
Oscar Allen was just 18 years old when he signed up to serve in the famed 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. His wartime experiences chronicle the turbulent internal politics of the Civil War, as well as the diverse motivations that compelled the common Union soldier to serve. His sacrifice, made alongside so many of his peers, reveals the devastating impact of the war upon a single, small, northern community.
Rush Cady felt the call to war at the young age of nineteen and left college to fight. His expectations of army life were soon shattered, as he was in the army for nearly a year before he finally saw combat. After he was mortally wounded on July 1st, his mother made the trip to Gettysburg to comfort her dying son and eventually bring his remains home.