Monday, July 1, 2013

The Blue and the Gray

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln – November 19, 1863 

150 years ago today two great armies met in central Pennsylvania, in what would later be judged the turning point in America’s Civil war.  A number of my ancestors were in the fields around Gettysburg the night of July 1, 1863. 

George Washington Watson and his older brother Harrison enlisted as privates in Company L of the 38 Regiment of the Georgia Volunteers. They were in a number of major battles incuding Antitum, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the month of June, as part of Early's brigade, they fought at Winchester then fought skirmishes and burned bridges at York, which they reached on the 29th. They were withdrawn to push to Gettysburgh on June 30 and on July 1st they arrived. The 38th were part of the leftmost flank of the confederate line which inflicted heavy casulties and pushed into the town. They were withdrawn the evening of the first and held in reserve for the 2nd and the 3rd. On the 5th they were assigned to cover the retreat of the army. Their unit suffered 28% casulties on July 1st.
John Alexander Rutledge and his two older brothers Jessie and Micager enlisted as privates in Company H of the 16th Regiment of the Georgia Volunteers.  They fought a number of battles prior to Gettysburg, including Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  As part of Wofford’s Brigade, on July 2nd they were heavily engaged in the Wheatfield, with Company H taking heavy casualties late in the day they moved into the Peach Orchard where the fighting was equally fierce.  1/3 of Company H was killed, wounded, or missing that day.
William G. McClain joined the 1st Regiment of the Georgia Infantry State Guard.  It was moved to the 12th Georgia Artillery and then Gordon’s Brigade in late 1862.  They fought bravely in Chancellorsville, and on July 1st they arrived in Gettysburg.  At the head of Early’s Division they charged to the Almshouse in Gettysburg, but were ordered back to reinforce another part of Early’s line.  On July 2nd, they were held in reserve.
BJ Semmes joined the Company L of the 154th Tennessee as a sergeant. He fought with that group in Belmont Missouri in November of 1861.  Their next battle was at a place called Shiloh Church in April of 1862.  On the second day he was wounded and his wife, Iorantha, took him from the battlefield to nurse at their home in Memphis.  He left to rejoin the army before the city was captured by union troops in June of 1862.  Iorantha and her four children were kicked out of Memphis by William T. Sherman after her 10 and 8 year old sons hoisted a Confederate flag on their stable and staged an attack on the Union soldiers across the street.  When Sherman arrived in July he sent her away with 40 other families who had relatives in the Southern army.  In July of 1863, BJ was in Chattanooga Tennessee, awaiting orders that would make him a Major and a Quartermaster.  His brother Alex was a physician, assigned as a surgeon to Hays Brigade, part of Early’s division.  Known as the Louisiana Tigers, they fought in the first Bull Run and then were assigned to Stonewall Jackson’s brigade and participated in a number of bloody campaigns before reaching Gettysburg.  On July 2nd, they stormed Cemetery hill before retreating when no reinforcements followed.
Raphael Semmes was BJ’s cousin, and an Admiral in the Confederate Navy.  Paul Semmes, another cousin, was a brigadier general in July of 1863.  Semmes Brigade was part of McLaw’s Division, and had fought well at Chancellorsville. On the night of July 1, they were 4 miles outside of Gettysburg.  As Wofford’s Brigade, with my Rutledge relatives fought in the area that came to be known as the Valley of Death, Semmes brigade was moving through the Plum Road Ravine, to engage in what would be called The Peach Orchard.  Wofford’s tired troops were sent to assist Semmes Brigade, and Paul Semmes was mortally wounded.  He was carried off the battlefield and died July 10th.
William McClain survived that day, and fought in bloody battles though 1864.  He was taken prisoner and sent to the notorious Fort Douglas POW camp outside of Chicago where he died in February, 1865.  He is buried in an unmarked grave.  His daughter, Louzanne, my Great Great Grandmother, was 14 when he died.
George Washington Watson survived the battle and fought through many more, including Cold Harbor and the Wilderness. On April 9, 1865 he surrendered at Appommattox. His brother Harrison was promoted to sargent in 1864 and fought through every major battle. On March 23, 1865, two days before the futile attack on Fort Stedman, he deserted. George returned to Georgia, married and raised the daughter who would become my great grandmother. His brother moved to Maryland and raised a family there, but was never part of the family again.
John, Jessie and Micager survived that day, but in March 1864, Jessie and Micager were captured and died of smallpox a few weeks later in a prisoner of war camp.  John was taken prisoner in January of 1864, but he swore allegiance to the US and was drafted into the Union Army, assigned to the Illinois Calvary, and moved to New Orleans.  He developed chronic bronchitis and received a medical discharge in May of 1865.  Thomas Rutledge, my Great Grandfather, was born in 1876.
BJ survived the war, including the Battle of Atlanta.  His correspondence with his wife Iorantha, documenting their courtship and their separation during the War are now in a collection in the Chapel Hill Library and have been cited in numerous books, including Last Train from Atlanta.  His son Raphael, my Great Grandfather was 11 when the war ended.
My father discovered the truth about John Rutledge in the mid 80’s.  John’s granddaughter, my great Aunt Kate, was still embarrassed about this family secret, but of all my relatives of the civil war, John was the one who had to survive for me to exist.  His two brothers and my 3-Greats grandfather William McClain died of neglect or disease in Union POW camps.  BJ and William already had the children who would become my relatives, before the war started, but if John had made a different decision, I would not be here today.
150 years ago tonight, George, Harrison, John, Jesse, Micager, Alex, Paul, and William, were waiting to see what the next day, July 2nd, would bring, along with thousands of soldiers on both sides of the lines at Gettysburg.  All survived the next day, except Paul, but Jesse, Micager and William did not survive the War.

Thomas Rutledge, John's son, Ocie Ola Stanley, William's granddaughter
John Alexander Rutledge - 1917
Louzanne "Zany" McClain Stanley - 1919
George Washington Watson - 1862

1 comment:

  1. Wow - what a historian you are. I'm glad John survived!