tv The Civil War Civilian John Burns at the Battle of Gettysburg CSPAN August 26, 2018 11:25am-12:01pm EDT
deciding to fight on the side of the union and was subsequently injured after the battle of gettysburg. timothy smith also explore some of the myths and alternate the.ons of john burns' story that has been passed on over the years the gettysburg heritage center hosted the talk. >> our next presentation, mr. timothy smith. timnd i go way, way back -- and i go way back. he is arisen from the baltimore, maryland area, and is a long-term battlefield guy here. he has authored several books. he is a former teacher and instructor at the gettysburg campus here at harrisburg community college, and he does appear regularly on pennsylvania cable network's battle series. and he has one tomorrow. and he is also a research historian with a historical society.
one thing i neglected to put within his buyout is actually tim was our lead historian at the heritage center. so, we need to add that to your resume. the topic today is on john burns. without any further introduction, i will give you tim smith. [applause] tim: thank you, tammy. i want to talk a little tonight about john burns, the hero of gettysburg, and you may have noticed on my introductory slide, i put it in quotes. i think the hero of gettysburg is the term i wish he referred to himself as. so, sometimes depending on what part of my discussion it is, it is a little ton in cheek. what peoplesdid do said he did.
so, john burns was 69 years old in 1863 at the time of the battle of gettysburg. he was born in new jersey. and he moved to the gettysburg area about 1820. and he was a well-known figure in our town. and what is interesting about it, john burns, on july 1, obtained a musket, rant on the battlefield, and was wounded -- ran on the battlefield and was wounded in the fighting. he made it back to the town and recuperated from his wounds and survived the battle. four months after the battle, abraham lincoln came to gettysburg and met abraham lincoln. a few days after the battle, the famous photographer matthew brady took his photograph in front of his house. popularitylarge after the battle. there were articles were to know about him and newspapers that we will talk about -- there were
articles written about him into a newspaper so we will talk about. he had some very good promoters. and there was an illustration done of him and a poem rio tinto about him. -- in nepal written -- and a written about him. as a taken by his story historian because he survived the battle and told a lot of peoples about what happened during the fighting. he was interviewed several times. and of course, as a challenge to historians, when you compare all the things he said about the battle, they are different. told don't mean that he his story and it got better as time goes by. it was just different every time he told it. so, one of the things i really wanted to do when i set out to
write a book about john burns is to lay out his story. discuss each thing that happened to him before, during, and after the battle, and describe the different accounts, which ones we can confirm are absolutely analyze the different things he said, and in some cases, we will never know the truth about a particular detail of his actions. but i want to tell you a little bit and illustrate some of the things we know about him. at the end, you can ask questions about the research. so, one of the things about john burns that is repeated in story after story about him that circulated after the war is that john burns was a veteran of the war of 1812. and specifically, he is interviewed, and he says that he is at the battle and gives the regiment, he gives the name of
the commander of that regiment and he gives details of the battle. the regiment he said he was and was not at the battle. that commander he gives is on a commander at that battle. the details he gives of the battle are correct, but clearly, of anyot on the roles of the unicef audit that battle. roles of any of the units of that battle. he maintained he was a veteran of the mexican war. one would suppose to be a mexican war veteran, you would have at some point travel to mexico, and he clearly did not do so any -- and he clearly did not do so. at the outbreak of the civil war, he tried to join northern infantry units, but he was too
old and he did not serve in a unit at the beginning of the war. he did manage to go to frederick, maryland and get a job as a wagon driver teamster for a union regiment. and apparently, at the battle of falling waters early in the war. he would tell the story that he was actually on the site of the battle. but it doesn't appear that he was there either. and what is fascinating about it, he is presented as being a combat veteran of many wars, and it appears to me that the first was he actually saw combat on the afternoon of july 1, 1863. and i go into detail about this in the book. he was very well known in the gettysburg area. according to his own account, when he moved here, he got a job as a cobbler. he married a local girl, barbara
hagerman. for a time, he was a cobbler. he actually was the town constable for different years on and off. at some point, he was a heavy reformedbut then, he and he was actually involved heavily in the local temperance party. and gave lectures. and i found his name in the newspaper associated with several temperance conventions and the temperance party was big in the state of pennsylvania. he attended the gettysburg methodist church, or at least his wife attended, but he occasionally showed up, according to one account, he only showed up 24 are doing about something because he liked to take sides. it seems interesting. when you read the account that were saved where peoples and burnsurns later that john
is kind of a strange figure. according to accounts, he seems to take himself a little too seriously. does not have a sense of humor at all. and because of that, he is the bud of many jokes. byas surprised and stunned the number of accounts i found workpeople were telling other peoples the jokes they had played on john burns while he was town constable. the constable is not the sheriff. he is not really a law enforcement official. the comfortable is more of a ward of the court and would go out. there were several duties he had to maintain, but he would go out and serve summons. and here is a list of the things the comfortable was responsible for. he had to keep track of all of the deer of the season and make sure all of the finger boards in the town were in proper repair. make sure no one was selling alcohol over a certain amount in
that he could enforce some of the rules, or report violations of the rules. the constable had to fill out a report for every three-month period. we had these original reports. one thing he had to do also was he had to keep track of dastardized -- of bastar children born to the town. , hehis particular report had to report of one martha gilbert who gave birth to a bastard child. and martha gilbert is his adopted daughter. war,ohn burns, after the was not that popular in the township sure. i found two peoples who claimed
-- i found two people who claim that john burns is after the father of his adopted daughter's illegitimate child. i say that because john burns has said so many nasty things about other peoples, i don't feel bad about a nasty rumor about him. burns moved around a lot. he really did not live in one place for any period of time. in my book, i detail the different places where i found he lived in adams county. for a time, he lived in bonnie bell. his wife was from bonnie bell, a 116 halfway between here in pennsylvania. but it is a time in the civil home at thed a western edge of chambersburg street. i have a map that i drew showing
where john burns lived in relationship to the road system in the town into some of his neighbors were to get an idea where he lived. he lived at that location just before the civil war, and then, i think he sold the house, and he bought the house eventually sold in 1868, and moved. and then he moved back to the house that he formally owned and rented it until he died. and so, it is fascinating. he doesn't live there for that long of a period. so, like we said, he is an unusual figure in our town structure. but everyone knows him. he also has a reputation in the accounts of being somewhat of a storyteller. on the morning of july 1, 1863, john burns left the safety of his home and ventured onto the
battlefield. one of the things i wanted to straighten out when i wrote the book was his actions on july 1. you know, if you look at books on the civil war, they mention john burns and tours of the battlefield like in booklets and audiotapes. they mention john burns as you go by the statue. and because it is one of the first that you see on your tour, invariably, he is referred to as being part of the morning action on july 1 along with iron brigade in the fighting against archer's brigade. but he is not involved in that action. this is an early illustration. it may be from 1857, 1868. it shows john burts telling andara to go to the seller he is going to go to the field and defend his country. i have a little math in the book where i detail.
he starts in his house early in the morning and goes to the seminary building. and i imagine that during the morning action of the first day at the troops are filing into town, he isst of standing at the seminary, jumping up and down, holding what appears to be an antiquated musket. some people will later claim the musket he used was in the war of 1812. he is standing there jumping up and down and then he goes back to his house. and then it is at that point were he decides to venture out into the battle. he obtains a musket, and let me tell you, there are conflicting accounts, maybe like six or seven of them as to exactly how he gets a musket, and who he gets the musket from. but he gets a civil war, rifled musket and goes to the battlefield. number four, he goes up to the volunteers and offers his
services to the kernel. -- the kernel. colonel. they thank him for his service, they suggest he cites with another unit -- they suggest he fights with another unit somewhere else. then he runs into the seven wisconsin infantry and offers the lieutenant colonel his services, and they allow him to join the unit. this was during the afternoon action before the fighting get started again, and number six, he ventures forward for the seventh but -- when the seventh wisconsin moved through the woods. it was just the for southerners make their attack on july 1. and of course, there was heavy fighting and he is positioned
right near the seventh wisconsin's monument. he is wounded in the fighting. as an and are retreating, he hobbles back through the woodlot. and number seven, just on the eastern side of the woodlot, not far from the monument were general john fulton reynolds was for a, burns is wounded final time in ends up laying on the battlefield all night. early the next morning, he crawls to a nearby house, which i have on there, number eight on seminary ridge, not far from the site of robert e. lee's headquarters. he may have seen robert e. lee and his staff. he climbed very near to the headquarters. and then eventually, some confederate soldiers talk to him and stopped a wagon coming down the chambersburg pike. and he is taken back to his house, number nine. that is basically where he
remains throughout the course of the rest of the battle. that is basically his journey on july 1. we have some illustrations. there is a famous painting that was done by a guy named smith. with thejohn burns 150th offering his services. lieutenant a famous , heidi klum per, and a heidi cooper and a major. in 1950, william pitkin was hired by an historian to record some photographs of the known sites where john burns fought on july 1, or participated in the
fighting. they took a photograph of a group of trees to the seventh wisconsin monument. in a man from the town, who was a young boy when john burns was alive, actually had gone out with john burns after the battle, and burns showed him the trees behind which he fought on july 1, and where he was initially wounded. but we talk about this, do have some paintings over the years of the fighting of john burns in the battle. and here is one of them. but he is wounded. we are not sure how many times he is wounded. he is given a pension by the federal government after the civil war. but it is a special pension past by congress and it does not appear he ever appear -- it does not appear he ever appeared before a surgeon or medical examiner.
in the records, they often had a diagram of the body showing you where the person was wounded during the fighting on the diagram, but he has no such diagram. so what we have are the accounts. and there are many accounts of his wounds describing them specifically. he was either wounded one time, or one-time in the leg. some account said he was wounded two times, three times, four times, five times. one account said seven times. and that is one of his own account. all i can say is, we know he was not wounded six times. [applause] -- [laughter] tim: but it was a wound in his ankle that brought him to the ground. said, aortunate, like i young boy in the town who john burns took over the battlefield after the fighting and showed
him different areas where he was involved in the fighting, john burns took him to the spot where he was wounded all night, and it is just east of reynolds avenue. in the background of this photograph, their artillery pieces of captain gilbert reynolds first new york light artillery, to give you an idea of where that is. it is on the slope. when he passed out and went unconscious on the afternoon of the first days' battle, a brigade of south carolinians and another brigade of north carolinians were crossing over the spot where he was laying. and moved towards seminary ridge. and 21 north and artillery pieces were firing canister into that location, so the ground around him was probably being torn up by shot and shell the
whole time he was lying there on the afternoon of july 1. he laid there on my. in the middle of the night, some he laid there all night. in the middle of the night, some confederates came over and asked him what he was doing, a civilian in the battle. he said that he was concerned about so he threw the musket away that he used as far as he could. he took on the ammunition out of his pocket, dug a hole, buried and rolled over that spot. as au was caught firing civilian fire and seven soldiers, he would be considered a bushwhacker and they would probably hang him. even if they suspected something, he was wounded and didn't look like he was going anywhere. the soldiers talk to them -- talk to him, and he gave the soldier some excuses as to why he was out there and they left him be. in various stories, he says that he told them that he lost his cow, he didn't know where the
cow was, and he got wounded looking for it, or his wife was sick and he was going through the lines to try and find a doctor to bring to his wife. his story changes depending on who he was talking to. the next morning, one of the fascinating things, is that he crawls to a nearby house. the house he crawls to his alexander riggs house. and his wife went to the methodist church with burns' wife, and he was good friends with alexander riggs. they were both shoemakers, and for a time, they had worked together. son wholexander riggs' will show william tipton the spots that i showed you in these photographs of where he was fighting and where he was wounded. this is another photograph that was taken. this is the cellar door upon which burns lay when he was wounded. and this is a photograph taken again around 1915, and we will
talk about why these photographs were taken in a moment. iggs'house was torn down in the 1950's. and in the 1960's, a parking lot was placed on top of this site. some of you may know, here is the warren map of the battlefield. and this is an overlay on a modern map, and this is underneath of the warren map. of course, this is larson's n, and of course, the riggs' house would have stood a somewhere under the parking area associated with the restaurant that was in front of the inn. and of course, it changed names over the course of many years. maybe some of you remember general lee's family restaurant, jd's grill, or the dutch
pantry, or abc. the parking lot across the street was put in in the 1960's. when the civil war trust purchase lee's headquarters a number of years ago, i immediately thought, wow, i wonder if the foundation of the riggs'house is still under that parking lot? some of you may have seen last summer, we did a dig at the riggs house site. and here i am at the cellar door upon which john burns laid after he was wounded. you can see, i am sitting where the kid is sitting at the cellar doors in the front. we convinced the trust, gettysburg college, and the historical society to go into a joint venture to dig the site. of course, it is not a part of the park property. maybe, eventually, it will be a
part of the park property. but i think we are leaning to doing another archaeological dating at the same site -- archaeological dig at the same site later this summer. eventually, burns was taken to his house and of course he was brought to his house. here is an illustration of him being taken out of the wagon, i think i have a close up of it. this would have been on the afternoon of july 2. according to burns himself, on the third of july, he is visited by some seven officers, and questioned about activities in the battle. and a later that evening, while he is in bed, shots come through the window, and a confederates are trying to assassinate him. he rolls off the bed and then under the bed. he has a lot of stories that are interested like that. he survives the battle, and survives the war and of course, becomes somewhat of a national celebrity.
maybe his story would not have been known if it wasn't for the fact that a new york newspaper writer mentioned in one of his columns that john burns, a civilian in the town, had been wounded fighting in the battle. and we are not exactly sure how it happened. but matthew brady came to gettysburg two weeks after the battle, and was looking for subjects for photographs that would be turned into woodcuts that would be used to illustrate harper's weekly magazine. in some cap, -- and somehow, he learned about it asked where he , lives, went to his house, and took photographs of john burns at his house. there are a couple of different photographs here of him. these two photographs are actually different images of john burns and his wife in front of the house. this is -- those two photographs are the only known photographs of barbara burns.
you know what is kind of interesting? barbara, you don't care much about her or read much about her, but i do have an account by a soldier in the seventh wisconsin. this soldiers said that after burns was wounded, he leaned down next to him, and burns told him if he could deliver a message to his wife that he is wounded in fighting and she needs to come and get him. he quickly told the soldier where he lived, right at the edge of town. as the soldier is running down the street some he looks over and sees burns' house. he knocks on the door and barbara appears. he explains what is going on and she needs to go out and get him. according to the account, barber says, i told him not to go out there. [laughter] tim: and apparently, does not make an effort to go get him. [laughter] tim: she is a pennsylvania german.
barbara hagerman was her name. of course, matthew brady took two photographs of burns under his porch in a rocking chair with his crutches, showing his wounded leg. and also, the musket he owned from apparently the war of 1812. it is never really claimed that that is the musket he used in the battle. but that musket is eventually sold to a private collector in gettysburg, and eventually, that musket is purchased by the pennsylvania state museum. and that musket is on display today and harrisburg at the pennsylvania -- in harrisburg at the pennsylvania state museum. there is no doubt from close-ups of the photograph that it is the exact same musket. that is fascinating. you can see it on display, the musket in the photograph. and again, i am not going to say it is the musket used in the battle, because i am pretty sure it is not. you can see there is another photograph. there were two different images
recorded of burns in a rocking chair chair on his porch. -- chair on his porch. i don't have an incredibly high resolution version you can download this on the library of congress website, and see it in extremely high resolution, if you like. so, john bairns does -- john burns does appear on the front magazineharpers weekly on, i believe 22, 1863. , august keep in mind, this is the magazine with the highest circulation of any pictoral , weekly, historical magazine at that time. they had all these interviews with soldiers that fell alongside him and civilians that knew him. and so, really, the strength of my book is the first-hand accounts of all the peoples that were involved with his story. and of course, some of the peopled i gave accounts didn't -- did not like him. and i am not sure, studying him
all my life, you know, being on the battlefield, talking about him i am not sure if i like him , or not. [laughter] tim: but, during research for the book i discovered the plot grave hadhn burns' not been purchased. i purchased it and one day we will be buried side-by-side. [laughter] and i will have lots of opportunities to speak to them at that point. ok. that is kind of the story of my book. , and i guess ie can answer a few questions if you would like. boom from c-span. we have a guy over there, so wait for the boom to come over. and said some jealousy a lot of nasty things about her. is there any truth to that?
tim: excellent. [laughter] tim: it would be my life's ambition and dream to complete a book on jenny wade. probably the greatest, living authority on the life of jenny wade. at least i tell myself that. there was this guy that was going to write a book named franklin moore. it was called "women of the war," anyone it to include a section on jenny wade in his book. but he did not know anybody that lived in gettysburg. so, he decided to write a letter if he knewns to ask any information about burns. let me see if i can find a letter. ok. you would think of the know my book a little bit better. 1866, frank more wrote a
letter to john burns. john burns answer the letter. thatave to understand jeannie with's father is not really the most outstanding citizen of gettysburg, but at is aame time, john burns constable of the court, so they knew each other pretty well. john burns gets tired of peoples asking questions about jenny wade. people would come to his lectures, and you thought about it, but what about the poor girl killed in the battle? he did not enjoy sharing the limelight with any of the cowards of gettysburg. this is what john burns wrote -- and thethis letter frank moore collection. knewew misses wade -- i mrs. wade very well. the story about her being killed
while serving union soldiers is all fiction. the only fact and the whole story is that she was killed during the battle in her house by a stray bullet. reputation for bid any further remarks." [laughter] tim: what does that mean? [laughter] she-rebel.led her a so it is true. he did write and nasty letter about jenny wade. unfortunately for him, this letter survived and we have access to it. do we have another question? nobody wants to be on tv asking a question? [laughter] tim: ok, do you want to ask one? was aemember reading he nemesis. how did he take -- tim: john barrett.
you should know that any given time, there were two constables, and there were a bunch of political parties at that time at any given election. it was an elected position. there may 3, four, or five running, but two pupil were chosen as accountable -- the two people were chosen as a constable. he was the same as john burns. i think sometimes the town constable seems to be like a job they give someone that they figure has earned it, but they don't have another means of income, so become comfortable. john barrett, his daughter was king, whoseilliam sign without the bullet hole and it. john berry has issues of his own. hadtimes -- john barrett issues of his own. but barrett and burns did not like each other.
and he is the one who was playing jokes on burns a lot. reaction afteris the civil war about burns and his notoriety. i bet you that he is very jealous. but yes, good, john barrett is another guy. and there are a lot of those with purchase my book for descendents of john barrett. i have accounts that talked about him and by him in the book. i am going to leave now and i will be outside for a while if someone wants to purchase a book, and i am sure i would be here for the next lecture that is near and dear to my heart because it will be about a book i co-authored by the co-author, who is coming you know, of course, he is very, very knowledgeable about the subject, and it will be an excellent lecture if you want to stick around. so, thanks everyone for coming. [applause]