Welcome to "Remembering the 142nd PVI". The purpose of this site is post pictures, information, and the final resting places of this regiment of the American Civil War. It seeks to tell a "bottom up" history, straight from the common soldiers themselves. If you have any information concerning the 142nd, please email me at bmonticue@gmail.com. Thank you and enjoy.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

It's finally here. The best known and most discussed battle in the entire American Civil War is now celebrating its sesquicentennial. The small town of Gettysburg, PA is undoubtedly inundated with tourists and battle enthusiasts this week as the nation remembers the turning point of our bloodiest conflict.

Among this week's festivities is the opening of Gettysburg's newest museum, the Seminary Ridge Museum, which I've written about before on this site. Seminary Ridge is named for the Lutheran Seminary that sits on the west side of town and around where much of the first day's fighting took place, and it is the location that we will be focusing on today.

Schmucker Hall, Lutheran Seminary building with cupola in the background

July 1, 1863. The First Day

This is the most of overlooked of the three days of battle. It does not have the memorable locations, such as Devil's Den or Little Round Top. It does not have the drama and personification of a movement that we see in Pickett's Charge. What it has are the awkward first steps of battle, like a child stumbling a bit before finding his rhythm. What it also has is the bloodiest and costliest day that the 142nd PA Volunteer Infantry would encounter.

After the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia started moving northward. They crossed over to the west side of the Blue Ridge mountains to move through the Shenandoah Valley. By the end of June, they had crossed over into Northern territory, and on June 30, elements of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac spotted each other west of the town of Gettysburg.

Confederate General Heth's infantry forces clashed with Union General Buford's Cavalry forces early in the morning on July 1st, while General John Reynold's Union 1st Corps made their way up from the south.

General John Reynolds
General John Buford


The 142nd was part of General Reynolds' 1st Corps, and spent the night just north of the Maryland line. That morning, while most of the Corps got up and hurried their way up the Emittsburg Road toward Gettysburg, the 142nd and the rest of the First Brigade, made its way along the back roads, notably Nunemaker Mill Road, approaching the town further west. 

By the time the 142nd made it to Seminary Ridge around noon, the infantry battle was already in full swing. First Corps commander John Reynolds was killed a little after 10:00 am.

Battle map, courtesy of The Civil War Trust
For 2 hours in the early afternoon, the 142nd was under a constant barrage of Confederate artillery fire, as well as infantry fire from the 47th and 52nd North Carolina regiments that were in very close range in front of them. Company B's commander, Daniel Wilkins stated that "We could almost see the whites of their eyes." 

Hoping to somehow turn the tide of this battle, First Brigade Commander Col.Chapman Biddle grabbed the 142nd's colors and led a charge against the 47th NC. The charge did not last long and was quickly repelled, sending the 142nd retreating back toward the Seminary building.

It was during this charge that the 142nd's commanding officer, Col. Robert P. Cummins was mortally wounded. He was captured and taken to the hospital that was set up in Schmucker Hall, the Lutheran Seminary's building.

The 142nd retreated and ran back through the streets of Gettysburg, to Cemetery Ridge on the other side of town. Co. F's Sergeant-Major, Jacob Zorn described it in his diary this way:

"...unfortunately for us the Rebels come in on our left flank wich forced our line back. back back until at last the Whole Column broke to the Rear in confusion many going right for the City. and the Eleventh Corps retreating through the Streets caused the Streets to be Jamed full of Retreating Soldiers and Artillery and as soon as the Rebels got their Artillery in position they threw Greap and canister through the Streets Just Raking them from one end to the other the men broke out in evry direction through houses and any thing that come in the way. C.P.HEFFLEY & I Scurried up Main St to the upper end of town where we were cut off and had to Surrender..."

Sgt-Major Zorn was paroled a month later.

When the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry arrived on the farm fields of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863, the regiment numbered 336 officers and men. By the end of the day, they lost 141 men who were either killed or wounded, and another 70 men missing or captured.

The 142nd reformed on Cemetery Ridge where they remained for the next two days, getting a front seat view to Pickett's Charge on July 3rd. On July 4, the 142nd joined the Union Army in chasing General Lee's army back down across the Mason-Dixon line into Maryland. That same day, General Grant defeated the Confederates at Vicksburg, securing the Mississippi River for the Union army. The momentum of the war, in both the Eastern and Western Theaters, shifted in the Union's favor, and all on the 4th of July.

Works Cited:

Croner, Barbara. A Sergeant's Story. 1999. Closson Press, Apollo, PA.

Downey, James W. A Lethal Tour of Duty. Master's Thesis. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Dreese, Michael A. The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg. 2002. McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC.

Martin, David G. Gettysburg July 1. 2003. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.

Warren, Horatio N. Two Reunions of the 142d Regiment, Pa. Vols. 1890. The Courier Company, Printers, Buffalo, NY.