Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gettysburg Lore, Part 3: John Burns at Gettysburg

Gettysburg Lore, Part 3

John Burns

Statue of John Burns on the Gettysburg battlefield

Born in New Jersey in 1793, John Burns was a resident of Gettysburg.  As a younger man, Burns had volunteered and fought in the War of 1812, and again for the Mexican War.  In 1861, he volunteered again, but was rejected for his advanced age.  He did work as an army teamster for a time, but by 1863, he had been elected as town constable.

As the opening day of the battle descended on the shocked residents of Gettysburg, John Burns, nearly 70 years old, picked up his .75 caliber flintlock smoothbore musket, and marched out the Cashtown Road to fight alongside the Union soldiers.  Wearing a swallow-tail blue coat and a high silk top hat, Burns rather stood out on the battlefield.  Col. Wister of the 150th Pennsylvania Vol. Inf. Recommended he fight over in the McPherson woods, since it was safer there, but Burns joined the skirmish line up front, loading and firing.  He had acquired a more accurate Enfield Rifle, and, by his record, loaded and fired at least 28 shote, three of which he claimed found their mark.  In the fighting on the first day, Burns suffered three wounds---in the arm, thigh, and lower leg.  The Federals retreated, leaving him on the ground, wounded.  When the Confederates found him the next morning, they contented themselves with his explanation that we was just a civilian who had lost his way home---so they helped him home.  
After the battle, Constable Burns with bandaged wounds and his famous flintlock

When Abraham Lincoln came to participate in the dedication of the Soldiers’ Cemetery there on November 19, 1863, the person the President most wanted to meet was John Burns.  Burns died in peace in 1872.

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