Imagine buying the local daily newspaper on Thursday, July 9, 1863 and perusing the four pages for interesting material, perhaps an ad, certainly any newsworthy blurbs.
Suddenly a name leaps off page 2, third column from the left, about two-thirds down the page.
The name belongs to a relative or a friend. He’s dead, wounded, or missing, one casualty among the 51,000-plus just incurred at Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania.
Thirty-five names appear in today’s paper under the subheads “Casualties In The 20th Maine” and “Casualties In The 4th and 19th Regiments,” the latter list printed by the New York Tribune and picked up by the local paper. Some families already know the bad news concerning their soldiers, but other families will learn the inked fates of their loved ones only this morning.
The initial Gettysburg casualty reports Morse-coded along the telegraph wires or arrived via the mail, written either in survivors’ letters or printed in major daily newspapers. Days could pass as a man moldered in his grave or fought amputation-caused gangrene — and his relatives and friends might not know.
But families found out as the casualty lists trickled Maine-ward from Adams County. Fourteen 20th Maine lads appeared in print on July 9.
Three had died fighting on that rocky, hardwood-studded hill anchoring the Union army’s left flank. The press identified the men as “Corp. Joseph Simpson, Co. A; J A Knight, Co. G; J Lampson, H.”
That’s all they were in print: three names occupying two lines in a newspaper column. But the folks back home knew them differently. Joseph D. Simpson hailed from Waterville, James A. Knight from Edgecomb, and Iredell Lamson (not “J. Lampson”) from Presque Isle.
The 11 wounded men were:
• From Co. A, Corp. Charles H. Reed, wounded in the wrist (in his “arm,” the press reported).
• From Co. C, privates John Tobin, his arm wounded and broken; Charles M. Beadle, described by the press as wounded “in arm”; Decatur Monk (“D Musk,” the press ID’d him), his arm wounded and broken; a “ — Hodgdon,” actually Josiah S. Hodgdon, his arm wounded; and “O L Stephens” (actually Oliver L. Stevens), wounded in his “thigh and breast.”
• Sgt. “A Knapp” (Charles A. Knapp) of Co. C was wounded in his “arm,” and although he was credited to Co. F, Capt. Charles W. Billings actually commanded Co. C. Identified as “Captain Billings” in the list of wounded, he was in sorry shape.
• “Sergt G Brindley, [Co.] G,” was described as wounded “in arm.” The 20th Maine’s casualty report published on pages 270-272 of Maine at Gettysburg does not mention a “Brindley,” however.
• Assigned to Co. D, “Corporal Cyrus Osborne” was wounded “in arm.” However, Maine at Gettysburg (page 267) places Corp. Cyrus “Osborn” (from Alna) in Co. G and describes him as “wounded, arm.”
• And Pvt. Benjamin D. Libby of Co. F (and Athens) was wounded “in shoulder” according to the press and “wounded, hand” according to Maine at Gettysburg.
The same paper identified 11 officers from the 4th Maine Infantry and 10 officers from the 19th Maine Infantry who had gone killed, wounded, or missing at Gettysburg. What the press could not know — not that anyone could know — was how many of the 11 wounded lads from the 20th Maine would die, too.
Mortally wounded, Charles Billings died in a Union hospital on July 15. Charles Beadle, from Buckfield, died on August 6. Oliver Stevens hailed from Livermore, which he would never see again; he died of his wounds on July 11.
So on this particular July 9, the local paper identified just 14 men of the “38 killed or mortally wounded, and 92 wounded,” as inscribed on the 20th Maine’s squat gray-granite monument on Little Round Top. The 14 names took up only 12 lines of type in the paper, but across Maine, people mourned their losses.
Source: Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, July 9, 1863
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.