Sunday, June 23, 2013

John L. Burns At Gettysburg

John L. Burns
  John L. Burns was born on September 5, 1793. He was a veteran of the War of 1812, fighting in numerous battles. He had tried to enlist during the Mexican War and the Civil War but was rejected because of his age. He did serve as a teamster for the Union Army but was sent home against his will. He was appointed constable of Gettysburg. When Confederate General Jubal Early briefly occupied Gettysburg before the battle Burns stoutly resisted Early's authority and was jailed. When Early left Burns was released but he arrested all the Confederate stragglers he could find. On the first day of the battle he grabbed his flintlock rifle. On his way to join the fighting he encountered a wounded Union soldier and asked if he could use the soldiers more modern weapon. The soldier gave Burns his musket. 

  Burns approached Major Thomas Chamberlain of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry and asked permission to fall into line of battle. He fought alongside the Iron Brigade as a sharpshooter and in one case he shot a charging Confederate officer off of his horse. As the Union Army retreated he was shot in the arm, the leg and received several minor wounds in his chest. The Union soldiers were forced to leave him behind. He crawled away leaving his weapon and burying his ammunition. When the Confederates found him he was able to convince them that he was a civilian noncombatant that was wounded while trying to get help for his invalid wife. Confederate surgeons dressed his wounds. If his true identity had been discovered he could have been hung under the rules of war as a bushwhacker. He was able to crawl to the cellar of the nearest house and was later taken to his home. After the battle Burns became a national hero and was photographed by Timothy O'Sullivan, a Matthew Brady photographer. Lincoln insisted on meeting him before giving the Gettysburg Address. In the last two years of his life his mind began to fail and he wandered the country. In the winter of 1871 he was found destitute and dying of pneumonia in New York City. He died on February 4, 1872.

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