Group promotes in-depth study, remembrance of 'horrible price' paid
During the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, the 62nd Pennsylvania Regiment marched into the “Whirlpool of Death,” otherwise known as “The Wheatfield.” On July 3, 1863, waves of blue and gray clashed and swirled in a four-acre field. Of the 426-man regiment, 175 died in the first few hours of the battle. Several men of that regiment were from Armstrong County.
To honor the memory of all who fought and those who died, an Armstrong County Civil War commemoration group, also dubbed the 62nd Regiment, will travel to Gettysburg starting this weekend through July 6.
The 62nd commander is Robert “Slim” Bowser, who is also commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, John T. Crawford, Camp 43.
“Neither the 62nd nor the John T. Crawford Camp are re-enactment groups,” Bowser said. “The beginning of July is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. There will be other Civil War groups doing re-enactments. Our group is going there to honor the memories of the brave soldiers who fought and died there. For some of us, those veterans are our ancestors.
“I had two ancestors in the Civil War. My great, great, great grandfather, Henry Wyant of the 103 Pennsylvania Infantry, died in the infamous Andersonville prison camp. My great, great, great uncle, Daniel Swigart, fought in Gettysburg in the ‘Bloody' Wheatfield Battle. He survived the war and later became a Baptist minister and visited churches throughout Western Pennsylvania. He was with the 62 Regiment, Company D, which was made up of Armstrong County men. In all there were 3,600 men from the county. About 1,000 are buried here. We want to be in that wheatfield on the 1, 2 and 3 of July.”
Bowser said the regiment will visit the Wheatfield monument and fly the regiment's colors. On July 6, they will have a wreath-laying ceremony. They will also have an encampment to which the public will be invited.
Bowser said a key aim of the regiment is to promote a better, more in-depth understanding of the Civil War, especially the different battles that took place in Gettysburg.
“The 62 Regiment fought in the four-acre wheatfield at least twice,” he said. “In just a few hours it suffered a 41 percent casualty rate. It was surrounded on three sides by the Confederate Army and was forced to retreat. About an hour later they were asked, but not ordered, to go into the field again, and they did. The tide of battle changed six times before Confederate forces were routed, but at a heavy cost in lives to both sides. In a three-day period, between 50,000 and 55,000 lives were lost.”
Bowser said that his research showed that 170,000 soldiers fought in Gettysburg, 95,000 Union soldiers and 75,000 Confederate forces. Total Civil War casualties number about 600,000 in nearly four years. In addition to the 62nd Regiment, Company D, other Armstrong County units were companies B, C and E of the 139th Regiment and the 11th Reserve, Company G of the 40th Regiment.
He said that Company D was engaged in the battle of the Peach Orchard, just about a half-mile from the wheatfield. The men of the 11th Reserve were from the Apollo area. The commanding officer was then Col. (later General) Samuel M. Jackson, a farmer and businessman. Jackson was the great grandfather of the late actor Jimmy Stewart.
Much of Bowser's information is based on “A History of Armstrong County,” Smith version, and “Gettysburg's Bloody Wheatfield” by Jay Jorgenson, White Main Books, Shippensburg. Bowser added that at least two county men died in the wheatfield battle, John Walker of the Crooked Creek area and John Long of Red Bank.
He said that some of what is written regarding the war is dependent on the author's viewpoint.
“The war was called ‘The War of Rebellion' by Union forces, but the Confederacy called it the ‘War of Northern Aggression,' he said. “The Civil War is rich in history. Watching re-enactments is great, but it's important to learn details of history that are not found in average textbooks. It's also important to understand that we are now one country united. That unity came at a horrible price.”
Tom Mitchell is a Leader Times correspondent.