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Wisconsin in the Civil War

An Old Man Yearns to Fight at Gettysburg

At the start of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, an elderly Pennsylvania man approaches General John B. Callis to ask if he can fight with the 7th Wisconsin Infantry in an upcoming battle.

Old John Burns came to the Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers of the Old Iron Brigade at Willoughby's Run, west of Gettysburg, on the 1st of July, 1863, after we, the Iron Brigade, had captured Gen. Archer's brigade in the first charge in the morning about ten o'clock. The old man came up and asked me if that was my regiment. I answered, yes. He had an old flint lock gun in his hands and came to a present arms and said, "Can I fight in your regiment?" I replied, "Old man, you had better go to the rear, you may get hurt." He replied, "Hurt, tut, tut, I've heard the whistle of bullets before." I insisted on his going to the rear. He insisted on fighting. I then said, "Where's your cartridge box?" He patted his pants pocket and said, "There's my bullets, and here's my powder horn," pulling an old-fashioned powder horn from his blue swallow-tail coat pocket, "and I know how to use them." "Well, old man, if you will fight, take this gun," and handing him a nice silver-mounted rifle we had captured with some of Archer's men, I gave him the cartridge belt. He declined to wear the belt, but filled his pockets with ammunition.

At this time nothing but skirmishing was going on in our front and he got restless, went toward the skirmish line and to it and fought nobly until I called the skirmishers in and made preparations to get out of that little end of a V, as we were flanked on right and left. We fought our way out as best we could, and in this move John Burns was wounded three times and I lost sight of him and was shot myself. John Burns and I were left on the battlefield badly wounded, where I lay forty-three hours. Burns told me afterwards his friends took him off home after the rebels had advanced over him and through the town.

Source: Aubery, Cullen B. "Echoes from the marches of the famous Iron Brigade : unwritten stories of that famous organization," page 58.

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John Burns.
John Burns.

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General John B. Callis.
General John B. Callis.

WHI 3904
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