It’s no surprise to the people who read this space each week that I have an affinity for making Warren County connections to the American Civil War.
I’ve written extensively about the 151st Pennsylvania through a company primarily made up of Sugar Grove men and the 111th Pennsylvania, specifically through their eyes of Capt. William J. Alexander.
There are a few to go (there were over 2,000 men from Warren County that served during the war) but this one coming next is one I hadn’t anticipated. I knew the 83rd Pennsylvania was from Erie County heavily but, as it turns out, 32 men with Warren County roots served in that regiment.
Now, I suspect that “83rd Regiment, Pennsylvani Volunteers” doesn’t mean much to anyone, except people like me who spent, well, too much time in the minutiae of the conflict.
But I suspect, if you know anything about Gettysburg, the phrase “Little Round Top” has some meaning.
And I would venture to guess that most of you – even if you don’t know where the name comes from – haved heard the words “Strong Vincent.”
Of those 32 men from Warren County, two were killed in action, one died of disease and one died in South Carolina as a prisoner of war.
Six were discharged because of wounds received and one deserted.
Two years into the war, just eight of the 32 were still in the service and present for duty during the Battle of Gettysburg, a sign of the attrition the war took on the muster rolls.
To date, I haven’t found anything particularly interesting about any of these men, though I’ll keep digging inTo a myriad of records and sources to learn what we can.
And, yes, this is a Civil War story.
But, and more importantly, it is a way to tell the story (at least what we know of it) of these men’s lives – of where they are from, what the war cost them and where they lived the rest of their lives.
There would never be enough material for me to be able to write a full story on most of these men.
But through the lens of the war, I can.
Now I’m going to go ahead and give you the end of Strong Vincent’s story.
He was mortally wounded on July 2, 1863 – struck by rounds in the thigh and groin – and died a few days later, likely without the knowledge that his sacrifice had earned him a promotion to Brigadier General.
In the weeks before the battle, he had written the following to his pregnant wife in Erie: “If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”
As he was rallying his troops on the slopes of Little Round Top, he could be heard shouting the phrase “Don’t give an inch!”
Now I’ll include a little more Vincent background later, because he’s an interesting character of the war in his own right.
But I found myself thinking a few weeks back – what would make a man do that? Could I do that? How would I respond if put in a similar life-or-death situation?
My wife was at a doctor’s appointment in Erie last month and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t go in with her.
So when I looked on the map, I realized that the Erie Cemetery was a stone’s throw from the office.
Vincent is buried there and it was an appropriate place to ponder those larger leadership, rising to the call of duty questions that Vincent answered when he turned down “safe” professional positions to remain a combat commander.
I know people often say history is boring.
I counter with this “Sure, you may have been taught history in a boring way. But you find it boring now because of the lens through which you view it.”
The veterans of the war knew that these would be stories – and places – that would be preserved through time. You see it in the memorials (Soldiers and Sailors Park in Warren is a great example) and gravestones. They knew that this war was a defining moment of their lives and they invested serious time through regimental histories and letters and the monuments to help us see how they want to be remembered.
So as I write about these men in the coming week(s), let’s look at what we know about their lives and experiences and try to put ourselves in their shoes, feel what they felt and try to picture what they experienced. Suddenly, they’re not words on the page but men whose lives have something that we can learn from today.
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