Saturday, December 13, 2008

Remembering John L. Burns

Born in 1794, John L. Burns was already a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War when he volunteered to be a combat soldier in the Civil War, at the age of 70. Barred from the fight, he worked driving wagons in support of the troops until he was sent home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was appointed constable.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, John Burns walked to the scene of the fighting and fell in with a regiment. He was later described thus, by Major Thomas Chamberlin: "(his dress) consisted of dark trousers and a waistcoat, a blue 'swallow tail' coat with burnished brass buttons, such as used to be affected by well-to-do gentlemen of the old school about 40 years ago, and a high black silk hat, from which most of the original gloss had long departed, of a shape to be found only in the fashion plates of the remote past."

He fought alongside the famous Iron Brigade, and being an accomplished sharpshooter, he shot a charging Confederate officer off his horse. As Confederates advanced and the Union line fell back, Burns was wounded in the leg, arm and chest and he was left behind in the field to fend for himself. He buried his ammo and crawled away from his rifle, convincing the Confederate troops he was just wandering the battlefield, seeking aid for his sick wife. The Confederates treated his wounds and he later crawled away to the cellar of the nearest house and was eventually taken home.

Word of his exploits and devotion to the Union cause spread quickly and the famous Matthew Brady sent his photographer Timothy H. O'Sullivan to make a picture of John Burns, recovering from his wounds at his home in Gettysburg. Posing with his rifle and crutches, Burns became a national hero. When Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the memorial there, he also met with John Burns.

1 comment:

Max said...

I like to post this image and story on

It's a great shot, as I am sure he was, too!