Gettysburg, Pa. –Recognized as one of the pivotal battles during the Civil War, Gettysburg is the site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and a bloody battle that lasted for three days. Nine Pennsylvania National Guard organizations have units that still carry the Gettysburg battlefield streamer.
Before exploring the lineage of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the question to be answered is why is Gettysburg so important?
“It’s considered an important battle for a number of reasons,” said Guillermo L. Bosch, licensed battlefield guide. Bosch explained a variety of aspects that results in Gettysburg being one of the most recognized battles of the Civil War. It was a major battle that took place in Northern Territory, while many of the other significant battles took place in the South, he explained. It was also one of the largest battles of the Civil War with about 170,000 troops involved and 52,000-53,000 killed, wounded- or missing-in-action. Additionally, because of its proximity to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, it received a great deal of media coverage, and was easily accessible after the battle to a large population of veterans making it one of the most monumented battle sites in the world, he explained.
The Pennsylvania National Guard, founded in 1747, is one of the oldest military organizations in the U.S. and is able to trace units from the following nine battalions’ lineages to this historic battle: the 103rd Engineer Battalion; 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment; Headquarters, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team; 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 107th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 109th Field Artillery Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment and 228th Support Battalion. Their predecessor units were volunteer infantry units, save for Hampton’s Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F, a field artillery unit.
“Tracing a unit’s lineage is similar to genealogy,” said Charlie Oellig, curator for the Pennsylvania National Guard museum. “You look at the location of the unit, and then follow it through unit reorganizations, and renaming, restationing and even remissioning. What’s important is what the “parent” of that unit was.”
So for instance, yesterday’s Field Artillery unit of Philadelphia, Pa. could be today’s Signal Company of Bensalem, Pa. Following that trail through history can be complex, and even companies within the same battalion may have different ancestry. This is made particularly tough because of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s long history.
Pre-Civil War, the Pennsylvania National Guard was comprised of a number of militias. Militias were organized by a prominent citizen of the town in which they were located. The soldiers were likely unpaid, and met for several weeks each year to drill on the town green. Militia names were unique and unnumbered. For instance, today’s 103rd Engineer Battalion, which traces its lineage to 1747, was called during its history: the Company of Artillery, Artillery Battalion of Philadelphia, Volunteer Corps of Light Infantry-Washington Grays, Artillery Corps-Washington Grays, and prior to the Civil War the First Regiment of Artillery, the Gray Reserves. Once they enlisted to fight the in Civil War they were organized and numbered as the 118th and 119th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. An interesting piece of military history, according to Oellig, is that the Washington Grays reported for duty in the Union Army wearing gray uniforms. But, this makes sense considering they were known as the Washington Grays for much of their pre-Civil War history.
The units of the Pennsylvania National Guard got to Gettysburg by volunteering for service. This process was known as a unit “mustering.” The term means they swore an oath to the U.S. and were no longer under state control, according to Bosch. Similar to today’s process of being called up for federal service. After the militia units mustered they were called volunteer units of the Union Army as opposed to regular units, which were the equivalent of today’s active-duty Army.
Militia training could have taken place at any number of camps scattered throughout Pennsylvania, or as we know them now as mobilization stations. Philadelphia was home to a dozen or so camps, according to Bosche. Camp Curtin, located on the West Shore of modern-day Harrisburg, was the largest troop training grounds of the Union Army.
During the battle all of the units served bravely in a variety of capacities. As with all wars and battles, “whether a unit is deeply involved in the actual combat or not, is a matter of happenstance,” said Bosche. One of the more significant actions of the battle by Pennsylvania National Guard Units was the actions of the 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the ancestor of units within 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, and Headquarters, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. On days two and three this unit helped to hold the line during Pickett’s Charge. At the end of the battle the unit had casualties of 42 percent.
Many modern day Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers realize the significance and impact this battle had on U.S. history, and are proud of their lineage. “It is very humbling to command an organization that traces its lineage to our founding fathers, some of the greatest scholars and patriots our nation has ever known,” said Lt. Col. Christopher McDevitt, commander of the 103rd Engineer Battalion.
“Gettysburg was a turning point in the history of our nation, where those young men stood shoulder to shoulder not knowing if they would survive the next volley. Our heritage instills a tremendous pride in me as a commander because I know that the same spirit lives on in my Soldiers 150 years later. They have demonstrated the same resolve throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where they once again stood shoulder to shoulder,” he said.
The Pennsylvania National Guard is hosting a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating these units at the Pennsylvania Monument, Gettysburg National Military Park, July 6, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. The modern-day units will be on site with their colors and several speakers will discuss the units’ roles. The 28th Infantry Division Band will also be providing a concert with Civil War-era selections.