Medal of Honor winners from Greene County never stopped leading
June 30, 2013 8:00 AM
James Milton Pipes was one of six men to receive the Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg.
Lt. James J. Purman was one of six men to receive the Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg.
By Ann Rodgers Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Amid a frantic retreat as Rebels fired from three sides at Gettysburg, two young Union soldiers from Greene County stopped to pull a wounded comrade from the line of fire and were severely wounded as a result.
The two, Lt. James Purman and Sgt. James Pipes, were among six men from Western Pennsylvania to receive the Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg. Purman is the subject of a one-man play, written and peformed by actor Stephen Lang, that will be featured MondayJuly 1 at a gala in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Tickets information is at 717-339-2148 or www.friendsofgettysburg.org.
Purman's story is compelling and well documented, said Mr. Lang, who wrote "The Wheatfield" for the 2008 opening of the visitor center and recently finished an animated version. After Purman was shot in both legs, a Confederate dragged him from the battlefield.
"His life is saved by the enemy. That really does illustrate, almost define, the nature of the Civil War -- brother against brother, brother saving brother."
Purman married a Gettysburg woman who cared for him after a leg was amputated, and he returned to Gettysburg many times, including the 50th anniversary renunion in 1913. The play is set at that reunion.
"When I read the accounts of Purman, and by him, I could hear his voice -- oh, maybe not literally, but the story just wanted to be told," Mr. Lang said. "Many of the most moving Civil War photos were not from the war itself, but shot 50 years later, when old men, veterans, charged slowly across the fields brandishing canes instead of bayonets, and when Blue met Gray and shook hands and embraced."
Sixty-three Medals of Honor were earned for valor at Gettysburg. The medal was brand new, its standard less stringent than today. Many were awarded decades later, in a rush to honor aging veterans.
All winners will be honored in Gettysburg Sept. 18-22, when the Congressional Medal of Honor Society meets there, with opportunties to hear living recipients. Visit www.cmoh2013.org or call 202-587-2724 for details.
Purman was born to a farming family near Waynesburg in 1841. At 12 he began work as a typesetter at the Waynesburg Eagle. He attended Waynesburg College while teaching at a local school. He dropped out before his senior year after a series of Union defeats in 1862, to help organize a volunteer Army unit.
With four other men, the 21-year-old tried to start a cavalry corps. The first man to sign up, Purman later wrote, was Pipes.
They traveled Greene County by wagon, waving a flag and singing ditties such as "We'll Hang Jeff Davis on a Sour Apple Tree."
When the army stopped accepting volunteer cavalry, they became the "Greene County Rifles." Purman was elected first lieutenant.
They took a riverboat to Pittsburgh and were mustered into the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. They guarded a railroad on the Maryland border, fought at Chancellorsville, Va., in May 1863, and marched into Gettysburg.
On July 1 at Gettysburg, they were drawn into the bloody action in The Wheat Field. The 140th was retreating under overwhelming fire when he and Pipes saw a wounded man begging for help. They carried him to the shelter of nearby boulders.
No sooner had they put him down than both Pipes and Purman were shot. Purman was hit in the lower leg, shattering the bones. He lay in the field all night surrounded by moaning, dying men. He recalled praying for a Michigan man next to him. The man he and Pipes had rescued, John Buckley from Mercer County, bled to death.
When fighting resumed in the morning, Purman was shot in his other leg. Desperately thirsty, he begged a Confederate in nearby trees for water.
Despite Union snipers, the Georgia lieutenant crawled out with a canteen. He let Purman drink, cleaned his wounds and cut the boots off his swollen feet.
"After this I began to feel I had a chance for life, if I could get out of the hot sun and from under the fire then constant over the field," Purman wrote years later.
The Confederate moved him to the shade by crawling as Purman clung to his back, leaving him food and water. After Union stretcher-bearers carried him to a barn-turned-hospital, "I celebrated the Fourth of July with the loss of my leg," he wrote.
While recuperating in the home of a Gettysburg family, he fell in love with one of the daughters, Mary Witherow. They later married, and had six children.
He was discharged due to disability in May 1864 and finished his degree at Waynesburg College. He became principal of a Baptist school near Waynesburg, studied law and opened a practice in Greene County.
The Purmans moved to Washington, D.C., where he became a medical doctor, according to his obituary in The Gettysburg Compiler. In 1881 he took a job at the U.S. Patent Office.
His Medal of Honor, awarded in 1896, says, "Voluntarily assisted a wounded comrade to a place of apparent safety while the enemy were in close proximity; he receievd the fire of the enemy and a wound which resulted in the amputation of a leg."
He tracked down the Confederate who had aided him, Thomas Oliver of Athens, Ga. They exchanged letters for years. When OliverThomas visited Washington in 1907, Purman introduced him to President Theodore Roosevelt.
Purman died May 11, 1915, and is buried, with his wife, in Arlington National Cemetery.
• • •
James Milton Pipes, who received his Medal of Honor both for his actions at Gettysburg with Purman and for later bravery in Virginia, was born in Greene County in 1840.
On August 18, 1862, Pipes was the first man to enlist in the volunteer unit from Greene County that became part of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. According to his enlistment records, the 21-year-old farmer was a sergeant when the 140th was mustered.
During the action in the Wheat Field, Pipes also was shot in the leg. Unable to further aid Purman, Pipes tried to hobble away but was was captured by Confederates. Information about him is compiled at a geneaology Web site, www.pipesfamily.com.
Victorious Union troops liberated him the next day. He spent months in a Philadelphia hospital, where he was promoted to lieutenant. He returned to his unit in November 1863.
He took part in the Petersburg campaign, and was promoted to captain in June 1864. On Aug. 24, Union troops tore up train tracks at Reams Station, Va., a vital supply line for the Rebels. Pipes was in charge of guarding the ruined tracks.
When Confederates attacked, he told his men to stay put while he scouted ahead. He was leading his unit in an attempt to stop an enemy flanking movement when a bullet shattered his right arm. Still, he continued in command as Union troops retreated under fire.
"My ride in an ambulance for 10 miles that night was a memorable one. The dangling arm was amputated the next day at City Point, Va.," he later wrote.
He was hospitalized at least until November and discharged for disability in February 1865.
He joined his father in Wheeling, W.Va., where the family had moved during the war. In December 1869 he received an artificial arm. The next year he married Martha Rowena Purdy, with whom he had five children.
"James Milton Pipes was apparently a natural born leader," the geneaology site notes. He was elected treasurer of Marshall County, served as West Virginia's secretary of state from 1869-1871, and was a member of the state's Constitutional Convention of 1872.
Around 1878 he moved to Washington and held staff postions in the War Department, the pension office and the Senate. He was active in the veteran's group, the Grand Army of the Republic, serving as commander of the Department of the Potomac.
His Medal of Honor was awarded in1898. The citation says, "While a sergeant and retiring with his company before the rapid advance of the enemy at Gettysburg, he and a companion stopped and carried to a place of safety a wounded and helpless comrade; in this act both he and his companion were severely wounded. A year later, at Reams Station, Va., while commanding a skirmish line, voluntarily assisted in checking a flank movement of the enemy, and while doing so was severely wounded suffering the loss of an arm."
He retired around 1920 and died of pneumonia in November 1928 at the age of 88. He and his wife are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
• • •
Casper Carlisle, the only Gettysburg Medal of Honor recipient from Allegheny County, risked his life to help an officer save a cannon from the enemy.
He was born in 1841 at Richland. Little is known about his early life, and even his grave in Mount Lebanon was lost until 1991, according to Arthur Fox, a Civil War historian from Dormont. He was 21 in 1861, when he enlisted as a private in "Hampton's Battery," an artillery unit that Capt. Robert B. Hampton organized in Pittsburgh.
Hampton was killed at Chancellorsville, two months before Gettysburg. His Company F was then merged with another light artillery unit, Company C, under Capt. James Thompson, who before emigrating from Ireland to Pittsburgh, served 16 years as a gunner and driver in the British army.
On July 2, the artillery unit was under heavy attack in a peach orchard and forced to withdraw. Confederates shot both drivers and all six horses pulling a cannon and its ammunition. The gun and shells would have been a prize for the Rebels.
Carlisle ran to help Thompson move the cannon to Union lines. They released the harnesses of five dead horses and found another horse to help a wounded one pull. Carlisle rode one of them in heavy fire. When the wounded horse collapsed, he and another driver found two new horses and got the gun to the Union lines. Thompson immediately recommended Carlisle for a medal, but he would wait 30 years.
Carlisle was discharged after the war and returned to Pittsburgh's North Side, where he worked as a teamster, a driver of horses. He moved to the Hill District and, according to Mr. Fox, was a teamster and warehouse laborer into the 1890s. He was active in a North Side Grand Army of the Republic post in the 1870s. In 1888, the post began to push for his Medal of Honor.
The citation says, "Saved a gun of his battery under heavy musketry fire, most of the horses being killed and the drivers wounded."
By the time he received the medal in December 1892, Carlisle had fallen on hard times. GAR post records for April 1892 say "Carlisle in destitute circumstances" and note giving him $5 (worth at least $128 today). He was injured that July and given another $5.
His final years were spent in obscurity. When he died on April 29, 1908, the GAR post donated $25 for his funeral. He was buried in Mount Lebanon Cemetery. His medal is lost and any descendants are unknown, according to Mr. Fox.
His grave was forgotten until 1991, when historians Wes Slusher and Joe Puglini searched for Medal of Honor winners. They arranged for a Medal of Honor marker, dedicated July 4, 1991.
• • •
Lt. Col. Henry S. Huidekoper, a Meadville native, won his Medal of Honor for remaining in command after his right arm was shattered during fighting around the McPherson farm on July 1. He commanded another Meadville recipient, color-bearer Monroe Reisinger.
Huidekoper was 22 and a recent graduate of Harvard when he enlisted in 1862. He had grown up in Meadville, where his grandfather had founded a Unitarian seminary.
His regiment, the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry -- known as the Bucktails -- marched into Gettysburg July 1. They took up positions under heavy shelling. When the 150th's commander received a battlefield promotion, Huidekoper replaced him.
Under horrific fire, he held his sword aloft and led the 150th in a charge against advancing Rebels. A bullet struck his upraised arm. He refused medical attention and continued to lead his men. According to an account of his life in "Builders of our Nation: Men of 1913," he was wounded a second time. His right arm was amputated after the battle.
His after-action report notes the bravery of several men who fought under his command, including Reisinger, but says nothing of his own. The regiment, which had 17 officers and 400 troops at daybreak, had just two officers -- including the wounded Huidekoper -- and 84 troops in fighting condition at sundown.
Despite the loss of his arm he rejoined the 150th about two months later, but was discharged for health reasons in 1864. That year he married Emma Evans, a native of Philadelphia.
He returned to Harvard, earning a master's degree in 1872. From 1898 to 1910 he served on Harvard's board of overseers.
In 1870 he was appointed a major-general in the Pennsylvania National Guard. During the Great Railroad Stike of 1877 he was mustered to enforce martial law after vigilantes fired into a crowd of striking miners in Scranton. The 1913 biography credits him with tactfully resolving an impasse between civil and military authorities. He was promoted to brigadier general and in 1879 published a guide to military procedure.
He was postmaster of Philadelphia from 1880 to 1886, reforming the pricing structure for mail. He staked the rest of his career on new technology, serving from 1887 to 1913 as a "special agent" of Bell Telephone.
He received his Medal of Honor in 1905. The citation says, "While engaged in repelling an attack of the enemy, received a severe wound of the right arm. But instead of retiring remained at the front in command of the regiment."
According to "The Medal of Honor at Gettysburg" by B.T. Arrington, Huidekoper was also a key organizer of the 50th anniversary reunion at Gettyburg, which drew thousands of aged veterans from both sides in 1913.
He died Nov. 9, 1918 in Philadelphia, but is buried in Meadville.
• • •
Cpl. Monroe "Roe" Reisinger carried the flag for Huidekoper's regiment, a dangerous task. Flags were guides in battle, but also the focus of unit pride. The enemy tried to shoot flag bearers and to capture the flag if possible, in order to demoralize the troops.
He was born in Beaver County but grew up in Meadville, where his blacksmith father had moved so his children could attend Allegheny College. Reisinger studied there for three years, according to "The Geneaological and Personal History of the Allegheny Valley" by John Woolf Jordan. He dropped out, first to work in the Pennsylvania oil fields and, in August 1862, to enlist with two of his brothers.
As the Bucktails came under fire on July 1, he was struck in the right foot. He refused to go to a hospital and continued to carry the flag. He was shot twice more, in the thigh and in the knee, before he lost too much blood to go on. Two shattered bones were removed from his right foot.
Huidekoper recommended him for a medal for bravery immediately after the battle, but nothing happened at the time.
After he was released from the hospital, Resisinger was posted to Washington. According to the Meadville Tribune, he and his sister had a personal meeting with President Lincoln, and attended what turned out to be the president's last public speech from the balcony of the White House. He was in a barracks near Ford's Theatre the night President Lincoln was assassinated.
He was commissioned a lietenant in the 114th United States Colored Regiment, since the Army didn't permit black officers. They were sent to Texas to guard the Mexican border.
After his discharge in 1867 he returned to Meadville. He never finished college, but studied law with a local attorney. He practiced for many years in Meadville, then ran a newspaper. He married twice -- his first wife died after four years of marriage -- and had two children. An 1879-80 Crawford County directory says that "Mr. Reisinger is a member of no religious organization. In politics he is an extreme Republican."
By the turn of the century surviving field officers started lobbying for his Medal of Honor. Huidekoper wrote to Congress of Reisinger's "coolness and courage" under fire.
After regular channels rejected his nomination, Congress awarded the medal in a special joint resolution in January 1907. The citation is for "specially brave and meritorious conduct in the face of the enemy." It was the final Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg.
He died May 25, 1925, and is buried in Meadville.
• • •
Harvey Munsell was one of the few Gettysburg soldiers to receive a Medal of Honor within a few years of their action. His was awarded in February 1866 for "gallant and courageous conduct as color bearer." He had carried the flag of the 99th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in 13 battles.
A native of western New York, he left in his teens to work in his uncle's Oil City lumberyard. He was managing it at age 18 in 1861, when the war broke out.
He hastened to enlist but, by some accounts, many volunteer units rejected him because he was short. He ended up with the 99th Pennsylvania Volunteers, out of Philadelphia.
He was a hardened veteran at age 20, when he marched into Gettysburg. On July 2 at Devil's Den he carried the national flag without a protective escort since all eight of his color guards had been killed or wounded. Knocked to the ground when a shell exploded in front of him, he lay on top of the flag to keep charging Confederates from capturing it.
The 99th retreated soon afterward. He was reported dead, several of his comrades saying they saw him blown up. In fact Munsell was pretending to be dead so he wouldn't be captured.
Eventually the 99th counterattacked, running directly at the spot where he lay.
He later wrote that he "quietly fell into line and unfurled the flag. Such a shouting I never heard before or since. Men who saw me fall . . . came and looked at the flag and felt me to see if there wasn't some mistake or humbug about it, for I was already booked as among the 'slain in battle."
His reappearance with the flag inspired the troops, and he was put in for a medal. Meanwhile he continued to carry the flag. He was captured at Deep Bottom, Va., in 1864 and exchanged for a Southern prisoner. After returning to his unit he was promoted to captain.
His medal was awarded for his deeds at Gettysburg, but the citation says, "Gallant and courageous conduct as color bearer. (This non-commissioned officer carried the colors of his regiment through 13 engagements."
After the war he moved to New York City, where he sold insurance. In 1883 he became secretary of the New York office of the Central Association of Wyoming, a land-development company.
In 1885 he made headlines when he was arrested for contempt of court after serving on a jury that had acquitted an Irish terrorist of assaulting a fellow terrorist.
Both the victim, Thomas Phelan, and the perpetrator, Richard Short, were "Dynamiters," Irish nationalists operating out of the United States who planted bombs in England. The public wanted them jailed.
Munsell was accused of accepting a bribe from the leader of the Dynamiters. He spent two weeks in jail before the state Supreme Court overruled the trial judge. While in jail he defended himself in interviews with the New York Times, saying Short had a credible claim of self-defense. He took great offense at accusations he feared the Dynamiters.
"There were men on that jury who carry more than one bullet in them," he said. "I was in the war for four years. I was in 23 battles and carried the colors in 13 . . . My sympathies are against the Dynamiters. I am opposed to that sort of people."
He died February 9, 1913, and is buried in Cambridge, Mass.