Remembering my ancestor at Gettysburg, on the anniversary of the battle

I hadn’t been posting as much on the blog lately, and after writing about Aunt Donna I feel like I should distract myself a bit by writing about Civil War history.  So indulge me, if you will.

Among the Union troops at Gettysburg was a middle-aged French-Canadian soldier who had enlisted at the beginning of the war in the Boston Volunteers, a unit that later became the 11th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.  His name was Moses Beaulieu, and he was a widower who had left his 4 year old daughter in the care of the woman who ran the boarding house where they lived in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.  He was one of the first members of his family (my mother’s family) to move from Quebec to Massachusetts, where he had found work as a bootmaker in the booming shoe industry.

He enlisted in June 1861 and fought in a large number of battles (including Williamsburg, the Seven Days, both Battles of Bull Run) until he was transferred to work as a saddler in the headquarters of Major-General Daniel Sickles, a politician famous for having killed the son of Francis Scott Key, who was having an affair with Sickles’ wife.  Sickles was not a professional soldier but a Congressman who had raised a brigade in New York and been commissioned to command it as a result.  By Gettysburg Sickles had risen to command the Third Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

IIIcorpsbadge2 The flag of the Second Division, 3rd Corps.

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles took his Third Corps forward out of line to occupy high ground in his front.  As a result, the Third Corps was isolated from the rest of the Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate attack on Union’s left flank on the second day of battle (July 2nd, 1863) largely fell on the Third Corps.  As a result, the Third Corps was wrecked and pushed back to the main Union line.

The 11th Massachusetts had 364 men at Gettysburg and lost 23 killed, 96 wounded, and 10 missing.  A monument to the regiment now stands along the Emmitsburg Road, placed there in 1885 by the survivors.   The monument was damaged by vandals in 2006 and was later repaired by the National Park Service.

At one point a cannonball took off the lower part of Sickles’ right leg as he rode along on his horse.  Using a saddle strap (possibly one worked on or even made by my ancestor) as a tourniquet, Sickles’ staff managed to save his life.

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles (1)Sickles_leg

Above is a picture of Sickles circa 1862, and a picture of his actual leg, now preserved in the National Museum of Health and Medicine.  The solid shot cannonball is identical to the one that actually hit him.

Sickles’ actions that day are still somewhat of a cause of disagreement, even controversy, among historians and Civil War scholars.  Although Sickles actions wrecked the Third Corps (it was disbanded and its troops transferred to the 2nd Corps in early 1864), it could also be argues that Sickles blunted the Confederate attack and caused them to expend their energy pushing the Third Corps back rather than taking their objectives.  But the action caused the Third Corps to suffer something like 40% casualties.

My ancestor Moses went on through the entire war, reenlisting in 1864 and serving until June 1865.  His Civil War service shortened his life, apparently, as he was dead within a few years.  I have finally found his grave at a cemetery in South Weymouth, but I have not yet been able to go visit it.  When I do, I will take a picture.  To remember him.

~Geoff

 

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