by Tom McMillan
Washington, D.C,: Regnery , 2017. Pp. xx, 338.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 1621575926
Gettysburgers in Gray
Award winning author Tom McMillan traces the lives of five men from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who fought for the Confederacy there during the epic battle in July of 1863: Wesley Culp, Henry Wentz, Robert H. Hoffman, Francis (Frank) William Hoffman, and Wesley A. Hoffman. His goal is to offer a more thorough examination of the stories of Culp and Wentz and put them into perspective with the three heretofore anonymous Hoffman brothers, while also looking at Gettysburg businessman and civic leader C. W. Hoffman, the, father of the Hoffman brothers. Usually dismissed by historians as a “carriage-maker”, Hoffman had direct connections to four of the soldiers – his three sons and Wes Culp – and exerted a strong influence over the so-called “Gettysburg Rebels”. This is the first time that the stories of these men have been seen as linked in an account of the battle.
Neither Wentz nor any of the Hoffmans wrote about their experiences in the war, and Culp was killed during the battle, so to reconstruct the lives of these five men who returned to their hometown as invaders in Gray in the summer of 1863, McMillan scoured deeds, tax records, church rolls, other documents, and military records. He also worked with some of the men’s modern-day kinfolk to access family resources and documents, for example securing from a member of the Culp family a letter to Wesley from his brother, William, a Union soldier who had visited him while he was a prisoner-of-war in 1862.
Despite the remarkable circumstances of their military service, these men were rather obscure, ordinary enlisted soldiers; only Henry Wentz rose above private to become First Sergeant of the Wise Artillery in 1862 and Orderly Sergeant by Gettysburg.
McMillan refutes a number of myths that have accumulated about these men, notably Culp, and also recounts some fascinating anecdotes and first-hand accounts of particular incidents, and offers some perceptive analysis, with little tidbits on the experience of soldiering, rations, and even being a prisoner-of-war. For example, he demonstrates that Wesley Culp wasn't killed on Culp's Hill, or on July 3rd, as has been long-accepted, but while skirmishing early on the morning of July 2nd, near Wolf Hill. Culp did, however, visit his sister in town, on Middle Street, on the night of the 1st, as confirmed by a hand-written account by his niece now in possession of a descendant. Similarly, Wentz’s battery did deploy within sight of his boyhood home, where his parents and sister still lived, and he fought over land he owned and visited his father on the nights of the 2nd and 3rd, during lulls in the battle. Robert Hoffman had four extended unexcused absences from the 2nd Virginia, leading to his transfer to the staff of the regimental commissary. We also learn that C.W. Hoffman was one of the few people ever arrested by both the Union Army and the Confederate government.
In the process of telling this story, McMillan also touches on the Jack Skelly-Jennie Wade relationship, which is rather different than the legend, and relevant to the “Gettysburg Rebels” story because both Skelly and Wade were friends of Wes Culp; Skelly's mother and Culp's sister lived across from each other on Middle Street, and were friends.
One quite interesting point raised by McMillan is that neither Robert E. Lee nor any of his other commanders apparently had any idea they had five men from Gettysburg in the army, able to provide important intelligence and help in scouting the battlefield.
McMillan concludes his account of the little-known role of these five men from Gettysburg with a look at the survivors’ post-war lives and their memorialization over the past several decades.
Gettysburg Rebels is an interesting and insightful contribution to the literature of the war, and is highly recommended.
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Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews include The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, Civil War Places, The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863, America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War, The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home Freedom, and Nation, A Republic in the Ranks, An Environmental History of the Civil War, Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America, Arguing until Doomsday, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign, Defending the Arteries of Rebellion, A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era, Unlike Anything That Ever Floated, Meade at Gettysburg, A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, Grant's Left Hook, and The Winter that Won the War: The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778 .
Note: Gettysburg Rebels is also available in audio- and e-editions.
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