Civil War Times


The afternoon of July 2, 1863, found the larger part of two great armies, nearly 165,000 men, locked in combat in and around Gettysburg, Pa. For three officers engaged on the Federal side, the battle took on special meaning—as Pennsylvanians, they were fighting on their native soil. The three men came from varying backgrounds and upbringings, had differing political viewpoints and reasons to enlist, and were also serving in three different branches of the army. Their views are proof of the complex motivations that urged men to fight for the United States. Far from being a homogeneous military mass, the Army of the Potomac was composed of immigrant, native, wealthy, and working-class men, and thousands of different viewpoints about the war and what is was for.

The soldiers in question, listed with their ages and responsibilities by the time of Gettysburg, were 23-year-old Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, a company commander in the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry of the 5th Corps; Captain Louis R. Fortescue, 25, the leader of a detachment in the Signal Corps; and the youngest officer, 19-year-old 2nd Lt. William Brooke Rawle, who had been in the army for less than seven weeks, a commander of a company of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. What the three “native” men had in common, in addition to their hometown of Philadelphia, was that through their contemporary letters, and, in Fortescue’s case, a voluminous memoir, they produced finely detailed, ground-level accounts of their Civil War experiences that provide insight into the mindset of the junior officer corps of the Army of the Potomac.

Donaldson and Fortescue both joined the army in mid-1861. “I burn with indignation when I think of the outrageous conduct of the South,” wrote Donaldson when he learned of the firing on Fort Sumter, “and I will never be able to give up the fight until they are chastised into submission.” Donaldson would initially enlist in the Philadelphian-raised 1st California Regiment, later renamed the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, as a sergeant, and later be promoted to second lieutenant. Fortescue was equally motivated by the attack on Fort Sumter, which he considered an attempt by “Southern traitors…who had openly and defiantly seized Government property” to insult the nation’s flag. Fortescue was commissioned first lieutenant in Philadelphia’s 29th Pennsylvania Infantry, and not long after was assigned to the newly established Signal Corps. As a Signal Corps officer, Fortescue would enjoy

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