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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Who Were the Dead in Rose’s Field at Gettysburg?

by Gordon Thorsby

An Unknown soldier returned to SC from unknown origin

Gardner's photographs after the Battle of Gettysburg documented the cost of war and it is a reason why the Battlefield is the most visited of any battlefield of the war. Starting with Gardner on July 5 and later with Brady and others, the images from 159 years ago reveal the brutality of three days in Pennsylvania. What would have been like if the same photojournalistic attention was given to the Muleshoe at Spotsylvania, at the Hornet’s Nest of Shiloh, in the Crater at Petersburg, or Chinn Ridge at Second Bull Run? Would it have stopped the war sooner? Would other battlefields draw more interest?

Dead in the Rose Field near the Woods (LOC)

Is there a way to identify who these men were? What was their regimental identification? Is it possible to identify them by name?

Caution as the images may be difficult to view. This is a brief post around the anniversary of Gettysburg. (Caveat. The subject is well-studied and some points are expected to receive agreement, refinement, and correction. It is an important subject. All are welcome to provide comments.

The photographs of Gettysburg by Gardner’s party has never failed to fascinate many today as it did in 1865. Those who died on the field were fathers, sons, brothers and husbands who advanced across the Rose fields toward a wood beyond and the awaiting Union lines who fired back.

Elliott's Map of the Casualties at Gettysburg

The men on the field have been identified but is it possible to narrow possibilities by researching regiments of that day and then seek the casualties of the regiment(s)? Gardner photographed 34 remains in several pictures.

William Frassanito performed a forensic analysis of the photos made by Gardner and company. He theorized that the dead pictured were that of the 15th South Carolina Infantry of Kershaw’s Brigade or the 53rd Georgia Infantry of Semmes Brigade, both of McLaws’ Division. Frassanito believed the 2nd Delaware would have been the opposition.

If left on the field for collection for burial, it is assumed that they were killed or mortally wounded and died shortly thereafter while on the field. A wounded man no matter how severe that was removed by friend or foe would not have been in the picture. Gardner arrived to take a photo on July 5th. The Army of Northern Virginia had pulled out from the area early on July 4th. It rained hard on the 4th and burials of the Confederate dead began mostly after completion of burial of Union dead. Efforts varied depending on the numbers of casualties and details to handle the task in given areas. By July 7, the Army of the Potomac had departed to pursue the Confederate Army. Any remaining unburied was left to residents in the area.

Was it the 15th South Carolina?

The 15th South Carolina consisted of 36 officers and 448 men on July 2nd commanded by Col. William D. DeSaussure. The 15th SC was the reserve regiment in the advance up Emmitsburg Rd. and was separated from the rest in the chaos of the fighting. When Brooke's Federal brigade of Caldwell’s Division put significant pressure on the advancing Confederates, the 15th advanced on the right of the other South Carolina regiments into the

Rose Woods. Veterans of the 15th SC have over the years been a poor source of information. There are few if any diaries and letters to seek accounts. Kershaw's Official Report provides some information on the 15th's activities and Kershaw survived the war. A report by DeSaussure does not exist because he was mortally wounded on July 2. The15th SC lost 30 killed, 96 wounded, and 18 missing in the battle so with Frassanito documenting 34 dead, it couldn't possibly be solely the 15th SC.

The argument for the 15th is that South Carolina organizations transported many remains after the war to Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, and other places in the State. If buried nearby, remains would be easy to recover? Maybe. The dead would have been behind Confederate lines on the night of July 2nd. Would this mean if behind their lines that they would or might have been buried? Maybe, maybe not.

Could it have been the 53rd Georgia?

The 53rd took 422 men and officers into the fight and was on the right of Semmes Georgia Brigade when it cut across the path of the 15th SC so there is a possibility that the men could be from Georgia, or could it? Not likely. The regiment is reported to have lost 89 total casualties at Gettysburg. The casualty ratio does not fit so the 53rd possibility appears remote. Skirmishing on July 3rd did claim a number of men from the regiment while researching Jul 2nd casualties. Skirmishing was heavy in the Wheatfield. Georgia regimental rosters indicate the following men who were killed July 2nd: Pvt Hugh Thompson, aged 46, Joseph Phillips Co. A, Alfred Crowell Co. B, John G. Lummas, Pvt Co. B, J.W. Hance, 2nd Lt Co. D, J.W. Weldon Co. G, R.A. Harper Co. H, Capt. John Bond Co. I, William Heath Co. K. Could these men have been some of those in Gardner's pictures?

A third Theory; The dead were from both regiments.

Did the 15th SC attach itself to the 53rd Georgia) of Semmes' brigade, and continued its advance? It is reported so. Thus, the men in the field could very likely be from both regiments.

With the two regiments, the numbers of the dead on the ground could be met.

Who victimized the 15th SC and/or the 53rd GA? Documentation appears that it was the Second Delaware or with support of the 64th New York Infantry. Though not in the photographs, the 2nd brought 280 into the battle and lost 11 killed, 61 wounded and 12 missing. The 64th brought 237 into the fight and lost 4 officers, 11 men killed, 7 officers and 57 men wounded and 19 missing. Their casualties would have be more spread out across the area.

The 15th SC is theorized to have been in the Rose field alongside the 53rd Georgia, and somehow advanced together (theory.) Together, could they have been caught in the open by one or both regiments firing at a short range.

When anyone looks at the Elliott map (see above), the greatest collection of graves are not near Cemetery Ridge from Pickett's Charge. They are in the Rose Farm area and the Peach Orchard. Some question Elliott's map for accuracy. The map is a human best effort at interpretation. The Antietam and Gettysburg maps provide revealing, accurate details.

After the war, Confederate graves of unknown soldiers still dotted the battlefield even as sightseers toured the field. Southern Ladies Memorial Societies raised funds and began to transport the remains south and to appropriate places of rest. Samuel and Rufus Weaver of Gettysburg performed forensic recovery of bones, any personal effects and transported the remains to cemeteries across the South.

There is a verse of a poem from a Washington, Pennsylvania woman memorializing those who died:

Yes, choose ye a spot where the dead may sleep,

Nor the storms their bones uncover,

A spot where their lov’d ones may come and weep,

“When this cruel war is over.”

Park historians note that fallen Confederates remain on the field in graves undiscovered, unknown and near where they fell. The ground is hallowed.


A Strange and Blighted Land, Gettysburg, Aftermath of a Battle, by Coco, Gregory A., Savas Beatie, 1998.

“So that none might be left or lost:” Reflections on Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead, May 22, 2014 by Gettysburg National Military Park, Ranger Bert Barnett.

Gettysburg, A Journey in Time, by Frassanito, William A., Charles Scribners and Sons, 1975.

Roster of the 53 Georgia Infantry. https://www.53rd_Regiment,_Georgia_Infantry_.

This Republic of Suffering, by Faust, Drew Gilpin, First Vintage Books, 2008, ppg 90-91.

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