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John Burns: the subject of Bret Harte's poem.

These photographs present at his home the man of whom Harte wrote the half-humorous poem. According to common report, Burns was seventy years old when the battle was fought. In the war of 1812, though still a youth, he had been among the first to volunteer; and he took part in the battles of Plattsburg, Queenstown, and Lundy's Lane. In 1846 he again volunteered for service in the American armies, and served through the Mexican War. At the beginning of the Civil War he tried to enlist once more, but the officer told him that a man of sixty-seven was not acceptable for active service. He did, however, secure employment for a time as a teamster but was finally sent home to Gettysburg. To keep him contented his townsmen elected him constable of the then obscure village. He took his duties very seriously. When General Lee's troops entered the place in June, 1863, Burns asserted his authority in opposition to that of the Confederate provost-guard and was accordingly locked up. But no sooner had the troops left the town than he began to arrest the stragglers of the army. On July 1st, the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, the old man borrowed a rifle and ammunition from a Federal soldier who had been wounded, went west of the town to the point of heaviest fighting, and asked to be given a place in the line. The colonel of the Seventh Wisconsin handed him a long-range rifle and allowed him to join the other troops. There he fought like a veteran. When the Union forces were driven back by superior numbers, Burns fell into the hands of the Confederates and came very near being executed as an ununiformed combatant. Though wounded in three places, he recovered and lived here until his death in 1872.

John Burns stood at his cottage door’

John Burns with his wife after the battle


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