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[245]

Brave Carolinian who fell at Gettysburg. From the times-dispatch, May 20, 1906.

How Colonel Henry King Burgywn lost his life.


The presence at Raleigh, N. C., of Colonel William H. S. Burgwyn, of Northampton county, who delivered the memorial address May 10, called attention to the fate of his brother, Colonel Henry King Burgwyn, the gallant young commander of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Infantry, who lost his life at Gettysburg. It happened that among the Confederate veterans who attended the Memorial Day exercises was Wiilliam M. Cheek, of Lundley, Chatham county, who was a private in Company E of the Twenty-sixth Regiment, and who saw Colonel Burgwyn when the latter was shot. Mr. Cheek said:

It was in the first day's fight at Gettysburg. Our regiment had been formed in line of battle and advanced a considerable distance towards the Federal lines. Our colors were very prominent in the center. Time after time they were shot down by the hot fire of infantry and artillery, and in all they fell fifteen times, sometimes the staff being broken and sometimes a color-bearer being shot down.

The color-sergeant was killed quite early in the advance and then a private of F company took the flag. He was shot once, but rose and went on, saying, “Come on, boys!” and as the words left his lips was again shot down, when the flag was taken by Captain McCreary, who was killed a moment or two later. Then Colonel Burgwyn himself took the colors and as we were advancing over the brow of a little hill and he was a few feet in advance of the center of the regiment, he was shot as he partly turned to give an order, a bullet passing through his abdomen. He fell backwards, the regiment continuing its advance, Lieutenant-Colonel John R. Lane taking command and at the same time taking the flag from Colonel Burgwyn. In a moment, it seemed, he was shot, and then Captain W. S. Brewer, of my company, took the flag and carried it through the remainder of [246] the advance, Major John Jones having then assumed command of the regiment. Our regiment was recalled and retired. I was knocked down by the explosion of a shell, which injured my eyesight somewhat, but soon rose and as myself and some comrades went back, I saw Colonel Burgwyn being carried off the field by two soldiers, named Ellington and Staton, who were using one of their blankets for that purpose.

Colonel Burgwyn asked me, whom he recognized as being a member of his command, to help carry him off the field, and I at once gave my aid. We carried him some distance towards the place where our line of battle had been formed, and as we were thus moving him a lieutenant of some South Carolina regiment came up and took hold of the blanket to help us. Colonel Burgwyn did not seem to suffer much, but asked the lieutenant to pour some water on his wound. He was put down upon the ground while the water was poured from canteens upon him. His coat was taken off and I stooped to take his watch, which was held around his neck by a silk cord. As I did so the South Carolina lieutenant seized the watch, broke the cord, put the watch in his pocket and started off with it. I demanded the watch, telling the officer that he should not thus take away the watch of my colonel and that I would kill him as sure as powder would burn, with these words cocking my rifle and taking aim at him.

I made him come back and give up the watch, at the same time telling him he was nothing but a thief, and then ordering him to leave, which he did. In a few moments, Colonel Burgwyn said to me that he would never forget me, and I shall never forget the look he gave me as he spoke these words. We then picked him up again and carried him very close to the place where we had been formed in line of battle. Captain Young, of General Pettigrew's staff, came up and expressed much sympathy with Colonel Burgwyn. The latter said that he was very grateful for the sympathy, and added, “The Lord's will be done. We have gained the greatest victory in the war. I have no regret at my approaching death. I fell in the defense of my country.”

About that time a shell exploded very near us and took off the entire top of the hat of Captain Brewer, who had joined our [247] party. I left and went to search for one of our litters, in order to place Colonel Burgwyn upon it, so as to carry him more comfortably and conveniently. I found the litter with some difficulty, and as the bearers and myself came up to the spot where Colonel Burgwyn was lying on the ground, we found that he was dying. I sat down and took his hand in my lap. He had very little to say, but I remember that his last words were that he was entirely satisfied with everything, and “The Lord's will be done.” Thus he died, very quietly and resignedly. I never saw a braver man than he. He was always cool under fire and knew exactly what to do, and his men were devoted to him.

He was the youngest colonel I ever saw in all my experience as a soldier. If he had lived he would have been given high rank, I feel sure.

After Mr. Cheek had given this interesting story, now told for the first time of the fate of his gallant colonel, he was shown and viewed with much motion the sword, sash and gauntlets which Colonel Burgwyn wore during the terrible first day at Gettysburg; that greatest of battles of all the Civil War, which marked what came to be known as the ‘high-water-mark of the war,’ and in which the Twenty-sixth Regiment suffered a greater loss than any other regiment, either Federal or Confederate, during the entire four years struggle.

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