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Centre Hall man explores history of Civil War ancestor

by on November 07, 2013 10:41 AM

CENTRE HALL — Like many people, Centre Hall resident Philip Burlingame has an interest in Civil War history and his own family genealogy.

On Veteran’s Day, he will be honoring the memory of his father, Army Air Corps B-29 captain Frederick Burlingame, Jr. (WWII veteran); his grandfather, Frederick Burlingame, Sr. (WW I veteran); and his great-great grandfather, Herman Leroy Burlingame, a veteran of the Civil War.

“H.L.," as he was called, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863 while defending McPherson’s Ridge with the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. This past July, during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Philip Burlingame and his two brothers, Terry, of Smethport and Michael of Atlanta, met at Gettysburg on July 1 and walked the battlefield hour by hour to commemorate the movements of their great-great grandfather and the 150th Regiment on that fateful day.

“We planned our trip for months," said Burlingame. "Though we had all visited Gettysburg before, the 150th anniversary of the battle was something we had to be part of.”

H.L. Burlingame was a corporal at the time of the Gettysburg battle. He was assigned to the 150th Pennsylvania's Company G, which consisted of many men from McKean County in Northern Pennsylvania. Company G was created after the fame and reputation of the original Bucktail Regiment (Kane's First Rifles, later the 42nd Regiment) had reached Washington, D.C. and the office of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Twenty companies of Pennsylvania men were mustered, and two more regiments were formed, both of which drew some troops from the so-called Wildcat District of Pennsylvania, which included McKean County. Like those in the 149th regiment, the men of the 150th wore distinctive bucktails on their hats. The Bucktail units were tested in many battles and proved to be especially formidable in the defense of Gettysburg.

H.L. and his comrades in Company G saw extensive action in the defense of McPherson's Ridge on July 1, 1863. H.L. Burlingame survived the many hours of battle, and he and his fellow soldiers (part of Stone's Brigade) fought bravely to successfully stave off the attacks of three Confederate Brigades. The men of the150th held strategically important ground at McPherson's Ridge from mid-morning until early afternoon that day. Early on during the battle, one of the men shouted out, "We have come to stay!" And indeed they did stay.

During those critical hours, they suffered great casualties but held their ground, permitting the rest of Gen. Doubleday's regiments to get into position on the other high ground of Gettysburg. 
   As the regiment’s history indicates, late in the afternoon of July 1, the men of the 150th received orders to retreat from McPherson's Ridge. Lt. Col. Huidekoper, with his arm broken, determined that the retreat was unavoidable to save the cannons of Reynold's Battery in place behind them. At that point, nearly half of the men in the 150th had been killed or wounded in the defense of that ridge.

According to Burlingame family history, as the regiment moved from the fields back toward the town of Gettysburg, H.L. was shot by a wounded Confederate who was lying on the ground. His wound was near his ankle in his right leg. He was captured at Gettysburg and taken to a Confederate prison camp where H.L.'s leg wound was cauterized by a Confederate surgeon. This curtailing of the possible infection likely saved his leg from amputation.

Last year, Philip Burlingame was reading a book titled “Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill” by Harry Pfanz, the former chief historian of the Gettysburg National Military Park. While reading, he discovered that there was an eyewitness account from an 18-year-old Gettysburg resident named Henry Eyster Jacobs describing how Corporal H.L. Burlingame had been sheltered in a Gettysburg home and was later captured by Confederate troops. "I was so excited about this discovery that I had to travel to the Gettysburg National Military Park to obtain a copy of the eyewitness account from the archives there," said Burlingame.

From other sources, the Burlingame descendants learned that it was troops from Georgia who found Burlingame in the Jacob's house. The retreating Confederate troops transported him along with hundreds of other prisoners to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was there that his leg wound was cauterized.

Later that year, H.L. Burlingame was released from Libby Prison in a prisoner exchange. After the war, he returned home to work his farm in McKean County near the village of Kasson.

In August of 1931, H.L. Burlingame was ill and staying at a nursing home in East Smethport. According to Frederick Burlingame Sr., H.L.'s grandson, the wound on his leg, which had never fully healed throughout his long life, became infected. He developed sepsis and died. There is evidence to believe that H.L. Burlingame may actually have been the last veteran of the Gettysburg battle to die from his war wounds.

"H.L. Burlingame played an important role in one of the most important battles of the Civil War," Burlingame concluded. “To have had the opportunity to walk in his footsteps with my brothers was a powerful experience — one none of us will ever forget."

H.L. Burlingame's name appears on the Pennsylvania Monument in Gettysburg, carved in stone for generations of Burlingames to see.

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