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Gettysburg Gazette

July 10, 1863

Man Drops Everything and Fights
By Liz

One week ago, seventy-two year old John L. Burns dropped everything to fight for his country in the battle of Gettysburg.

From his house, Burns could see the armies of the Union and the Confederacy locked in battle at Gettysburg. At first he stopped what he was doing and just watched. Then he grabbed his rifle and ran to fight when the 150th Pennsylvania came to reinforce the Union forces at the end of the first day.

Burns fought successfully on the second day, but he was wounded on the third, probably as he was defending the ridge against Pickett's charge. Even though wounded, he kept fighting until the battle was over. Since he was not a regular solider, he simply went home at the battle's end and resumed his normal life.

But his life soon became anything but "normal". The story of his bravery quickly got out among his friends and neighbors and then spread all over the nation as his cobbler shop was visited by many reporters, myself among them. Burns was now a national hero, "the old hero of Gettysburg", as the press calls him.

The battle of Gettysburg, in which he fought, was harsh and bloody. On the first day, the Union almost lost the high ground, and might have been driven off if it were not for the reinforcements, including the 150th Pennsylvania and John L. Burns.

On the second day, the Union was again threatened with loss of the high ground. What saved them was a Union bayonet charge that drove back the attacking Confederates.

The third day marked the Confederate's last attack. General Pickett directed a charge against the ridge on the Union command and artillery was positioned. As the Rebels moved toward the hill, Burns was wounded in the leg by a fragment of a cannon ball. He stopped the bleeding and continued to man the low wall that he was defending.

Gettysburg marked the last major threat by the Confederacy against the Union. Lee's forces were turned back, never to seriously threaten Washington again. At the same time, the Confederacy was defeated at the siege of Vicksburg.

Vicksburg is a town at the edge of the Mississippi River. The Confederates knew it was the last city for the Union to get on the Mississippi River, so the Confederates reinforced it. It was no use. After a six week siege the Confederates surrendered to the North.

This might be the turning point for the Union if they keep winning their battles. Even if they don't win the war, the battle of Gettysburg and John L. Burns will always be remembered.


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"A Walking Tour of July 3, 1863". Into the Valley of Death . Online. <>l. 10-19-98.

"Battle of Gettysburg Homepage". Battle of Gettysburg Homepage . Online. <>. 10-19-98.

Concise Dictionary of American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992.

Gettysburg, The Confederate High Tide New Jersey: Time-Life Books Inc., 1967.