Gettysburg Rebels

A review of Gettysburg Rebels: Five Native Sons Who Came Home To Fight As Confederate Soldiers, by Tom McMillan, Regnery, 2017.

In 1912, the renowned publisher of books on The War for Sothern Independence, Neale Publishing Company of New York, released Fighting by Southern Federals, written by Charles C. Anderson. He argued that more than 600,000 Southerners fought for the Union—men from every seceded state and the border states. He named many Union officers, including generals, ship captains, and field officers who were southern men in blue. Books and articles on Southerners’ resistance to the Confederacy have always been a cottage industry, one of the more recent being A South Divided, Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy by David C. Downing (2017). He puts the total number of Southerner men fighting for the Union at about 300,000, and suggests that they provided the tipping point in crucial battles, including incomplete Confederate victories, for ultimate Union victory. Southern unionists represented absent brigades and divisions that General Lee or Bragg or Johnston could have used to decisive effect.

But what about northern-born men wearing gray? Who were they and did they offset the southerners who fought for the Union? David Ross Zimring tried to answer those, and related questions, in To Live and Die in Dixie, published in 2014. He sought to analyze the motivations of the estimated 750,000 native northerners who either supported the Confederacy, or not. Many chose to don the gray and risk all for the independence of the new Southern Republic.

I have made lists of northern-born Confederate soldiers for a number of years, and have collected their biographies and memoirs. Generals tended to leave behind a paper trail with more personal information, than did the common soldiers—men like Generals John C. Pemberton of Pennsylvania, Bushrod Johnson and Ortho Strahl of Ohio and thirty more general officers born in the North. They explained their motivations for identifying with the Confederate cause more often than those of the thousands of men in the ranks who fought and died without recording their thoughts on secession, war, and wearing the gray. For instance, eight of the northern-born Confederate generals married southern women and whether for commitment to States Rights or just defense of homeland, they (at least) preferred fighting Yankees to tangling with their wives, and the inevitable web of kinsmen that came with them. Biographies and memoirs of northern men in southern armies, below the rank of general, are, regrettably, more difficult to find.

A few of those extant memoirs and letters are stirring and memorable: A Confederate Yankee by Edward Drummond of Maine in the 1st Georgia Infantry, Yankee Rebel by Edmund D. Patterson of Ohio in the 9th Alabama Infantry, Keystone Rebel, concerning Edward Garey of Pennsylvania, in Hudson’s Mississippi Battery, and Henry Handerson of Ohio in the 9th Louisiana, in Yankee in Gray (my favorite). The newest entry in the genre of northern-born men fighting for the Confederacy is Gettysburg Rebels: Five Native Sons Who Came Home to Fight as Confederate Soldiers, by Tom McMillan.

Five men from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania fought for the Confederacy: Wesley Culp, Henry Wentz, Robert H. Hoffman, Francis (Frank) William Hoffman, and Wesley A. Hoffman. McMillan traces the lives of each man from their early days in the town of Gettysburg to the end of their lives in Virginia. Four of the five were employees of C. W. Hoffman’s Carriage Company of Gettysburg. The company moved to Shepherdstown, Virginia in 1855. Wes Culp and Robert Hoffman, both twenty-three years old enlisted in the 2nd Virginia Infantry of the Stonewall Brigade, Wentz and Frank Hoffman both ended up in artillery units, Wise’s Artillery, later known as Taylor’s Battery and the 38th Artillery battalion under James Dearing, respectively. Wes Hoffman, the youngest of the group at nineteen, joined Co. A, 7th Virginia Cavalry. All of them participated in the Gettysburg campaign; Culp was the only man in his company to be killed there, the other four local men survived the battle. Two were wounded in later combat and all four were captured in the course of the war. All five Gettysburg boys seem devoted to the Confederacy. Henry Wentz was present for duty from the day he enlisted till he was captured three days before Appomattox.

Their brothers, cousins, and friends enlisted in Pennsylvania regiments. What motivated the five northern boys to join the Confederate army, prepared to lose all, and likely never return to their birthplace, poses a question about which they left little apparent record other than their deeds. After living in Shepherdstown a couple years they went their separate ways before the war arrived on their doorstep. Robert and Wesley Hoffman enrolled in Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but never finished. Several of the men moved to Linden, Virginia. Henry and Robert joined the Shepherdstown militia and helped pin down the terrorist John Brown in the Harper’s Ferry invasion in 1859. When war appeared inevitable, it would have been a small matter to return to Pennsylvania. Wesley Culp wrote to his family in Gettysburg that “I am going to stay here, come what may.”

All five men were with their regiments when it came time to stand in the day of battle, and acquitted themselves as expected. At Winchester, the Stonewall Brigade participated in the rout and capture of the 87th Pennsylvania, in which Wes Culp’s brother William fought, as well as Wesley’s best friend from Gettysburg, Jack Skelly, whom Wesley helped, though Jack’s wound proved mortal. William escaped through the backroads all the way home to Gettysburg.

The author tells their stories well, but it will assist the reader to write down their names and units at the start in order to keep track of their back and forth stories. The grand finale is of course the arrival in Gettysburg in July of 1863, of four of the five men who would fight on their native soil. Wesley Culp was killed early on the second day and was buried there in an unmarked grave. The author has cleared up much of the mythology that has attended the Culp story, and the truth is just as poignant without the embellishments it has received over the years. Today there is a small monument to honor the Culp brothers, placed during the 150th Anniversary of the battle, Wesley facing south and William north.

The Wentz story is told in full for the first time and it clarifies the action around the Wentz house, no longer standing on the battlefield, but well-marked. The author faults the Confederate high command for not using the Gettysburg Confederates for scouting purposes, especially on the second day. At least two of them were well known to their commanders as local boys. Providence remains inscrutable.

The author several times slips in his personal opinion with phrases like “however tainted the cause for which they fought” in reference to the Confederacy. But he has tracked down every shred of personal information on each soldier in a manner that would make proud Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mr. McMillan also traced their post-war lives and notes that old C.W. Hoffman who brought his boys to Virginia, also helped set them up after the war. Of the four Gettysburg men who survived, three married, and Wes and Frank Hoffman fathered eight children each, the last child dieing in 1972 at age 94. Two of the men are buried in Virginia, one in West Virginia, and one in Texas—all in the southern soil of a cause for which they risked their lives and their fortunes. The story of the Gettysburg Rebels reminds us that the place of your birth sometimes, perhaps always, is less important than where your heart lies.

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