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Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Monuments at Gettysburg – 96th Pennsylvania Infantry

Posted By on January 27, 2015

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The 96th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Gettysburg is located south of the town of Gettysburg on Wheatfield Road.  It was dedicated in 1888 and turned over to the Memorial Association.

The drawing of the monument pictured above is from a Philadelphia Inquirer article of 11 September 1889.

A picture of the monument can be seen on Stephen Recker’s Virtual Gettysburg Web Site which has more information about the monument and the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry.

A full description of the monument, its GPS Coordinates, additional photographs, and some of the history of the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, can be found on the Stone Sentinels Web Site.

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The monument dedication, which took place in 1888, was described in a Philadelphia Inquirer article of 22 June 1888:

GETTYSBURG.

Monument of the Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Regiment Dedication.

GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania, 21 June 1888 — The Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Regiment to-day dedicated its monument on this field.  The exercises were held at the memorial, which stands north of the Devil’s Den near what is known as “Cross Roads.”

Rev. J. F. Powers made the prayer, Col. Henry Boyer and Captain J. T. Boyle delivered addresses and J. M. Krauth, Esq., accepted it in behalf of the Memorial Association.

The monument is of granite, about eight feet high, and has on the top the prostrate figure of a soldier in the act of shooting over a wall.  Many of the survivors of this regiment, which belonged to the Sixth Corps, are from Pottsville and vicinity.

The ceremonies of September 1889 were reported on the 11th in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The 96th Position.

The 96th went into Gettysburg battles carrying the beautiful silk flag presented by friends of the Schuylkill Valley while at Stafford Heights a few weeks before.  On 13 June it was withdrawn from picket duty along the Potomac and started on the march that opened the Gettysburg Campaign.  The movement continued with only short intervals of rest until on the afternoon of 2 July, when at a moment of great peril in the battle as the veterans of Longstreet massed upon the extreme left were doubling up and driving the corps of Sickles, the 96th arrived upon the field, footsore and weary.  With scarcely a moment’s rest they were pushed forward on the right of the road leading out to the peach orchard to a slight elevation on the right, and in front of Little Round Top, and took a position behind a fence which they held until the close of the battle, with slight loss.  The 96thwas then under command of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Lessig.  On the 5th they were in pursuit of the enemy, capturing prisoners at every turn.

This will be the programme followed at the 96th dedication:  Addresses – “The 96th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers,” Colonel Henry Royer; “How and when the regiment reached the field and the part it took in the battle,” Captain John T. Boyle; “History of the Testimonial,” Major Levi Huber.

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William Henry Lessig

The commander of the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg was Colonel William H. Lessig.  He was born in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, on 31 October 1831 and died in Monte Vista, Colorado, on 18 July 1910.

Lessig joined the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry as Captain of Company C on 23 September 1861.  On 15 September 1862, he was promoted to Major at regimental headquarters and on 23 December 1862 he received the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was given command of the regiment.  His commission as Colonel came on 13 March 1863, just a few months before the Battle of Gettysburg. Regimental records show that he was mustered out with his regiment on 21 October 1864 and pension records show that his only Civil War service was in the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry.

In the days after the Lincoln assassination, Lessig was one of several persons who was mistakenly identified as John Wilkes Booth.  Newspapers reported “chases” throughout Central Pennsylvania, including Reading (Berks County) and Tamaqua (Schuylkill County) where men were captured and detained until the authorities were positive that they did not have the fugitive assassin.  The story of Lessig and Jacob W. Haas is summarized in the 48th Pennsylvania Blogspot and was also reported here in the post entitled Corp. John C. Gratz – Fever Victim.   Ironically, Hass served under Lessig in the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry!

After the war, Lessig moved west and on 10 October 1901 applied for an invalid pension from Illinois.  After Lessig died, his widow Clara Belle Lessig, who had actually divorced him in 1903, applied for benefits for minor children on 25 July 1910, which according to pension records, she received.

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Friend of General Grant Dies

DENVER, Colorado – 20 July 1910 – General William H. Lessig, a friend of General Grant and Territorial Surveyor of Colorado in the sixties, died last night at the Soldiers’ Home at Monte Vista, Colorado. His wife, Clara Belle Lessig, obtained a divorce in Chicago in 1903.  He was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and served in the Civil War.  It is said that Lillian Belle’s novel, “The Interference of Patricia,” was based on facts connected with General Lessig’s life.

The above notice of the death of William H. Lessig was found in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 July 1910 and was obtained through the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Lessig is buried at Charles Baber Cemetery, Pottsville, Schuylkill County.  More information about him can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.

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Around the base of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg are a series of plaques which, by regiment and company, note the names of every soldier who was present at the Battle of Gettysburg.  The plaque for the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry is pictured below.  By clicking on the plaque it should enlarge so the names can be more clearly read.  If a name does not appear, it could be that the soldier did serve in the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, but was not part of the regiment during its days at Gettysburg.  There could also be errors on the plaque.

 

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