Monday, December 6, 2021

John Rowan and the Battle of Gettysburg

Knowing so little about my Ancestors’ lives can be frustrating.  I am always looking to learn more, so, when small bits of information become available, I am very excited.

My paternal great great grandfather, John Rowan, fought in the Civil War. (see blog post The Civil War Record of John W. Rowan) After learning John was in the Civil War I wanted to learn more about his military service.  I learned John was a member of the 145th NY Infantry and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1st-3rd in 1863.  John survived this horrific battle and was not reported injured during the battle.  How amazing!

While I have been to Gettysburg several times in the past, I wondered how the experience would change for me knowing that my Ancestor was there and part of the action?  This Summer, as part of a cross country road trip, I decided it was time to go back and see what else I could learn while there.

The first thing I wanted to do was find the stone marker for John’s 145th NY Regiment.  I had been able to find a picture of it on the internet but the Battle of Gettysburg covered a large area.  Where was John physically during the 3 days of fighting?

Searching on the internet for the monument under The Battle of Gettysburg I learned the monument was located “southeast of Gettysburg on Culp’s Hill, on the east side of Slocum Avenue about 150 yards north of the intersection with Geary Avenue”. 

There it is!

"The granite monument is twelve and a half feet tall.  A circular bronze relief of the Seal of the State of New York and a bronze star symbol of the Twelfth Corps are on the front.  The monument was dedicated in 1890 by the State of New York."

Looking from several directions I can now see what the terrain was like:

From the account given by Col. E. Livingston Price, 14th New York Infantry, I have excerpted these pieces of his report to better understand how the battle progressed:

  • "On the morning of July 1, my command moved from Littletown, PA., and halted about 2 miles from Gettysburg.
  • About 4 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd instant, I received orders to be in readiness to move farther to the front, in order to take up a new line.
  • At 6 o'clock I accordingly moved my command to the front by the way of the Gettysburg turnpike.
  • About 12 m. I received orders to detach a company of my command as skirmishers.  ...a volley was fired directly in front of my command (probably by the enemy's skirmishers), wounding 2 of my men and causing some confusion; order was, however, quickly restored.  It was now 10.30 o'clock.  In this position my men rested on their arms during the night; nothing occurred.
  • About 4 o'clock on the morning of the 3d, some twelve guns belonging to artillery, posted some 500 paces in rear of my regiment, opened upon the woods in front of my command, and skirmishers became briskly engaged.  The artillery opened upon the woods in my front, the shells of which barely cleared, the men of my command, who at that time were lying down.  Subsequently several of my men were wounded by the fire of our artillery, and, deeming it advisable and proper to report the facts to my commanding officer...  On the delivery of this message, the said Sergeant-Major Shanly was instructed by the commanding officer of the brigade to tell Colonel Price "not to fret."  Shortly after the arrival of this message, 3 more of my command were wounded, including a commissioned officer.
  • My command was afterward moved forward to occupy the position of the day before, the enemy having been driven beyond the stone wall and breastworks before alluded to.  My command remained in this position, under a severe fire from the enemy's artillery, until 4.30 o'clock, when it was moved to the support of the center, but had hardly reached there before receiving orders to return to my former position on the right.  My regiment was afterward thrown forward into the first line, behind the breastworks, where it engaged the enemy's sharpshooters until darkness put an end to further operations. 
  • Nothing unusual occurred during the night save teh alarm in the first line which caused it to fire.
  • Thus for four days and three nights were the men of my command subjected to the severest hardships, besides trials and dangers of almost every description; yet throughout all I cannot speak int he highest terms of both the officers and men of my command.  All behaved with a nobleness of spirit well worthy of record; each and every one seemed aware of the great issues involved, and the importance of the struggle in which they were engaged."
       (Price's entire report can be found at The Battle of Gettysburg Official Report.)

John had already served for 11 months prior to this and fought in battles at Charlestown, Berryville and Chancellorsville.  John would go on to fight in additional battles before being wounded a little over a year later in Georgia.

Now I feel like by having walked in the area and read this document I have a much better idea of what these few days of battle were like for John.  At the time I also remembered that John was a young, unmarried man of merely 17 years.  I can only imagine the horror he felt.  I wonder if he questioned his decision to lie about his age and enlist so young?

While staying in Gettysburg I was able to take about a two hour horseback trail ride given by a park historian of some of the battlefields.  This was not the battlefield where John fought but somehow being on horseback and being on the grounds where men had fought and died also helped add to my understanding of what the experience must have been like for John.

There is so much to be gained by walking in my ancestors’ steps!  Whenever you can experience the areas where your ancestors lived and worked please do it.  Yes, I can learn a lot about the experiences of their lives from my computer but I assure you, even 158 years later, I can learn so much more by being there.

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.

Enjoy the journey,



  1. What a wonderful experience. I hope to visit Gettysburg myself one day.

  2. Thanks Diane. I have been there several times but this one was so much more meaningful knowing John fought there.