A History of the Burns Family
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PART ONE: Guy's Path to the Dance

CHAPTER ONE: At Todd's Tavern

Spotsylvania, Virginia
May 5, 1864, Morning

PART ONE Overview
1 - Wildcat Brigade
2 - Battle of Wilderness
3 - Field Hospital
4 - Orphan School
5 - Ladies' Man
6 - Mary Dinger
7 -The Masons
8 - Mary Rebecca
9 - Guy the Wanderer
10 - Farmer Boy
11 - Center of the World
12 - Birthday
13 - Fish Story
14 - Miss Fenn
15 - To the Dance

More Information

Liberty Burns [2]

The infantrymen of the 105th Pennsylvania - the Wildcat Regiment [1] - are tramping back toward Todd's Tavern, which they had passed on their way south toward Wilderness not an hour before. They've been on the march since before sunup. As part of General Hancock's plan to counter Hill's advance along the Orange Plank Road, the 105th, along with the rest of Birney's division, will be advancing up Brock Road to back up General Getty, whose forces have been skirmishing with the rebels around the intersection of the two roads.

It's almost noon, the heat is building, the men are exhausted. As they round the bend and spot the old tavern, memories of Chancellorsville and all its horrors come flooding back. For it was on this ground that so many Pennsylvania boys had lost their lives almost exactly a year earlier. [3]

Jefferson County, Pennsylvania has sent many of its loyal sons to fight in Lincoln’s Army of the Potomac, and they have served bravely from Yorktown to Gettysburg.  But Private Liberty Burns of Company B is spent and dazed, too battleweary at 48 years old to be frightened. After months of marching around northern Virginia, he is tired to the bone, with almost three years left to serve in this damnable war without end.

Adjusting his Springfield where the strap has frayed the faded blue cloth of his coat, he slogs ahead, hoping his boots will hold up through the battle that looms this day.  The heat is intense. All he can think about it is getting back home to Knox. It will never be the same, with Elizabeth gone. But he misses the woods and streams and rolling hills with a longing that hurts.

Sergeant Dowling calls a halt, and the men spread out along the log fences lining the road. Liberty puts his rifle down and sips gratefully from a canteen the men pass around. Many of Liberty’s friends from home are here, careworn old soldiers like himself.  His friend John Ostrander is just up Brock Road, with General Getty in the Pennsylvania 102nd, within shouting distance were it not for the clamor of war.

Battle of Wilderness Animation

But most are just boys, like his own son Joseph, who'd enlisted at eighteen but was wounded in the leadup to Richmond and discharged. Or young Jacob Haugh, the only Haugh in the 105th to have survived this long [4]. Or Sergeant Dowling himself.


Springfield rifle used by Union soldiers

The townships of Jefferson County – Rose and Knox and Warsaw and Eldred and Pine Creek and Brookville [5] – have spilled more than their fair share of blood in this terrible war.

Major. General Winfield Hancock Major General David Birney Brig General Alexander Hays

Can it already be two and a half years since Elizabeth died? He can scarcely credit it. When he'd joined the regiment in early September of 1861, her belly was already straining her everyday dress, and at Christmas, when the 105th was assisting in the defense of Washington, he'd awaited word from home about the latest blessing -- another son if their prayers were answered. But, oh, the bitterness of the news:  their fourth child Elmer had been born on Christmas Day, and Elizabeth had died on January 12th. He cannot think of the loss without pain. [6]



[1] The 105th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers was commanded by Colonel Calvin Craig. The regiment was part of Grant's Army of the Potomac, Second Corps (Hancock), Third Division (Birney), Second Brigade (Hayes). Company B was led by Winfield Barr. All the battle detailsand personnel notesl are from the 105th Regiment’s extensive records and Hancock's after-action summary of the Battle of Wilderness.  The regiment was nicknamed Wildcat not only because its soldiers were from a region of Pennsylvania where wildcats abounded, but also because wildcatters from that area struck out on their own in search of oil.

[2] This photo was given to Liberty's son Lorenzo, who passed it on to Guy Burns.

[3] Troop movement and battle details from General Hancock's after-battle summary, and the website of the Pennsylvania 105th Infantry Regiment.

[4] The 105th's Regimental History lists four Haughs [pronounced Hawk] in Company B with Liberty. John Ostrander was assigned to Company C of the 102nd Pennsylvania. We will see why they are important later.

[5] Go to More Information page linked at contents sidebar above to see maps of these townships.

[6] Family details are from a National Archives record of Liberty's entire Civil War pension record, and the Johan Bish Family Genealogy website.