Liberty Burns (1816-1864)

      
 
Liberty was born in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania to millwright Robert Burns and his wife Sarah in 1816. He moved with his widowed mother to Jefferson County in about 1830, where he worked as a laborer, farmer, and lumberman, and had acquired land outside the county seat of Brookville by 1840. He had nine children by two wives, Ellen and Elizabeth, both of whom predeceased him. He's shown here in his Union blues, probably the year he enlisted, 1861, when he was 45 years old.

This is Brookville's Main Street, photographed sometime in the 1850s. Liberty's land was situated just a few miles southeast of this spot.

As this 1866 map shows, the Burns home sat on the north side of the road leading from Brookville to Knoxdale, whose director of schools prior to the Civil War was his father-in-law John Henry Bish.
Liberty and Elizabeth had 80 acres of woodland that sloped down to Swamp Run.

This is what the land looks like today.
The house, which burned in an 1865 arson fire, was located on the right hand side of this road, which leads to Brookville.

This is a Civil-War-era photograph of Todd's Tavern, where Liberty's regiment, the Pennsylvania 105th Volunteers,
stopped to rest on the morning of May 5, 1864, before the marched down Brock Road and into battle.

Another vintage photograph, showing the split-rail fences near Todd's Tavern.
These are what I pictured Liberty and his fellow soldiers leaning against to get some rest before the battle.

Soldiers arriving at their positions prior to the battle would have come across the remains of men killed a year
before at the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought on the same ground.

An artist's rendition of the Battle of Wilderness, which does not capture the intense close-quarter fighting the men did in dense undergrowth, where they often couldn't see the adversary until they were face to face.

This diagram shows the position of the Pennsylvania 105th -- also called the Wildcat Regiment, which was with Hays. They came up Brock Road from Todd's Tavern and turned down the Orange Plank Road to meet Lee's forces, massed under the command of A.P. Hill.

A closeup from another battlefield map, showing where the 105th was placed.

This beautiful forest marks the spot where the 105th fought McGowan's soldiers.
A park ranger helped me locate the place where Liberty fell, 150 years, almost to the day, after the Battle of Wilderness.
This photograph of the Orange Plank Road was taken just days after the battle had ended. There is very little evidence that this was a place where some 30,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured during the three days of fighting.

This photograph shows preparations underway for burial of soldiers killed at the Battle of Wilderness. Liberty would not have been among these, since he survived for a week after being wounded in the thigh, and would have died in a field hospital.

At the field hospital, his wounds would have festered in the septic conditions, and an amputation might have been attempted.
This would have been performed in non-sterile conditions without anesthesia.

Liberty's wounds were more grievous that those of the soldiers shown recuperating in this Wilderness field hospital.
These are the lucky ones, at least so far.

A friendly park ranger helped me find Liberty's headstone.
He was one of the 15% of those who died in or after the Battle of Wilderness who actually were identified. He is listed on the Roll of Honor as Alberty Barnes, which makes me think he arrived at the field hospital conscious but weak.

This is the lovely burial field where Liberty's headstone rests (the one closest to the camera).