Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

Synopsis

He was found dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, an unknown soldier with nothing to identify him but an ambrotype of his three children, clutched in his fingers. With the photograph as the single, sad clue to his identity, a publicity campaign to locate his family swept the North. Within a month, the bereaved widow and children were located in Portville, New York, and the devoted father was revealed to be Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers. Using many previously untapped sources, this book tells the tale of 19th-century war, sentiment, and popular culture in greater detail than ever before.

Excerpt

His has been one of the most frequently told tales of one of the most chronicled events in our history, the Battle of Gettysburg. Publicity in the press -- savvy editors knew a good story when they read one -- broadcast the account across the North a few months after the armies marched out of Pennsylvania. Soon folks throughout the land were wondering about the unknown Union soldier who had been found dead on the battlefield clutching a photograph of his three small children. the melodramatic aspects of the tale played perfect tones on the heartstrings of readers. They could picture the pathetic scene: the lifeless body, the stiffened grip, the unseeing eyes of the father staring at the cherubic faces of his children -- his last sight on earth. He was only one of thousands of dead men strewn about Gettysburg's fields, but he was special. of all the blackened, bloated, contorted corpses on the battleground, his death pose spoke of devotion. in the silence of death, he spoke of love.

With a great wave of empathy, as the powerful wheels of the press spun the story in ever wider circles throughout the North, the nation wondered: Who was he? Whose father was he? Would the children and their mother ever learn of his fate? a month after the first article appeared in the newspapers, the mother and children were traced to their western New York State home, and the fallen soldier was identified as a sergeant of the 154th New York Volunteers. This ending proved to be the beginning of a larger story. a charitable drive to aid the fatherless family inspired a broad appeal, resulting in the establishment of a home for soldiers' orphans in Gettysburg. For several postwar years, the orphanage thrived. Among the residents were the sergeant's widow and children, living just a short walk from their beloved's final resting place in the great Soldiers' National Cemetery.

That in brief is the story of Amos Humiston, as it has been told and retold over the decades. Virtually without exception, from the earliest tell-

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