THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: James Jackson Purman – Medal of Honor Recipient (Thursday, July 2nd, 1863)

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award given to the soldiers of the United States Army. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” At the Battle of Gettysburg, only 63 of the 80,000 Union soldiers who fought there received the honor. One of those men to receive America’s highest award was James Jackson Purman. His gallantry may not have been as high as those of other men who won the award, but for the men he led, his actions were no less important.

James Jackson Purman, after the war.

James Jackson Purman, after the war.

James Jackson Purman was born in Pennsylvania in 1841. At the time of Gettysburg, he was serving as a Lieutenant in Company A of the 140th Pennsylvania. On July 2nd, 1863, his company was involved in the fighting in the Wheatfield on the Union left flank. At the risk of his own life, he, along with Captain James Pipes, voluntarily moved a wounded comrade to safety, before falling himself with a wound to the leg. He lay on the ground there until the next day, when he was finally removed from the field. His leg was amputated, but while being treated, he fell in love with one of the nurses, Mary Witherow, whom he later married. On October 30th, 1896, over thirty-three years after the fight at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery under fire in moving his comrade to safety (Captain Pipes was also awarded the same honor).

Following Gettysburg, he worked as a schoolteacher before starting work with the U.S. Pension office in 1881. James Jackson Purman died in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 1915, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with his wife. But his legacy, and the legacy of those men who fought at Gettysburg, continues to inspire the people of America to this day. Recently, acclaimed actor Stephen Lang brought Purman to life in a one-man performance, where he portrayed Purman as if he was giving a speech at the 50th Anniversary Commemorations of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. That performance, as well as a Q&A with the actor, can be found here.

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, a look at the often-overlooked attack on Culp’s Hill on the third day of the battle.

 

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Introduction

Pickett's Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

Pickett’s Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

This past Sunday marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the American Civil War. This battle marked the first battle in a campaign that would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle fought during the conflict. This campaign and battle would prove to be a major turning point in the war. The Confederate tide in the Eastern Theater, having ridden high following the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, would begin to ebb, while Union momentum would finally begin to build toward ultimate victory. Lives would be changed forever, and nothing would be the same.

As we look back on this campaign over the next month, we cannot help but ask several questions about who fought in it, what took place, and how the events of that period helped shape the country we live in today. Not only would thousands of lives be lost in this campaign, but those that survived through it would not be the same. Men who were relatively unknown prior to the events of this period would soon become household names. Officers with boyish charm would become bitter, depressed men into their dying days. And local scenery such as Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, the Round Tops, and Cemetery Ridge would forever be etched into the annals of military history. But ultimately, this campaign would change the face of the war, and lead to ultimate Union victory during the war.

Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be looking at various people, places and events that shaped this campaign, and how they shaped the outcome of this campaign. All of this will culminate with a three-part series on the Battle of Gettysburg, which will be released on July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, respectively. We here at Civil War Diary look forward to sharing these stories with you.