John Burns at Gettysburg

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With the Confederate Army advancing upon the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania in July 1863, one civilian decided to take matters into his own hands.

John Burns, a 69-year old veteran of the War of 1812, loaded his flintlock musket as he heard the sounds of the battle advancing toward his town. Donning his best suit of clothes, he walked out to the scene of the fighting and approached an officer of Pennsylvania's Bucktail Regiment, asking to be permitted to help defend the town.

He was assigned a post in the forest near the McPherson Farm where he fought throughout the afternoon. At some point in the fray he picked up a modern rifle and calmly fired at the Southerners until he was wounded three times.

One bullet struck his belt buckle and was deflected from harming him. A second struck him in the arm, creasing the skin. The third hit him in the ankle and forced him to the ground, unable to continue fighting.

As the Confederates swept the field, Burns appealed to them to allow him to go home to his wife. He supposedly concocted a story that he was on his way home from a country doctor and was caught between the opposing armies. Whatever truly conspired, the Southerners allowed him to return to town.

After the battle, he was elevated to folk hero status as the only Gettysburg civilian to take up arms to defend his home. When President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg in November to deliver his Gettysburg Address, he is said to have wanted to meet Burns. By 1864, there was even a poem written about Burn's small role in the fighting.

After the war, he returned to relative obscurity and died in 1872. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg where a small monument marks his grave.

On the battlefield at Gettysburg National Military Park, the state legislature had a monument built to Burns' exploits. Scuplted by Albert G Bureau, the monument depicts Burns in civilian clothes carrying his old musket. This monument is located on McPherson's Ridge.

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