The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently launched the Gettysburg: Panic in Pittsburgh, then a nation saved, a great multimedia website focusing on the Pittsburgh connections to the Battle of Gettysburg. A couple of months ago, when the Post-Gazette‘s Steve Mellon was in the Library and Archives doing research for this project, we pointed him to several resources that would help tell this story, including the John I. Nevin Papers.
A schoolteacher from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, Nevin kept a diary while serving with the Pennsylvania Volunteers. The diary vividly captures his wartime experiences, which included a stint as a prisoner of war in Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison. After being released in a prisoner exchange, Nevin returned to service with the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. On July 2, with the regiment under his command, Nevin arrived with his troops at Gettysburg after a 39 mile hike, taking a position near Little Round Top.
Nevin described the battle in his diary.”Little white puffs of smoke, here and there, over the rugged face of the hill told that the riflemen were as busy as ever, although in the outrageous noise of the ordnance their guns were not heard except at long intervals and then they seemed like pop guns. I lived since last night on an excitement, nothing else, as our position in the front blockades the commissary.”
Nevin also noted the praise earned by the Pennsylvanian soldiers for their performance in the battle. “They [captured Confederate soldiers] frankly admitted that the Pennsylvanians fought today desperately. The Bucktails have earned especial credit. They are perfect daredevils, delight in danger and were always in the front. The left of the line today was almost entirely composed of Pennsylvanians and when Gen Bartlett made his final disposition for an attack (about 3 PM) which we fully expected, glanced around and said ‘I wish I were a Pennsylvanian today.'”(For more on Nevin, see Craig Moore’s article “Warrior Poet: The Civil War Chronicles of Pittsburgh’s John Nevin,” which appeared in the Heinz History Center’s Western Pennsylvania History magazine.)
To learn more about Pennsylvania’s role in the Civil War, be sure to check out the Heinz History Center’s latest exhibit Pennsylvania’s Civil War.