On the front lines of history
There were many units that were engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg. One unit that sticks out to me is the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. I am interested in this unit because a possible ancestor of mine served in this regiment and was a casualty on the first day of battle. I have connected some of the dots and hope to connect more of his story. Private Henry Lentz lived in Tioga County at the time he was recruited into Company C by Alfred J. Sofield. The Lentz family is on my mother’s side of the family and she told me that the Lentz family lived in Tioga County at the time of the Civil War before moving south to Lycoming County in the late Nineteenth Century, where I live now. So I have a personal interest, possibly even a family connection to the 149th Pennsylvania Regiment and to Gettysburg.
The 149th Pennsylvania was formed in the summer of 1862 – companies came from Huntingdon, Tioga, Potter, Clearfield, Clarion-Mifflin, Allegheny, Luzerne, and Lebanon counties. The regiment trained with the 143rd and 150th Pennsylvania regiments at Camp Curtin outside of Harrisburg. The men of the unit earned the nickname “Bucktails” because they put the tails of white tailed deer in their kepis. The regiment was assigned to post duty in Washington D.C. following the Battle of Second Manassas on August 31st, 1862. The regiment would not see combat for the next six months. While stationed in Washington, the 149th was put on garrison duty either near the ramparts of the fortifications or guarding hospitals within the city.
Guard duty made some of the Bucktails disgruntled by their lack of action while in D.C. According to one Bucktail, “I enlisted thinking to be engaged in active service and not lay around camp to guard street corners and city hospitals. We are not learning to drill any, of our company is nearly all detailed as guards in different parts of Washington and Georgetown where they are of no more use to the country than the fifth leg of a dog.” (Matthews, p. 27) After six months of guard duty, orders came to move out in Feb. 15th to join Gen. Hooker’s Army of the Potomac stationed at Falmouth on the Rappahannock River.
The Bucktails were involved in the Chancellorsville Campaign, but weren’t involved in heavy fighting. The real baptism of fire came on July 1st at Gettysburg. The 149th PA arrived on the battlefield from Emmitsburg Road and took up position near McPherson Farm on Seminary Ridge at 11:45 a.m. Col. Stone placed the 149th under Col. Walton Dwight between the barn and the Chambersburg Pike.
Once in position, the regiment drew heavy artillery fire from Confederate guns under Pegram and McIntosh. The shellfire from Herr Ridge was relentless. According to Francis B. Jones of the 149th, “while waiting, the tallest man of my company, lying next to me, was curious to see what was going on and raised himself on his elbows. At that instant, a solid shot cut his head off, turned his body over to the rear, and spattered blood over my clothes.” (Dougherty, pg. 42) Then, the 149th helped to repulse Heth’s division with light casualties; however they started getting shot up by Rodes’ Division behind that. The regiment held it’s ground on the right flank clear past noon. Around that time, North Carolinians under Brig. Gen. Junius Daniels attacked on the right flank of Stone’s Brigade. At that point, Col. Stone ordered Dwight to shift the 149th into the railroad cut to meet Daniels’s advance. It was from 2:00 to 3:30 pm that the 149th Pennsylvania put up the fight of its life in the Railroad Cut and took its heaviest casualties. Col. Dwight summed up his regiment, “Loss, severe; Conduct, excellent.” (Dougherty, pg. 44) At 3:30pm, the Union line collapsed and the survivors of the 149th Pennsylvania and the rest of Stone’s Brigade fell back to Cemetery Ridge.
For the rest of the battle, the 149th Pennsylvania were kept out of serious fighting. As for my possible ancestor, Pvt. Henry Lentz was killed in the fight for McPherson Farm on Seminary Ridge. I hope to find out more about this soldier and his war.
Matthews, Richard E., The 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Unit in the Civil War, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1994
Dougherty, James J., Stone’s Brigade and the Fight for the McPherson Farm: Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Conshohocken, PA: Combined Pub., 2001