Barksdale’s death

No one might ever have known what happened to the Mississippi Brigade’s commander, General William Barksdale, but for the kindness of two Union soldiers: Private David Parker of the 14th Vermont and Musician Robert A. Cassidy of the 148th Pennsylvania.

They wrote the general’s wife, Narcissa Saunders Barksdale, after the war to tell her of the particulars of her husband’s death as they recalled them—Parker, in 1882, of finding the general west of Plum Run near midnight on July 2, 1863, and helping to carry him to a Second Corps aid station on the Taneytown Road behind Cemetery Ridge; and Cassidy, in 1866, of what happened next.

Cassidy was helping Assistant Surgeon Alfred T. Hamilton of the 148th who ran the aid station at the small, two-story home of Gettysburg shoemaker Jacob Hummelbaugh. The house was full of the wounded and dying so someone made a bed of blankets for the dying general in the dooryard.

Cassidy looked at Barksdale by candlelight and could see that he was a high-ranking officer. “He attempted to give him water from a canteen,” historian Harry W. Pfanz wrote in Gettysburg, The Second Day, “but the general could not sit up enough to drink that way.”

So Cassidy gave Barksdale water with a spoon and, when the general identified himself, Cassidy called Hamilton out to see their famous prisoner.

Hamilton, writing in The Story of Our Regiment, A History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, said his examination found wounds in the corpulent, bald Barksdale’s left chest, through his short, round jacket whose sleeves were trimmed with gold braid, and in his left leg, whose torn trousers were also trimmed with gold braid.

Barksdale’s blood was spraying from the chest wound with every breath he took. Yet he found the energy to have a last argument with his captors. “Beware!,” Cassidy reported him saying. “You will have Longstreet thundering in your rear in the morning.”

He died alone during the night and, after dawn, Cassidy saw that souvenir hunters had taken some of his gold braid and clipped the Mississippi star buttons from his jacket. Likewise the studs with Masonic emblems had been removed from his linen shirt. Cassidy took the last remaining button from his coat and a strap from his sword belt, both of which he later offered to Mrs. Barksdale.

A pre-war newspaper editor, Lieutenant George G. Benedict of the 12th Vermont Regiment, later wrote in a letter included his 1895 book Army Life in Virginia, that he recognized the dead general from having seen him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1850s.

Now, Benedict wrote, Barksdale’s “bald head and broad face, with open, unblinking eyes, lay uncovered in the sunshine. There he lay alone, without a comrade to brush the flies from his corpse.”

Barksdale was buried in a temporary grave near the Hummelbaugh house. Narcissa Barksdale came to Gettysburg after the war with her husband’s favorite hunting dog to find and retrieve his corpse for re-burial in Jackson, Mississippi.

There were many curious stories about the war. One of them concerned Barksdale’s dog who supposedly refused to leave his master’s Pennsylvania grave even after his remains were removed. The story goes that the dog eventually had to be left behind when Mrs. Barksdale returned to Mississippi.

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, Battles: Gettysburg, Correspondence, Gen. William Barksdale, The Commanders and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Barksdale’s death

  1. jim lemley says:

    God Bless you gallant Barksdale may you rest in peace. “Forward brave Mississippians one more charge and the day is ours”. We will never forget you “Deo Vindive”.

  2. Nancy Cassidy Carlson says:

    Robert A Cassidy the brother of my great -great grandfather! So happy to hear this story!

  3. Dick Stanley says:

    Thank you, Nancy, for your comment. And Jim, also.

  4. Hello, Mr. Stanley. I’ve been intrigued by the story of General Barksdale’s dog and have looked for an original source but have found nothing. Did Mrs. Barksdale ever write about the incident at the General’s grave? Did a member of the Hummelbaugh family share any account of the dog left behind at their farm? Thank you for any information you can provide.

  5. Dick Stanley says:

    I don’t recall my source for the tale off hand. Here’s one recitation of it (, which seems to draw somewhat from my own. I’ll ponder it awhile.

    Cool Civil War site you have:

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. Michael Collins says:

    Almost correct, I have the Parker letter & He was dead before taken off the field.I am The General’s Grandson..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s