Sepia Saturday: Gettysburg

Yet another relative of mine was named George Nelson Bentley. The brother of my great-grandfather John Bentley, he was named for his father who had come west from New York in 1835. Born in 1838 in Livonia Michigan, George Jr. "enlisted in Company I, 24th Michigan Infantry, on August 4, 1862 at Detroit." The Civil War was in full swing. He was 24. Most of the following is excerpted from the resources I list at the end.

The descriptive roster indicates that George was 5'1" tall with a brown complexion, gray eyes, and brown hair. History of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan of the Iron Brigade, known as the Detroit and Wayne County Regiment (O. B. Curtis, 1891 [1988 Reprint, Old Soldier Books, Gaithersburg MD]) indicates that George was working as farmer in Redford at the time of his enlistment, while the State Adjutant General has him in Livonia. ...Although detail of his service are scant, George was promoted to Corporal, an indication of good service.

Company I was a late addition to the famous “Iron Brigade,” which was part of The Army of the Potomac -- in turn one of the three units of First Corp of the Union Army. The Iron Brigade, also known as the Black Hat Brigade, fought entirely in the Eastern Theater, although composed of regiments from Western states (states that are today considered Midwestern). "Noted for its strong discipline, its unique uniform appearance, and its tenacious fighting ability, the Iron Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties [almost 80%] tof any brigade in the war." (Italics mine.)

In I Corps’ last major battle, the Battle of Gettysburg, General John F. Reynolds [“arguably the best Union corps commander in the Eastern Theater”] was killed just as the first troops arrived on the field, and command was inherited by Major General Abner Doubleday. Although putting up a ferocious fight, the I Corps was overwhelmed by the Confederate Third Corps and a division of Second Corps. It was forced to retreat through the town of Gettysburg, taking up defensive positions on Cemetery Hill.

Abner Doubleday

The First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg took place on July 1, 1863, and began as an engagement between isolated units of the Army of Northern Virginia under Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac under Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade.

In the morning, two brigades of Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth's division of Third Corps were delayed by dismounted Union cavalrymen under Brig. Gen. John Buford. As infantry reinforcements [including George Bentley] arrived under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds of the Union I Corps, the Confederate assaults down the Chambersburg Pike were repulsed, although Gen. Reynolds was killed. By early afternoon, the Union XI Corps had arrived, and the Union position was in a semicircle from west to north of the town.

The Confederate Second Corps began a massive assault from the north, with one division attacking from Oak Hill and another attacking across the open fields north of town. The Union lines generally held under extremely heavy pressure, although the salient at Barlow's Knoll was overrun.

With a renewed assault from the north, Heth contributed with his entire division from the west, accompanied by the division of Maj. Gen. W. Dorsey Pender. Heavy fighting in Herbst's Woods and on Oak Ridge finally caused the Union line to collapse. Some of the Federals conducted a fighting withdrawal through the town, suffering heavy casualties and losing many prisoners; others simply retreated. They took up good defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and waited for additional attacks.

Sometime during that long day, George Nelson Bentley, Jr. was killed.

Union dead, Gettysburg

His gravesite is not currently known. When the Union Dead were moved to the National Cemetery, he was not among those identified. He may rest there in a grave marked "UNKNOWN". It is possible that his temporary gravesite was noted and the body exhumed and returned to Michigan, as were many. ...The Company I descriptive book indicates "Final statement sent September 9, 1863. He was a noble soldier."

George Gordon

According to a letter written by Capt. George Gordon, a month prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Bentley narrowly missed being wounded at Fitzhugh Crossing. A bullet apparently passed through the seat of his pants.

Here is the letter, which gives a good picture of the situation.

Camp on battlefield of Fredericksburg No. 2 May 1st, 1863
My dear Carrie

Once more after the strife of battle I am spared, by the blessing of God, to write a few lines to you. I am writing this upon my knee, and so I do not write very well, but I guess you can make out to read it.

I wrote you before about the Port Royal afair. On Tuesday the 28th ult. we left camp at Belle Plain about noon, and to near our old crossing place, and lay there until about 11 oclock at night, when we commenced moving down to the river. We moved so slow that we did not get down to the bank of the river until nearly daylight, and we had got about half the pontoons in the water when it began to get light and the rebels opened a sharp fire upon us from their intrenchments on the oposite side of the river. Your Pa will know what kind of things they were. He will know the spot where we finally crossed. It was below the old crossing place a mile or so, just above the woods that we charged on in the other battle.

Well as I was saying, they opened fire upon our engineers laying the pontoons and sent them flying to the rear. Our regiment of course had to be one of those sent forward to try and drive them back but we could not displace them from our side of the river. Our reg't in this lost one, Co. F. and some wounded.

We could not get the pontoons across at that rate and so there was a forlorn hope ordered our to the river, take the pontoon back, cross over and drive the rebels out of their intrenchments - and if successful we could then lay the bridges. The 24th Mich. [including George Bentley] and 6th Wis. were the ones ordered to do this. So we formed battalion front, came down to the river with yells like demons or something else, rushed into the boats and went over, bullets flying like hail stones. The 7th Wis. and 14th Brooklyn were to cover us with their fire, but after we got across and were going up the bank, their bullets flew into and around us about as fast as the rebels. But the most of us got up the hill and made the rebs skeddadle out of that double quick. We all then did the tallest kind of running after them.

We took in all about 250 prisoners. Co. I took 36 in all. Your humble servant had, with the squad with him the honor of having 22 surrender in a body to him, one Lieut., Lieut. Hutton and Corp. Haskell and Henry Viley five. Sergt. Murray shot one through the head, dead, he wouldn't stop. John Dubois shot another. These two we know who shot, there was some 25 or 30 killed in all. The Reg't have lost in all so far as near as we can tell 5 killed and about 20 wounded. Co. I only had one seriously wounded. Stringham shot in the head, and followed the scalp around, but he is doing well. Murray had the blood drawn from his upper lip, came near shortening his nose. A. Johnson had a shot through his coat sleeve. Earnshaw and G. N. Bentley through the pants. [Italics mine] Myself an extra buttonhole in my coat just back of the lower button, no damage, only to clothing. We have had it both ways now in the other better by shot and shell, and this time shot and shell and the natural way, bullets as they would say by smallpox.

They gave us a pretty good shelling yesterday, but we held our ground, and gave them as good as they sent. Last night we worked pretty much all night tearing down log houses, and building fortifications, and now I think we are all right and will hold this as that is all that is now wanted of us, as Gen. Hooker has corps above and is now with 3 or 4 corps on their left flank. I think they will have to fight or run this time. Our company all stood up like men, except Lieut. Wheeler. He failed to cross the river and I have not seen him since the morning we crossed over.

They are waiting for this letter and I will have to bring this to a close, so good bye

Yours affectionately
Best regards to all
Write often

Thanks to these resources:




24th_michigan: letters

24th_michigan: G. Gordon

Civil War Photos

And thanks to the Sepia Saturday meme for the excuse to post this stuff.


  1. Thank goodness you got the right link as I would have hated to miss this post. It is a main satisfying meal of a post rather than a snack : and full of that matching of words and images that you always do so well.

  2. So fascinating. How interesting to have information about a relative who fought at Gettysburg. How sad that he died so young and has no grave site. At least now he'll be remembered by all of us who read this.

  3. How wonderful to have these details, however sad they are. Such an important battle.