Profiles

John Burns

John Burns a Civilian and Veteran of the War of 1812

John Burns a Civilian and Veteran of the War of 1812

Hometown: Burlington, NJ

Age: 69

Category: Civilian and Veteran of the War of 1812

Status: wounded

Before Gettysburg: John Burns was among the first to volunteer for the War of 1812. He fought in several major campaigns along the U.S.–Canadian border. In 1846, when war broke out with Mexico, he once again promptly volunteered for service. At the start of the Civil War in 1861, he was 67, but his spirit was indomitable. He volunteered yet again, this time with the Union Army, but was rejected because of his age. However, he was allowed to travel with the army as a teamster. Eventually, he was sent home to Gettysburg, where he was appointed town constable. Fate would soon come knocking.

July 1, 1863: On the morning of July 1, a major battle erupted in his town. The 69-year-old constable calmly took up his flintlock musket and simply walked out to the scene of the fighting. Approaching an officer of the Pennsylvania 155th “Bucktail” Regiment, he requested to fall in with the troops. In near disbelief, the officer sent Burns into the woods next to the McPherson Farm, where he fought beside members of the Iron Brigade throughout the afternoon until he suffered three wounds and was captured by Confederate forces. He was released a short time later.

July 2, 1863:

July 3, 1863:

After Gettysburg: After the battle, Burns became a national hero. When President Lincoln came to Gettysburg in November to dedicate the Soldiers Cemetery, it was John Burns whom the president wished to meet. A poem about his exploits was published the following year. He died in 1872 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. Years later, the state enacted legislation to provide funds for a fitting monument. The site chosen was the McPherson Farm where Burns had fought so bravely. The monument was dedicated on July 1, 1903, on the 40th anniversary of the battle.