Living history is a demanding hobby on its own… the rigors of maintaining historical authenticity combined with the ever-present tests of climate, insects, and poorly made brogans. I entered the lifestyle with the added pressure of a ghost looking over my shoulder; my impression was that of my ancestor, Thomas Jefferson Truitt. It has been an all-consuming task, one that demands more than just buying a uniform and sleeping in a tent. This summer, I walked in his footsteps, following his journey in service to our country.
- Malvern Hill, Virginia – July 1, 1862… First Sergeant Jefferson Truitt and the 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers were called to defend the heights at Malvern Hill. Union artillery was massed to stop the Confederate onslaught- and slow McClellan’s painful retreat down the Peninsula. Infantry regiments were put into line with the guns as Lee’s army pushed forward across open wheat fields. Three color-bearers were cut down in the 62nd PA while defending Battery D, 5th US artillery. Sergeant Truitt risked his life to secure the colors in his coat and get them safely off the field. For this gallant act, he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant on August 12.
- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania- July 2, 1863… One year later, Truitt and his regiment marched 88 miles in four days to reach the battle raging at Gettysburg. The 62nd bravely marched into the carnage of the Wheatfield twice on the afternoon of July 2. They were nearly surrounded after the second push; Confederates advanced on them from three fronts- only the discipline that came from being one of the best drilled regiments in army saved them that day. Truitt assisted in leading the men out of danger during a fighting retreat. The 150th Anniversary brought well deserved attention to the 62nd PA’s monument.
- Cold Harbor, Virginia- June 3, 1864… Just three weeks from mustering out of the army, the 62nd PA took part in Grant’s poorly conceived assault at Cold Harbor on June 3. Truitt had survived the unprecedented carnage of the Overland Campaign- Wilderness-Spotsylvania-North Anna… he would not be so lucky at Cold Harbor. The 62nd pushed north from Bethesda Church up the Walnut Grove road, but entrenched Confederates stopped them in an all-too-familiar pattern during that campaign. Truitt was quite possibly one of a dozen men cut down by Confederate sharpshooters sheltered in a nearby barn. 2nd Lt. Jefferson Truitt would not make it home to Pennsylvania- his final resting place is Cold Harbor National Cemetery.
I only can hope that I have done this brave soldier…. justice with my impression. The 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg brought me closer to him than ever before. Following his Civil War service was an adventure and a privilege. Living history has that potential, to provide a deeper, more meaningful experience while learning about our past.