He was a native of Randolph county, and among the first to volunteer in defence of his beloved country. Thus has fallen one so young, and promising, in the opening bud of manhood. He died a true patriot and soldier, fighting the enemies of his country and home. He was ever gay and lively; polite in his manners and strict in the discharge of his duties. Gallant in action, and heedless of danger—he feared not to follow where the colors went.
In him his parents have lost an excellent son, and North Carolina one of her brightest stars.
“He sleeps on Pennsylvania’s plains,
Amid the fallen brave,
The wild wind of her native hills
Sing requiems o’er his grave;
Deep toned notes of cannon’s roar,
Nor musket’s deeply rattle
Can rouse him from his sleep no more,
Nor wake him up to battle!
Green be the turf o’er his head,
And sacred be the sod;
Oh! may his spirit find a home
In glory, with his God.”
[Published in the Fayetteville Observer, September 14, 1863]
John H. Palmer was the oldest of the twelve children of Oron Alston Palmer (1813-1890) and Sylvania Selvina Staley (1817-1896) of the Long’s Mills community north of Liberty in Randolph County. He was born October 21, 1837, and enlisted in Company I, the “Davis Guards,” of the 22nd N.C. Infantry, on June 5, 1861.
John’s younger brother Joseph N. Palmer, born July 16, 1841, enlisted in the same company at the same time, but “mustered out… at home” on December 17, 1861—that is, he died at home, probably of one of the diseases that spread through the camps in the early months of the war. So the war had already taken at least one member of the family before Gettysburg.
John Palmer was promoted to Sergeant Major on July 31, 1861; to 3rd Lieutenant on June 14, 1862; and to 1st Lieutenant on July 18, 1862. Lt. Palmer was not by any means the only loss from Company I that day.
From the Greensboro Patriot, September 24, 1863 (also published in Fayetteville Observer)
TRIBUTE OF RESPECT.
HEADQUARTERS 22D N. C. REGIMENT,
Camp near Orange C. H., Va., Aug. 26, 1863.
At a meeting held by the officers of the 22d N. C. Regiment, Capt. C. F. Siler was called to the Chair, and Lts. R. W. Winborne and S. G. Caudill were appointed Secretaries.
The Chairman having explained the object of the meeting to be for the adoption of resolutions expressive of the sorrow for the death of Lieuts. J. F. PALMER [sic- J.H. is correct] and I. S. ROBBINS, Company I, 22d N. C. Regiment.
The following gentlemen were appointed a Committee to draft resolutions: Lts. B. W. Birkhead, G. F. Gardin and W. A. Tuttle, Sergts. T. J. Hooper and F. M. Birkhead.
WHEREAS, It has pleased Almighty God in His infinite wisdom to remove from our midst our beloved comrades in arms, Lts. J. F. PALMER and I. S. ROBBINS, of Co. I, who left their professions under bright auspices, at an early date and hastened to the rescue of their country, and fell on the bloody heights of Gettysburg, under the majestic folds of the banner of liberty, while bravely leading their company.
Resolved, That while we bow in humble submission to the ways of Divine Providence, in his dealings with men, we cannot refrain to mourn the loss of these brave and noble young men whose gallantry and skill as officers has been tried on every field that their company has been engaged in, and found to be of the highest order; whose gentlemanly bearings had reached the acme of perfection towards all those they became associated with, and won for them the confidence and admiration of all who knew them.
Resolved, That in their death their company and regiment has sustained an irretrievable loss, and our righteous cause two of its most noble defenders.
Yes! before that terrific fire was begun,
The mission of these noble men was done;
Ere the flowers of summer were in bloom,
The noble martyrs were laid in one tomb;
Secret, yet swift, the fatal missile sped,
And friends now weep over their early bed.
Resolved, That we wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
Resolved, That we extend our heart-felt grief to the bereaved families, and for comfort would point them to that Being who has vouchsafed all that is good for man.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the families of the deceased, and to the Greensborough Patriot, Catawba Journal and the Fayetteville Observer, for publication.
Lieut. B. W. BIRKHEAD, Co. I, }
G. H. Gardin, Co. B, }
W. A. TUTTLE, Co. A. ) COM.
SEGRT. HOOPER, Co. E, }
BIRKHEAD, Co. L, }
Lt. R, W. WINBORNE, } Secretaries.
Lt. S. G. CAUDILL, }
[This very formal expression of grief was a common feature of men’s clubs before the war- Masons, or social clubs would meet to eulogize a departed member, and write such flowery Victorian messages for publication in the local papers. As time between battles permitted, the officers and men continued the tradition until the losses came too fast to keep it up.]
Isaiah Spurgeon Robins (b. 5-30-1837 ) was Company I’s 2nd Lieutenant. His family history will be outlined in another post, but he enlisted in Company I on July 5, 1861, mustering in as 1st Sergeant. He was promoted to Ordinance Sergeant in March 1862 and transferred to the regimental Field Staff. On July 18, 1862 he was elected 2nd Lieutenant and transferred back to Company I. How did the company lose both its lieutenants on July 1st?
On June 30th, J. Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade of eastern North Carolinians was sent into the little town of Gettysburg, PA, to look for supplies (“especially shoes.”) They ran into John Buford’s Union cavalry and cocked the trigger for what became the turning point of the war.
A.P. Hill awakened his men to march into the town before dawn, and fortified them with an unusual allowance: any man who wanted an issue of whiskey at 5 AM was to receive one. A five-mile march along the Chambersburg Pike brought them within sight of the town by 10 AM- and also within sight of federal artillery, which began a bombardment. By 2:30 battle had become general along a front just west of the ridge where the local Seminary was located, and Robert E. Lee ordered Pettigrew’s 26th NC to press the federal line- which happened to be held by the famous Iron Brigade. The federals were pushed back, but at a heavy cost- Pettigrew’s brigade suffered 40% casualties.
About 4PM Dorsey Pender’s troops advanced to relieve Pettigrew. Pender’s Division of North Carolinians, including the 22nd NC Regiment, had led the march of A.P. Hill’s corps into Pennsylvania. They were in high spirits, impressing a British observer, who wrote “The soldiers of this Division are a remarkably fine body of men, and looked quite seasoned and ready for any work. Their clothing is serviceable … but there is the usual utter absence of uniformity as to colour and shape of their garments and hats; grey of all shades, and brown clothing, with felt hats predominate.” [Lt. Col Arthur J. Freemantle, Three Months in the Southern States (London, 1863), pp229-230]; Dorsey Pender himself noted that “I never saw troops march as ours do: they will go 15 or 20 miles a day without leaving a straggler and hop and yell on all occasions.” [ James I. Robertson, Jr., General A.P. Hill (1987), p204.]
His men charged right into a ferocious artillery barrage- 20 cannon spaced 5 yards apart threw iron at the Confederates. One of the Union officers wrote that his cannon were “cutting great gaps in the front line of the enemy. But still they came on, the gaps being closed by regiments from the second line, and this again filled by a third column which was coming over the hill. Never have I seen such a charge. Not a man seemed to falter. Lee may well be proud of his infantry.” [Wainwright, Diary of Battle, quoted in Robertson, AP Hill, p212]
The brigade commanded by Alfred Moore Scales, a Rockingham County attorney, formed the extreme left of the attack. The brigade, which included the 22nd NC, attracted a storm of musket fire from Union troops dug in at the Seminary in addition to the artillery, which fired case, canister and explosive rounds into the massed men. The North Carolinians held, and pressed the attack, at horrific costs. The color-bearer of the 13th NC his right arm blown off by an artillery shell, grabbed the flag with his remaining hand and pushed ahead shouting, “Forward, Forward!” It was one of the fiercest artillery barrages of the war, and “virtually annihilated” Scales’ five North Carolina regiments. Scales, himself wounded, reported that “only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested.” (McPherson, p. 212) The brigade’s 500 casualties included every field officer. (id.)
How did Lts. Palmer and Robins die? I’ve found no details- but the specifics can be imagined from the context. Company I, the “Davis Guards,” their company, was at or near the center of the 22nd NC Infantry regiment, which was in the thick of the attack on Seminary Ridge by Scale’s Brigade, which was decimated by the Union artillery. Other sons of North Carolina died there that day, and no doubt more Randolph County boys died with them. We know these two, one 25 years old, one 26, and they can stand for them all.