Veteran talks of life before injury at Gettysburg
“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Abraham Lincoln is rightly revered as one of the nation’s finest leaders.
But he made a miscalculation here — we very much “long remember” what was said at Gettysburg in November 1863.
It’s America’s most famous presidential speech.
And while it’s fair to say that we haven’t forgotten what the men did in July 1863 — one million people a year visit the Gettysburg battlefield — many of the individual stories have faded away.
Simeon J. Roosa is one of those faded stories.
Roosa was born in March 1836 in New York state, the oldest child of Jacob and Janet Roosa.
By the time of the 1860 Census, the Roosa family was living in Deerfield Township. Jacob, according to Census records, was a farmer with an estate value of $400.
Interestingly, Simeon Roosa is identified as an engineer in those records. That, however, did not garner him any benefits when he enlisted in Co. F, 145th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in August 1862.
“Common Men in the War for the Common Man,” a book by Verel Salmon, presents several letters from Roosa and affords an opportunity to see Union Army life in a unique way.
Salmon described Roosa as “a single man, the new five-feet-ten-inch soldier had light complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. His only brother, Theron, had turned 12 on April 30 and was not happy to see his older brother leave home.”
In an April 1863 letter he tells his parents he sent $35 back to the family, instructing his parents to “give $5 of it to Theron for good behavior and fast lurrning to get school books and necessary things…”
As an aside, Roosa’s words will be included here as close as possible to the original. Slight changes might be made just to ensure clarity.
Another letter Salmon shares was from June of 1863 — just about two weeks before the battle that would ultimately cost Roosa his life.
“I be well at hart but I be very sore and stiff and m feet are blisterd with the hard hard marching and hot weather. The 16th we marched over 20 miles with all of hour loads guns and equipments and 3 days rations and I presume you never experienced as hot A day as that was it was snug business but if the rebs can do it we can.”
“I presume we hurd that the rebs was some of them in the old Keestone state. I hope it is so so that some of the cowards and home guard can have a loocke at our enamy and witness some of their work. I hope we will get behind them and can drive them a ways so that some of them can have the bool dogs let loose…. my love to all.”
As sterile and serene as the Gettysburg battlefield has become, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to grasp the enormity of the struggle that would engulf the Adams County town that July.
The soft lead both armies volleyed at each other for days can’t be used in combat anymore because, frankly, it doesn’t result in a clean wound — it enters and mangles the human body, splintering bone and shredding flesh.
Amid an assault across what has become known as the Wheatfield, Roosa was shot in the face.
But that’s not the end of the story.
“Simeon J. Roosa of Company F was presumed to have been killed at the wheat field,” Salmon writes. “Some of the men had seen Roosa’s body on the field, shot in the head. After the battle had ended, during a search for the missing, they were sad to see a fresh grave where Roosa had fallen.”
“While fighting with his unit, a bullet entered Simeon’s right eye and came out his left eye, destroying both eyes, but somehow leaving his eyelids intact,” a blogpost — yankeesandrebels.blogspot.com — adds.
“On July 6, an unidentified II Corps man was found wandering in the woods three miles from the wheat field. His eyes were shot out, and he was described as suffering from mental aberration,” Salmon wrote.
That’s defined by the American Psychological Association as a “pathological deviation from normal thinking.”
It appears as if he was initially unable to identify himself when he was taken to the general field hospital known as Camp Letterman because Salmon says he was identified at a Harrisburg hospital.
The wound was undoubtedly gruesome — head injuries were quite often considered mortal wounds and infection was a real challenge little understood by doctors at the time.
Roosa returned to his family but died from the wound in late September 1863. He’s buried at the Pineville Cemetery in southwestern Warren County.