The granite monument is about four feet tall. It was erected in 1888 by the survivors of the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Colonel Willard had commanded the regiment until a week before Gettysburg. When Brigadier General Alexander Hays was promoted to division command Willard took over the brigade as senior colonel.
Willard before Gettysburg
George Willard was the son and grandson of generals. He had served as an enlisted man in the Mexcian War, received a commission in 1848, At the outbreak of the Civil War he was a captain in the 8th United States Infantry.
After being promoted to major of the 19th United States Infantry he took leave to become colonel of the 125th New York. A month later they were surrendered with the rest of the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, earning them the nickname of the “Harpers Ferry Cowards.”
The brigade was paroled and exchanged after spending a miserable winter in a Union prison camp. General Hays rebuilt their shattered morale, and by Gettysburg they were spoiling for a chance to erase their bad name.
On July 2nd Willard led the brigade in a counterattack against Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade. Barksdale had led a wild charge that punched a half mile deep hole in the Union lines. Shouting “Remember Harpers Ferry!” the brigade threw back the Mississippians. They recaptured several Union cannon and mortally wounded General Barksdale. It was doubly sweet revenge, as the Mississippians had been one of the brigade’s foes at Harpers Ferry.
But Willard was also killed. He was struck in the head by an artillery shell as the brigade was pulling back to Union lines. His body was carried to a farmhouse on Taneytown Road, where it was wrapped in linen and sent home for burial.
Colonel Eliakim Sherrill of the 126th New York Infantry took over the brigade until he, too, was killed the following day during Pickett’s Charge.
In the words of their division commander, General Hays, “The history of this brigade’s operations is written in blood… the acts of traitors at Harpers Ferry had not tainted their patriotism.”
Location of the monument to Colonel George Willard at Gettysburg
The monument to Colonel George L. Willard is south of Gettysburg about 340 yards west of Hancock Avenue at the State of Pennsylvania Monument. (39°48’22.9″N 77°14’20.3″W)