The monument to John Burns is west of Gettysburg on Stone Avenue south of Chambersburg Road. (Stone & Meredith Avenues tour map)
About the monument
A Pennsylvania chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans worked with the state to provide funds for a monument to Burns. Sculptor Albert George Bureau created the six foot tall bronze statue, which stands on a granite base that is just short of four feet high. The State of Pennsylvania dedicated it on July 1, 1903, the battle’s 40th anniversary.
From the tablet on the monument:
My thanks are specially due to a citizen of
Gettysburg named John Burns who although
over seventy years of age shouldered
his musket and offered his services
to Colonel Wister One Hundred and
Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the
woods as there was more shelter there
but he preferred to join our line of
skirmishers in the open fields. When the
troops retired he fought with the Iron
Brigade. He was wounded in three places.”
-Gettysburg report of Maj.-Gen. Doubleday.
The “old patriot”
John Burns was in his seventies when the rebels came to Gettysburg. The veteran of the War of 1812 volunteered when the Civil War broke out but was rejected due to his age. After serving as a teamster for a time he was sent home, where he was appointed town constable. When Confederate General Jubal Early passed through Gettysburg on June 26 Burns made enough trouble that he was jailed until they moved on.
John Burns goes to war
As the sounds of fighting grew on July 1 Burns grabbed his flintlock musket and told his wife “I am going out to see what is going on.” He offered his services to the nearest Union regiment. A number of Union soldiers remembered meeting Burns. Although details differ they all agreed on his amazing appearance: a blue swallowtail coat with brass buttons, yellow vest, tall hat, flintlock musket and powder horn. There was a good deal of amused comment among the men in the ranks and polite concern among the officers he approached.
But Burns was persistent. He asked a wounded soldier for his rifle and pocketfuls of cartridges to replace his ancient musket and powder horn. The jokes ceased when Confederate fire became thick and instead of running back into town as expected he cooly slipped behind a tree and began returning fire. He stood with the Iron Brigade during some of the most intense fighting of the war, suffering three wounds.
His wounds forced him to be left behind when Union forces retreated through town. The Confederates closely questioned him as to how he came to be in civilian clothes and wounded on the battlefield. But Burns was able to discard his rifle and ammunition so he would not be executed as a bushwacker. They were satisfied with his answer that he was looking for aid for his sick wife, and Confederate surgeons treated his wounds. He was able to crawl to a nearby house and was returned home.
After the fighting
Burns turned into a celebrity after the battle. He became an honorary member of the Iron Brigade. Mathew Brady’s photographer Timothy O’Sullivan took his photograph. When President Lincoln came to the dedication of the National Cemetery he asked to meet Burns, who walked with him from the Wills House to the Presbyterian Church.
John Burns died in 1872 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Location of the monument to John Burns
The monument to John Burns is west of Gettysburg on the east side of Stone Avenue about 250 yards south of Chambersburg Road (U.S. 30). (39°50’09.4″N 77°15’09.8″W)