Friday, July 6, 2012

Following the Footsteps of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves

I have been planning my graduation present to myself since practically before I began graduate school. In fact, it's been a dream of mine since high school, when my grandfather first showed me my many-times-great-grandfather's sabre and papers from his service in the Civil War. Over the years, I've done research on and off into his service, but now that I am finished with graduate school I'm finally taking up the planning and execution of a two week long road trip, visiting Civil War sites and walking in his footsteps.

Some background, first, with the understanding that I for the moment I am taking most of this at face value from contemporary sources; I haven't yet had the time to really dig into the context, background, or veracity of any of it. Richard Gustin was born in New Jersey on July 5, 1827. After a family reversal of fortunes, he moved to Pennsylvania, and on coming of age, bounced around a few professions before heading to Kansas to pursue business. During the Bloody Kansas crisis he fought on the side of the Free Soilers, apparently commanding a regiment. After Kansas, he returned to Pennsylvania, married a childhood friend and cousin, and farmed for a few years.

When the Civil War broke out, he did what many other men did: organized a group of men into a company, and attached that company to a newly formed regiment of volunteers. To be specific, he raised a group he called the "Troy Guards," which became Company C of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves/41st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. The Troy Guards, and the 12th Pennsylvania, enlisted for a three year term on July 25, 1861, making Richard just turned 34 years old. He was elected Captain of his company by the men he had recruited.

The 12th Pennsylvania had quite a distinguished military record, and Richard, according to Colonel Martin Hardin, his commanding officer, never missed a single day of duty. He was injured once - shot in the hand during an ambush in December 1863 - and promoted several times. He often served above his rank, commanding the regiment a handful of times as a Captain before his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He received a brevet promotion to Colonel at the very end of the war.

As Colonel Hardin was a West Pointer with some prior military experience, in times of leadership vacuum he was brought up to command the brigade, and on several occasions, Richard assumed command of the regiment in battle as well as on march - Fredericksburg and Gettysburg being just two of those. Hardin claims in his memoirs that Richard commanded the entire brigade on occasion, but I haven't unearthed any evidence of that.

If I may be admiring and frank, Richard sounds like something of a badass. Hardin wrote of him later "He was ever the most conspicuous member of his command when the fighting was going on. He was one of the few men who seemed born without fear. He was repeatedly selected to lead the skirmishers - in short, he was one of the fighting field officers of the famous Third Brigade, Pennsylvania Reserves." (Hardin, 200-1)

Richard mustered out with the regiment on June 11, 1864, and returned to life as a farmer in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. His postwar life didn't turn out too terribly well, unfortunately; on April 12, 1877, he was driving a team of horses who spooked and ran out of control. The horses - and wagon - collided with an oncoming freight train, and Richard was crushed beneath its wheels, dying in a doctor's office shortly afterward.

Richard named his eldest son Grant Hardin Gustin, and both Grant and Hardin are family names to this day, which - along with our shared last name - is a comforting link to my past.

Next - I'll list the battles Richard served in, as well as the overall plans for my Civil War trip.

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