Thursday, January 11, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Major Joseph A. Gilmour

Born on June 30, 1834, in Nova Scotia, Joseph Gilmour was the son of Scottish parents who subsequently settled in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. With the outbreak of civil war in April 1861, Gilmour was quick to volunteer his service, and as a private in the Washington Artillery militia unit, entered the nation's capital less than one week after the firing on Fort Sumter. When Gilmour's three-month term of service expired in July 1861, he was selected by Colonel James Nagle to raise a company of infantry, which would form part of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. On September 19, 1861, Gilmour was once again mustered into service, this time as the captain of Company H, 48th P.V.I. He was 27 years of age, and was among the tallest soldiers in the regiment at 5'11". His complexion was listed as dark; his eye color blue, and his hair gray. By occupation, Gilmour was a hatter. Gilmour served with the regiment, rising to the rank of major before being mortally wounded by a Confederate sharpshooter along the Rapidan River on May 31, 1864. He died on June 9.

The following biographical sketch of Gilmour appeared in Francis Wallace's Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County, published in Pottsville, in 1865:
"One of the most gallant soldiers from Schuylkill County, beloved by all who knew his manly worth, was Joseph A. Gilmour. He laid his young, bright life on the altar of his country--a martyr to the cause nearest and dearest to his generous heart.
"He entered the service, April 17, 1861, as a private in the Washington Artillery Company of Pottsville, and was mustered in and promoted Sergeant on the 18th. He reached Washington the same evening with his company--the first, with four other Pennsylvania companies, to arrive at the National Capital for its defense.
"At the expiration of the three months' service he recruited a Company (H) for the 48th Pennsylvania Regiment, and was commissioned Captain. He commanded his Company with marked ability until he was promoted Major of the Regiment. He was with his Regiment at Newbern, at the Second Battle of Bull Run, at Chantilly, Battle of South Mountain, Antietam, Siege of Knoxville, and in many other engagements of less importance. At Knoxville he commanded the Regiment with coolness, excellent judgment and consummate ability. In Gen. Grant's great campaign, 1864, Major Gilmour fought bravely with his Regiment from the Rapid Ann {Rapidan}, and was almost in view of the spires of Richmond, when on the 31st of May, a ball from the rifle of a rebel sharpshooter struck his left knee. Amputation on the filed was deemed necessary. The operation was performed, and he was subsequently conveyed in an ambulance to the White House, Va., a distance of over twenty miles. The journey was painful, but he bore it with a heroism which under every circumstance distinguished the man. From the White House he was conveyed to Seminary Hospital, Georgetown, D.C., where he lingered until the 9th of June, when death terminated his sufferings.
"The body of the dead hero was brought to Pottsville, and interred on Sunday afternoon, June 12, 1864, with Masonic ceremonies and military honors. The funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed in Pottsville--a tribute of love for the man.
"The last moments of Major Gilmour were attended by Chaplain W.H. Keith, who ministered to the departing soul with brotherly affection. After death he had the body embalmed and dressed in uniform. The flowers placed on the lamented Major's breast by the kind hand of the Minister of God, were yet fresh when the coffin reached Pottsville, and formed a band of sympathy between the unknown friend who had placed them there and the relatives and friends of the deceased. In other cases of soldiers dying in the hospitals, Mr. Keith acted in a similarly friendly manner, endearing himself to those related to the dead. He may not have his reward here, but he will receive it hereafter."

Joseph Gilmour was laid to rest in Pottsville's Presbyterian Cemetery. An elaborate tombstone, which bears a likeness of Gilmour, was placed above his grave. The tombstone was purchased by Gilmour's uncle: James Wren, who Gilmour succeeded as major of the 48th Pennsylvania.

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