George Allen Gilreath

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George A. Gilreath
GeorgeAGilreath.jpg
Captain George A. Gilreath
Born (1834-09-26)September 26, 1834
Old Gilreath, Wilkes County, North Carolina
Died July 3, 1863(1863-07-03) (aged 28)
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Place of burial Memorial Old Gilreath Family Cem. Wilkes Co., North Carolina
Allegiance United States United States of America
Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1862–1863 (CSA)
Rank Confederate States of America Captain.png Captain
Commands held

North Carolina Company B 55th NC Troops, Acting Commander 55th NC Regiment.,CSA American Civil War

Awards Roll of Honor

George Allen Gilreath (September 26, 1834 – July 3, 1863) commanded the North Carolina 55th Regiment which advanced the farthest during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War. He was killed in action during the charge which became known as the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

Early years[edit]

The birthplace of Captain George Allen Gilreath, known as Old Gilreath, stretched across the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina. George was born September 26, 1834 to Noah Gilreath, Sr. (1800–1853) and Elizabeth Allen of Wilkes County. He grew up on a 600-acre (2.4 km2) family plantation where his grandfather Alexander Gilreath, Esq. (1755–1853) had settled in 1776. His grandfather, a Revolutionary War Veteran, operated a grist mill and blacksmith shop and was active in many of the affairs of the county. He served as tax collector, constable, justice of the peace, postmaster, and school board member.

George was educated in the mountain schools and learned management skills on the family plantation where about a dozen slaves worked the land. In his early 20s, he left North Carolina and headed West where he bought land in Hempsted Co., Arkansas. On July 30, 1857 he married Lurana Gilbert but when his wife and young child died, he came back to Wilkes County.

Civil War[edit]

On March 1, 1862, at age 27, George volunteered at Wilkesboro, NC into Company B, 55th NC Troops, as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 19. On September 15, 1862 he was promoted to Captain after Captain Forester resigned as commander of the Wilkes County Company. His military record contains special requisitions for jackets, shoes, knapsacks and other items for his men. Little did he know, in less than a year his heroic effort as acting commander of the entire 55th regiment would go down not only in North Carolina history but the history of the entire American Civil War.

The afternoon of July 3, 1863 saw the Battle of Gettysburg reach its climax in the assault made on Union Troops clustered behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge. General Robert E. Lee would order Major General George Pickett to punch a hole in the center of the Federal Army, then attack the right and left flanks. The 55th was part of Davis' Brigade, Pettigrew's Division. Fifteen regiments of Tar Heels, including the 55th NC, were part of the 12,500 man force selected to participate in the attack.

The 55th NC Regiment saw many of its field and staff officers killed or wounded in the first two days of fighting at Gettysburg. On the third day of fighting, the 55th was put under the command of senior Captain Gilreath. On July 3 at 1:00 pm the artillery barrage from 140 Confederate cannons started, and at 3:00 pm, the Confederates formed a battle line to march across a mile of open field.

Lt. Joseph Hoyle of company F recalled "We moved forward exposed to a hot fire of grape shot and shells. When we came within range of their small arms, their fire became so destructive to the extreme, only 40 men made it out." Another member of the 55th, Sgt. Whitley later wrote: We charged across the field and crossed a road about 100 yards (91 m) from the federal works. Our line was cut down to a mere skirmish line. Our flag had fallen a few yards back. I looked behind and saw our support in full retreat." The 55th brigade commander Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis said: "When we approached the stone wall, we were subjected to a most galling fire of musketry and artillery that so reduced the already thinned ranks...in the assault upon the enemy's position, the coolness and courage of officers and men are worthy of high commendation" Although most of the Confederates failed to make it to the stone wall several members of the 55th made it to the wall and beyond.

Federal Captain S.C. Armstrong of the 125th NY wrote: " I could not but admire the pluck of the enemy especially when after the fight I saw many of them who had rushed ahead of their fellows; lying dead, a few paces from our breastworks, mostly North Carolinians, lean lank fellows in rusty old suits, but heroes." Federal General Alexander Hayes wrote: "The angel of death alone can produce such a field."

Among the dead on July 3, 1863 was the 55th acting commander, Captain George Gilreath.

Legacy[edit]

The United States Official Survey and early historians with eyewitness accounts agree that those killed farthest to the front belonged to the 55th North Carolina Regiment.

According to the Gettysburg Commission, the men of the 55th advanced the farthest during Pickett's Charge, also known as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. This event contributed to the North Carolina saying "First at Bethel, Farthest at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, and Last at Appomattox".

The Army of Northern Virginia retreated in the rain on July 4, leaving Gettysburg for Virginia. It is believed that Captain Gilreath was left on the battlefield.

In 2008 a monument to honor Captain George Gilreath was placed at the family burying ground high in the Brushy Mountains of his native Wilkes County, North Carolina. Alongside are monuments to three of his brothers, two of whom were also killed in action. They are:

1st Sgt. Burrell C. Gilreath 1831-1861 Co. B 1st NC INF

2nd Lt. Leander Gilreath 1838-1878 Co. B 55th NC INF

4th Sgt. Noah Gilreath, Jr. 1842-1864 Co. B 55th NC INF


References[edit]

  • High Tide at Gettysburg by Glenn Tucker 1958
  • Pickett's Charge Eyewitness Accounts by Richard Rollins 1994 ISBN 978-0-9638993-0-9
  • Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions for North Carolina in the Great War 1861-'65 Vol. III Walter Clark 1901 page 296-299
  • North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 A Roster Vol. XIII Compiled by Weymouth T. Jordan Jr.
  • Military Records: National Archives, Washington, DC
  • Newspaper Archives: North Carolina Standard
  • The 55th North Carolina in the Civil War by Jeffrey M. Girvan, McFarland & Company 2006 ISBN 978-0-7864-2520-4
  • Our State; North Carolina Magazine, July 2008 Issue: Extraordinary Valor; On this 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, we remember the heroism of three Tar Heel regiments: by Alan Hodge