George F. McFarland

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George Fisher McFarland (April 28, 1834 – December 18, 1891) was a schoolteacher from Juniata County, Pennsylvania and Union Army officer during the American Civil War. He was noted for a critical delaying action he led during the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg that helped stave off the Confederate advance of the first day and supplied the rest of the army with time to reorganize.

Early life[edit]

George McFarland was born on April 28, 1834, to John and Elizabeth McFarland at Todd's Mill in rural Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He worked as a boat pilot with his father on the Susquehanna River when he was young and began teaching school in his 20's.

Civil War service[edit]

In 1862, McFarland took upon himself the task of recruiting a company of men from Juniata County for service to the Union. Countered in a rough recruiting race by cavalryman John K. Robison, McFarland gathered from the county just over 30 men, which he transported to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg. Upon arriving in Harrisburg, McFarland was commissioned captain, and his company was placed alongside nine other companies to comprise what would thenceforth be designated as the 151st Pennsylvania Infantry. In an election by the other company officers, McFarland was then made lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Harrison Allen, formerly major of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves, was made colonel of the regiment. The regiment went on to take part in Joseph Hooker's Chancellorsville Campaign, serving as skirmishers on the Federal I Corps' right flank.

Three months later, at the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, with Allen away on furlough, McFarland bravely led the 151st as his regiment covered the retreat of the battered Union Army's I Corps through the town of Gettysburg.

His regiment at the time of the battle was part of Brig. Gen. Thomas Rowley's brigade, Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday's division of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds' I Corps. The 151st's initial action at Gettysburg was to push forward to Herbst Woods, now called Reynolds' Woods, to assist the breaking Iron Brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith, which was repeatedly being smashed by attacks from Confederate Maj. Gen. William Pender's division. As the Iron Brigade fell back, 151st held off several enemy attacks along Willoughby Run, which ran through Herbst Woods. The 151st was forced to hold alone and barely supported. During their defense, the dueled with Col. Abner Perrin's South Carolina brigade and caused enormous casualties to that brigade. Eventually, the regiment was relieved and allowed to fall back. Lt. Col. McFarland had his regiment rally at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, where several other regiments were also rallying. As they gathered, McFarland was met by a Federal lieutenant on horseback who held next to him a furled regimental flag. The lieutenant asked McFarland, "Sir, is this your flag?"[1]

McFarland, horrified at the realization that his men may have lost their colors, was about to reply when a gust of wind flung the flag out. The flag read that it belonged to the 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Relieved, McFarland pointed out the commander of the 142nd to the lieutenant and then proceeded to continue organizing his regiment around his own colors, which soon appeared. Once the men were rallied, McFarland had them throw up a quick barricade around the Seminary building where the men would hold against the advancing Confederates, who were then bearing down upon them. With a few other regiments, the 151st held off repeated enemy attacks. During this fighting, a thick smoke from the heavy gunfire had engulfed the area. McFarland stooped down to try to see under some of the smoke to locate the enemy when a bullet went through his left leg and into his right. A private with Co. F had lifted him up off the ground and put McFarland's arm around his shoulder to support him. The private then proceeded to take McFarland into the Seminary for medical attention when a bullet came so close to them that it took the middle cuff button off of McFarland's uniform as the private supported him.

The 151st Pennsylvania was the last regiment to pull back in the retreat to Cemetery Ridge. McFarland was treated in the Lutheran Theological Seminary. His left leg was amputated below the knee. Shortly after Gettysburg, McFarland and the 151st PA were mustered out of the Union army, their nine-month term of enlistment expired.

Postbellum[edit]

After the war, the disabled McFarland moved his family to Harrisburg where he founded a printing company and a nursery. McFarland was the father of three children and the superintendent of an orphanage. One of his children, J. Horace McFarland, started to work in his father's printing shop at age twelve and became one of the first Americans publishers to sound the call for environmental and scenic protection,[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dreese, Michael A., An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland. Mifflintown, Pennsylvania: Juniata County Historical Society, 1997.
  2. ^ J. Horace McFarland: Cornelius Amory Pugsley Gold Medal Award, 1937 American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration

References[edit]