J. Johnston Pettigrew
J. Johnston Pettigrew
|Born||July 4, 1828|
Tyrrell County, North Carolina
|Died||July 17, 1863 (aged 35)|
Bunker Hill, West Virginia
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/||Confederate States Army|
|Years of service||1861–63|
|Rank||Brigadier general (CSA)|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
James Johnston Pettigrew (July 4, 1828 – July 17, 1863) was an American author, lawyer, and soldier. He served in the army of the Confederate States of America, fighting in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and played a prominent role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Despite starting the Gettysburg Campaign commanding a brigade, Pettigrew took over command of his division after the division's original commander Henry Heth was wounded. In this role, Pettigrew was one of three division commanders in the disastrous assault known as Pickett's Charge on the final day of Gettysburg. He was badly wounded during the assault and was later mortally wounded during a Union attack while the Confederates retreated to Virginia near Falling Waters, West Virginia, dying several days later.
Johnston Pettigrew was born at his family's estate "Bonarva" in Tyrrell County, North Carolina, on July 4, 1828. His father was from a wealthy family of French Huguenot background. One of Pettigrew's cousins, John Gibbon, would later become a major general for the Union during the Civil War. Pettigrew enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the age of 15. Pettigrew is reported to have performed well in his studies, as well as in boxing and fencing. He earned praise for his achievements from President James K. Polk, who appointed him an assistant professor at the United States Naval Observatory. Pettigrew studied law, traveled to Europe, and eventually moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked in the legal field with his uncle, James Louis Petigru. He was also an author, writing a book about the culture of Spain titled Notes on Spain and the Spaniards in the Summer of 1859, With a Glance at Sardinia.
Returning to the United States, Pettigrew was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1856. Despite his education and legal experience, Pettigrew leaned toward the military as a way to serve his country and his state. In December 1860, he was serving as an aide to the governor of South Carolina and the following April participated in the negotiations between the governor's office, the South Carolina military authorities, and the Union commander of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
When war began, Pettigrew joined the Hampton Legion, a force raised in South Carolina by Wade Hampton, as a private, although he quickly accepted a commission as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Rifle Militia Regiment. Pettigrew was later assigned to command the 12th (later renamed the 22nd) North Carolina Infantry. Confederate President Jefferson Davis urged him to accept higher command, but he declined because of his lack of military experience. Despite this inexperience, Pettigrew was promoted to brigadier general by Jefferson Davis during the lead-up to the Peninsula Campaign.
During the Peninsula Campaign in the summer of 1862, Pettigrew was severely wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. He was hit by a Minié ball that damaged his throat, windpipe, and shoulder. Pettigrew nearly bled to death, and while lying wounded, he received another bullet wound in the arm and was bayoneted in the right leg. Pettigrew was left for dead on the field, as his wounds were believed to be mortal. However, he recovered consciousness as a Union prisoner of war. Exchanged two months later, the general recovered from his wounds, spent the fall commanding a brigade in Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill's division around Richmond, and in the winter commanded a brigade in North Carolina and southern Virginia. He returned to his North Carolina brigade just in time to begin the Gettysburg Campaign in June 1863.
The Confederate War Department had assigned Pettigrew's Brigade to Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and Pettigrew traveled northward to join Lee's army. Pettigrew's brigade, along with the brigades of James Jay Archer, John M. Brockenbrough, and Joseph R. Davis, was assigned to Major General Henry Heth's division of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill's Third Corps. Both Heth's division and Hill's corps were new organizations, having been created as part of Lee's reorganization following the death of Stonewall Jackson. Pettigrew's Brigade was the strongest in Heth's division. Freshly uniformed and armed with rifles from state military depots, his regiments presented a fine military appearance during the march through Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some of his regimental officers were also members of the North Carolina planter "aristocracy", including Colonel Collett Leventhorpe leading the 11th North Carolina Infantry and twenty-one-year-old Harry Burgwyn at the head of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, the largest Confederate regiment at Gettysburg. Not having been in serious combat for nearly a year, his brigade mustered a strength over 2,500 officers and men.
Pettigrew's Brigade tangled with the Iron Brigade on July 1, 1863, at the McPherson and Herbst farms to the west of Gettysburg, where all four of his regiments suffered devastating losses—over 40 percent—but were successful in driving the Union forces off of McPherson's Ridge. That afternoon, General Heth suffered a head wound that kept him out of action, and Pettigrew took over command of the battered division.
On July 3, 1863, Gen. Lee selected Pettigrew's division to march at the left of Maj. Gen. George Pickett's in the famous infantry assault popularly known as Pickett's Charge (sometimes called the "Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Assault", as Pickett's division was not the only one to participate in the charge). Pettigrew's old brigade, now commanded by James K. Marshall, had been roughly handled on the first day of the battle, and was not in good condition for the charge.
Pettigrew's division ran into a heavy fire from Union general Alexander Hays' division, which was posted on Cemetery Ridge. Birkett Fry, now commanding James Archer's brigade was wounded, Marshall was killed. Pettigrew's division suffered heavy casualties and were unable to break Hays' line. The division was driven off, and Pettigrew had his horse shot out from under him, requiring him to lead his division on foot. Pettigrew also suffered a painful arm wound.
During the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg, Pettigrew remained in command until Heth recovered. Stopped by the flooded Potomac River at Falling Waters, West Virginia, Pettigrew's brigade (temporarily combined with Archer's former brigade) was deployed as a rear guard unit. Union cavalry probed the southern defenses throughout the night as Lee's army crossed the pontoon bridges into West Virginia. On the morning of July 14, 1863, Pettigrew's brigade was one of the last Confederate units still north of the Potomac River when the Union attacked his position. On foot and in the front line, Pettigrew was directing his soldiers when he was shot by a Union cavalryman from the Michigan Brigade at close range, the bullet striking him in the abdomen. He was immediately carried to the rear and across the Potomac, having refused to be left in federal hands. He died three days later at Edgewood Manor plantation near Bunker Hill, West Virginia. His brigade, which lost an estimated 56% casualties, had been ruined as an effective combat organization.
An official day of mourning was held for him in North Carolina. His death also affected Lee, who remarked: "The army has lost a brave soldier and the Confederacy an accomplished officer." General Pettigrew's body was returned to North Carolina and interred at his family estate, "Bonarva", which is now part of Pettigrew State Park in Washington and Tyrrell Counties.
In popular media
Actor George Lazenby portrayed Pettigrew in the 1993 film Gettysburg.
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