In Gettysburg, many of the battlefield’s 1,300-plus monuments get lost in the shadows of the park’s most famous sculptures. But as we all know, each monument has a story. In fact, each monument represents hundreds of men with hundreds of stories.
Such is the case with the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry. No, they aren’t the Hollywood stars that the 20th Maine became, and their monument is photographed a fraction of what the 72nd Pennsylvania is, as it stands tall in the sunset beaming over Cemetery Ridge.
But the monument, and the regiment is unique.
As most battlefield visitors speed away from the Irish Brigade Monument and the wolfhound that rests at its feet, many don’t notice that small little Civil War pup tent or the plaque across the road as they try to negotiate the tight turns of Sickles Avenue.
Writes one Civil War blogger … “This area of the battlefield gets so few visits. I often wonder why, when people stop to get out and look at the Irish Brigade monument, they don’t just walk across the road to visit the little grouping of monuments there. I’ve watched. And it’s a shame.”
On the left side of the road, below the road’s surface, sits a tiny little tent – enough actually to sleep three men, a Licensed Battlefield Guide once told us. On it, hangs a canteen and is marked with the Fifth Corps’ Maltese Cross.
The men of the 32nd Massachusetts had one tough July 2, 1863. At 5 p.m. that night, they withstood a Confederate attack and then was thrust back into action at the Wheatfield. The monument states the regiment lost in both actions. Out of 227 men, they lost 79 that day, according to Stone Sentinels.
Of those 79, many were undoubtedly taken under the care of Surgeon Z. Boylston Adams – a man whose bravery and unrelenting sacrificed clearly matched that of the soldiers for which he cared.
Adams established a field hospital just yards away from that little pup tent monument. Across the road, behind the Fifth Michigan monument sits a large rock with a plaque fastened tightly to it.
It was here that Adams cared for the wounded of the 32nd Massachusetts.
“Established so near the line of battle, many of our wounded escaped capture or death by its timely aid,” the monument reads.
Our fellow Civil War blogger perhaps says it best … “So, you walk around this boulder and sure enough, there is an area that is surrounded by boulders. It would be an ideal spot to place a field hospital.”
Adams worked day and night through the end of the battle and beyond caring for both Union and Confederate wounded. he worked so hard, one website states – that he suffered temporary blindness and exhaustion. He was honorably discharged.
The plaque to Adams, according to the Civil War Surgeons Memorial website, is one of only a handful of memorials and monuments to surgeons in the United States.
Remember, the battle isn’t just about enlisted men and officers, cavalry and infantry. It’s about men and women – soldiers, civilians, ministers and doctors, among many others.
The monuments to the 32nd Massachusetts can be found by following the Sickles Avenue around Devil’s Den, past DeTrobriand Avenue into the Rose Woods and of course, right past the Irish Brigade monument.
Every August, the Society of Civil War Surgeons hosts the Gettysburg Medical Living History Weekend in the shadow of the Pennsylvania Memorial. This year, the event is Aug. 18-19, and will include surgical demonstrations, programs and a wide variety of medical artifacts.