Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier

The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

by Mark H. Dunkelman

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Cover image for Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier

April 1999


Pages 304
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics American History/General
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He was found dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, an unknown soldier with nothing to identify him but an ambrotype of his three children, clutched in his fingers. With the photograph as the single, sad clue to his identity, a publicity campaign to locate his family swept the North. Within a month, the bereaved widow and children were located in Portville, New York, and the devoted father was revealed to be Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers. Using many previously untapped sources, this book tells the tale of 19th-century war, sentiment, and popular culture in greater detail than ever before.

The Humiston story touched deep emotions in Civil War America, and inspired a flood of heartfelt prose, poetry, and song. Amid a vast outpouring of public sympathy, a charitable drive evolved to assist the bereft family. At the end of the war, the crusade was expanded to establish a home at Gettysburg for orphans of deceased soldiers. The first residents of the institution were Amos Humiston's widow Philinda and her three children: Franklin, Alice, and Frederick. In this extensive account, a full portrait emerges of Amos Humiston, the loving husband and father destined to be remembered for his death tableau, and his family, the widow and orphans who struggled for the rest of their lives with celebrity born of tragedy.

Table of Contents

IntroductionAmosA Green Hand Sails from New BedfordRoving the PacificPhilindaTo the FrontCamp MiseryA Close Call at ChancellorsvilleGettysburgWhose Father Was He?A Widow and Her OrphansCelebrityThe HomesteadA Tarnished LegacyThe Family's Later YearsAmos Humiston RememberedAppendix: Songs Inspired by Amos HumistonBibliographical NoteIndex



On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers was felled by a Confederate bullet. His body bore no identification save an ambrotype picture of his three young children clutched in his hand.... Dunkelman reconstructs his story...[in] a welcome contribution to understanding the popular culture of the Civil War and Vicrorian America.—Choice

A very human tale that can be enjoyed by historians and casual readers alike. Dunkelman weaves an intimate biography around a larger picture of late 19th-century America. In doing so, he has produced a very readable book.—America's Civil War

Rarely does a book reveal the tragedy of war as does Dunkelman's writing combines a skilled novelist's flair for words without sacrificing the historian's perspective....This book can be enjoyed as a biography or as a cultural study. Either way, it is highly recommended.—The Civil War News

It is a good book for the nonspecialist who is interested in the details of what life, and death, were like for the ordinary people caught up in the events of the nineteenth century.—The Journal of Military History

This book tells an interesting and little-known story.—The Smithsonian, The Civil War Studies E-Mail Newsletter

Dunkelman has written an extensive account of Humiston and his family - a tragic story about a family whose lasting place in history was determined by a life, too short - a soldier's death.—Star-Banner

Dunkleman provides a well-textured description of Humiston's military career, from training camp through a narrow escape at Chancellorsville to his fatal encounter at Gettysburg....Dunkelman does not push his evidence further than it can go. His knowledge of social history brings Humiston's pre-war and wartime doings to life, but he always distinguishes between what was going on with most common men and what probably was going on with Humiston. He never ascribes motives that he can't document.—The Providence Sunday Journal

With Dunkelman's book, the Unknown Soldier's story takes on new life and fascinating detail.—Jamestown Post Journal

Rarely does a book reveal the tragedy of war as does ^IGettysburg's Unknown Soldier.^R Mark Dunkelman delves thoroughly into the story of Sgt. Amos Humiston, his wife, and orphans. This new trek into well-worn Gettysburg lore is told with pathos and historical accuracy....Dunkelman's writings combines a skilled sacrificing the historian's perspective.—Book News

Dunkelman'a well-researched and deeply felt narrative offers an effective and fascinating look at how the tragedy experienced by the Humiston family fit into Civil War-ear assumptions about patriotism, fame, religious belief, and sentimental notions of sacrifice.—Journal of Southern History


Of the multitude of human interest stories associated with the battle of Gettysburg, that of Amos Humiston has long been regarded as one of the most poignant. But of all the many times that Humiston's story has been recounted, it has never before been told with the rich detail found in Mark Dunkelman's ^IGettysburg's Unknown Soldier^R. For the first time, the reader is introduced to Humiston the man...Mr. Dunkelman has woven together a compelling narrative that should fascinate all who are interested in the broader, human implications of the tragic events that occurred at Gettysburg in 1863.—William A. Frassanito^LAuthor of ^IEarly Photography at Gettysburg^R

The fate of Amos Humiston was one of the great human interest stories of Gettysburg....Mark Dunkelman has told Humiston's story with a verve and sensitivity that will leave no reader unmoved.—James M. McPherson^LAuthor of ^IBattle Cry of Freedom^R

Mark Dunkelman's thorough research and facile writing has produced the definitive account of one of Gettysburg's best human interest stories.—Harry W. Pfanz^LAuthor of ^IGettysburg--Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill^R

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