The general who saw it all

November 25, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Through the four bloodiest years in America's history, few men witnessed the Civil War as did Franklin County native Samuel Wylie Crawford, who was behind the ramparts of Fort Sumter when the Confederates fired the first barrage and at Appomattox Courthouse when Robert E. Lee struck his colors.

Crawford did not miss much between those two events.

He was wounded at Antietam and fought at Gettysburg, both close to his family home near Fayetteville, Pa., and turning-point battles in the war.

Crawford, though, was more than a soldier, said Richard Wagner, author of the biography "For Honor, Flag, and Family." The major general also was a physician, diplomat, preservationist, author, artist and world traveler.

"I try to show him as a Renaissance man of the 19th century," said Wagner, who retired in 1997 after a career as a social sciences teacher with the Tuscarora School District. He spent much of the decade since retirement researching and writing the Crawford book.


"There was not a huge amount of research at any one place," Wagner said.

The digging began at the Kittochtinny Historical Society in Chambersburg for genealogy and took him to Crawford's alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, along with the Library of Congress and the National Archives.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Crawford attended the University of Pennsylvania beginning at age 14 in 1842. Eight years later, he had earned his bachelor's and master's degrees, along with his medical degree, Wagner said.

Joining the U.S. Army as a surgeon, Crawford traveled extensively in the Southwest and to Mexico City, where he assisted in negotiating some treaties with that country, along with exploring and taking geological samples from a volcano.

As the Civil War approached, Crawford was stationed in Charleston, S.C., first at Fort Moultrie, then at Sumter. In uniform, he watched as the state legislature debated secession, Wagner said. After Christmas in 1860, the Union troops spiked the guns at Moultrie and secretly moved to Sumter to await the start of the war.

"Until someone is wounded, I will be on the ramparts doing my share of the fighting," wrote Crawford, a prodigious diarist and letter-writer.

After Sumter surrendered and the Union troops returned to the North, Crawford transferred to the infantry. Leading a brigade at Cedar Mountain in August 1862, Crawford lost half of his command.

A bullet to the leg at Antietam the following month kept Crawford from being in another bloodbath at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

"He was wounded three times that I could find," Wagner said.

On July 2, 1863, Crawford, mounted upon his horse, Blood, led a charge by the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps at Gettysburg, uttering the command: "Make Pennsylvania your watch word and quail not upon its soil. Forward Reserves!"

The possessor of a formidable set of whiskers, Crawford seized a regimental flag from a standard bearer as they advanced over 700 yards of open ground, the reluctant corporal grabbing the general's pant leg and running alongside his steed.

Years later, Crawford was a leader in preserving the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, Wagner told a group at a book signing recently, buying about 50 acres of the battlefield that his family turned over to the National Park Service after his death.

Crawford was a rather humorless man who never married, and while his book "Genesis of the Civil War" might be useful to researchers, it is not light reading, Wagner said.

For making his book a more entertaining read, Wagner credits his wife, Karen.

"I was a fairly good researcher, but I wasn't a very good writer," Wagner said. "Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug."

Published by White Mane Publishing of Shippensburg, Pa., "For Honor, Flag, and Family" is available at local bookstores. It also may be ordered by e-mail at or from the author at

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