A Confederate New Yorker

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!


May 22, 2011
The year 1832 was not an especially favorable one for upstate New York. In this mountainous region of the Catskills, winter months can be quite severe,
with copious amounts of snow and temperatures well below zero. Into this season crept a deadly intruder, the ravaging disease known as cholera. Even the
great Atlantic could not abate the progression of this killer. It is suggested that it first appeared in Canada, brought to that country by Irish immigrants. It rapidly spread through the Champlain and into the Hudson Valley. By mid-June it was just north of Albany. As one New York citizen phrased it, “To see individuals well in the morning & dead in the morning is something which is appalling to the boldest heart.”
South of Albany, in the quarantined Greene County town of Greenville on November 24, 1832, Luman and Hannah Baker heard the cries of their first child, Edgar Gideon Baker. As a farmer with 229 acres, Luman was no doubt pleased to have a son who could assist with chores when he came of sufficient age. In the decade after Edgar’s birth, three girls were added to the growing Baker family. The siblings became playmates for their brother and no doubt received a good share of teasing as well.
Edgar’s primary education was acquired in the home and at the nearest public school. Judging from a future occupation, he did quite well with his studies. When the 1855 New York census was taken for the town of Greenville on June 14th, young Baker, who was residing with his family, was listed as a farmer.

According to oral family tradition, Edgar Baker had a traveling bone and an adventurous spirit. He left the familiar area of his upbringing sometime during 1856 and headed south. Little did he know that he would never see home or family again.
It appears that by 1860 Edgar had made his way to San Francisco, California, where he worked as a newspaper carrier. When the Civil War erupted, Baker was a school teacher on a plantation in Woodville, Wilkinson County, Mississippi. What led him to travel to this southern county near the Louisiana border is unknown, but it seems that such intrepidity continued to propel him on a life-altering sojourn.
On November 16, 1861, eight days before his 29th birthday, the New Yorker enlisted as a private in company E, 21st Mississippi Volunteer Infantry. This unit was recruited in Wilkinson County and known as the Hurricane Rifles. Baker signed up for the duration of the war, and the question that begs to be answered is why? Had he resided in Mississippi long enough to establish close friendships and strong Southern sympathies? Was Baker coerced or impressed into service? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. Pvt. Baker’s military service file shows that he was “absent sick or wounded” from May through part of December 1862. Returning to duty with his company on December 16th, Edgar’s first engagement was on May 3-4, 1863, at Fredericksburg. One wonders what emotions coursed through Edgar as he fought soldiers from the North.
By the following summer, time was rapidly running out for Edgar G. Baker.
It was a typically hot July in Adams County, Pennsylvania. During the morning and afternoon hours of the 2nd, elements of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were on the move. As part of Gen. William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade, the 21st Mississippi maneuvered into position in the woods

along the southern portion of Seminary Ridge facing east.
The minutes were tense as Rebel forces withstood Yankee cannon being fired at them from the Emmitsburg Road and the high ground beyond in John Sherfy’s peach orchard. Some of the shells whistled or burst overhead, breaking off tree branches, while others came crashing into the ranks, killing and maiming.

There was a large, open field in front of Pvt. Baker and his comrades in the Hurricane Rifles. It was an ominous feature of the terrain, and they realized it would have to be traversed in the coming attack. The sulphurous air was nearly palpable as the Mississippians awaited the command that would be the death knell for many. Soon enough came that clarion order, and the high-pitched Rebel yell was heard as the Southern advance began.
The assault by Barksdale’s soldiers on July 2, 1863, was undeniably one of the greatest in the annals of American military history. With great zeal, they swept through the blue-coated artillery and infantry soldiers in their front. If Pvt. Baker made it safely to the peach trees, he was likely unaware that a most peculiar incident of history had occured.
About 1,200' north of the orchard were posted the vaunted soldiers of the 120th New York Volunteer Infantry, part of Gen. Sickles’ 3rd Corps. On the left flank, south of the Klingle farm was the regiment’s Company K. This was a Greene County company and was commanded by Capt. Ayers G. Barker. In fact, Barker had been born in Greenville and probably went to school with Edgar.

But playtime had vanished years ago, and now both sides were locked in deadly combat. Pvt. Eseck Wilber, 120th New York recalled:

My comrades were falling on every side of me and I expected every minute that it would be my turn next. Captain Barker fell, shot dead instantly, the ball went through his head just back of his ears, right through his brain. I saw him fall, he never groaned at all. He had his sword raised over his head giving us orders. Says he, “take it cool boys, listen to the command and every man stand to his post.” With these words he fell to the ground, a corpse. I looked at him a moment and then went away, the Rebels were driving us at this time.
Elsewhere on that sanguinary field, Pvt. Edgar Baker also fell as a missile gouged its way through his chest. He was taken to the John S. Crawford farm along Marsh Creek. The doctor in charge of the wounded was Surgeon Francis William Patterson, 17th Mississippi.

Patterson was aided by Asst. Surgeon Robert L. Knox of Tennessee and the 17th’s Chaplain William Burton Owen. When the Confederate army retreated from Gettysburg, these men stood to their tasks and became prisoners. If Baker was operated on, it would have been done by Patterson in Crawford’s house. Most assuredly he died in the barn, which still stands not far from placid Marsh Creek. It is a somewhat eerie, quiet place that belies the suffering and death that occurred there ages hence.
In a July 24, 1863, letter from Chaplain Owen to Edgar’s father, he wrote,

“Your son Edgar G. Baker, Co. E, 21st Mississippi Regt., Barksdale’s Brigade, McLaws’ Division, was wounded through the lungs on the 2nd of July, and died July 11th.” The chaplain continued:
I was with him much, after he was wounded, and conversed freely with him in regard to the future, and I believe he is gone to rest. One of the evidences of his having been converted to my mind was this, that he desired to live that he might glorify God by doing good, and another was his sorrow for having done wrong. He spoke of having probably ridiculed his sisters on account of their religion, and was very sorry that he ever did it.
The chaplain assured the dying soldier that they would forgive him and “he seemed satisfied for he mentioned it no more.”
Owen’s letter continued:
The death of your son will be sad news to you and your family, but I trust our Blessed Redeemer will give you all grace for this sad bereavement and bring you all at last to the enjoyment of the Saints Everlasting Rest in Heaven... Edgar is buried in Mr. Crawford’s garden (or rather in the tenants’ garden, at our Hospital) and his head board will be plainly marked so that if you wish to remove his body you can do so. Please let me hear from you immediately."

Whether Luman Baker ever wrote back to the reverend is not known.

Last edited by a moderator:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!