Say What Special: A Young Soldier’s Last Words at Gettysburg


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Sumner Paine (born May 10, 1845) was the great-grandson to a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Robert Treat Paine) and his mother was a Cabot of the Boston Cabots. When he was 11 years old he journeyed with his 2 brothers climbing the mountain passes of Central Switzerland. He entered Harvard College in July, 1861 and joined the Union Army in May of 1863.

He arrived in time to serve in the Battle of Chancellorsville as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts. The next march was to Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863 due to the wounding of his cousin Oliver Wendall Holmes he was appointed Captain of his unit.

Unfortunately it was the Battle at Gettysburg where he would face his death. He was serving as a 2nd Lieutenant when he was killed at eighteen years of age on July 3, 1863. Reflecting on his death Colonel Charles Russell Lowell wrote regarding his friend:

“The Second Corps under Hancock held the left centre, the key to our position. Here General Lee ordered Picketts Division, veteran troops to make their last terrible assault. Not a shot was fired by the Twentieth until the enemy was near and Lieutenant Macy gave the order.Then began the fire, quick and deadly. Tenor twenty rods to our right the weight of the enemy crushed through our line, passing it up a little hill. This was the crisis of the day, if not the turning-point of the war. Generals Hancock and Gibbons had both been wounded. Macy received orders to lead the Twentieth against the enemy, gave orders to Abbott and to his Adjutant, but before they were repeated to any one else both were shot down. Other troops came up. It was in the thickest of the fight, in front of his men, that Lieutenant Paine was struck by a ball which broke his leg. Falling on his knee he waved his sword and urged on his men, and was at that moment struck by a shell which caused his instant death. His last words were; "Isn't this glorious?” His body was found close to a fence where the rebels made their last desperate stand.” {**}

After serving his country for two months on July 3, 1863 his service to his country was done as he became the youngest Harvard student to be killed in the war.

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