Saturday, May 18, 2019

Killed at the Bloody Angle: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 1.

Awhile back, I drafted a series of posts that profiled a famous set of photographs depicting the 93rd New York while it was encamped at Bealton, Virginia, in August 1863. Recently, I came across another set of images depicting an Army of the Potomac regiment at ease. Specifically, there are four photographs showing the 119th Pennsylvania bivouacked in its winter quarters at Wellford’s Ford, Virginia.

I’m not certain when the photographs were taken, but judging by the people depicted in them, they were probably taken in January, February, or March 1864. Sometimes, it’s difficult to unearth truly meaningful stories from Civil War photographs, and quite honestly, I’m not sure there’s much I can say about them overall, except that they are awesome depictions of Army of the Potomac soldiers during the quiet period in between the end of the Bristoe Station Campaign and the beginning of the Overland Campaign.

However, one of the four photographs has more than one interesting story associated with it. It’s this one here:

This photograph depicts the officers and non-commissioned staff of the 119th Pennsylvania. The subject of this post is seated at left, Major Henry Paul Truefitt, Jr.

It depicts the officers and non-commissioned staff of the 119th Pennsylvania standing in front of a winter hut. For the next few posts, I’d like to profile some of the people in this photograph and tell you their stories. Individually, these tales aren’t that compelling, but taken together, they really make the viewer appreciate this image as a piece of Army of the Potomac history.

The first personality I’d like to profile is this fellow here, the officer seated on the left. In the original image—which is owned by the Massachusetts branch of MOLLUS—he’s the only one labeled. 

Here's a close-up of Major Henry P. Truefitt, Jr., an officer who was killed-in-action at Spotsylvania Court House, May 12, 1864.

He is Major Henry Paul Truefitt, Jr. Here’s another image of him, taken prior to the Civil War.

This image depicts Henry Truefitt prior to the war. Likely, this image was struck in his hometown of Philadelphia.

I don’t know much about Truefitt; however, I can say that when this image was taken, he didn’t have long to live. Major Truefitt was killed-in-action on May 12, 1864, at the Battle of the Mule Shoe Salient. Quite possibly, this was the last photograph ever taken of him.

Truefitt had been a member of the Gray Reserves, a prewar militia regiment that filled the officer corps of the 119th Pennsylvania. Here, you can see another image of him, wearing the characteristic gray uniform of that regiment.

Here's one last image of Truefitt (shown as second lieutenant). Here, he is wearing the uniform of the Gray Reserves, an antebellum militia regiment assigned to the city of Philadelphia. Clearly, Truefitt never gave up on his mustache, did he?

When he mustered into the 119th Pennsylvania, Truefitt started out as the captain of Company G, but on April 4, 1863, he received a promotion to major. He assumed command of the 119th on April 25, 1864, when the regiment’s lieutenant colonel was cashiered by the War Department (the subject of a future post). Truefitt led his regiment at the Battle of the Wilderness and the battles around Spotsylvania Court House, but he fell dead while leading his it against Confederate-held earthworks near the McCoull farm.

Strangely, little is known about Truefitt’s death. Even though he commanded a regiment, I’ve never seen a single eyewitness account describing his final moments. This, I think, is testament to the confused nature of the fighting at the Mule Shoe’s “Bloody Angle.” That is to say, so much happened there so quickly that no living person ever recorded the particulars of Major Truefitt’s death.

However, I know a little bit about Truefitt’s burial. Specifically, I know that Truefitt was buried on the battlefield and I know where he was buried.

Pay attention to this other fellow in the photograph. This is Captain Charles Noble, Jr., who served on the staff of Maj. Gen. David Birney.

This close-up depicts Captain Charles Noble, Jr., who helped bury Major Truefitt near the Landrum House.

Here is another photograph of him.

During the Overland Campaign, Captain Noble served on the staff of Maj. Gen. David Birney, as A.D.C.

And another.

Here is Captain Noble posing for a photograph with the staff of the 10th Corps.

Back in 1862, Noble mustered-in as first lieutenant, Company G, 119th Pennsylvania—Truefitt’s company. Some of you might remember that I mentioned him in a previous post. Captain Noble testified against Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward following Ward’s unceremonious retreat atop a caisson during the Battle of the Wilderness—part of my series of Hobart Ward posts.

After Truefitt fell, the soldiers of Company G sought out Captain Noble and told him about his friend’s death. Even as the Battle of the Mule Shoe still raged around them, Noble and the enlisted men dragged Truefitt’s body to the rear of the Union line and buried it. In a letter that someone eventually forwarded to Truefitt’s younger sister, Emmy, Noble included specifics about the burial. Noble said he buried Truefitt under an apple tree adjacent to the Willis Landrum House. Here’s his letter, dated May 13, 1864:

Yesterday morning, 10 A.M., I had the melancholy duty of burying Major Henry P. Truefitt of my Regt. He was killed an hour after the Regt. went into action yesterday morning and some of the men of the Regt. carried his body to where I was when I took charge of it and gave it a decent burial.
I would send it to his family but I cannot find any opportunity of doing so. I have his watch. A rebel took all the little things he had on him which I will send to his family as early as possible. I had him buried under an apple tree near Laundrum House.

Here is a painting by Keith Rocco—made in conjunction with the National Park Service—showing the Landrum House before the battle. Somewhere on the property stood an apple tree which gave shelter to Truefitt’s bones.

This is Keith Rocco's rendition of Willis Landrum's house. Somewhere on the property, Capt. Charles Noble laid Maj. Truefitt to rest.

I wonder if Truefitt’s remains are still there. Presently, a memorial exists at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, honoring Truefitt; however, Samuel P. Bates’s History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers indicates that, as of the publication of his roster, Truefitt was “buried in Wilderness Burial Grounds.” I don’t have a solid answer, but I lean toward the assumption that Truefitt’s earthly remains are still planted in Virginia soil.

Years ago, I read several of Truefitt’s letters to his sister, which are preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I remember him being an attentive brother who shared his feelings about life, duty, and the hopefulness of victory. So, I can be certain about one thing: no matter where Henry Truefitt is buried—either in Virginia or in Pennsylvania—his sister cried many tears when she learned of his death.


  1. Mr. Orr
    I have written a history of the 119th and am considering a second comprised of letters and diaries. I was shocked by some of your material that I was not able to find. I have an albumen of the officers group but I would love to know how you id'd the officers. You also have cdv's that I have not seen as well as recruiting posters.
    I would very much like to discuss the regiment with you. Please let me know by e-mail at and if willing please provide your phone number to me.
    Larry B. Maier