The Gettysburg Star (and Colonel Ira Wildman)

I found this article in the July 9, 1938 edition of the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel (published during the 75th reunion of the Blue and Gray):

I suppose it still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the star was actually from the National flag carried at Gettysburg by the 17th Connecticut, but it still makes for an interesting story.

Also interesting? Colonel Ira Wildman was Danbury, Connecticut’s last surviving soldier from the Civil War. He had served with the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, joining that regiment in 1865 as a substitute for another man and serving one year with the 5th and 7th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. It would seem as if young Ira Wildman was in fact quite young – listing his age as 18 when in fact he was only 15 years old. After his discharge in Utah in 1866, he appears to have enlisted in the US Army for 3 years, re-enlisting in 1870 as a cavalry trooper. If in fact it is the same Ira Wildman, he  deserted his regiment, was caught and confined at Fort Douglas in Utah in 1874 before being dishonorably discharged. While Ira Wildman may not have been a colonel in the army, he was a major player in the national reconciliation between veterans North and South.

Ira Wildman made national news when he married in 1935 to a much younger woman (age 58, so not so young as others had married!), even earning a mention in the December 9th issue of Time Magazine as well as  local papers across the country. This is from “The Mansfield News-Journal,” Mansfield, Ohio, on November 29, 1935:

“Blue Bird of G.A.R. a Bride — 900 see woman, 58, become wife of Veteran, 85″ (Danbury, Conn.)

The “Blue Bird of the G.A.R.” Mrs. Ella C. Bond of Oshkosh, Wis., has become the bride of Col. Ira R. Wildman, the last of Danbury’s Civil War Veterans.In keeping with her sobriquet, bestowed on her by Civil War veterans because of her fondness for the color, the 58-year-old bride wore a gown of blue velvet. Her hair was covered by a blue lace handkerchief.

Nine hundred persons crowded into St. James church for the wedding which was performed by Rev. Hamilton Hyde Kellogg. At least two hundred more gathered outside of the church for a glimpse of the 85-year old Colonel and his bride, the niece of Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside of Civil War fame.

I guess I still have no idea as to whether or not the star ever made it back to the National colors of the 17th Connecticut…and given the fact that this flag was described as being in poor condition in 1879 when it was brought to the State Capitol on Battle Flag Day it seems unlikely, but the story is in itself an interesting one – right down to the military career of Ira Wildman. That in itself is probably worth a closer look someday. Maybe someone out there has some information on Ira Wildman, if not the fate of the star?

The Gettysburg star

This article was found in the June 5, 1938 edition of the Daily Boston Globe:

Pittsfield, June 4 – A star shot out of a flag at the Battle of Gettysburg and for many years a treasure of Mrs. Minnie Lament of 31 Reed St., will be restored to the flag from which it came if Gov. Cross of Connecticut is willing.

Mrs. Lament, daughter of the late Patrick Norton, family of Company D, 17th Connecticut Regiment of Infantry, and brother of the late Col. Paul J. Norton, commander of the 104th Regiment of Springfield, has written the following letter to Gov. Cross:

“Seventy-five years ago my father, Patrick Norton, of the 17th Connecticut Regiment of Infantry, Company D, was engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg for all three days. While he was fleeing for his life in the face of Pickett’s charge, the regimental flag of the company was shot.

One of the stars of the flag he loved so well was loose and floated down before him. He grabbed the star. It was blood-stained, yet in good condition. He carried it over his heart during the rest of the war – even through the horrors of Andersonville Prison, where he was confined when the war ended.

“I might add that he escaped, was pursued by bloodhounds, recaptured and returned in chains to that living hell. I have kept the precious souvenir framed through all these years, and as I am the last survivor among my father’s children it seems to me it would be fitting and proper that this star should be restored to the flag where it belongs.

“The emblem, I believe, is kept with the other battle flags at the State House in Hartford. I thought that if the suggestion appealed to you, I should send my grandson to commit the treasure of the great days to your Commonwealth through you.”

After 75 years the article bears a little truth and a little myth. Patrick Norton, a private in Company D, was wounded on July 1st at Gettysburg and captured by the Confederates, probably fleeing troops of Early and Gordon but certainly not Pickett. His record shows that he was paroled in July but shows no date. Most likely he never went south with many other soldiers of the 17th who were captured, possibly due to his wound and possibly because, like other Union soldiers, he was willing to accept a parole that may or may not have been legal.

Norton returned to the regiment and in 1865 was captured again at Dunn’s Lake, Florida. He spent 2 1/2 months in Andersonville prison before being paroled as the war ended and returning home to Connecticut.

Was the star from the regiment’s National colors? It could be – it was damaged during the battle. The story about the star being detached and floating down is a romantic one but perhaps a little too romantic. A later article mentions that the star was indeed returned to Connecticut. A story and research for a different time perhaps!