Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier

The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

Mark H. Dunkelman

Lying dead in Gettysburg with no identification, a lone Union soldier was named the "Unknown Soldier." Dunkelman weaves the story of Sgt. Humiston, his widow, and his children who struggled the rest of their lives. This paperback reprint includes a new introduction by the author and foreword by Academy award-winning film director Errol Morris.
Date Published :
April 2020
Publisher :
Gettysburg Publishing
Contributor(s) :
Errol Morris
Illustration :
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781734627602
Pages : 304
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock


Lying dead in Gettysburg in 1863, a solitary Union soldier lacked any standard means of identification. Only a single clue was clutched in his fingers: an ambrotype of his three young children.

With this photograph the single clue to his identity, a publicity campaign to locate the soldier's family swept the North. Within a month, his grieving widow and children would be located in Portville, New York. The soldier, a devoted husband and father, was revealed as Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers. Using many previously untapped sources, noted historian Mark H. Dunkelman recreates the fascinating story of 19th-century war, sentiment, and popular culture in full detail.

The Humiston story touched deep emotions in Civil War America, inspiring a wave of prose, poetry, and song. Amid the outpouring of public sympathy, a charitable drive grew to assist the bereft family. At the end of the war, the crusade was expanded to establish a home in Gettysburg for orphans of deceased soldiers, The Homestead. The first residents of the institution were Amos Humiston's widow Philinda and her three children: Franklin, Alice, and Frederick. In this extensive account, a full portrait emerges of Amos Humiston, the husband and father destined to be remembered for his death tableau, and of his family, the widow and orphans who struggled for the rest of their lives with celebrity born of tragedy.

This paperback reprint edition is updated with a new introduction by the author, as well as a foreword by Academy award-winning film director Errol Morris.

About The Author

The unique approach Mark H. Dunkelman has taken to Civil War history dates from his childhood, when his father and aunt passed along stories and relics of their grandfather, with whom they had grown up on a farm in Cattaraugus County, New York. Those tales and mementoes of Corporal John Langhans of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry gripped Mark with a life-long passion to learn more about his great-grandfather’s regiment.

During a lifetime of study, he has had the good fortune to connect with more than 1,200 descendants of members of the 154th New York. Since 1986, Mark has organized annual reunions of the descendants in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, where the regiment was raised. In 1996, he led them in raising funds and erecting a monument to their ancestors at Chancellorsville, Virginia, the 154th’s bloodiest battlefield. In five decades of work, Mark has located and copied more than 1,700 wartime letters, 27 diaries, portraits of more than 260 members of the regiment, and a great mass of other material. These sources became the basis for his six well-received books and dozens of articles on various aspects of the 154th’s history. His work is preserved in a collection of regimental materials at St. Bonaventure University.

In addition to Civil War history, Mark has had two other lifelong passionate pursuits. He plays pedal steel guitar and dobro and sings in a band, Clip Clop, which performs his own compositions. And since childhood he has created artwork. Gettysburg’s Coster Avenue tells the story of his crowning artistic achievement: The Coster Avenue Mural depicting the 154th New York in action on the battle’s First Day, at the very site on which it occurred.

Errol Morris is an Academy award-winning film director, New York Times bestselling author, and regular contributor to The New York Times opinion pages and Op-Docs series. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has received the Columbia Journalism Award and honorary degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brandeis University, and Middlebury College. In 2007, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Morris lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Julia Sheehan, an art historian, and their French Bulldog, Ivan.


Foreword by Errol Morris
Introduction to the Paperback Edition

Chapter 1: Amos
Chapter 2: A Green Hand Sails from New Bedford
Chapter 3: Roving the Pacific
Chapter 4: Philinda
Chapter 5: To the Front
Chapter 6: Camp Misery
Chapter 7: A Close Call at Chancellorsville
Chapter 8: Gettysburg
Photo Essay
Chapter 9: Whose Father Was He?
Chapter 10: A Widow and Her Orphans
Chapter 11: Celebrity
Chapter 12: The Homestead
Chapter 13: A Tarnished Legacy
Chapter 14: The Family's Later Years
Chapter 15: Amos Humiston Remembered

Appendix: Songs Inspired by Amos Humiston
Bibliographical Note

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