Historic Gettysburg Colt M1849 Revolver Display
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Colt M1849 pocket revolver with 4" barrel, matching SN 47781, manufactured in 1852, presented before the war to Captain Theodore Hesser of the Pennsylvania Fencilbles (State militia) and carried by him during his service in the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. Silver plated brass trigger guard and backstrap, the latter inscribed From W. M. LEANS Philada to CAPT . THEO HESSER. Leans was also a member of the Fencibles. Varnished one-piece walnut grips; most of the stagecoach scene on the cylinder remains. All parts original and uncleaned.
With the outbreak of war, Hesser was commissioned as a Captain in the 18th PA Infantry, a 3-month regiment, on April 24th, 1861. When that regiment was disbanded in August, 1861, Hesser was commissioned as a Lt. Colonel in the 72nd PA Infantry, also known as the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves, a regiment made up almost entirely of firemen from Philadelphia, under the command of Col. De Witt Clinton Baxter. It was one of the regiments of the famous Philadelphia Brigade. The regiment saw service with the Army of the Potomac at all the major engagements, suffering heavily at Antietam with nearly half its number falling as casualties.
However, where the regiment really found its fame was at the Battle of Gettysburg. Arriving on July 2nd and taking up a position near the copse of trees at the angle on Cemetery Ridge, the brigade was heavily engaged with Wrights Georgia Brigade in the afternoon. Col. Baxter was wounded during this engagement and Hesser took command of the 72nd. On July 3rd, the brigade was deployed with the 69th PA at the stone wall in front of the copse of trees and the 71st PA at the wall to their right, with Cushings artillery battery between and the 72nd behind in reserve. It was in these positions that the Philadelphia Brigade received the direct onslaught of Picketts Charge. Under heavy fire from Garnetts Brigade of Virginians, the 71st broke and fled to the rear. The 72nd, the largest of the brigades regiments (now under Hesser), moved obliquely toward the wall and fired a devastating volley into the Virginians, killing Genl. Garnett. The Philadelphia Brigades new commander, Brigadier General Alexander Webb, tried to get the 72nd to retake the stone wall, but his orders could not be heard over the noise of battle. The 72nd neither advanced nor retreated, but continued to pour volley after volley into Garnetts Brigade, which was awaiting Armisteads brigade to reinforce them before advancing further. Armistead soon arrived and overwhelmed the right of the 69th PA and pushed toward the 72nd. The 69th was being pressed on all sides and had suffered horrible casualties, but continued to stand and fight. The 72nd, also suffering severe casualties, was pouring deadly fire on the Virginians and another of their volleys brought down Armistead. With the Confederates disheartened by the loss of their commander and the 72nd having held its ground for about 20 minutes, the 72nd advanced and retook the stone wall. This final charge was enough to finally repulse the charge and ebb the high tide of the Confederacy, leading to her ultimate defeat. Hessers official battle report appears in the Official Records on page 433, Volume XXXIX, and is as follows:
Report of Lieut. Col. Theodore Hesser, Seventy-second Pennsylvania Infantry. Jones' Cross-Roads, Md., July 11, 1863. Capt.: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my regiment on July 2 and 3, at Gettysburg, Pa.: On the 2d instant, the regiment supported a battery until 6 p. m., when (the first line of battle giving way) orders were received to advance and assist in reoccupying the ground lost, which orders were executed without, however, becoming directly engaged. On the 3d instant, the regiment was again assigned the duty of supporting a battery, which position it occupied (under a terrific fire of the enemy's artillery) until 3 p. m., at which time they were ordered to advance upon the stone wall on our immediate front, it being discovered that the enemy were making a demonstration in that direction. At this point the regiment became engaged with Pickett's division of the rebel army, and, after a severe contest, lasting about half an hour, succeeded in routing the enemy and occupying the wall, which position it held until the withdrawal of the brigade on the morning of the 5th. In this engagement the regiment captured two rebel colors and a number of prisoners. I would especially mention Companies A and I, Capt.'s Suplee and Cook, for the creditable manner in which they performed the skirmishing for the brigade in the engagements of both days.
The 72nd suffered 197 casualties at Gettysburg, all but 4 during Picketts Charge and its preceding artillery bombardment. Lt. Col. Hesser retained command of the regiment until he was killed in action on November 27th, 1863 at Mine Run, Virginia. His revolver appears to have been untouched since his death. It is now displayed in a glass-covered wood case along with battle honors, a portion of his Gettysburg report, a copy of his photo, and a photo of the 72nds monument at Gettysburg. This monument is considered the most photographed of the entire battlefield and is even featured on the reverse of Pennsylvanias state quarter.
Attractive display, featuring a relic of a gallant Union officer in the thick of fighting in the repulse of the most famous charge in American History, and carried by him when he fell less than 5 months later. Hesser is even portrayed in the famous Gettysburg Cyclorama, leading the 72nd to glory.
- Tuckasegee, North Carolina
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- Militaria & Weapons
- ca. 1863
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