Editor's note: Descendants of Civil War soldiers who fought at Gettysburg are sharing their ancestors' stories to mark the 150th anniversary of the July 1-3, 1863, battle.
FIRST PERSON | My great-great-grandfather, John Pickel (sometimes spelled Pickle, including on his gravestone) was from Gastown, Pa., and fought for the Union with the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg.
Born in 1844, he mustered into the 63rd Pennsylvania on August 1, 1861, with Company G, the "Morgan Guards." After extensive drill and discipline training, the regiment first saw action in March 1862 near Pohick Church. The 63rd Pennsylvania saw action in the Peninsula Campaign, and at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. On June 11, 1863, they were ordered to the Gettysburg campaign. Their duties during the campaign included watching enemy troop movements.
On July 2, 1863, the 63rd Pennsylvania acted as a skirmish line in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg. They were ordered to this position by Union General "Crazy" Dan Sickles, who advanced his own line from where Union General George Meade had ordered his line. This caused the line to not be anchored, and made Confederate General James Longstreet change his planned march to capture Little Round Top, and resulted in the Union being able to retain control of the hill.
Due to Crazy Dan's actions, the 63rd Pennsylvania experienced heavy fighting early on July 2 at the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard. They had been engaged in fighting without interruption from about 9 a.m. until around 5 p.m. After expending their ammunition, they were withdrawn, and first ordered to the picket line near Little Round Top, and then were ordered to support a battery in front of General Meade's headquarters on July 3. Although the 63rd Pennsylvania was involved in heavy fighting, they experienced relatively few casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg.
John Pickel was promoted to corporal on July 4, 1863, and continued to fight with the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. At the Battle of the Wilderness, he was wounded on May 5, 1864, and lost an arm. Once injured, he was taken to Washington, where he underwent surgery amputating his arm. In later photos, including one of him with my grandmother and great-aunt, his empty suit sleeve is quite noticeable.
He mustered out with Company G on Aug. 1, 1864. After the war, he returned home and became a school teacher. He and his wife, Christena, enjoyed many years together and were blessed with three children. John passed away in 1929, and is buried in Christ Lutheran Church cemetery in Gastown, Pa.
- John Pickel