George Fisher McFarland (April 28, 1834 – December 18, 1891) was a schoolteacher from Juniata County, Pennsylvania and Union Army officer during the American Civil War. He was noted for a critical delaying action he led during the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg that helped stave off the Confederate advance of the first day and supplied the rest of the army with time to reorganize.
Early life[edit | edit source]
George McFarland was born on April 28, 1834, to John and Elizabeth McFarland at Todd's Mill in rural Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He worked as a boat pilot with his father on the Susquehanna River when he was young and began teaching school in his 20's.
Civil War service[edit | edit source]
In 1862, he joined the Union army and was given a commission as the captain of Company D of the 151st Pennsylvania Infantry. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel of the regiment. After the colonel, Harrison Allen, was given the rank of brevet Brigadier General, McFarland was assigned command of the 151st Pennsylvania. He and his regiment served as reserves at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Northern Virginia.
Three months later, at the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, McFarland bravely led the 151st to glory as his regiment covered the retreat of the battered Union Army's I Corps through the town of Gettysburg.
His regiment at the time of the battle was part of Brig. Gen. Thomas Rowley's brigade, Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday's division of Maj. Gen. John Reynolds' I Corps. The 151st's initial action at Gettysburg was to push forward to Herbst Woods, now called Reynolds' Woods, to assist the breaking Iron Brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith, which was repeatedly being smashed by attacks from Confederate Maj. Gen. William Pender's division. As the Iron Brigade fell back, 151st held off several enemy attacks along Willoughby Run, which ran through Herbst Woods. The 151st was forced to hold alone and barely supported. During their defense, the dueled with Col. Abner Perrin's South Carolina brigade and caused enormous casualties to that brigade, though losing the regimental flag in the process. Eventually, the regiment was relieved and allowed to fall back. Lt. Col. McFarland had his regiment rally at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, where several other regiments were also rallying. As they gathered, McFarland was met by a Federal lieutenant on horseback who held next to him a furled regimental flag. The lieutenant asked McFarland, "Sir, is this your flag?"
McFarland was about to confirm that it was his when a gust of wind flung the flag out. The flag read that it belonged to the 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Disappointed, McFarland pointed out the commander of the 142nd to the lieutenant and then proceeded to continue organizing his regiment. Once the men were rallied, McFarland had them throw up a quick barricade around the Seminary building where the men would hold against the advancing Confederates, who were then bearing down upon them. With a few other regiments, the 151st held off repeated enemy attacks. During this fighting, a thick smoke from the heavy gunfire had engulfed the area. McFarland stooped down to try to see under some of the smoke to locate the enemy when a bullet went through his left leg and into his right. A private with Co. F had lifted him up off the ground and put McFarland's arm around his shoulder to support him. The private then proceeded to take McFarland into the Seminary for medical attention when a bullet came so close to them that it took the middle cuff button off of McFarland's uniform as the private supported him.
The 151st Pennsylvania was the last regiment to pull back in the retreat to Cemetery Ridge. McFarland was treated in the Lutheran Theological Seminary. His left leg was amputated below the knee. Shortly after Gettysburg, McFarland and the 151st PA were mustered out of the Union army, their nine-month term of enlistment expired.
Postbellum[edit | edit source]
After the war, McFarland was the owner of a tree nursery, the superintendent of an orphanage, and the father of three children, one of which was J. Horace McFarland, who has been proclaimed the "Father of the National Park Service".
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Dreese, Michael A., An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland. Mifflintown, Pennsylvania: Juniata County Historical Society, 1997.