On the afternoon of July 1, 1863, as the tide of gray soldiers pushed forward towards town, a 69 year old
defender confidently strode towards the expanding struggle. A veteran of the War of 1812, John Burns could not simply stand
idly by as his home became a hotly contested battle ground. Moving in with the somewhat incredulous men of the Iron Brigade,
the near 70 year old Burns fought along side men 50 years his junior. With them he would remain until wounded. Although the
Southerners would capture the ground of the McPherson farm that he helped to defend, with assistance from his Union Army comrades,
Burns found his way home where he recovered from several wounds received that day. A few months later, John Burns would have
the honor of meeting and walking with President Abraham Lincoln when, in November of that year, Lincoln offered his few
appropriate remarks to the dedication of the soldiers national cemetery.
Union Lieutenant Frank Haskell, also present for the battle, wrote
of his brief contact with Burns. "I saw "John Burns," the only citizen of Gettysburg who fought in the battle, and
I asked him what troops he fought with. He said: "O, I pitched in with them Wisconsin fellers." I asked what sort of men
they were, and he answered: "They fit terribly. The Rebs couldn’t make anything of them fellers."
And so the brave compliment the brave. This man was touched by three bullets from the enemy, but not seriously wounded."
Major General Abner Doubleday would comment similarly, offering his thanks for Burns' contribution and willingness to defend his
home. "My thanks are specially due to a citizen of Gettysburg named John Burns, who, although over seventy years of age,
shouldered his musket, and offered his services to Colonel Wister, One hundred and fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister
advised him to join our line of skirmishers in the open fields. When the troops retired, he fought with the Iron Brigade. He was
wounded in three places."
local citizen known to have picked up arms during the battle to aid in the defense of his town, John Burns would live nine more
years, passing away in 1872. Mr. Burns is buried the Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery which borders the Soldiers National Cemetery.
He will forever rest on those grounds, honored by the colors of a continuously flying American flag.