The “significant word UNKNOWN”

24 Apr 2023 9:35 AM | Wendy S. Allen (Administrator)

This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, April of 2023. It was penned by Wendy Allen of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does. 

This summer, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and Gettysburg National Military Park will co-sponsor the seventh year of One Hundred Nights of Taps, Gettysburg. Along with our wonderful partners, Taps for Veterans and the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, we look forward to hosting thousands of visitors to Gettysburg National Cemetery and continuing to inform, inspire, and involve them.

According to Drew Gilpin Faust in her award-winning book, “This Republic of Suffering,” over 40 percent of deceased Civil War Union soldiers perished without names--identified only, as Walt Whitman put it, “by the significant word UNKNOWN.” Faust continues, “to a twenty-first-century American, this seems unimaginable.”

This summer, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania will be presenting our annual commemorative coin to the buglers and guest participants in thanks for their volunteer time. In years past, we honored individual, known Union soldiers who were killed here in 1863. This year we will be honoring the UNKNOWN United States soldiers buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery. Of the 3,354 soldiers buried there, 979 are unknown.

Seasonal GNMP Ranger Elizabeth Smith, notes, "When it comes to the unknown residing in this cemetery, we tend to know either very little or nothing at all about them. But there are outliers, men we know who died here at Gettysburg and whose bodies were never claimed and most likely now reside here in this National Cemetery. One of these men is Albert Mattice.”

Albert Mattice was born on October 6, 1844, in Ontario, Canada. The first of twelve children, Albert grew up on his father’s 400-acre farm in Stormont County. We know nothing of what his childhood was like, but we do know that in 1862, at 17 years old, Albert left Canada and traveled south. On July 5, 1862, he enlisted with the 11th US Regulars.  

Upon enlisting, Albert and the 11th quickly became combat veterans, seeing action at places such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. July 2, 1863, found them here at Gettysburg’s infamous Wheatfield. While advancing into the Wheatfield, the 11th suddenly found themselves flanked by Confederate forces, who unleashed a volley. “In a few minutes,” the 11th’s major remembered, “we lost nearly half of the regiment, and that too, without inflecting the slightest damage upon the enemy.”

One of those lost was 18-year-old Albert Mattice. We don’t know exactly when or where Albert fell, but we know that he died there, at the Wheatfield, only three days short of a full year in the army. With no identification on his person, Albert’s body was never identified and so what exactly happened to him remains uncertain; however, more than likely, he now resides in one of the numbered graves in the unknown section of Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Drew Gilpin Faust states, “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station. The work of locating the missing and naming the tens of thousands of men designated as ‘unknown’ would prove one of the war’s most difficult tasks.”

Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 Organization
P. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA  17325


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