The Story of John Wesley Culp
Pvt. John Wesley Culp
The Battle of Culp's Hill by Edwin Forbes
(Battles & Leaders)
One of the saddest stories of the Battle of Gettysburg is that
of an Adams County family.
Wesley Culp was a native of Gettysburg.
As a boy, he played in the streets of Gettysburg and hunted in the
woods of Culp's Hill, which belonged to his uncle, Henry Culp. When
Wesley became a teenager, he took a job with a Gettysburg harness
company that manufactured leather harnesses for carriages and wagons.
Wesley Culp became a good harness maker and enjoyed his work. In 1858,
the owner of the company moved his business to Shepherdstown, Virginia and
Wesley decided to move with his employer. Wesley settled into his
new home at Shepherdstown and made many new friends there, though
he did not lose contact with his friends and family back in Gettysburg.
When the war broke out in 1861, Wesley
enlisted with many of his new friends and neighbors in the 2nd Virginia
Infantry Regiment. This regiment was part of the famous "Stonewall
Brigade" commanded by General "Stonewall" Jackson, which saw its first
battle at Bull Run. Back in Gettysburg, Wesley's brother William Culp
enlisted in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, a Union regiment. Luck
had it that despite the two serving in opposing armies, Wesley and
William never had to face one another on the battlefield though both
survived several battles and many close scrapes through the first
years of the war. Though William's regiment was not at Gettysburg,
the 2nd Virginia Infantry, with Private Wesley Culp in the ranks,
"Culp's Hill", the one owned by
Wesley's uncle Henry and the same hill on which he had explored, played,
and hunted as a young man, was considered by many to be the key position
on the Union Army's right flank, the "point" of the fishhook-shaped
Union line. When the Confederate army attacked the hill on July 2nd
1863, the 2nd Virginia Infantry was part of the attacking force. It
was sometime during the fighting on July 3rd when Wesley Culp was
shot and killed on or nearby his uncle's hill. Wesley was buried and
his grave supposedly marked by his fellow soldiers of the 2nd Virginia,
though the only remains of him ever found was a rifle stock with his
named carved into it. His body was never identified and recovered.
In an interesting twist of fate, Wesley was carrying a message to
be given to another Gettysburg native, Virginia "Jennie" Wade, whom
Wesley had known when he lived in Gettysburg. The message was given
to him by a Union soldier named Jack Skelly, also a native of Gettysburg,
who was Virginia's beau and hoped to marry the girl after the war.
Alas, Private Skelly was mortally wounded and captured at the Second
Battle of Winchester, Virginia, on June 15. Wesley discovered Skelly
in a temporary hospital and agreed to take a message to Virginia for
him, just in case his regiment got close enough to Gettysburg for
him to deliver it. Sadly, the note was never delivered and all three
people- Wesley Culp, Jack Skelly and Jennie Wade died without knowing
the fate of the other.
Wesley's brother William Culp survived
the war and left the service as an officer. Legend has it that William
considered his dead brother a traitor for serving against his native
state, and never recognized nor spoke of him again. The Culp family
was truly one divided by the war.