Galusha Pennypacker: The Civil War's Youngest General

Though Pennypacker was a fierce soldier, the atrocities of war never escaped the young leader's mind.

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The Center City memorial to Galusha Pennypacker.Modest combat heroes are cliché for a reason. Many don’t enjoy thinking of the events others want to praise. Galusha Pennypacker was one of these.

Wounded seven times during the Civil War, the Chester County boy rose to brigadier general at the age of 21 and won the Congressional Medal of Honor. But what he couldn’t escape was the moment when—after being wounded at Fort Fisher in 1865—his men murdered the Confederate who’d shot him. “The horror of it has never gone out of my mind to this day,” Pennypacker said in 1911.

Born in Valley Forge, Pennypacker was an only child raised by his grandmother. The grandson of a Mennonite bishop, he was described at the end of his life as a Quaker, and his funeral at the Philadelphia National Cemetery was performed “with the simple services of the Society of Friends.” Pennypacker’s mother died when he was 3. His father, Joseph, served in the Mexican War, then went to California in the Gold Rush and never came back.

In early 1861, the boy was working as a printer’s assistant for the Chester County Times newspaper in West Chester and considering his options. Apparently, Pennypacker had some writing talent, because his editor put him in charge of a column for young people. Meanwhile, he’d been offered an appointment to West Point and was considering an opportunity to study law. But events intervened.

On April 13, Fort Sumter surrendered to Confederate forces. On April 15, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. Pennypacker had previously joined the Chester County militia, which then answered Lincoln’s call in a body. By April 20, the Chester County men were in an army camp at Harrisburg, where they were designated Company A of the 9th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers.

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