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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By most accounts, Pennypacker was 16 at the time. If so, he would’ve been only 19 when he was made a general—the youngest of the war. Civil War historian William Marvel thinks he was older—probably 19. “An 1893 register of volunteer officers hails Gen. Pennypacker as one of the youngest generals of the war, ‘if not the youngest,’” Marvel wrote. “By giving progressively later dates of birth, he may have been trying to secure that distinction for himself.”

Or he may have simply made an error. In an era when people didn’t carry government ID, it was possible to forget such things. In any case, Pennypacker was quite young.

At Harrisburg, Pennypacker turned down the post of first lieutenant, which would’ve made him one of the company’s senior officers. He believed he was too young for the responsibility. Instead, he agreed to be the regimental quartermaster, responsible for keeping the unit supplied with all its material needs. It was a major task, and Pennypacker excelled at it. According to a 1909 article in the Delaware County Republican, he “brought to the discharge of the duties such admirable administrative ability and attention as elicited approbation from the entire command.”

The 9th was a three-month regiment that served in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, primarily to suppress secessionist activities. The regiment was disbanded in July 1861. Pennypacker then came home to help recruit a new regiment—the 97th, which served for the duration.

Appointed captain (top officer) of Company A in August, Pennypacker was promoted to major (third in command of the regiment) that fall. In April 1864—at age 19 or 21, take your pick—Pennypacker was bumped up to lieutenant colonel, replacing
an officer felled by disease. Two months later, he would be promoted again, to full colonel, in charge of the entire regiment.

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