The Last Full Measure of Devotion
Mount St. Mary’s College in 1863 following the Battle of Gettysburg.
Photo by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Library of Congress
Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the U. S. Army Hospital on Penn Common treated hundreds of wounded Union soldiers, but only a handful of Confederates. The story goes that the surgeon in charge, Dr. Henry Palmer, refused to allow the stricken Rebels to be housed in his hospital wards, so they were taken to the Odd Fellows Hall (Washington Hall). Most of the Southerners were transported to prisoner of war camps after they were sufficiently able to travel. However, not all shared that fate.
James P. Norton was a private in Company C of the 8th Alabama Infantry in Wilcox’s Brigade. The regiment fought on July 2 and 3 in the fields between Seminary and Cemetery ridges, taking 260 casualties out of the 420 men engaged.
Norton had enlisted in Mobile, Alabama, in 1861 in a company known as Alex Stephens’ Guard. He had fought in most of the regiment’s actions the following year and a half. During the 8th Alabama’s attack on the Union III Corps along the Emmitsburg Road on the second day at Gettysburg, Norton was wounded in the leg. Following the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat into Maryland and eventually back to Virginia, he was picked up and taken to a field hospital. He was eventually taken to York for long-term recuperation. However, his condition worsened and he died in November, joining a number of Union soldiers who also perished at York in the months following Gettysburg.
Before the war, young Norton had attended the Catholic Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. With his demise, his body was prepared for shipment and transported to the college’s cemetery, where it was interred next to another Confederate Gettysburg victim.
When Norton enlisted in the army in the gulf city of Mobile, he could never have dreamed that his fate was to die in Yankee territory, in far-off York, Pennsylvania, a town he may have never visited prior to the Gettysburg Campaign. Nor could he guess, as a student in Emmitsburg in the late 1850s, that within a few years his remains would lay forever under a carved stone memorial pillar in his college cemetery.