Gay, brilliant Bedinger, whose presence imparted an electric touch to those around him; I shall ne ‘er see his like again! – (1).
George Bedinger, now a Captain, had recently written his sister Virginia “Diddie” Bedinger after the Battle of Chancellorsville that took the life of Stonewall Jackson:
In line of Battle near Chancellorsville
Monday May 14th 1863
My dear Virginia,
Yesterday we fought the most terrible battle of this war, attacking the enemy in his chosen position and driving him at every point, our Brigade behaved magnificently but lost very heavily. Our brave General’s remains will reach Lexington before this gets to you. Today we are in line and throwing up breast works, whether we will attack or the enemy retreat further, I cannot say. I’m pretty certain of more fighting. Thank God I am spared to write you this note, tho’ half of my little company were killed or wounded. Uncle George is safe, so is John Boldoin, both send love to you. Mr. Pendleton [Gen. H. N. Pendleton or Alexander Pendleton] and Henry Douglas [Henry Kyd Douglas] are well.
I do not know how I am to send this to you.
Your devoted brother
Love to all – (2).
By then Captain George Bedinger had won over his Irishmen in Company E – The Emerald Guard from the Shenandoah Valley – in the 33rd Virginia Infantry with his strong, active and graceful natural bravery. Wrote one:
In camp and on the march, (he) was always gay and cheerful, and though reared in ease and affluence, made himself and his comrades merry amid their privations and discomforts. During the long artillery duel in which his battery was engaged at Kernstown, he was always in the right place, and in spite of the dangers to which he was exposed and of which he was fully conscious, could not resist the temptation to be merry and to provoke merriment in others, at his own and his companions’ occasional impulses to dodge the noisiest shells with which the enemy were making the day hideous. – (3).
Bedinger’s unit was then folded into the Second Corps after Jacksons’s death and Lee’s army stealthily moved northward to re-invade Maryland and Pennsylvania, crossing June 16, 1863 below Shepherdstown, then, to Chambersburg until an order came for the 2nd Corps to join the battle shaping up around Gettysburg.
They did little until an order came sending for Bedinger’s men at 3 AM on the morning of the 3rd. The regiment marched off with the rest of the brigade towards the enemy position atop Culp’s Hill. After daybreak, the regiment advanced in line of battle towards the enemy who was “strongly entrenched in a most advantageous position.”
There and then is where the unbreakable Bedinger broke, leading his fearless men far ahead of all others – toward the mouth of the federal cannon. Then George Bedinger was dead, a state so “unlike” the confident captain.
The regiment would keep trying to advance up the slopes of the hill, “in intervals” as their men took cover behind rocks and trees. Although the regiment exhausted its ammunition within an hour or two, at least part of the 33rd remained engaged for almost five hours, as partial supplies were received upon the field. – (4).
When the losses were known, Captain J. B. Golladay, wrote in his official report:
It would be invidious to speak of the bearing of particular officers and men when all manifested such remarkable coolness and intrepidity during the sanguinary conflict. The loss of Captains [G. C.] Eastham and [George R.] Bedinger is felt and mourned (the first falling to rise no more on the evening of the 2d instant, and the latter on the morning of the 3d instant, perhaps farther in advance of the line of battle than any other officer or man), as well as a list of non-commissioned officers and privates, who certainly composed part of the flower of the regiment. – (5).
Bedinger’s cousin, Edwin Gray Lee, penned the obituary that appeared in several of Virginia’s newspapers in the following week:
We regret to learn that among those killed in the recent battle near Gettysburg, on the 3rd day of July, was Capt. Geo. R. Bedinger, of the 33d Va. Infantry. He was a son of the late Hon. Henry Bedinger (U. S. Minister to Denmark under Mr. Pierce) and though quite a young man, he had won for himself a most enviable reputation for unusual gallantry and skill. He entered the service as a private, earned his promotion upon fifteen battlefields, and at last has fallen where brave men love to die, leading his men up to the cannon’s mouth. He was slain in Ed Johnson’s charge upon the entrenchments. – (6).
After the reports filtered back with the armies to Shepherdstown and Virginia “Diddie” Bedinger learned of her beloved brother’s death, restraint was called for. There was an occupation federal army in town with martial powers. Bedinger’s body was not recovered or returned.
Henry Kyd Douglas did not return from Gettysburg either, but he was not dead. Riding about near Culp’s Hill on his horse “Ashby,” and not heeding calls for him to take cover, a sharpshooter in the woods fired, drilling a ragged wound in his left shoulder. Douglas was still in Gettysburg, imprisoned and hospitalized. He eventually was taken to a prison for Confederate officers in Lake Erie, called Johnson’s Island. – (7).
Early in the morning of July 16, a federal officer came to Poplar Grove, the home of Diddie and Mrs. Carrie Bedinger, Diddie and George’s step-mother, and asked Mrs. Bedinger to lend him a book. He told her that it was hot in his tent and that he had nothing with which to wile away the tedium. Carrie led him into the sitting room and showed him the bookcase. He scanned the shelves, then selected Walter Scott’s “Lay of the Last Minstrel.” Carrie was sure he would never see the book again.
Around noon, firing was heard from the direction of Kearneysville, where Union troops were attacked by Confederate cavalry under Brigadier Fitzhugh Lee and Colonel John R. Chambliss. The Union men were driven back toward Shepherdstown. . . . The federals placed their guns on a low hill on the Poplar Grove property and an artillery duel began. Just at dusk a Union orderly rode up to the Grove with a book in his hand. It was Scott’s “Lay of the Last Minstrel.” The orderly thanked Carrie Bedinger. The officer had been wounded and was in an ambulance elsewhere. – (8).
Chapterette 17: George Bedinger on a Gettysburg Hill; Henry Kyd Douglas Falls.
1. Moore, p. 136.
2. The Dandridge and Boteler collections – Duke University.
3. The University Memorial: Biographical Sketches of Alumni of the University of Virginia who Fell in the Confederate War. pp. 477-478.
4. Casler, pp. 180-181.
5. Golladay, p. 530.
6. Obituary in The Lynchburg Virginian, July 21, 1863; Levin, p. 66.
7. Douglas, p. 250.
8. Levin, p. 67.