culp logo

The Battle of Culp's Hill by Edwin Forbes
(Battles & Leaders)
National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park

One of the saddest stories of the Battle of Gettysburg is that of an Adams County family.

Pvt. John Wesley CulpWesley 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, was. "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.

Culp's hill

Edwin Forbes' Scene behind the breastworks on Culps Hill, morning of July 3rd 1863.
painting by Edwin Forbes