Podcast Episode 220: The Old Hero of Gettysburg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow John Burns’ adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln.

We’ll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s.


Alberta has no rats.

In a 1963 travel book, Ian Fleming gives James Bond’s recipe for scrambled eggs.


Sources for our feature on John Burns:

Timothy H. Smith, John Burns, 2000.

Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The First Day, 2011.

Tom Huntington, “Out to Shoot Some ‘Damned Rebels,'” America’s Civil War 21:3 (July 2008), 46-49.

Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi, “Why JEB Stuart Was Too Late,” Civil War Times 46:1 (February 2007), 30-37.

Robert L. Bloom, “‘We Never Expected a Battle’: The Civilians at Gettysburg, 1863,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 55:4 (October 1988), 161-200.

Robert Fortenbaugh, “Lincoln as Gettysburg Saw Him,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 14:1 (January 1947), 1-12.

George T. Ness Jr., “Wisconsin at West Point: Her Graduates Through the Civil War Period,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 25:2 (December 1941), 210-216.

James W. Wensyel, “Tales of a Gettysburg Guide,” American Heritage 45:2 (April 1994), 104.

“Letters,” Civil War Times 56:4 (August 2017), 6.

Luther William Minnigh, Gettysburg: What They Did There, 1912.

Samuel Penniman Bates, The Battle of Gettysburg, 1875.

“The Field of Gettysburg,” Ocala [Fla.] Evening Star, Dec. 6, 1920.

“The Field of Gettysburg,” Caldwell [Idaho] Tribune, Dec. 26, 1908.

“John Burns of Gettysburg,” [Washington D.C.] National Tribune, Jan. 19, 1899, 10.

“John Burns of Gettysburg,” National Tribune, Nov. 10, 1898, 8.

“Brave John Burns,” Gettysburg Compiler, Sept. 28, 1897.

“John Burns of Gettysburg,” Helena [Mont.] Independent, Oct. 6, 1890, 6.

“John Burns, of Gettysburg,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 1872.

“John Burns of Gettysburg,” New York Times, July 27, 1871.

John T. Trowbridge, “The Field of Gettysburg,” Atlantic Monthly 16:97 (November 1865), 616-624.


A writer to the Civil War Times asks whether the man seated farthest left at this Gettysburg field hospital might be Burns (click to enlarge). “Burns favored that style of top hat, and they have the same jug ears and long noses. They also seem to wear similar scowls, but nowadays so do I, at least when I can’t get enough Advil.” More here.

Listener mail:

Filey Bird Garden & Animal Park, Facebook, Sept. 25, 2018.

“Escaped Filey Animal Park Wallaby Found Dead on Roadside,” BBC News, Sept. 25, 2018.

Thomas Manch and Matt Stewart, “Mystery of Wellington’s Dead Wallaby Remains, Despite Thermal Imaging Tech,” Stuff, May 22, 2018.

Thomas Mead, “Hunters Take Out Pests in Annual South Canterbury Wallaby Hunt,” NewsHub, March 17, 2018.

A. David M. Latham, M. Cecilia Latham, and Bruce Warburton, “What Is Happening With Wallabies in Mainland New Zealand?” Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (accessed Oct. 3, 2018).

“Waimate’s Wallabies,” Waimate.org (accessed Oct. 3, 2018).

John Wilson, “South Canterbury Places – Waimate,” Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (accessed Oct. 3, 2018).

Ryan Dunlop, “Cost of Wallabies in South Island Could Reach $67m a Year by 2027,” Stuff, Dec. 22, 2017.

Rachel E. Gross, “New Zealand’s War on 30 Million Possums,” Atlantic, March 1, 2013.

Mark Edwards, “Isle of Man Wallaby-Related Police Call-Outs Revealed,” BBC News, Sept. 7, 2018.

Francesca Marshall, “Calls for Wallaby Warning Signs to be Implemented on the Isle of Man to Tackle Growing Numbers,” Telegraph, Sept. 7, 2018.

“Orphaned Isle of Man Wallaby ‘Getting Stronger,'” BBC News, May 8, 2018.

“Wild Wallabies Running Amok on Isle of Man,” Times, Sept. 8, 2018.

Camila Domonoske, “Mystery Kangaroo Is at Large in Austria, Confusing Everybody,” National Public Radio, Sept. 4, 2018.

“No Kangaroos in Austria? At Least One Is Lost in the Snow,” Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 29, 2015.

“Runaway Kangaroo Seen in Upper Austria,” The Local, Aug. 10, 2015.

“Escaped Kangaroo on the Run in Austria,” The Local, July 7, 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener John Spray, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!