James "J.J." Jackson Purman (1841 - 1915) Icn_world

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Birthplace: Greene County, PA
Death: Died
Managed by: Elizabeth-Gaye Thomas
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About James "J.J." Jackson Purman


Voluntarily assisted a wounded comrade to a place of apparent safety while the enemy were in close proximity; he received the fire of the enemy and a wound which resulted in the amputation of his left leg.



Lieutenant James Purman was one of 63 men who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1 - 3, 1863. His was one of only two during which two men earned the award for the same actions. On the second day of the Gettysburg battle, Lieutenant Purman's 140th Penna. Regiment was forced to fall back through the Wheat Field under a withering hail of Confederate fire and an overwhelming assault. Upon observing a comrade fall wounded, Lieutenant Purman and Captain James Pipes halted in the retreat and moved the wounded man to the cover of some rocks. In this heroic action both men were shot in the leg. Ignoring calls to surrender, Lieutenant Purman braved the fire and onrushing rebel troops to make his way back to the Union lines, where he was rushed to the 2d Corps Field Hospital, where his leg had to be amputated.

While being nursed back to health in Gettysburg, James fell in love with his nurse Mary Witherow whom he later married.

James worked as a teacher in a Waynesburg "Common School", and after the war practiced medicine in Washington D.C. He held a position starting in 1881 with the U.S. Pension Office.

James J. Purman died May 11, 1915 in Washington D.C. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with his wife.


Born on a farm in Greene County in 1841, James Jackson Purman displayed an independent streak combined with a strong work ethic from his earliest years. At the age of 12 he took a job in the printing office of the Waynesburg Eagle, and four years later traveled to Illinois to work as a typesetter at the Fulton County Democrat. Purman returned home soon afterward and matriculated at Waynesburg College, where he earned his tuition by teaching at a local academy during the winter months.

Daylight brought new horrors. Although no major action would take place in this sector on July 3, the opposing pickets regularly exchanged shots across the field around and over those trapped between the lines. One of these stray rounds penetrated Purman’s lower right leg. Growing increasingly desperate for water, he called out to a Confederate officer seen moving along the front of a body of troops.

Eventually, a lieutenant from a Georgia regiment crawled out to the exposed position with a canteen of fresh water. He poured some of the precious liquid on the enemy officer’s wounds and cut off his boots to ease the throbbing pain. After a little coaxing, the Southerner carried Purman on his back while crawling on all fours into the Confederate lines along the edge of the woods. He propped the Pennsylvanian under a tree on a rubber blanket and provided him with more water and biscuits before taking his leave.

Before joining his beloved in eternal rest on May 10, 1915, Purman realized a long held wish. For many years he had exchanged letters with the Confederate officer who had rescued him at Gettysburg. This individual proved to be Thomas P. Oliver of the 24th Georgia, a long-time resident of Athens. In 1907, when Oliver and a delegation of fellow Georgians traveled to Washington, the former enemies met in person for the first time since that summer day in 1863. Purman had the pleasure of introducing his old friend to President Theodore Roosevelt. Oliver died the following year, just after being elected alderman of Atlanta. Had it not been for this soldier’s bold act of mercy in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, his Union counterpart may have perished there along with one of the romances that blossomed amid the carnage of war.



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Lt. James J. Purman, Medal of Honor's Timeline

Greene County, PA
Age 30
Age 31
Age 36
Washington, D.C.,
May 11, 1915
Age 74
Arlington National Cemetery, VA