About Captain George Allen Gilreath (CSA)
George Allen Gilreath (September 26, 1834 – July 3, 1863) commanded the Confederate troops who advanced the farthest during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. He was killed in action during the charge which became known as the high-water mark of the Confederacy.
The birthplace of Captain George Allen Gilreath, known as Old Gilreath, stretched across the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina. George was born September 26, 1834 to Noah Gilreath, Sr. (1800–1853) and Elizabeth Allen of Wilkes County. He grew up on a 600-acre (2.4 km2) family plantation where his grandfather Alexander Gilreath, Esq. (1755–1853) had settled in 1776. His grandfather being a business man, owner of a Grist Mill, Blacksmith shop, and Post Office, he had been a Revolutionary War Veteran and was involved in early Wilkes County government.
George was educated in the mountain schools and learned management skills on the family plantation where about a dozen slaves were owned. Later George bought land in Hempsted Co., Arkansas. On July 30, 1857 he married Lurana Gilbert but when his wife and young child died, he came back to Wilkes County.
In 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, George's older brother Burrell C. died in Virginia by falling off a train. On March 1, 1862, at age 29, George volunteered at Wilkesboro, NC in Company B 55th NC Troops as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 19. On September 15, 1862 he was promoted to Captain after Captain Forester resigned as commander of the Wilkes County Company. His military record contains special requisitions for jackets, shoes, knapsacks and other items for his men. Little did he know, in less than a year his heroic effort as acting commander of the entire 55th regiment would go down not only in North Carolina history but the history of the entire American Civil War.
The afternoon of July 3, 1863 saw the Battle of Gettysburg reach its climax in the assault made on Union Troops clustered behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge. General Robert E. Lee would order Major General George Pickett to punch a hole in the center of the Federal Army, then attack the right and left flanks. The 55th was part of Davis' Brigade, Heth's Division. Fifteen regiments of Tar Heels, including the 55th NC were part of the 12,500 man force selected.
The 55th Regiment had all of its field and staff officers killed or wounded in the first two days of fighting at Gettysburg. The 55th was now under the command of senior Captain George A. Gilreath. On July 3 at 1:00 pm the artillery barrage from 140 Confederate cannons started. At 3:00 pm, the Confederates formed a battle line to march across a mile of open field.
Lt. Joseph Hoyle of company F recalled "we moved forward exposed to a hot fire of grape shot and shells. When we came within range of their small arms, their fire became so destructive to the extreme, only 40 men made it out." Another member of the 55th, Serg. Whitley later wrote: We charged across the field and crossed a road about 100 yards (91 m) from the federal works. Our line was cut down to a mere skirmish line. Our flag fallen a few yards back. I looked behind and saw our support in full retreat. The 55th brigade commander Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis said: "When we approached the stone wall, we were subjected to a most galling fire of musketry and artillery, that so reduced the already thinned ranks...in the assault upon the enemy's position, the coolness and courage of officers and men are worthy of high commendation" Although most of the Confederates failed to make it to the stone wall several members of the 55th made it to the wall and beyond.
Federal Captain S.C. Armstrong of the 125th NY wrote: " I could not but admire the pluck of the enemy especially when after the fight I saw many of them who had rushed ahead of their fellows; lying dead, a few paces from our breastworks, mostly North Carolinians, lean lank fellows in rusty old suits, but heroes." Federal General Alexander Hayes wrote: "The angel of death alone can produce such a field." On July 3, 1863, among the dead was 55th acting commander, Captain George Gilreath.
There are some alternative interpretations of the men which made it the farthest. Davis's Brigade also included the 2nd, 11th, and 42nd Mississippi regiments. The United States Official Survey and early historians with eyewitness accounts agree that those killed farthest to the front belonged to the 55th North Carolina Regiment.
The men of the 55th, according to the Gettysburg Commission, advanced the farthest during Pickett's Charge, also known as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. This event contributed to the North Carolina saying "First at Bethel, Farthest at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, and Last at Appomattox".
The Army of Northern Virginia retreated in the rain on July 4, leaving Gettysburg for Virginia. Captain Gilreath was believed to be left on the battlefield. A monument was placed at the family burying ground high in the Brushy Mountains of his native Wilkes County, North Carolina, alongside are monuments to three other brothers, two of whom were also killed in action.