Late during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, gunners from Battery I of the 5th U.S. Artillery fired shell and canister from their position at the Trostle House towards approaching Confederates. They kept at it until disabled by the loss of men and horses. The 21st Mississippi Infantry finally captured the field pieces.
Union forces launched an immediate counterattack to recover the artillery. The assault fell to the 39th New York Infantry, also known as the Garibaldi Guard, a heterogeneous mix of men from several European countries, including Spanish-born Capt. Carlos Alvarez de la Mesa.
“I really enjoy being a part of my regiment,” he wrote in a letter home, “Because I am European, I am happy to be a member of a regiment that bears the name of Garibaldi, the hero of liberty in Italy.”
De la Mesa led his Company C into the attack until an enemy bullet struck him in the foot. He toppled over a fence and was trampled by his men, causing serious lacerations and contusions.
The cannon were recaptured. De la Mesa was taken to a hospital. His wounds were serious enough to end his combat career, and he left his beloved regiment with a disability discharge in September 1863. Still wishing to aid his adopted country, he joined the 11th Veteran Reserve Corps and served through the end of the war.
De la Mesa made a full recovery from his wounds. But venereal disease contracted during his time in uniform eventually affected his brain and landed him in an insane asylum. He died in 1872 at about age 44, leaving behind a wife, son and daughter.
In 1888, his daughter gave birth to a grandson he would never meet, Terry de la Mesa Allen. He went on to become “Terrible Terry,” a noted World War II major general who led the 1st Infantry Division in North Africa and Sicily from May 1942 until August 1943. He later commanded the 104th Infantry Division.
This portrait is part of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Book Project. Established by Jim Quinlan, owner of The Excelsior Brigade, its mission is to identify approximately 15,000 Civil War veterans interred on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, and to provide a biographical sketch and photograph of each individual. If you have an image to share, or would like more information about the ANC project, please contact Jim at 703-307-0344.