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Running Away to Join the Magnificent Eleventh

By Scott Valentine

Charles Augustus Oliver ran away from home to join the army in the summer of 1862. The 17-year-old son of a patriotic New Jersey family slipped away with a friend about his same age, James P. Stryker. The two boys joined their home state’s 11th Infantry.

Only Oliver made it home, suffering two wounds along the way. Six decades later, he shared details of his service in the Sept. 7, 1924, issue of the New Brunswick, N.J., Sunday Times.

“Charles was a sergeant at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. In the lineup he was stationed directly behind Stryker and before the charge he was resting his head on Stryker’s feet. Then came cannon fire from the rebel lines. The rebels always fired their cannon first and then their muskets. Charles felt a quiver run through Stryker’s body, and immediately he got up and walked around to speak to his friend. When he got there, Stryker lay headless before him.”

Charles A. Oliver. An identical image appears in the History of the Eleventh Jersey Volunteers from its Organization to Appomattox. Carte de visite by D. Clark, New Brunswick, N.J. Author’s collection.

Oliver survived the fight, though he suffered a wound in the lower part of his right leg. 

When the reporter asked him to elaborate on his wounds, Oliver noted, “Well, the worst one was the Fredericksburg one. The rebels used to fire ordinary slugs, and then they added three or four buckshot besides. That was called a ‘scatterance.’ It was done so that there would be a chance of killing more than one person at a time. Well, I caught one of those bugs right on the middle of the top of my head, where the bald spot is now. I was serving under John B. Hill [his company captain] of New Brunswick then, and he was wonderful to me. Instead of letting some ignorant person monkey with the wound, he had me taken through to Baltimore where the shot was removed. For thirty years or more that scar showed, and then almost as suddenly as it came it just disappeared.”

Oliver’s father, Francis, a private in the 28th New Jersey Infantry, died at Fredericksburg.

Oliver ended his service in 1865 as a 21-year-old captain. Proud to have served under the flag of the old 11th, he hung on a wall a framed account of the regiment’s part in the Battle of Gettysburg. It read in part: “What language can tell of the magnificent fighting of the Eleventh Regiment, that lost near the Peach Orchard nearly all the officers and three-quarters of the men, every field officer and company commander being shot down and the remnants of the command, under the command of Lieutenant [Amos H.] Schoonower, retiring fighting to the last.”

Oliver went on to serves as a detective, police chief and alderman. He passed away at age 84 in 1928 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick. His wife, Sarah, whom he married in 1870, and two sons survived him.

References: Marbaker, History of the Eleventh Jersey Volunteers from its Organization to Appomattox; The Sunday Times, New Brunswick, N.J., Sept. 7, 1924.

Scott Valentine is a MI Contributing Editor.

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