AUTHOR SUNDAY: This heartwarming story reveals the tragedy and kindness in the War Between the States

A Relic Left Behind – Heartwarming Reminder of Kindness in the War Between the States

submitted by Virginia Tuttle

(She is the 4th cousin once removed)


From The Civil War News, July 2005 – “A Relic Left Behind”

A Gettysburg Farmer’s Kindness to an Enemy Soldier by Giles Hayes reads: “It is a cane made of maple, 45″ high, obtained from the Plank family many years ago. A face carved on it, small nose, glass beads for eyes, an eternal smile, was a silent witness to an act of kindness on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.”

On July 1, the owner of the A. Plank farm on the south end of Herr’sRidge, listened to the battle raging a mile away. He no doubt was praying it would pass his farm by. In the last afternoon, Anderson’s Div. of Gen. A.P. Hill’s Corps arrived on the field. They took position on Herr’s Ridge, occupying the ground just vacated by Pender’s Division.

Herr’s Ridge

Herr Ridge

Pender’s men had launched their attack which would drive the battered remnant of the Union I Corps from its final defensive position on Seminary Ridge. Anderson’s men expected to join the battle, but they instead received word to make camp where they were.

Lee kept Anderson as a reserve

Commanding Gen. Robt. E. Lee still unsure of what lay in front of him was not ready to commit the only fresh troops he had on the field at that moment. He would keep Anderson as a reserve in case it was needed. Word soon came to Anderson from Lee to send a brigade and a battery of artillery a mile or so south at a right angle and facing right to guard the army’s right flank.

Black Horse Tavern – Gettysburg

Black horse tavern gettysburg

Confederate soldier carried a can to Plank farm

Anderson sent Wilcox’s Ala. Brigade and Ross’ Ga. Battery. Wilcox’s men found themselves in the fields at the south end of Herr’s Ridge near the Black Horse Tavern and near Mr. Plank’s farm. They would spend the evening of July 1 in this position.

Some time on the evening of July 1 a Confederate soldier carrying this cane arrived at the Plank farm. Mr. Plank would prepare a meal for this soldier. The reason for his kindness is now lost to history. The soldier may have helped Mr. Plank with something on the farm. Or, Mr. Plank may just have figured this was somebody’s son who was far from home who would use a good meal. We can only imagine how this soldier must have relished this meal. After the rigors of army life, it must have seemed like a piece of heaven. He probably thought of his own home down south. But there was a battle to be fought and the soldier could not linger long over the meal.

Forgot his cane

In his haste to return to his unit, the soldier left behind his cane. Judging from the workmanship on it, and the fact that he would have to carry it along with his rifle and accoutrements, (sic) the cane must have been a prized possession. Mr.Plank no doubt figured the soldier would come back to get his cane.

Where John Ripley Yarbrough his walking stick the evening before he died on the Second Day in “The Battle of Gettysburg”  Yarbrough, John ripley walking stick

Soldier never returned

The soldier never returned. The identity of the soldier was unknown until several years ago when close examination revealed that there was something lightly carved under the head of the cane. It reads: J R Y, Ala. 8B, Ala.The cane belonged to Pvt. John Ripley Yarbrough, Co.B, 8th Ala.of Wilcox’s Brigade. On the morning of July 2, the brigade backtracked to their original position on Herr’s Ridge. Late on the afternoon of July 2, came Wilcox’s turn to join in the attack on the Union Forces.

Smashed through the Union III Corps

His men smashed through the Union III Corps line along Emmitsburg Road and headed for a gap in the main Union line of Cemetery Ridge. They were raked by artillery fire. Adding to the casualties sustained in the attack against the Emmitsburg Road, Wilcox’s men were becoming disorganized. A desperate counterattack by the 1st Minnesota stopped the momentum of Wilcox’s attack. Seeing he had no support, despite his repeated plea for aid. Wilcox ordered his men back to save the brigade from total destruction. The brigade pulled back to near where they had begun their attack.

Just another statistic

Not pulling back with the brigade was Private Yarbrough. He had been killed. Pvt. Yarbrough would just be another statistic of the battle if not for his cane. It is a physical reminder of an act of kindness by a Penn. farmer. (The Plank family kept the cane until a grandson sold it to the Gettysburg Collector Selmar Hess.)


Additional information:

  • Pvt. John Ripley Yarbrough
  • Birth 1 Aug 1841 in Chambers, AL
  • Death 2 Jul 1863 in Gettysburg, Adams Co., PA
  • son of Nimrod Billington Yarbrough and Sarah Porter Blackstone

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  1. I have enjoyed all that I have read in both Days Gone by Me and Alabama Pioneers. the site was recommended to me by a Young Lady by the name of Mrs. Myra Borden who happens to be one of the fine people working at the Lawrence County Archives ( lawrencecoarchives.com ). I have not met her in person but from what I know of her, she personifies all that is Holy of southern womanhood, I will always hold her as a dear friend and a true “Southern Belle”. She went above and beyond in her efforts to help me find information on my “folks” who lived in Cortland. Through all of articles that I have read here I have learned so much. It provided me with such insight to what it was like then and, it has validated so many of my personal beliefs of this great country we live in. The sacrifice’s that have been made by so many Americans. Not just our Servicemen and Women, but as a nation of immense fortitude, compassion and personal strength of every individual.

    I thank God for you and your mission.
    Semper Fidelis

    1. Thank you for your kind words. They made my day! Donna

  2. What a heartwarming story of The kindness of a PA farmer. I was touched that he actually provided the soldiers Last Meal (so to speak to)! But what boils my blood is the lack of importance of history that our country has for so long allowed to be overlooked. There is much more to this story than anything that MONEY can buy….there is family history, on both sides of this story. For one the act of kindness that this man did and for second the cane that belonged to this soldier! For the Grandson to have sold this cane to a collector is like selling your family history for mere money! I do hope that the Herr family tried to locate the soldiers family and place this part of family history back into the rightful owners hands. No amount of money could ever equal family history. We are losing the battle of what is REALLY important in America!

  3. Good story would like to have seen a picture of the cane.

    1. That’s what I was screaming

  4. War Between the States. Finally, the right name

  5. My great grand dad was there, his brother lost a finger on the second or third day.

  6. Have to check if I’m related have some Blackstone’s on my mother’s side!

  7. Love these stories.

    1. Thanks Mary, We enjoy discovering them and sharing.

  8. No doubt Pvt. Yarbrough knew my GG Grandpa Thomas Jefferson Barron as he was also in Co. B 8th Ala. Inf. Thomas was wounded in the knee by cannister fire from a cannon.

    1. all were heroes both union and confederate many were just young boys and teens who wanted to serve their country and fight for their loved ones just like in every war. 2 of my ancestors fought at the battle both were brothers one in the Iron Brigade the other in the Texas Brigade sadly both did not live to see the end of the war

  9. That was a beautiful story. I wish we knew all the stories. I know of one tidbit of a story—but I don’t know how true it is—may not be true at all. But I was told by someone that there were 1-2 Union soldiers buried behind Sandlin’s Chappel Church in Bremen. and that at one time—there was a rock with this carved into it as a tombstone: “yank killed”. But anyway, It is just so heartbreaking.

  10. I would love to locate this cane. I am a decedent of Pvt. Yarbrough’s father, and would love to track it down and purchase it to bring it back to the Yarbrough family. If anyone has information on who may own it, or where it is located, please contact me!

  11. The war between the states is a misnomer, two distinct constitutionally organized governments fought each other

    1. LRoy Stone My grandmother, born in Alabama in 1897, always called it the War Between the States.