The Lesser Known Roosevelt

He was named for America’s first president. His cousins were the
26th and 32nd presidents.

George Washington Roosevelt is not as famous as Theodore
“Teddy” Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he was a hero in his
own right, earning the Medal of Honor for bravery in two Civil War battles and
losing his leg to enemy fire.

Pride and glory

At the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, the 19-year-old Union soldier
wrestled his regimental flag from its Confederate captors. At the battle of
Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863, he seized a Confederate sergeant and his flag, a
death-defying act which cost him his left leg. Roosevelt was awarded the Medal
of Honor in 1887.

  At the battle of Gettysburg, Roosevelt seized a Confederate flag which led to his left leg amputation. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  At the battle of Gettysburg,
Roosevelt seized a Confederate flag which led to his left leg amputation. He
was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  © 2010

Roosevelt was living in Chester, Pa., when he volunteered for the Army
in May 1861, a month after America’s bloodiest conflict began. He joined
Company K of the 26th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, an outfit recruited in
Philadelphia and in Delaware County.

Roosevelt received his baptism of fire in the ill-fated Peninsula
Campaign, a failed Union effort to capture Richmond, Va., the Confederate
capital, in the spring and summer of 1862. The Second Battle of Bull Run,
fought on Aug. 30, 1862, was a Union defeat like the first Battle of Bull Run.

Fierce combat

In his 1968 book, The Badge of Gallantry, Lieutenant
Colonel Joseph B. Mitchell quoted from Roosevelt’s Medal of Honor
citation: “At Bull Run, Va., [he] recaptured the colors, which had been
seized by the enemy.” Afterwards, Roosevelt was promoted to sergeant,
evidently as a reward for his bravery in the battle.

Roosevelt survived fiercer combat against General Robert E. Lee’s
storied Army of Northern Virginia at the battles of Fredericksburg, Va., in
December 1862, and Chancellorsville, Va., in May 1863. When Lee invaded the
North in the summer of 1863, the 26th Pennsylvania was part of the Army of the
Potomac which defeated him at Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle ever fought in
the United States.

Unforeseen event

Roosevelt was a first sergeant by July 2, the second day of the 3-day
fight during which the 26th Pennsylvania found itself hard pressed by attacking

“At Gettysburg [he] captured a Confederate color bearer and color,
in which effort he was severely wounded,” Mitchell quoted the second part
of the citation.

Deeds of Valor, a 1903 book written by W. F. Beyer and O.
F. Keydal and republished in 1993, says that: “In one of the numerous
charges which signalized the battle, [Roosevelt] … came up on the color
bearer, and covering him with his musket, ordered him to surrender.”

The Rebel complied, handing his flag to Roosevelt, who began marching
his prisoner away.

“Before reaching the Northern lines, Roosevelt got a bullet in his
leg, which brought him to the ground and his prisoner escaped,” the book
explained. “The wound proved a serious one.”

Roosevelt’s explanation, quoted in the Mitchell book, is a bit more
laconic: “Captured a Rebel flag at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (but was
wounded before I could get away with it.)”

Roosevelt also recalled that, “…for wounds received and gallant
and meritorious conduct at Gettysburg, he was commissioned a brevet captain of
Pennsylvania Infantry Volunteers by the governor of the state,” according
to an excerpt in The Badge of Gallantry.

Presumably, Roosevelt’s shattered limb was amputated at a field
hospital. Fitted with an artificial leg, he was discharged from the army in
March, 1864.

Various appointments

Roosevelt was born in Chester on Feb. 14, 1844.

“He received his early education in the public schools of
Chester,” his New York Times obituary said. “His first position was
that of a clerk in a store, which he held until 1861, when he enlisted in the

Roosevelt became a diplomat after the war. He was appointed consul at
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city in 1874. Four years later, he was
named consul at St. Helena, the remote south Atlantic Island where Napoleon
died in exile in 1821.

“He also served as consul in several cities in Europe,” the
obituary said. “In March 1905, he was appointed consul general at

Teddy Roosevelt was president when George Washington Roosevelt died in
Brussels, the Belgian capital, on April 14, 1907. The old soldier was buried in
Washington, D.C.

“He was under treatment early in February for intestinal trouble
and his condition was then serious,” according to the obituary. “He
recovered, however, and on February 14 his condition had so improved that the
hopes for his complete restoration to health were entertained.”

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