Gettysburg Faces: Basil Biggs, A Heroic Figure in Gettysburg's History

Gettysburg Faces: Basil Biggs, A Heroic Figure in Gettysburg’s History

In the quaint town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a figure emerged in the 19th century whose life and actions would leave an indelible mark on the local community. Born in 1819 in Carroll County, Maryland, Basil Biggs faced early adversity when his mother passed away at the tender age of four. Despite these challenges, Biggs became a significant contributor to the black community in Gettysburg, playing a crucial role during the tumultuous times of the Civil War.

Early Life and Marriage

After marrying Mary Jackson in the 1840s, the couple relocated to Pennsylvania to ensure their children received a proper education. Driven by a sense of responsibility, Basil spent much of his childhood laboring for various employers. Little did he know that his journey would lead him to Gettysburg, where his impact on the local community would be deeply felt.

A Shelter for Freedom-Seekers

As Confederate troops approached Gettysburg, Basil Biggs, then working as a veterinarian and tenant farmer, faced the upheaval of temporarily relocating his family to Wrightsville. Upon their return, they discovered that a Confederate field hospital had been erected on part of their farm. Basil filed a claim for the significant losses suffered, including farm animals, crops, furniture, and food items.

A Heroic Act of Compassion

During the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, a pivotal moment in American history, Basil Biggs became involved in a noble cause. Local attorney David Wills purchased land for a Union Cemetery, and the task of reburial began. Basil, along with other African American laborers, was hired to exhume and rebury over 3,500 deceased Union soldiers. Their compensation? $1.25 for each body buried, a testament to the challenging and emotional nature of their work.

Investing in the Future

Basil Biggs, ever resilient, utilized the earnings from his labor to purchase land in Gettysburg. Post-Battle, he joined forces with fellow African American men to establish the Sons of Goodwill. This collective aimed to secure land for a cemetery dedicated to Gettysburg’s black community, including veterans of the United States Colored Troops. Denied burial at the Gettysburg National Cemetery due to military segregation, these heroes found solace in the establishment of the Goodwill Cemetery.

The Sons of Goodwill: A Lasting Legacy

In collaboration with Nelson Mathews and Thomas Griegsby, Basil Biggs played a pivotal role in acquiring the land for the Goodwill Cemetery (now named the Lincoln Cemetery). This sacred space became the final resting place for many, including Basil himself, who passed away in 1906. The cemetery stands as a testament to the resilience, courage, and community spirit that characterized Basil Biggs and his contemporaries.

Basil Biggs’ journey from early adversity to a respected figure in Gettysburg’s history is a story of determination, compassion, and community building. His legacy lives on in the Goodwill Cemetery, a tangible reminder of one person’s impact in shaping the course of history. As we reflect on the life of Basil Biggs, we are reminded of the importance of preserving and honoring the stories of those who played crucial roles in shaping our communities and the nation as a whole.

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