Buyers of Time: A Unique Family Connection That Changed American History

Rufus Dawes - Buyers of Time
Rufus Dawes

When studying the history of America it’s not unusual to discover individuals who have unique historical connections. This is often the case among the many individuals who fought in the Civil War, many of whom hail from legendary American bloodlines and carry with them a rich family history.

One such individual who fought here at Gettysburg was Lt. Col. Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin. Dawes’s infantry regiment was part of the famed Iron Brigade which consisted of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan. The brigade was part of the 1st corps Army of the Potomac under the command of Major General John Reynolds. Dawes and his 6th Wisconsin would charge the unfinished railroad on the morning of July 1st, 1863. At that time, the railroad was just a rough cut in the earth (much like a trench) and sat west of Gettysburg, running parallel to modern-day route 30 (then called “the Chambersburg Pike”).

Dawes, along with the 95th NY and 85th NY, captured the defeated confederate forces whose surrender marked the end of military action in the cut.

Dawes didn’t realize it at the time, but his actions on the field bought valuable time for the Union army that morning, allowing them to continue to hold the crucial high ground at Cemetery Hill, which was destined to become a deciding factor in the outcome of the famous battle.

William Dawes - Buyers of Time
William Dawes

So… what interesting historical connection can be traced to Rufus Dawes?

Well, it just so happens that— 88 years earlier— Rufus Dawes’s great-grandfather William Dawes also helped to buy valuable time, having done his own part to change the outcome of American history. On the legendary night of April 18, 1775,  Paul Revere would have his famous midnight ride… but he wasn’t the only one riding!

William Dawes would also ride from Boston MA to Lexington MA, along with Paul Revere, under orders from The Sons of Liberty leader Dr. Joseph Warren. On that fateful night the two men, Revere and Dawes, would not only warn of the British approach but they would also warn famous patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock that those two men were in danger of being arrested by the British. Revere and Dawes would also be joined by a third man, local physician Samuel Prescott.

The actions of Dawes and his fellow riders that night would help set in motion the series of events that led to the opening battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord. His timely warning would also buy valuable time for Samuel Adams and John Hancock to escape the British, actions that would forever change the course of American history.

Like his famous great-grandson Rufus, William Dawes had a mighty part to play in the history of our great nation. One might even say that “buying time” for their countrymen was an activity that seemed to run in the Dawes family.

—Blog by Jordan Kroeze