John Fraser

140th Pennsylvania Infantry


John Fraser was born in the village of Cromarty,in the Highlands of Scotland. It is situated at the eastern end of a small penisular known as the "Black Isle" and at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. He was born in 1827 and studied at Aberdeen University and graduated with a MA in maths.

He first travelled to Bermuda to teach, moved to New York to take charge of a private school. Fraser had a fiery temper which led to his resignation and subsequent slide into poverty. In 1851 he moved from New York to Western Pennsylvania and once again took up teaching, at the age of 28 he became Professor of Mathmatics and Astronomy at Jefferson College in Canonsburg Pa.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he wanted to enlist straight away but friends pesuaded him not to. Finally in 1862, with Lincolns appeal for more volunteers after the Union defeats, Fraser resigned and in the August enlisted with a 100 former students in the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, forming the Canonsburg Company or Company "G", he joined as a private soldier. The company first saw action at the Battle of Chancellorsville and by this time Fraser had been promoted. A few months later the regiment was at Gettysburg 1-3 July 1863, and loses were heavy. They were on a part of the battlefield known as the Wheat Field, of the 3rd Brigades senior officers Fraser was the only surviving officer, and he rallied his men to hold their position although virtually surrounded.

In May of 1864 during fighting around Spotsylvania, he was wounded leading his men during a frontal attack, recovering, he rejoined his unit only to be captured at Petersburg during fighting in dense woods. He was taken to Rogers Hospital, Charleston, SC., where the inmates were often under fire from the guns of the Ships blockading the city. He helped his fellow prisoners night after night to take their minds of the desperate conditions by reciting Shakespeare to them. After being shunted around various prison camps he was exchanged, he rejoined the Union Army and ended the war as a Brigadier General.

In 1867 he headed out west to Kansas where he became the Chancellor of the University of Kansas, but once again the temper got the better of him and he resigned in 1874. In 1877 he became a professor at the Western University of Pennsylvania.

He died on June 4th 1878 shortly before his 51st birthday. This remarkable man, regarded as a pioneer of education in America, is practically unknown in Scotland.

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