Did you every read the children’s story about Peter and The Wolf? The shepherd boy calls “wolf” too many times when no danger is in sight and when the wolf finally does arrive the men in the village don’t believe him. Honestly, the story scared me silly when I first read it in a story book many years ago (I think it was the picture and foreshadowing of the big, bad wolf…), but now I’ve come to fully understand the principle of the story… So what does this have to do with Gettysburg?
There wasn’t a wolf in Gettysburg. But the people cried “Rebels are coming” a few times too many and the results were rather shocking.
It seems to be a popular idea that the civilians of Gettysburg lived in a bubble of safety which was suddenly destroyed when the armies approached in June 1863. Not true. Let’s take a closer look.
Gettysburg is approximately 7 miles from the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, sometimes called the Mason Dixon line. And, if you look at a map, there’s not much of Maryland before you’d get to Virginia. Southern Pennsylvania was definitely in “striking range” for the Confederate forces and the civilians knew it.
(No, stop picturing a Confederate soldier with tears in his eyes.) I’m talking about somebody or a rumor running through the streets of Gettysburg saying the “Rebels are coming!”
Contrary to popular belief this became rather common during the first two years of the war. There was particular panic in the autumn of 1862 when Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and his gray-clad cavalrymen rode into Pennsylvania and went to Chambersburg, a town not too many miles from Gettysburg.
Another time, a town a little further south caught on fire and the Gettysburg civilians were convinced the Rebels were coming to burn Gettysburg.
And there were plenty of other instances of frightening rumors through the war months…
Rebels Among Us
While the civilians were on the look-out for Confederate troops (at least until those rumors got boring), they probably looked at a Rebel and never even knew it. There is reason to suspect (from civilians and military accounts) that the Confederates sent spies into Maryland and Pennsylvania during the early spring of 1863. Some may have even been from Jedidiah Hotchkiss’s mapmaking unit.
Apparently, if the spy and civilians’ stories are to be believed, these Rebels came to Gettysburg and stayed at one of the hotels for a day or two, possibly with the full knowledge and consent of the hotel owner. (Remember, not everyone was a staunch Unionist). Hmm…anybody see potential for a good story plot here?
The idea of Confederate raiders was definitely not new in Gettysburg. In fact, it’d happened so many times that the civilians were somewhat unprepared on the warm summer day of June 26, 1863…
Come back next Tuesday for the full details of that surprising day!
P.S. Can you think of any instances or current events where someone is always crying “wolf”? Do you think you will be caught unprepared?