What was the weather like in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during July 1863? Good question. And I found that – much like time – there are different reports in primary sources.
A good rule to keep in mind is that it can be dark and stormy in one place and just a few miles away the sun may be shining. (Also, a person’s written thoughts on the weather may be effected by their positive or negative feelings.)
So how did I interpret a variety of recorded weather conditions when I was writing my historical novel?
First – Write It Down
As I read a large stack of books relating to the battle, civilian accounts, and other primary sources, I kept a list of references to the weather. Then I combined all these references with their “approximate times” into a timeline and made some comparisons…
Some of the most reliable references to Gettysburg weather were recorded by Reverend Michael Jacobs who was the Professor of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg. Using his observations, combined with other references by civilians and soldiers, I developed a “weather timeline” which became the baseline for weather and how it’s used in Blue, Gray & Crimson.
Jacob’s Weather Report
In case you’re wondering, here’s Michael Jacob’s weather log for Gettysburg during the battle days. (I like how precise he is in the observation of the cloud types.)
July 1 – The entire sky was covered with clouds all day, cumulo-stratus at 7a.m. and 2p.m., cirro-stratus at 9p.m. A very gentle southern breeze (2mph). 76 degrees at 2p.m.
July 2 – At 8a.m. sky still covered (cumulo-stratus). At 2p.m., 3/10 clear. At 9p.m. cirrus clouds. Wind same as preceding day. 81 degrees at 2p.m.
July 3 – At 8a.m. sky again completely covered with cumulo-stratus clouds, at 2p.m., sky 4/10 covered, but with cumulus or the thunderclouds of summer; at 9p.m., 7/10 cumulus. Wind SSW [south, south-west], very gentle. Thunderstorm in neighborhood at 6p.m. The thunder seemed tame, after the artillery firing of the afternoon. 87 degrees at 2p.m.
(For more details see The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook by J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley, pages 5-7)
July 1, Morning & Noon – Weaving Facts Into The Story
According to my compiled references, June 1, 1863’s morning was “beautiful”, “sun-shining”, “light misty rain”, “sunny.” My conclusion was: there might have been a misty rain somewhere in the area, but overall it sounds like a good day…with a chance of battle, so I wrote:
Betsy scrubbed the shirt against the washboard, trying to get all the dirt out of the plaid fabric. Since it had rained on Monday and they had been gone on Tuesday, Mother decided to wash on Wednesday. It had rained the night before, and this morning had been misty, but now the sun was breaking through, and the clothes would dry quickly in the warm weather. If this first day was any indication, it would be a scorching July. (Blue, Gray & Crimson, page 67)
(Yes, it really did rain on Monday, June 29, 1863.)
Rain, Rain, Rain
For several days after the battle, there were large rainstorms. These storms helped to cleanse the battle scarred land, but also created great difficulties in the field hospitals.
Rain – a natural element – was woven into the story to help set the mood in one scene:
As the flickering lamps cast gloomy light over the spectacle and the moans and cries of the wounded echoed through the once-cheerful home, Betsy felt helpless. There was so much to be done, so many men needing help. The wretchedness of sin displayed in war had its consequences, and she shed tears for the helpless men who lay within the walls of the house. The rain came down more heavily, pattering on the roof. With tears in his eyes, James looked up at his sisters and whispered, “I think God is crying too.” (Blue, Gray & Crimson, page 139)
November 19, 1863 – the day when Gettysburg National Cemetery was dedicated – was a described a day when a storm looked threatening and the sky was overcast, but it turned into a clear autumn day. Fortunately. Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address from under an umbrella just wouldn’t look so grand in the famous artwork.
When they started toward town a little while later, the autumn sunshine lit the hills, meadows, and fields. The leaves that had not been stripped from the trees during the summer conflict drifted softly to the ground as a little breeze touched the landscape. (Blue, Gray & Crimson, page 328)
Weather can play a positive or negative role in making history and often becomes a subtle backdrop or setting which authors can use. It’s important to be aware of what the weather was really like. The truth can be even more powerful than the imagination.
4 thoughts on “Cloudy With A Chance Of Battle”
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Miss Sarah, when was sunset on July 2, 1863? Anxious for answer and the reference citation. Much obliged.
Here’s a copy of my research notes. If you need a better citation for a source, just let me know and I’ll locate the correct one. This is just a copy from my files:
0415 – Sunrise, but foggy (Guelzo235)
0800 – 74* cloudy sky
1000 – “threatening clouds vanished, but still a few clouds in the sky” (Wheeler170)
1000 – fog burns off, cloudless sky (Guelzo235)
1400 – 81* clearing sky
2000 – sun was down and it was dark (Guelzo300)
2100 – 76* cirrus clouds (Slade&Alexander86)
Setting sun was red from the smoke (Guelzo300)
Moon shining (Guelzo343)
You should be able to calculate the approximate sunset time by checking a modern almanac and then calculating away modern daylight savings time. Happy researching!