1863: “The Town Is As Full As Ever Of Strangers”

July 13 [1863]

This day has passed much as yesterday and the day before. The town is as full as ever of strangers, and the old story of the inability of a village of twenty-five hundred inhabitants, overrun and eaten out by two large armies, to accommodate from ten to twelve thousand visitors, is repeated almost hourly. Twenty are with us tonight, filling every bed and covering the floors.

To add to my trouble and anxiety, the nurse has just informed me that our sickest man will die soon. It is sad; and even we, who have known him so short a time, will miss him. What our soldiers are in army, I cannot say, but when they are wounded, they all seem perfect gentlemen, so gentle, patient, and kind, and so thankful for any kindness shown them. I have seen many of our brave sufferers, and I have yet to eet the first who sowed ill breeding. This, too, is the opinion of all whom I know, who have taken care of any, and the invitation and remark is common, “Come and see our men, they are the nicest men in the army;” and the reply generally follows, “They cannot be better than ours.”

July 14

It is now one month since I began this Journal, and little did I think when I sat down to while away the time, that I would have to record such terrible scenes as I have done. Had any one suggested any such sights as within the bounds of possibility, I would have thought it madness.

No small disturbance was occasioned by the removal of our wounded to the hospital. We had but short notice of the intention, and though we pleaded hard to have them remain, it was of no use. So many have been removed by death and recovery, that there was room, and the surgeon having general care over all, ordered the patients from private houses to the General Hospital.

A weight of care, which we took upon us for duty’s sake, and which we had learned to like and would have gladly borne, until relieved by the complete recovery of our men, has been lifted off of our shoulders, and again we have our house to ourselves.

Sarah Broadhead’s Journal, July 13-14, 1863

Fallen Confederate soldiers along the Hagerstown Road, Gettysburg

Gettysburg’s Invasions

Often times, history book accounts end when the military battle ends. Or in the case of many Gettysburg books, skip ahead to Lincoln’s address in November. However, approximately 21,000 wounded soldiers remained near Gettysburg when the armies retreated and with just 106 Union doctors left behind, civilians were forced to take an active and decisive role in the care of the injured and dying.

However, military and medical disasters weren’t the only “invasions” faced by this small Pennsylvania community. The invasions and disruptions of Gettysburg’s 1863 history can be divided this way:

  1. Military

Began on June 26th with the Confederate Raid and included the arrival of Union cavalry in the last days of June and the three day battle at the beginning of July.

2. Medical

Began with the battle on July 1st and lasted through November 20th and marked the period when wounded soldiers were cared for in the Gettysburg community. During the autumn months, the injured were exclusively under military medical care at Camp Letterman, but still in the Gettysburg area.

3. Civilian

A civilian invasion? Yes. Beginning with the end of the battle and continuing through the Cemetery‘s dedication in November, northern civilians descended on Gettysburg, crowding the town. Some came with valid purposes – to help the wounded, to bring a family member home, to bring supplies, to attend the cemetery dedication. Unfortunately, many arrived with less-than-noble intentions – site seeing at the battlefield horrors, grave robbing, stealing military equipment for profiteering, etc. etc. Whether they came with good or bad intentions, these extra civilians placed more strain on the Gettysburg community, as Sarah Broadhead notes about her overcrowded house and town.

A scene from Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

A Rarely Considered Difficulty

There are lots of situations we don’t think about or don’t want to think about in military and medical history. One of the most overlooked challenges for civilians forced into military medicine (like the civilians at Gettysburg) was the emotional toll as relationships formed.

We’re quick to realize and even quote the shocked civilian woman when she first saw a battlefield injury, but there has been far less research on the emotional toll on a civilian who cared for a wounded/sick soldier for days, only to have him die or be suddenly removed from the home to a military facility. Relationships formed between civilians and their soldier-patients – generally not romantic – but more of a caring, almost familial relationship. At least an interest in that soldier’s fate.

Sarah Broadhead

Sarah Broadhead gave a glimpse into this situation twice in her two day excerpt. First, when she noted one of the sick men at her house will not recover. Second, when she related the swift removal of “her” wounded to a general hospital. (Note: this was not Camp Letterman; that facility did not open until July 22, 1863.)

Historical Musings

I’ve written about Sarah Broadhead before. She’s one of my favorite Gettysburg civilians because of her simple, straight-forward journal which she kept in real-time.

Interestingly, she published her journal to fund-raise for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, but she did put her name on the publication. Sarah hid her name, saying the author was only, “A Lady of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” a typical action for a married woman who was shy about publishing even if it was for a good cause.

Luckily, history records have survived and we know the name of this particular “Lady of Gettysburg.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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