Town & Country: The Same & Different

After the June 26th Raid, the Gettysburg civilians thought their war experience was over. But campfires on the western ridges, the arrival of Union cavalry regiments, and General Buford’s predictions told a different story. The Battle of Gettysburg exploded in the little community and raged for three days.

Unwillingly, the citizens of Gettysburg found themselves at the center of one of the largest battles of the Civil War. Though the conflict swept through the town and was fought in the crop fields, the civilians played no major role in the battle strategy or fighting. The Gettysburg civilian war experience does not even appear heroic at first glance. What did the civilians do, aside from hiding in their cellars?

They cooked food, sheltered Union soldiers from Confederate searchers, and took care of the wounded. However, some of these tasks “looked” different, depending on where the civilian lived. Let’s compare and contrast the experiences in town and country.

In Town

Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg

Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg

The citizens of Gettysburg town had skirmishing in the streets throughout the three days of the battle. Retreating Union soldiers ran, hid, and sniped at advancing Confederates. Then the Rebels took over the town and both sides deployed sharp shooters. (One of these sharp shooter’s stray bullets would actually kill a civilian).

Homes were used as hospitals, but usually when a family volunteered to care for injured soldiers. Most of the large hospitals in town were located in the churches, college buildings, schools, warehouses, or other public buildings. Women brought food and bandages to these central locations and quickly volunteered to learn nursing skills.

Thus, a town civilian experienced war, but – as a general rule – not invasively. In other words, a lady often had a choice to volunteer her home as a hospital. To some extent, she could prevent the Rebels from looting simply by her presence. When the battle ended, she lost a few items and probably part of the food supply to hungry Confederates, but likely her home was still habitable.

In The Country

Gettysburg fields - AKA "battlefield"

Gettysburg fields – AKA “battlefield”

Often, the farmers and their families were in the direct area of the battle or behind the fighting lines. Part of the battle might be fought in their peach orchard, wheat field, or growing corn field. Many of the civilians in the epicenter of battle were advised to leave beforehand, and they did.

Homes and barns were used as hospitals and often without permission. Surgeons needed shelter to organize their care of the wounded and took over the most conveniently located buildings. Families who were still at their house were often shocked, but soon became part of the “medical team” from sheer necessity. If the family had left, they often came back to a completely uninhabitable home and piece of property. Some farmers’ barns were burned, causing additional hardship.

Therefore, a civilian in the countryside experienced war in a direct way and without choice. He could not prevent a general from forming battle lines in the ripe wheat and she could not stop a surgeon from taking over the house. By the end of the battle, these civilians were left with complete disaster, few crops, and often no livestock. They would have no time or energy beyond what was needed to care for the wounded in their vicinity, bury the dead, and pray that they would find a way to find food and financial aid to survive the winter.

In Conclusion

While all Gettysburg civilians had some common experiences, the actual magnitude of the war experience determined on their location.

The town civilians had to endure the nerve-wracking sharpshooting, but usually survived with homes still livable and with a few supplies left to take to the hospitals or to aid the wounded brought to their homes.

The farmers and their families found war literally exploding on their doorsteps and leaving horribly carnage behind; their homes and farm buildings were taken over for hospital use and their was no escape from the situation.

Next week, we’ll explore the Letterman System of Battlefield Evacuation and it’s impact on civilians.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Did you know the few Gettysburg civilian historical fiction books focus on civilians in the town? Blue, Gray & Crimson will be one of the first to address the civilian situation in the countryside.

Gettysburg Civilian Voices

Unidentified American Civil War Civilian LadyBack to Gettysburg on Tuesday and today I’m going to be quiet and let the civilians tell their own story through their writing. (I will add clarification if necessary and I’d encourage you to read the military history overview of the battle for background information.)

Pre-Battle (June 1863)

We had often heard that the rebels were about to make a raid, but had always found it a false alarm. ~ Tillie Pierce (age 14)

We are getting used to excitement, and many think the enemy, having been so long in the vicinity without visiting us, will not favor us with their presence. ~Sarah Broadhead, June 24

Battle Days

What pen can tell or thought conceive the awfulness of the strife that has raged from between three and four o’clock of this afternoon until nine tonight! [July 2] The roar of cannon and rattle of musketry beggar all description. Hundreds of souls have been ushered into the presence of the great “I AM.” I pray for them. There is a silence around us now that is ominous of tomorrow’s struggle. Thousands of brave ones lie upon their arms [weapons], girded for conflict, snatching a few moment’s rest. ~Jane Smith

We know not what the morrow will bring forth, and cannot even tell the issue of today. ~Sarah Broadhead, July 2

My father looked at his watch and said: “We must all go into the cellar.” We complied and then began the terrific artillery duel of Friday afternoon, unequaled, I believe, for sound and fury in the annals of war. ~Henry Eyster Jacobs, July 3

The vibrations could be felt, and the atmosphere was so full of smoke that we could taste saltpeter. ~Albertus McCreary, July 3

The Aftermath

The house was soon filled [with wounded] and eventually I overcame my sick, queasy feeling and could look at wounds, bathe them, bind them without feeling sick and nervous. Tears came only once when the first soldier came into the house. He’d walked from the field almost exhausted, threw himself into a chair, looked up at us girls and said, “Oh girls. I have as good a home as you. If I were only there.” And then he fainted. ~Jennie McCreary

720px-Trossell's_House,_Battlefield_of_GettysburgWe do not know until tried what we are capable of… ~Sarah Broadhead

The whole landscape had been changed, and I felt as though we were in a strange and blighted land… ~Tillie Pierce

These were bitter days. But memories of them are softened when one considers the friendships that were made. ~Sallie Meyers

…never in my life will I have the same opportunity of seeing so many of the great men of the nation again.” ~Josephine F. Roedel [regarding the dedication of the National Cemetery, attended by Lincoln, Everett, and many other leaders]


Here [at Gettysburg] will posterity receive the same inspiration that prompted their ancestors to dare, to do, and to die… ~Tillie Pierce

Final Thoughts

The civilians of Gettysburg tell a different story than the soldiers who fought nearby. Most of the civilians didn’t see the “glorious” charges and tenacious defenses. But they heard it…and they saw what was left behind when the armies departed.

Their courage was different than the soldiers’…it was quiet and, to later generations, easily forgotten. Perhaps quiet courage has a strength we’ve underestimated. Perhaps it’s time to go back and re-evaluate these civilians’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

I spent months researching the battle and the civilians of Gettysburg and was overwhelmed by the unselfishness and strength of these people. That’s why I wrote a book. That’s why I’m writing this series of blog posts. That’s why I’m a stronger person today. The Gettysburg civilians have inspired me. I hope they’ll inspire you.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Which quote was most poignant to you? What do you learn from this small (very small) collection of quotes?



Gettysburg: It’s a Town

Say the word Gettysburg and most people start thinking of cannons, a favorite general, the movie, monuments, or something like that. That’s because in our history books and culture Gettysburg is a battlefield, “hallowed ground” where we can get close to history and remember the sacrifices of previous generations.

But Gettysburg didn’t start as a battlefield. It was not marked on historic maps as “future battleground for the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.” There weren’t signs in the 1700’s reading: Don’t live here; reserved for a big battle.

Gettysburg was a town. Re-phrase that – Gettysburg is a town. This was (is) a place where real people lived, worked, and played. In June 1863, they had no idea their streets and fields would be the background of war.

Today, as part of “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesday” we’re going to “step back” and see Gettysburg as a town. A pre-battle town.

Welcome to Gettysburg

Adams County Courthouse is in Gettysburg (Public Domain Photo)

Adams County Courthouse is in Gettysburg (Public Domain Photo)

Imagine you’re moving to Gettysburg in the pre-battle years of the 1860’s. Here’s what you’ll find:

Founded 1786, Gettysburg is the county seat of Adams County and nine major roads converge here. It’s a town with a population of about 2,500, comprised mostly of folks with Dutch, German, or Scots-Irish Heritage. Also, about 8% of the population is African American; located just 7 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Gettysburg is part of the Underground Railroad.

The homes and other town structures are built of brick or wood. There are sidewalks and gas lamps light the streets after dark.

If you’re coming for a visit, the railroad can bring you right into the north part of town. This will be convenient if you’re arriving as a student at one of the local colleges. There are two “institutes of higher learning” in Gettysburg: Lutheran Theological Seminary and Pennsylvania College.

It’s a town of local industry with carriage/wagon manufacturers, shoemaker’s stores, iron works, tannery, brickyard, foundry, stove factory, and stone/marble cutters – just to name a few. There are also many stores for domestic shopping: several dry goods stores, cobblers, grocery markets (though not like our 21st century ones!), butchers, hat-makers, bookstore, drug store, and other specialty stores.

The town has it’s fair share of politics too. The newspapers fan political debates, and,  representing different political sides, they cause much contention at times.

Now for communications…there’s a post-office and at least one telegraph office. Your letters will take a few days to get to the recipient in another location, but by telegraph it could be a matter of only hours. For communication in town, you could send letters, or – more preferably –  you could visit your friends or share news after church services on Sundays.

Dobbin House, Gettysburg (Public Domain)

Dobbin House, Gettysburg (Public Domain)

With seven churches in town, many denominations are represented. Faith and trust in God’s providence is an important part of life for the residents of Gettysburg.

Worried about education? No need to be. There’s a large public school in the town and also several country schools for the children of farm families. If you don’t want the children in a public school, then you can pay to have them attend a private school; there is at least one “finishing school for young ladies” in Gettysburg.

If you have to go to the county court, no concern. It’s in Gettysburg. Need an attorney? There are seven residing in town.

Not seeing the #1 convincing factor to live in Gettysburg? It might be there. Ask in a comment!

Final Thoughts

When I first started studying the town and civilians, I was surprised at the amount of industry, stores, and “civilization” in Gettysburg. These people were well-educated, religious, and hard working. There were many families (and I mean large extended families) living near to one another in the town or countryside of Gettysburg.

While it would be inaccurate to say “everybody knows everyone”, Gettysburg was a fairly close knit community. Gettysburg’s resources, the civilians’ sense of community, and the location itself played crucial parts in the unfolding of historic events which would change the image of Gettysburg from peaceful town to battlefield.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think of when the word Gettysburg is mentioned? Had you ever really thought of pre-battle town or civilians before?







Announcing A New Book!

Here’s the official announcement:Blue, Gray & Crimson: A Story of Civilian Courage at Gettysburg

I wrote a book! It’s called Blue, Gray & Crimson: A Story of Civilian Courage at Gettysburg and it will be released in Summer 2015.

I’ve been working on this project for a while. Many hours of research, planning, writing, and editing have gone into this project.

Please visit the new pages here on Gazette665 to learn more about the book, the author, the “story behind the story”, and historical details.

Oh, did I say historical details? I’m actually starting something new here on Gazette665. Starting this week, we’ll have “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesdays.” This will be a short, weekly blog post about something Gettysburg related; it might be some extra history, a historical detail included in the coming book, or something I found really interesting during my research. (Yes, the monthly themed posts will continue on Fridays.) I hope you’ll look forward to “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesday” as much as I’ve enjoyed planning and preparing these posts.

Your Historian (and Author),

Miss Sarah

P.S. Will you be looking forward to “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesdays”?