By The Banks Of Rock Creek

Rock Creek is a stream to the east of the town of Gettysburg. Reading historical accounts sometimes leaves a researcher with the impression that Rock Creek was omnipresent. (It’s not, it just happens to meander all over the east part of the battlefield zone.)

A tributary to the larger Monocacy River, Rock Creek became a semi-important landmark and high-dangerous enemy during July 1863. From peaceful stream to battlefield landmark to dangerous floodwaters, let’s explore some historical details of Rock Creek and how it was incorporated into my recent historical novel. Continue reading

Georgeanna Woolsey: Battlefield Nurse

Miss Woolsey responded, “We women cannot fight, but we can do our best to support our soldiers. I was a hospital nurse last year, and, oh, how desperately our brave soldiers need good care and supplies.” She looked sadly at the open tents where the suffering men lay, then glanced back to the work at hand. “You must excuse me. I’ve work to finish…”  ~ Blue, Gray & Crimson

Ladies – like Eliza Thorn – residing in or near Gettysburg were not the only women involved in the battle drama and aftermath. (Indeed, we could argue that any woman in America with beloved soldier had Gettysburg was potentially effected by those three days in July. But we shall not build such an extensive platform today.)

Today, we will discuss a lady who came to the battle area to assist with the care of wounded: Miss Georgeanna Woolsey.

Arriving at Gettysburg

Georgeanna Woolsey and her mother arrived in Gettysburg believing their brother / son who served on General Meade’s staff was wounded. Happily, they discovered this was not the case and then Mr. Frederick Olmstead found them.

Frederick Olmstead was in charge of the United State Sanitary Commission – an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance, good supplies, and camp and hospital cleanliness for the Union soldiers. Stockpiling supplies at strategic locations, the commission raced to battlefields to bring aid.

Olmstead asked Mrs. Woolsey and Miss Georgeanna if they would establish and oversee a Sanitary Commission camp near the railroad station in Gettysburg. The ladies quickly agreed.

What prompted Olmstead to request these ladies’ assistance so readily?

civil_war_nurseExperienced Nurse and Organizer

The Woolsey family was dedicated to the Union cause and staunchly supported the abolition movement. Georgeanna, a few of her seven sisters, and her mother volunteered as hospital nurses or took other roles with the Sanitary Commission.

Although it was shocking to society, Georgeanna walked from her beautiful home, went to a base hospital, and trained to serve as a nurse. Her descriptions of her early hospital experiences are forthright and she described her inexperience, fear, and shock. But she learned and was sent to Virginia in time for the first battle of the war. The Woolsey family  supported Georgeanna’s decision, but decreed that at least two Woolsey ladies would serve together – mother and daughter team or sister teams stepped out and entered the war zone hospitals.

Georgeanna became a competent, compassionate, and skilled nurse; she was also good at overseeing the management of a chaotic hospital. Thus, when Frederick Olmstead asked Georgeanna to establish an aid station, he knew he was asking one of the best qualified women.

Busy at Gettysburg

Georgeanna oversaw the pitching of tents, the cooking of food, distribution of medicine, and provided skilled medical nursing for the weary men who staggered or endured a bumpy ambulance ride to the train station. The trains ran on a tight schedule and often these wounded soldiers missed the trains which would take them from Gettysburg (Learn more about the Union medical system HERE.)

The soldiers then came to the Sanitary Commission camp and surrendered to the care and compassion of the Woolsey ladies and their assistants. According to her account, Georgeanna estimated that nearly every soldier who left Gettysburg stopped for at least a meal at her tents. Impressive!

After Gettysburg

Georgeanna and Mrs. Woolsey were at Gettysburg for three weeks. Afterward, Georgeanna wrote a pamphlet about their experiences, hoping to inspire other ladies to redouble their efforts to aid the soldiers.

Mrs. Woolsey and her daughter served as nurses until the end of the war and visited Richmond shortly after the conclusion of the conflict.

Georgeanna married a doctor she had met during the war and together they founded a nursing school. She wrote a nursing handbook and spent the rest of her life actively advocating aid for children and the poor.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah




Young Heroes in Gettysburg

There were children in Gettysburg. No, that really shouldn’t be a newsflash, especially remembering we’re discussing 19th century America when large families were the norm. But what about these children? What did they do during the battle? Did they get exemption from hospital work because of their age?

The short answer: Gettysburg Children experienced virtually the same things as the adults. Remember, this is a society where children are expected to work alongside their parents. Mother wasn’t going to say “of course you can stay in the cellar and play your video games.”

Now, before you get any ideas that parents were insensitive to their children, let’s get rid of that idea. During the battle, many families stayed together, hiding in cellars or other secure places. In the aftermath, parents tried to shield their children from the hospital horrors, but as you will see this was not always possible.

Here’s are some quotes from children of Gettysburg or accounts about their actions. (I have decided to included information for ages 0-12 years old.)

This is the Cemetery Gatehouse, where the Thorn family lived.

This is the Cemetery Gatehouse, where the Thorn family lived.

Frederick, George, & John Thorn

Fredrick (8), George (6), and John (2) lived with their mother and grandparents at the Cemetery Gatehouse. Their father was serving in the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry. Here is part of their mother’s account:

“All the time our little boys were pumping and carrying water… They handed water to the soldiers and worked this way until their poor little hands were blistered.” (July 1, 1863)

On July 2nd, the Thorn Family left their home and fled south on the Baltimore Pike; they stopped at a crowded farmhouse to spend the night. There were soldiers resting there too and according to Mrs. Thorn… “About in the middle of one row a man raised himself on his elbow and motioned me to come to him… He took a picture out of his pocket and on it was three little boys, and he said they were his, and they were just boys like mine, and would I please let him have my little boys sleep near him, and could he have the little one close to him and the others near him? And so, he took them and had them lying by him.” (July 2, 1863)

“Allie” Buehler

Two year old “Allie” Buehler was not afraid during the battle. He hid in the cellar with his family during the battle, but sat on his mother’s lap. He did not understand what was happening, and when shrieking artillery shells flew overheard, innocently asked his mother, “Listen, Mama, do you hear the birdies?”

Sadie Bushman

Ten year old Miss Bushman discovered crossing a field to visit her grandparents on July 1st wasn’t quite as safe as usual:

“There came a screech and a shell brushed my skirt as it went by. I staggered from the concussion of it and almost fell when I was grasped by the arm and a man said pleasantly, ‘That was a close call. Come with me, and hurry,’ he added in a tone so commanding that I meekly followed.

Sadie Bushman was forced to assist at a field hospital. (Note: this photo is not from Gettysburg Battlefield, but it shows wounded men waiting for assistance.

Sadie Bushman was forced to assist at a field hospital. (Note: this photo is not from Gettysburg Battlefield, but it shows wounded men waiting for assistance.

“That man was Dr. Benjamin F. Lyford, a surgeon in the Union army. He led me to a place in a little valley where he had established an army corps hospital and then he put me to work. Wounded and dying men were then being carred to the place by the score. I was ready to faint at the sight, but the doctor, in his commanding way, gave me more fear of him than I had for the sight of the mangled and dying men about me, and I tremblingly obeyed him.

“As I reached the hospital tent, a man with a leg shattered…was carried in. ‘Give him a drink of water while I cut off his leg,’ was the command I got. How I accomplished it, I do not know, but I stood there and assisted the surgeon all through the operation.”

The Cunningham Children

Although their names and specific ages are not known, there is a good account of the role of young children in a field hospital. (This is one of my all-time favorite Gettysburg civilian quotes.)

“Mother was unable to keep the children away from the homesick soldiers. They would carve them toys…and play with them endlessly. The children would trot to the well with canteens strung around their necks, carrying cold water to the men. When Mother would got to the barn…she would sometimes find a soldier asleep on the hay with a sleeping child on each arm.”

My Thoughts

These are just a few of the accounts of children and their role during the Battle and Aftermath of Gettysburg. Through my studies of these children’s experiences, I found some very young heroes.

Humiston_childrenThe innocence of the children is juxtaposed against the harshness of the battle world. Children faced the same fears during the fighting as their parents, and they were probably more frightened because they had only a limited idea of what was really happening.

I think one of the most significant roles that children of all ages performed at Gettysburg was comforter. Whether the children realized it or not, their presence reminded the soldiers of their own families, giving these fighting men courage for the battlefield or strength to fight for life in a field hospital. That is a very significant and important role.

Thus, in conclusion, the children of Gettysburg were forced into a nightmarish situation. They faced desperate situations. They worked alongside their parents or on their own to alleviate suffering whether it was by carrying water, bandaging wounds, cooking, or simply being children…and reminding homesick soldiers there were still many reasons to fight and live.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I feel like I’ve only touched the surface of this topic today…there is so much these brave battlefield children accomplished. What was most surprising to you? Check out my new historical fiction novel to learn more.