Miss Tillie Pierce: Patriotic & Loyal

When I traveled to the East Coast a few years ago, I added to my book collection. (Surprise, surprise…or not!) I have a special book from most of the places we visited, but one of my all-time, hands-down favorites is “At Gettysburg, or What A Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle” by Mrs. Tillie Pierce Alleman. I found the book in the gift store of the Shriver House Museum, and when we got home, my mom bulk ordered about 15 copies to give as gifts. That’s how much we liked the book!

So who was Tillie Pierce? And why did she become one of the major historical characters in “Blue, Gray & Crimson“?

Miss Tillie Pierce

Miss Tillie Pierce

Miss Tillie and Her Family

Matilda Pierce, called Tillie, by her family and friends was fourteen years old in 1863. Her father – James Pierce – owned the butcher shop and the family was well-to-do middle class in Gettysburg society. Her mother – Margaret Pierce – was homemaker and was also in charge of organizing the efforts of the Gettysburg’s Ladies’ Union Relief Society, a group which met to prepare supplies to send to the Union soldiers. Tillie had two older brothers, and from their absence in her account, it might be concluded that they were not at home, possibly serving with the Union army. She also had at least one sister.

Tillie’s attendance of a private school for young ladies instead of public school gives us a hint of the status of the Pierce Family and their value of good education. A photograph of young Miss Pierce shows a charming, innocent expression on her face. Her dress is mostly hidden by a dark, lacey shawl which is fastened with a pin or broach – she was probably a fashionable young lady.

The Pierce Family lived in a nice brick house on Baltimore Street in the town of Gettysburg.

Miss Tillie’s War

If you want the full story, you’ll have to read her own account because there is such a thing as word limits. 🙂 But I shall attempt to summarize Miss Pierce’s experience during the Battle of Gettysburg.

  • On June 26, Tillie ran from school to her home, just reaching the house as the Confederates rode into town. Her family’s favorite horse was stolen by the raiders.
  • When General Buford’s Union cavalry arrived on June 30, Tillie, her sister, and some of their friends sang patriotic songs to the passing troops and were applauded for their kind efforts.
  • July 1 – with the battle beginning west of town and shifting closer throughout the day, Mr. and Mrs. Pierce sent Tillie out of town with their neighbor and friend, Mrs. Shriver. Tillie, Mrs. Shriver, and Shriver children traveled to a farm south of Little Round Top and interacted with marching Union soldiers.
  • Miss Tillie Pierce said she gave a cup of water to General Meade, commander of the Union Army.

    Miss Tillie Pierce said she gave a cup of water to General Meade, commander of the Union Army.

    Battle and Aftermath – Tillie really would’ve been safer if she had stayed in town. She had relocated to a fairly dangerous location; the farm came under artillery fire and she had a temporary refugee experience. She pumped water for Union soldiers and claimed she gave a cup of water to General George Meade (commander of the Union army). The house was taken over as a field hospital and Tillie helped distribute food to the injured men. She comforted a wounded general. She worried about her family in town and was unable to return for several days after the fighting ended.

  • When she returned home, Tillie discovered that her family was safe! Her father had captured a few Confederate soldiers, and her mother had opened the house to care for a few wounded soldiers, including the colonel of the 1st Minnesota Regiment.
  • Tillie and her family visited Camp Letterman Hospital during the autumn months. She did not specifically mention attending the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery, but presumably she did.

Miss Pierce grew up, married Mr. Alleman and moved away from Gettysburg. However, her experiences during the summer of 1863 made unforgettable memories and she wrote her recollections which were published in 1888.

An Author’s Thoughts

Betsy Westmore is certainly not a “carbon copy” of Tillie Pierce, but Tillie’s account did help me “see” historic Gettysburg through a girl’s eyes.

When writing the story, I wanted Betsy to have a friend in town who could share a perspective on what was happening in that location and who could be encouraging to Betsy; Tillie Pierce was a natural choice because she was the same age as my fictional character and I think she was a friendly, kind young lady. It seemed fitting to have Betsy interact with a real historic character rather than a fictional friend, and I was glad I could include Tillie Pierce, especially since her account was one of the first civilian primary sources I read.

Years after the battle, as Tillie Pierce Alleman began her account of Gettysburg, she said that she wrote her account “[without] any desire to be classed among the heroines of that period…but simply to show what many a patriotic and loyal girl would have done if surrounded by similar circumstances.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. If you’ve read “Blue, Gray & Crimson“, did you like Tillie Pierce? Have you read her primary source account?



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.