Gettysburg Spies

“A spy in Gettysburg!” Betsy exclaimed.

“Who would’ve ever thought such a thing would happen?” (Blue, Gray & Crimson)

Though my beloved fictional character expresses surprise about an incident in pre-battle Gettysburg, in reality she may have seen multiple spies in or around the town and never known it. There is historical evidence leading to the conclusion that there were far more Confederate spies hanging around Gettysburg and other Pennsylvania towns than we may have realized.

General Jackson's mapmaker may have sent spies into Southern Pennsylvania months before the Gettysburg Campaign.

General Jackson may have sent spies into Southern Pennsylvania months before the Gettysburg Campaign.

1. Mapmaking Spies?

In the early spring of 1863, an invasion of the northern states was already on the minds of the Confederate commanders: Lee and Jackson. With great secrecy, General “Stonewall” Jackson ordered his mapmaker, Jedidiah Hotchkiss, to send his cartographers north to documents the roads and towns of Pennsylvania.

Nobody in Gettysburg would’ve paid much attention to an extra man or two in town for a day or two; the town was the county-seat of Adams County so an extra person or two passing through town wouldn’t have sparked comment. So if the map-makers came to Gettysburg, they arrived, made a few observations, and moved on. (Remember, Lee did not come north planning to fight at Gettysburg, so it was just a little crossroad town on the big map.)

The owner of the Globe Inn mentioned that several men whom he believed were Confederate spies stayed at his establishment. Interestingly, he did not report them when they were in town…he was in the Democratic political party and might have had Southern sympathies.

Want to know something even more crazy? During the June 26th Raid, one of Early’s staff officers came to the Globe Inn and quietly admitted to the owners that he had stayed there three weeks prior. Then with remarkable respect the officer paid for his dinner with a silver quarter. Sounds like something suspicious was happening at the Globe Inn…there’s a lot to wonder about.

2. The Local Spy

What you are about to hear was not public knowledge in 1863.

Gettysburg had at least one spy – a Union spy. He was local resident named David McConaughy. McConaughy was a staunch supported of Abe Lincoln during the 1860 election and was the captain of a local militia.

When the invasion of Pennsylvania began, McConaughy offered his skill set to the Union and became part of the “secret service.” (No, he wasn’t guarding the president). Although details are vague, McConaughy and some of his neighbors sent information to the Union army.

General Meade personally thanked Mr. McConaughy for his secret work

General Meade personally thanked Mr. McConaughy for his secret work

The clear fact: McConaughy was personally thanked by General Meade – commander of the Union army – after the battle. So he probably did something important….what? (I really want to know!)

3. The Spy & The Spy Catcher

On the morning of June 30th, a strange man appeared in Gettysburg, strolled up to some school-age children and started asking some questions. Questions like: where’s the Union army? Have you seen any cavalry around here recently?

Down the street came Captain John Myers, a veteran from the War of 1812, and a man already on the look-out for a spy or an adventure. He got both. With the help of a Union soldier who’d really and truly lost his regiment (he hadn’t deserted), Captain Myers arrested the suspicious individual and hauled him off to the sheriff.

The sheriff found condemning evidence in the man’s clothes and shoes, and the Confederate spy was thrown into the local jail. Good work, spy-catcher John Myers!

4. The Unknown Spies

I wonder how many other Confederate and Union spies slipped through Gettysburg, undetected by the civilians. It’s probably something we’ll never know. (Too bad!) But it is my opinion that these known and recorded accounts are probably not the only representation of undercover actions swirling around Gettysburg. Hmm…

The espionage surrounding Gettysburg in the months, weeks, and days leading up the battle was far from most of the civilians’ minds. They were busy with their housework, business, or farm chores – and just hoping the Rebels wouldn’t come. They never imagined the secret war…which to this day remains a continuing subject of curiosity for historians and adventurers alike.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Your thoughts?




It’s Official – Blue, Gray & Crimson Is Now Available!

Blue, Gray & Crimson: A Story of Civilian Courage at GettysburgLooking for some easy, insightful summer reading? A family read-aloud? A Civil War story for next school year?

Blue, Gray & Crimson: A Story of Civilian Courage at Gettysburg is one of the first historical fiction novels to focus on the civilian experience in the Gettysburg countryside. (Most Gettysburg fiction has a military or town setting.)

I spent eight months researching Gettysburg civilians, the battle, and the aftermath before I put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard!). And I’m pleased to share the historical facts in an easy to read, entertaining form.

Readers will meet a fourteen year old girl and her family and witness their shock, horror, and confusion as the Battle of Gettysburg explodes on their doorstep. Themes of courage, strong faith, and self-less actions present admirable character qualities throughout the story.

Learn more about the story, the history, and the author HERE!

Blue, Gray & Crimson is available through Amazon and Barnes& Signed copies are available through Gazette665 – CLICK HERE!

Your Historian (and Author),

Miss Sarah

P.S. Questions about the book, research, or writing? I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments!



Gettysburg’s “Most Famous” Civilian

There are two civilians of Gettysburg who grab most of the limelight: John Burns and “Jennie” Wade. Of the two, Miss Wade is probably the most famous because…she was killed.

Mary Virginia Wade was the only known Gettysburg civilian killed during the battle by a military bullet. That is a semi-well-known fact. But what about the rest of her life? Myths and shadows surround this noble young lady, who is perhaps more complex and fascinating than we’ve realized.

Mary Virginia Wade

Mary Virginia Wade

Her Name

Many people think Miss Wade’s given name was “Jennie.” It wasn’t. Her real name was Mary Virginia Wade. Her family and close friends called her “Jinnie” – pronounce with a short i, like “in”.

Her Family

Virginia was one of six children in the Wade family.

There is a mystery surrounding Mr. Wade. He may have been truly ill, he may have been a drunkard, or he may have been plain lazy, but the known fact is that by the 1860’s he was dead to the rest of his family. Whether he was really dead or had purposely detached himself from his family is not known at this time. Whatever the circumstances, it is significant that the Wade family was mostly silent on the subject, possibly in an effort to keep their family pride.

The family lived in a house on Breckinridge Street in the town of Gettysburg. Mrs. Wade and Virginia worked as seamstresses to support the family. During the war, two of Virginia’s brothers served with the Union army: James was with the 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery and John was in the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Virginia’s older sister, Georgia, had married a soldier in the 165th Pennsylvania Infantry and resided with her in-laws in town, near the base of Cemetery Hill. (The house is famously called the “Jennie Wade House”, even though Virginia did not live there!)

Virginia’s Responsibilities

As the only daughter and oldest child at home in 1863, Virginia was a very busy young woman. In addition to her work as a seamstress, she looked after her youngest brother and a neighbor boy who was left at their home while his mother worked.

Sometimes, accounts try to portray Virginia as a secret Southern supporter or a girl who didn’t really care about the Union. Much of the “foundation” of these ideas stems from the prejudices of her neighbors. Other Gettysburg girls looked down on Virginia because 1) she had to work to support her family and 2) she did not attend patriotic, pro-Union gatherings.

Think about the amount of work this young woman was shouldering – cooking, laundry, child-care, house work, mending, and her job. She was likely too busy and too tired to attend a patriotic rally. Her actions during the battle give evidence of her selfless character and her enthusiasm for the Union.

Virginia & The Battle

During the June 26th Confederate raid, Virginia helped her mother successfully protect one her brothers from Confederate capture. Gettysburg neighbors later (post war) recorded accounts of her out-spokeness in this incident, portraying her negatively. But, I think her real fear for her brother’s safety and her willingness to stand up to protect him tells a different story.

McClellan House, Gettysburg (Photo c. 1900)

McClellan House, Gettysburg (Photo c. 1900)

That same day – probably about the same time as the Confederates arrived – Georgia Wade McClellan (Virginia’s sister) gave birth to a son. Five days later as the battle unfolded around the town, Mrs. Wade and Virginia decided to move themselves and the young boys to the McClellan house, for safety and to be closer and more helpful to Georgia, who was still resting in bed.

Established at the new location, Virginia ventured into the yard and pumped water for the tired Union soldier retreating to Cemetery Hill. After moving her sister and all the family into the lower story of the house to provide safety from sharpshooters, Virginia waited, watched, and listened. In the yard wounded Union soldiers screamed for aid or at least a drink, and, under the cover of darkness, Virginia crawled into the yard to bring them water.

On July 2nd, with the sharpshooting intensifying, the Wades and McClellans “laid low” and waited. Soldiers occasionally banged on the door, asking for bread. In the evening Mrs. Wade and Virginia began baking fresh bread. The sharpshooting seems to have somewhat un-nerved Virginia and at one point she remarked that if anyone was to be killed she hoped it would be her and not her sister.

The Fateful Bullet

On the morning of July 3rd, Virginia decided it was safe enough to go into the kitchen and finish another batch of bread. The sharpshooting seemed to have diminished.

I wonder what she thought about as she went into the kitchen, turned the dough onto the board and began kneading. Was she worried? Was she praying? In Virginia’s apron pocket was the key to her home; she had been the one to lock the door when they fled. There was also a photograph of the soldier she loved.

Jack Skelly was a soldier in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. There was an understanding between Jack and Virginia, and they hoped to marry in September when he got leave from the army. Virginia did not know – would never know – that Jack was already dead. He died from a bad wound in mid-June, after the Second Battle of Winchester.

What did she think about as she pressed and turned the bread dough? Completely focused the task at hand, she probably never heard the stray sharpshooter’s bullet punch through two closed doors. She may have felt a brief pain in her back. She probably didn’t know anything else before her eternity began.

Virginia's grave and memorial in Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg (Public Domain)

Virginia’s grave and memorial in Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg (Public Domain)

Mrs. Wade heard the bullet and the sound of someone falling. She rushed to the kitchen and found her daughter…dead. Slumped on the floor, with bread dough still clinging to her hands, Virginia Wade was killed while she prepared food for her family and the soldiers. Virginia was hastily buried in the garden of the McClellan home, but she was later moved to Evergreen Cemetery.

My Thoughts on Virginia Wade

I’m not keen on the idea that Virginia was the only brave and heroic girl in Gettysburg. I don’t believe her ghost is wandering around. I don’t like that she hogs a lot of attention in the “realm of Gettysburg civilians.” But neither do I think she was Confederate supporter, a disloyal citizen, or rude girl.

Virginia Wade was a young lady in a very difficult situation. Semi-outcast by other Gettysburg girls because of her family situation, Virginia had a strong character, sense of pride, spirit of selflessness, and unforgettable generosity. It is wrong to make her larger than life – certainly she had faults. But…in the end, remember her as the young woman who protected her family and who, while trying to serve others, paid the ultimate price for her efforts.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think of Virginia Wade? Do we consider her life and actions properly or has her sacrifice been trivialized by the commercialization in Gettysburg?

Gettysburg’s Soldiers

Sometimes we have this unspoken idea that Gettysburg residents got exemption papers in the early days of the war because they would “host” a battle. Okay, maybe you never thought of it that way…but we don’t usually think of soldiers from Gettysburg. We think of soldiers at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg men served in several different regiments, including the 87th Pennsylvania, the 138th Pennsylvania, Emergency Militia, and the 2nd Virginia. Today we’ll briefly discuss these regiments and a few of the Gettysburg men who enlisted.

Jack Skelly, 87th Pennsylvania Infantry

Jack Skelly, 87th Pennsylvania Infantry

87th Pennsylvania Infantry

This regiment was formed in September 1861, and the soldiers enlisted for three years. The young men of several Gettysburg families joined this unit. In their first year of war, the 87th did a lot railroad guard duty (I know, that’s kind of boring).

However, in spring 1863, they fought at the Second Battle of Winchester (a conflict part of the Gettysburg Campaign). The regiment suffered casualties, including some of the Gettysburg boys, and many were also taken prisoner. In their hometown, reports and rumors of the Winchester battle arrived, but it wasn’t until after the Battle of Gettysburg that the families learned of the casualties. Jack Skelly – a 21 year old lad, and the supposed sweetheart of Miss Virginia Wade – was killed at Winchester.

The 87th did not fight at Gettysburg (consequences of being prisoners), but was present at 12 major battles or campaigns in the following two years.

Peter and Eliza Thorn

Peter and Eliza Thorn

138th Pennsylvania Infantry

Company B of this unit included men from the Gettysburg area. Organized in August 1862 and enlisted for three years, this regiment contained some of the older Gettysburg men or the young men whose families had insisted they wait to enlist.

One notable soldier from Gettysburg in this company was Peter Thorn, former caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery. During the battle, his wife, children, and in-laws would have to flee their home which was situated in the middle of the conflict on Cemetery Hill. The family would survive, and happily, Peter Thorn would come marching home at the war’s end.

**Spoiler Alert for Blue, Gray & Crimson** The 138th spent a lot of time guarding supply wagons and reserve areas during the first years of their war experience. They did not play a significant role at Gettysburg. The regiment’s “baptism of fire” occurred in November 1863 and after that they fought in most of the major battles in the Eastern Theater of war.

Emergency Militia

George and Diana Sandoe - George served with the Emergency Cavalry unit from Gettysburg

George and Diana Sandoe – George served with the Emergency Cavalry unit from Gettysburg

In June 1863 with rumors flying through the Southern Pennsylvania communities and Governor Andrew Curtain calling for extra troops to defend the state, Gettysburg men and boys headed the call to defend their homes. Mr. Robert Bell – a Gettysburg resident – organized a small cavalry unit. Then there was the infantry company – consisting of students from the Gettysburg colleges and other townsmen – which joined Colonel William Jenning’s regiment of emergency troops. The cavalry unit stayed in the Gettysburg area, but were no match for Confederate raiders.

2nd Virginia

Yes, this is a Confederate regiment. Not everybody in Gettysburg was pro-Union. One young man – Wesley Culp – went south and joined the 2nd Virginia Infantry in the early weeks of the war. Private Culp would return to Gettysburg with the Confederate army and would be killed on his family’s property.


There were soldiers from Gettysburg, and some of them fought in their town and fields during the battle. Let it be known: this is not a comprehensive list of regiments with Gettysburg soldiers, but I think it is enough to illustrate my point without getting too tedious.

As men from the community enlisted and marched off to war, they left behind their civilian families who would worry, watch, and wait for their return. These scenes happened all across the nation, and the small town in Pennsylvania received no exemption from duty. The American Civil War swept Gettysburg into the conflict long before the Gettysburg Campaign.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Surprised to learn about Gettysburg soldiers? How do you think they might have felt when they heard that their families were stuck in the middle of a battle?




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.

Who Came to Gettysburg?!

They’re coming! Oh, no they’re not…They’re coming! No, they ain’t.

“Mama, there’s Rebels in town!” Here we go again…impossible. Wait, gunshots?

Detail from a Mort Kunstler painting, no copyright infringement intended.

Detail from a Mort Kunstler painting, no copyright infringement intended.

On June 26, 1863 – after years of rumors and false alarms – the Confederates came to Gettysburg. And they didn’t come quietly.

“What a horrible sight! There they were…clad almost in rags, covered with dust, riding wildly, pell-mell down the hill…shouting, yelling most unearthly, cursing, brandishing their revolvers, and firing right and left.” (Tillie Pierce, age 14)

Civilian accounts from June 26, 1863, emphasize fear and the bad appearance of the raiders. Who were they? Why were they here? What did they want? What did they do? How did the civilians react?

Who? The cavalry raiders were part of Junkin’s brigade (did I just see your eyes start staring?). Translation: they were not part of the “elite” Confederate cavalry. This accounts for the “dirty” appearance and “rougher” manners.

A common belief is that it was just a cavalry raid on June 26. False. There were infantry regiments and they happened to be some of those with the worst reputation in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Luckily for the Gettysburg civilians, the infantry were mostly kept out of town and away from the liquor.

The man often lost in the drama of galloping horses and shooting pistols is General Jubal Early. Yes, he actually came to Gettysburg and…

Why? General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had invaded the northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania. All over lower and central Pennsylvania, brigades and divisions of infantry (foot soldiers) scurried, securing strategic roads and towns, enjoying the fruit in the orchards, collecting horses, and getting ready for the next big battle.

General Early’s brigade – like others throughout the state – came to Gettysburg looking for information and supplies.

What? Well, when you’re on a campaign in a very prosperous district, you want to gather up supplies. (Paid for with Confederate money, of course, as ordered by General Lee.) Once General Early got into Gettysburg he made a request for a ridiculous amount of supplies. The town officials realized they couldn’t manage that, so they offered the soldiers an “all expenses paid” shopping trip in the Gettysburg stores. (Fortunately, for the shop keepers, they’d sent away most of their stock in the pervious weeks.)

While some of the soldiers “went shopping”, others went looking for a good meal, innocent conversation, or a blacksmith’s shop to shoe their horses. The civilians were understandably frightened when the Confederates knocked on their doors and were surprised by the simple requests and semi-friendly manners of their “guests.”

However, other cavalrymen scoured the town and countryside for any horses which had not been sent away and hidden in the mountains. Unfortunately for the farmers, the gray-clad raiders were quick to take the strong, well-bred horses for their own use.

Overall, there wasn’t much damage to the town. The railroad bridge was burned over Rock Creek northeast of town. I’ve found no record of civilians being injured or mistreated.

The next morning – June 27 – both Confederate cavalry and infantry moved on. But in a few days, they’d be back.

Civilian Reaction

Ever watch a crowd of people react to something surprising? They’ll all react a little different; some will gasp, others will smile, one will jump up and down, another claps her hands, and one fellow is trying to figure out why all the excitement, etc. etc. etc.

Now imagine Confederate raiders arriving unexpected in a 19th Century “Union” town. You guessed it! The reactions were varied.

The town leaders responded fairly calmly. As a general rule, the ladies were shocked and very frightened. The little girls were ready to hide. A couple of boys thought it was the greatest thing ever and the closest they’d ever see to a Wild West show.

However, to make an “blanket statement:” As a whole, the civilian population of Gettysburg was surprised by their Confederate “guests.” They were caught unprepared and moments of panic followed. There was general relief that the town wasn’t burned and no one was injured. They believed their war experience was over. But in reality…it was just beginning.

(More of the story comes next Tuesday…)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What would your reaction have been to the June 26th Raid if you were a civilian in Gettysburg? Just for fun, leave your answer in a comment.