Crying “Wolf” or “Rebel” – Not a Good Idea

Did you every read the children’s story about Peter and The Wolf? The shepherd boy calls “wolf” too many times when no danger is in sight and when the wolf finally does arrive the men in the village don’t believe him. Honestly, the story scared me silly when I first read it in a story book many years ago (I think it was the picture and foreshadowing of the big, bad wolf…), but now I’ve come to fully understand the principle of the story… So what does this have to do with Gettysburg?

There wasn’t a wolf in Gettysburg. But the people cried “Rebels are coming” a few times too many and the results were rather shocking.

It seems to be a popular idea that the civilians of Gettysburg lived in a bubble of safety which was suddenly destroyed when the armies approached in June 1863. Not true. Let’s take a closer look.


Gettysburg is approximately 7 miles from the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, sometimes called the Mason Dixon line. And, if you look at a map, there’s not much of Maryland before you’d get to Virginia. Southern Pennsylvania was definitely in “striking range” for the Confederate forces and the civilians knew it.

Confederate Cavalrymen similar to these were feared by the Gettysburg civilians (Photo by Miss Sarah, Moorpark 2012)

Confederate Cavalrymen similar to these were feared by the Gettysburg civilians (Photo by Miss Sarah, Moorpark 2012)

“Crying Rebel”

(No, stop picturing a Confederate soldier with tears in his eyes.) I’m talking about somebody or a rumor running through the streets of Gettysburg saying the “Rebels are coming!”

Contrary to popular belief this became rather common during the first two years of the war. There was particular panic in the autumn of 1862 when Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and his gray-clad cavalrymen rode into Pennsylvania and went to Chambersburg, a town not too many miles from Gettysburg.

Another time, a town a little further south caught on fire and the Gettysburg civilians were convinced the Rebels were coming to burn Gettysburg.

And there were plenty of other instances of frightening rumors through the war months…

Rebels Among Us

While the civilians were on the look-out for Confederate troops (at least until those rumors got boring), they probably looked at a Rebel and never even knew it. There is reason to suspect (from civilians and military accounts) that the Confederates sent spies into Maryland and Pennsylvania during the early spring of 1863. Some may have even been from Jedidiah Hotchkiss’s mapmaking unit.

Apparently, if the spy and civilians’ stories are to be believed, these Rebels came to Gettysburg and stayed at one of the hotels for a day or two, possibly with the full knowledge and consent of the hotel owner. (Remember, not everyone was a staunch Unionist). Hmm…anybody see potential for a good story plot here?


The idea of Confederate raiders was definitely not new in Gettysburg. In fact, it’d happened so many times that the civilians were somewhat unprepared on the warm summer day of June 26, 1863…

Come back next Tuesday for the full details of that surprising day!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Can you think of any instances or current events where someone is always crying “wolf”? Do you think you will be caught unprepared?

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?