1863: “The Town Is As Full As Ever Of Strangers”

July 13 [1863]

This day has passed much as yesterday and the day before. The town is as full as ever of strangers, and the old story of the inability of a village of twenty-five hundred inhabitants, overrun and eaten out by two large armies, to accommodate from ten to twelve thousand visitors, is repeated almost hourly. Twenty are with us tonight, filling every bed and covering the floors. Continue reading

Historic Gardening: Civil War Gardens

Gardens grow food or flowers. For this blog post – instead of getting into the agriculture of the crops and posies – I thought it might be more fun to share some stories about gardens during the Civil War.

First, though, let’s clarify a few things and then we’ll get to the stories. Most country homes had gardens. That garden would supply the food for a family and sometimes extra which could be preserved or sold in market. In the large cities, some large homes had little garden plots or formal gardens, but “farmers’ marketplaces” were common, and city slickers could buy their fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers from the country folk who brought their produce to the city.

Fresh fruits and vegetables prevent scurvy (and taste much better than hardtack and salt pork). Both armies – Union and Confederate – tried to find ways to get fresh produce from American gardens to the military camps or trenches…or the soldiers simply went foraging to steal from the local farmer’s garden. (More on that later in the article.)

Now – without further ado – here are a few wartime accounts in the garden setting: Continue reading

Sarah Broadhead: Gettysburg’s Voice

When I was working on the research for Blue, Gray & Crimson, I read as many primary sources penned by Gettysburg civilians as I could find. Some recorded precise details such as harvesting peaches and finishing dresses, others worried about the war. Many accounts were written years after the famous battle and I had to keep in mind that retrospect may have been clouding the storyteller’s view.

While each journal and account was special in its own way, my absolute favorite Gettysburg journal was Sarah Broadhead’s. Written in “real time” (day-by-day as the battle and aftermath unfolded), Sarah told about her daily life and also captured the feeling and emotions reverberating through her community.

Sarah Broadhead

Sarah Broadhead

Sarah Broadhead – Her Family & Her Home

The Broadhead home was at 217 Chambersburg Street. Sarah was a homemaker and mother. Her husband – Joseph Broadhead – was a railroad engineer at the nearby train station. In 1863, they had one daughter: four year old Mary.

To Summarize Her Story

I’d highly recommend reading a reprint of Sarah’s diary, but in case that’s not in your “time budget” I’ll summarize some of her battle experiences.

In June rumors about the Confederate invasion swirled through Gettysburg. The war advanced closer to home, but by June 24th Sarah said she was becoming “used to excitement, and…think the enemy, having been so long in the vicinity without visiting us, will not favor us with their presence.”

The hopes were destroyed when the Confederates arrived on June 26th. That day Mr. Broadhead was away from home, and Sarah was very frightened by the raid and concerned about her husband’s safety. (He finally arrived home on June 30th.)

On July 1st, Sarah started her usual task of baking bread, but was soon interrupted by cannon fire. The townspeople panicked. Sarah went to her front porch and offered water and cool cloths to the wounded coming into town. “As I write all is quiet, but O! How I dread tomorrow” she wrote in the evening.

There was little rest that evening. At neighboring houses, Confederates plundered and carted away their treasures; the Broadheads could not stop the misfortune of their neighbors.

On July 2nd, the battle increased. Much to his wife’s dismay, Joseph decided the ripe green beans in the garden had to be harvest (he wasn’t gonna let those Rebs have them) and he went into the garden and picked the crop, coming under sharpshooter fire! (He survived -and so did the beans.) The family hid in their neighbor’s cellar and prepared to leave the next day, expecting the town to the shelled.

By July 3rd, after witnessing the plundering of his neighbors’ unoccupied homes, Joseph declared they would not leave town. They waited in the cellar. “Who is victorious, or with whom the advantage rests, no one here can tell. It would ease the horror if we knew our arms were successful…We shall see tomorrow…”

July 4th – the Broadheads awoke to the commotion of retreating Rebels. Sarah was anxious to assist the wounded, but did not venture out that day. “…the day is ended and all is quiet, and for the first time in a week I shall go to bed feeling safe.”

Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg

Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg

For the next ten days (and probably afterwards) Sarah went and volunteered at the hospitals in town. Later, she opened her home and brought several wounded there to receive better care. One day, Sarah went to the hospital at the Lutheran Seminary; she found that the recent rains had flooded the basement and the injured were in danger of drowning. Sarah and the medical staff moved one hundred men to safety on the fourth floor of the building.

“Some weeks since I would have fainted had I seen as much blood as I have seen today, but I am…only caring to relieve suffering [now].”

On July 14th the wounded in the Broadhead home were moved to a general hospital, though the family begged to have them remain. Just one month after starting her diary, Sarah concluded it with these words: “A weight of care which we took upon us for duty’s sake, and which we had learned to like and would have gladly borne, until relieved by the complete recover of our men, has been lifted off our shoulders, and again we have our house to ourselves.”

ink-and-feather-quillThe Diary

Sarah published part of her diary to aid the Sanitary Commission rally support for the soldiers. 75 copies were to be presented at the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia. Significantly, Sarah did not reveal her name in the published work. It was simply “The Diary of a Lady of Gettysburg Pennsylvania, From June 13 to July 13, 1863.”

Why did Sarah write? She gives her own explanation in the introduction: “The following pages were begun for no other purpose and with no other thought than to aid in whiling away time filled up with anxiety, apprehension, and danger; and after the danger had passed away, the practice of noting down the occurrences of each day continued until disease incapacitate the hand for writing. They are now printed (not published) for distribution among the kindred and nearest friends of the writer, in answer to the question, often put –  “Where were you, and what did you do during the battle?”


As a historian, I am very grateful Sarah Broadhead kept this diary because it reveals specific details about the Gettysburg civilian experience. As a writer, I appreciate the deep emotions shown through her account.

Indeed, in my opinion, Sarah Broadhead journal is THE voice of the Gettysburg civilian during the month of war drama in the community.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Have you read the full diary? Is it your favorite or would you nominate another?

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?