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?




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.

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?