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The Carriage-Maker's Boy 1
LEE crossed the Potomac early in June, 1863, and the battle was fought here on the first three days of July. I was only seven or eight years old, but you know when a boy is that age things stick in his memory as they don't when he grows older. I couldn’t tell you nearly as well about what happened a couple of years ago as I can tell about what I saw and did at the time of that battle.
When the war began this was a town of between three and four thousand inhabitants. It was a trading center, and there was a flourishing stove-manufactory located here, and quite a business was done in making carriages. My father had a two-story carriage shop near our house on the borders of the town.
We're only a few miles from the division line between the North and the South, and we were a good deal exposed to raids. Again and again we'd get a report: "The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming!" and any one that had stock would hurry to get it out of the way so it wouldn’t be carried off by the enemy. You'd see the farmers one week running away with their stock and the next week coming back with it.
I had two older brothers nearly men grown, and they went off with our horse several times; but the alarms proved to be mostly false, and at last Father said, "Boys, don't you go again until I tell you to go."
It got to be the 26th of June. That afternoon Father went up street, and in a few minutes he was back in a great hurry, and said, "The Rebels are right out west of the town coming in this direction."
So the boys hitched into a buggy and drove off as fast as they could go. They wanted to get on the other side of the Susquehanna River. There we thought they'd be safe. It was a forty mile ride, and they hadn’t been gone a great while when some of the Rebels came galloping down our street — a whole lot of 'em. They were after the people who were flying with their stock.
Just one square above us lived a butcher who had a little Dutch feller by the name of Charlie Supann working for him. He sent Charlie off with his horse before our boys got started, but they overtook Charlie out here by the tollgate house. Charlie was drivin' along pretty leisurely, and they told him he'd better hurry.
"But my orders are not to drive fast," he said.
Well, our boys went on and left him behind, and the Rebels caught him and took his horse. While they were parleying with him our boys hurried along as fast as they could, and they escaped. They got to the big covered bridge at Columbia over the Susquehanna, and they told us afterward that people were going through there with their horses just like a cavalcade — chasing through one after the other all the time. At the far end were some Union officials stopping every one that had a good horse, and if the horse suited 'em they'd take it and give in return a slip of paper entitling the owner to pay from the government.
Right in front of our boys was a young feller on an awful nice horse, and the officer said, "Is that a good riding horse?"
"Yes," the feller says, "Father keeps him for that." "Then you jump right off," the officer said. "He's just what I want."
Next he spoke to our boys and asked if theirs was a riding horse.
"No, you can't do anything with her for riding," they said,
"Then get out of this," he told 'em. "We don't want her."
They were lucky to get across the bridge when they did, for the pursuing Rebels were close behind, and the Federals burnt part of the bridge just before the enemy got there to keep them from going farther.
Our boys were now strangers in a strange country. But they soon located on a farm with a man who was starting harvesting, and they got right out in the harvest field, and went to work.
The next excitement that I remember at Gettysburg was the arrival of four thousand Union cavalry on the night of June 30th. They camped west of the town on Seminary Ridge, a low hill that got its name from a theological Seminary located there. South of the town was a similar hill known as Cemetery Ridge, which had Little and Big Round Top at one end, and Culp's Hill on the banks of Rock Crick at the other end.
Not far from my father's shop was another carriage shop that was no longer used for its original purpose. Hay was stored in it, and we boys often went in there to play. A number of us were in there on the morning of July 1st. You know how boys would do — well, we had a lot of fun jumping on the hay. But pretty soon we came outside to watch some soldiers and older town boys riding the cavalry horses out north of the town to the crick to water 'em. Then we went back into the old carriage shop and got into the hay business again. We were still at it when my sister ran in there and said to me: "You're to come home now. The fighting has begun."
Yes, the battle had begun, but it was a small affair at first, for both of the armies were very much scattered. Some of the troops were forty miles away, and they kept arriving all that day and the following night.
I went home with my sister, but some of the other boys tried to get where they could see things.
By and by a Union officer came through the street warning every one that our men were falling back toward the town, and the bullets were likely to be flying right among the houses.
"I'm goin' to stay here to watch our buildings," my father says to Mother, "but you'd better get to some safer place."
" Well, I guess I'll go," Mother says.
My sister and I went with her, and my sister carried along some of our belongings in a basket. We were passing the schoolhouse when a man who was a cousin of mine says to my mother, "Aunt Susan, where are you goin'?"
She says, "I don't know where I'm goin'."
"Quite a number of us are in the schoolhouse cellar," he said. "You'd better come in there, too."
But instead she went on up what we call Baltimore Hill to the part of the town that was farthest away from the fighting. A woman standing in a door there spoke to mother and said, "Susan, you'd better stop right here with me."
"Lizzie, I guess I will," my mother said.
Pretty soon the Union artillery came up the street and went down over the hill about as fast as the horses could go. They anchored out here just south of the town on Cemetery Ridge. The next we knew the street was filled with Rebel cavalry, and we rushed to the cellar. The cellar had a door out in front on the pavement, and a Rebel lifted it up and said to some of his comrades, "It's full of Yankees down here."
"There isn't anybody in this cellar but women and children," my sister said, and he let down the door.
We stayed where we were till things quieted down late in the day, and then Father came to get us. He said that after we left he had gone up in the cupola of the Lutheran Church with several other men. They watched from there till the Union troops began to run, and then they took refuge in the cellars of the houses.
On our way back I see some dead horses and a number of dead men layin' around on the pavement.
The enemy had possession of the town, and just before dark, when Mother was out behind the house feeding the chickens, one of the Rebels came along and asked her to lend him an ax.
"Will you bring it back?" she said as she handed it to him.
"Oh, yes, indeed!" he told her, but he never did.
We slept that night on the parlor floor. We didn’t know what might happen, and it seemed safer there than in our beds upstairs. And I slept all right — oh, yes! a kid can sleep when older people can't.
Two doors from our house lived a Presbyterian preacher, and the next day he said to us: "Come over to our cellar, It's got a floor in it."
So we spent that day in his cellar. There was no very fierce fighting until the latter part of the afternoon. Then General Sickles out on the Union left made an advance and was driven back with great loss of life across the "Valley of Death."
Night came, and we went home to sleep again on the parlor floor. But we returned to the preacher's cellar in the morning. After the war he went around lecturing as an "Eye-Witness of the Battle of Gettysburg." Well, he did go up several times and look out of the trap-door.
Our second day in his cellar was drawing to a close when some one came and said, "The Rebels are gone, and the battle seems to be over."
That gave us courage to come out. I was a little boy with pockets in my pants, and I went along the street and filled those pockets with bullets that lay scattered about. Right square in front of our house, in the middle of the street, was a dead mule. He'd been in the artillery out on Cemetery Ridge, and when he was wounded they cut him loose, and he had wandered into town. As he went on he got weaker and weaker till he tumbled over and died. Several Rebel sharpshooters had stationed themselves in our shop, and the Union cannon made it a target to drive 'em out. I think eleven shells went into the place. It was full of finished buggies and carriages, and vehicles that were being repaired. The shells knocked some of 'em into kindling wood.
Day after day, following the battle, the army wagons were going out on the roads to gather up the government property that was strewn around on the battlefield. Men were busy, too, carousing around and getting together the crippled horses. Such of the horses as were n't likely to be of any further use in the army were disposed of here at sales. Some could hardly walk, and it was possible to buy a horse for as small a sum as twenty-five cents.
1 He had followed his father's trade, and I chatted with him in his shop amid a variety of vehicles, one of which he was painting. At the time of the battle he had been only a little fellow and his aspect was as yet that of a man still in middle life.