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The School Teacher 1
MY father was a justice of the peace, and I was a teacher in the town schools. Our home was here on Baltimore Hill not far from where I live now. The sentiment in Gettysburg was strongly Union, but at the same time we had in the community a good many Democrats, or Copperheads as we called them, who naturally affiliated with the South. They were not very open in upholding the Southern cause, but just seemed to think the South was right, and we often squabbled on that subject.
Raids and rumors of raids were frequent. Whenever we saw a farmer come into town on horseback, or in a wagon, leading a couple of horses we knew he had heard that a raid was imminent. It seemed to be the great worry of the farmers that their horses would be taken.
Every report of raiding, too, would set the darkies to migrating, they were so afraid they'd be carried off into slavery. They looked very ragged and forlorn, and some exaggerated their ills by pretending to be lame, for they wanted to appear as undesirable as possible to any beholder who might be tempted to take away their freedom. That illustrates the natural ingenuity of the race.
During the month preceding the battle we were excited all the time. The dangers of our situation kept us in constant turmoil, and not much work was done. We were like Micawber "waiting for something to turn up," or like those people the Bible tells of who "spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." Oh, those were awful times!
On the last Friday in June the raiders really came, and they occupied the town for a day and a night and had their headquarters in the courthouse. We had a vague idea that the Rebels were a dreadful set of men, and we didn’t know what horrid things they might do. So we mostly kept in our houses out of their way. They demanded a great sum of money of the townspeople. We couldn’t give it to them, and we were nearly scared to death.
The following Tuesday evening we knew the Rebel army was near because we could see their campfires from our upper windows off on the borders of the mountains to the west. Those campfires looked very ominous.
The next morning, along about nine o'clock, I was ironing when I heard a shell fired out west of the town. The battle had begun. All of us townspeople betook ourselves to the streets and stood around in groups or sat on doorsteps. We could hear the guns and cannon and we were nearly frightened out of our wits. Presently a bloodstained horse was led along our street, and then a soldier with a bandaged head went past, supported on either side by one of his comrades. It was sickening.
Troops were constantly arriving hurrying to the battlefield, and we brought out some buckets of water and several tin cups. There were five of us girls in our family, and we handed the water to the soldiers as they double-quicked through the town. They drank without ever stopping and threw the cups back to us. Besides giving them water, we handed them cake, bread and butter, and anything at all we could find in the house that was good to eat.
WATER FOR THE MARCHING TROOPS
About four o'clock in the afternoon our artillery dashed through the streets retreating, and some officers as they rode along shouted: "Women and children, to the cellars! The Rebels will shell the town!"
Our cellar was large and well-lighted, and it served as a refuge for some of the neighbors as well as ourselves. We spent two hours in it. There we were — a huddle of women and children — some crying, and some praying —praying more, maybe, than we ever did before. That was the awfullest time I ever experienced — listening to the screeching of the shells, and the helter-skelter retreat of our men, and the unearthly yelling of the pursuing Rebels. But the town wasn’t shelled, though a good many missiles accidentally came into it during the battle.
The Union troops retreated through the town in a regular stampede. Some of them came up an alley behind our house and in at the rear door and out at the front. Afterward we found in our back yard a number of guns loaded and capped that they'd thrown away. They could easily have pillaged the house, but the only thing we missed was a little linen apron I'd been ironing. I think perhaps a soldier took it for a handkerchief.
As we were looking out of one of the cellar windows we saw some of our men who'd been taken prisoners, and they were standing so near that we spoke to them. They said they expected to be sent off South and wished we would write to their home people. Then, one after the other, they gave us their names, and the addresses of the persons to whom we were to write.
The town was full of Rebels when we came up from the cellar, and we could see a Union soldier lying out in the street with his head cut off. He had probably been overtaken by the enemy's cavalry.
Early next day one of the doctors came to our house and said to us girls: "You must come and help take care of the wounded. The men are suffering, and you are needed."
It didn’t seem as if I could do such work, but I went. The doctor led the way to the Catholic church, which, like all the other public buildings, had been turned into a hospital. Some of the wounded lay in the pews, and some lay on the floor with knapsacks under their heads, and there were very few persons to do anything for the poor fellows. Everywhere was blood, and on all sides we heard groans and cries and prayers.
I knelt by the first wounded man inside of the door and asked, "What can I do for you?"
He looked up with mournful, tearless eyes and answered: "Nothing. I am going to die."
That was too much for me, and I went hastily out and sat down on the church steps and cried. But I soon controlled myself and returned to the wounded man. He told me his name was Stewart and that he had an aged father and mother and a wife. Then he asked me to read the fourteenth chapter of John, which his father had read the last time they had all gathered around the family altar. Later in the day he and eleven other wounded men were removed to our house.
Meanwhile the battle was going on, but I was too busy to be afraid. The only time I realized the danger was on the afternoon of the third day. The heat was stifling and I sat on a low chair by Mr. Stewart in the back parlor fanning him. He had begged me to go to the cellar for safety, but I would not. Presently I changed my position, and I had scarcely done so when a bullet came in through a shutter and a window pane, and struck the floor just the other side of where I had been sitting.
Everything was very quiet the night following the battle, except for the squawking of chickens. The Rebels were leaving, but so far as I know it was only chickens and other things to eat that they took from the houses in the region. They were all gone the next morning.
The wounded remained in the town buildings till toward the end of the month. Those who could stand a railroad journey were then taken to the city hospitals, and the others out east of the town to a camp hospital which was continued till autumn. Up to the time of this readjustment I ministered to the wants of the "boys" quartered in our house, and went daily through the hospitals with my writing materials to read and answer letters. All the other townspeople were busy in similar ways. They constantly visited the wounded soldiers, took them dainties, and did everything they could for them.
Quite a number of the wounded had friends come to see them, and we accommodated as many of these strangers as possible at our house. All our rooms were kept full, and I slept on the floor in the hall upstairs with a roll of carpet for my pillow. That was the only bed I had, and for weeks I didn’t have my clothing off at night. Our ordinary household routine was very much broken up. We came in and ate when we wanted anything, and it was a long time before we all sat down together.
One of the soldiers in our house had lost a leg. My two youngest sisters often sang for him, and he would tell them stories of his experiences. I remember he said he was once in a battle where the troops were exposed to such a storm of bullets that the general ordered them to lie down. So down they lay, all except the general, who was very short and fat. Some of them shouted for him to lie down also, but he responded: "Why should I lie down? I'm as tall then as when I'm standing up."
This wounded soldier seemed to be getting along very well until one night, in his restlessness, his bandages became loose, and by the time the fact was discovered and a surgeon had been summoned, he had lost so much blood that he only lived an hour or two. A few days later his wife came. She was young, and had left at home a babe the father had never seen. She learned of her husband's death after she arrived here, and her grief was heart-rending.
Some of the wounded boys whom our home sheltered were presently well enough to rejoin their regiments, and one was killed in his next engagement.
Mr. Stewart lingered till the Monday following the battle. The next summer his widow and his brother visited us, and the acquaintance with that brother led to my marrying him. He, too, had been a soldier, and he had come out of the army an invalid. We had been married only eleven months when he died. He had been educated for the ministry, and his brother was to have inherited their parents' farm; but the war took them both, and left the father and mother desolate in their old age.
I had five uncles and eight first cousins in the Union armies — all from this town. When they enlisted they thought they would get back in two or three months. One of my cousins starved to death in Andersonville Prison. Another was shot in the throat and never spoke a loud word afterward, but made himself understood chiefly by motions. A brother of his had both feet shot off and died in an ambulance that picked him up on the battlefield. Another brother was killed at Cold Harbor. Their father wouldn’t let the youngest son go into the army, and the boy ran off and died in camp of measles.
Practically all the young men in Gettysburg who were able went into the army, and I don't suppose any other town suffered as this town did.
1 She was a refined, elderly woman living in one of the comfortable homes in the better part of the town. There I talked with her in the parlor.