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The Bank Clerk
I WAS a clerk in the Savings Institution. There was one other bank in town. Whenever the bank officials got fearful that the place would be raided one or two of us would go away with the funds. We had scares all along from the fall of 1862 until late in 1864, and we carried off the funds eighteen or twenty times. On several occasions I went alone, and there was once I took as much as one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. I'd drive with a horse and buggy by the old pike twenty-eight miles to York and then ship the funds by railroad to Philadelphia.
We were particularly uneasy before the Battle of Gettysburg, for we'd heard that Stonewall Jackson had threatened to lay waste the country when he got into Pennsylvania and not leave one brick on top of another. But none of the whites were scared quite as badly as were the darkies. I remember a nigger named Jack who worked on a farm near the town. At a time when a troop of raiders was known to be swooping in our direction he said, "They'll kill all us niggers, or take us back to slavery."
He was a bow-legged nigger who couldn’t make much speed, and he didn’t have any confidence in his ability to outrun the raiders. So he crep' under a haystack and stayed without a morsel to eat for three or four days. He almost starved.
A great many refugee darkies passed through Gettysburg going northward. Some would have a spring wagon and a horse, but usually they were on foot, burdened with bundles containing a couple of quilts, some clothing, and a few cooking utensils. In several instances, I saw 'em trundling along their little belongings in a two-wheeled handcart. Occasionally there'd be one who was driving a single sheep, or hog, or a cow and a calf. They were a God-forsaken looking people. The farmers along the roads sheltered them nights. Most of these here poor runaways would drift into the towns and find employment, and there they'd make their future homes.
Just before the raid that occurred in the last week of June, 1863, I went off with the bank funds, and when I returned I found the Rebels in possession of the town. They took me to the bank and made me show 'em that we hadn’t any money there, and one of 'em threatened to send me and the treasurer to Richmond. They had demanded that Gettysburg should give 'em twenty-five thousand dollars in money, ten thousand barrels of flour, and a lot of mess pork and other things, but they didn’t get the money or much else in the town. The stores would have yielded them a lot of plunder if the proprietors hadn’t guarded against that possibility by carrying just as small a stock as they could. However, the raiders went out into the country around and stole every farm animal that walked, and secured a great deal of corn, oats, hay, meat, etc. Their teams were going all the time taking the stuff south into the Confederate lines.
A few days after this raid some four thousand of our cavalry came here, and, although we knew Lee was near by, we felt then as if everything was safe. Oh, my goodness, yes! our belongings were under Uncle Sam's protection, and they were all right.
The following morning the battle began on the edge of the town, and all the time more of our troops were arriving. They went through the streets in the double-quick step, which is next thing to a run. Some of 'em had marched thirty-two miles. It was very hot weather, and they'd thrown away much of their clothing. Often they had very little on but their pants, and went right into the engagement, hatless, shirtless, and shoeless. Some of 'em had welts around their bodies, where they wore their belts, three inches wide of blood and gore. Their supplies never got here till that night or the next morning, and they made breastworks by digging with their knives and spoons and plates.
A good many of us citizens went out to the battlefield with food. Some of us carried baskets of pies and cake, but mostly we took bread in flour bags and broke it up and gave it to the soldiers. The heat and the smoke there on the battle line were suffocating, and at times the smoke was so thick it obscured the sun and hid the enemy from sight.
About four in the afternoon we food-carriers were ordered back to the town, and soon afterward our men retreated and the place fell into the hands of the Rebels. Many Union soldiers took refuge in the houses. They were hidden all over town. We had two in our cellar until after the battle was over. They came in completely worn out, and left their guns and knapsacks by the dining-room fireplace. Mother had just time to throw the knapsacks out of sight back of the fireboard, and to lay the guns down and push them under the lounge with her foot when there was a rap at the door. She opened it, and on the steps stood some Rebels who asked, "Are there any Yankees here?"
"Do you see any?" she said.
That didn’t satisfy 'em, and they searched the house, upstairs and down, but they didn’t happen to go to the cellar. We gave the fugitives some blankets to sleep on. One of 'em had been wounded in the face by a piece of shell. He ought to have gone right to the hospital, but he had such a horror of falling into the clutches of the Rebels that he wouldn’t leave the house. Mother put hot water and camphor on the wound to relieve the inflammation, and when her supply of camphor ran out she grated potato and used it with cold water from the well. But the treatment wasn’t effective, and when the fellow did get to the hospital it was too late, and he died.
All our schoolhouses, churches, and other public buildings had been converted into hospitals, and I was one of the helpers in them during the second and third days of the battle, and for some weeks afterward. Sunday morning, the fifth of July, the hospital stewards went with wagons and doctors to search for any wounded who might have been overlooked. There had been a good rain Friday night that was very refreshing to the wounded on the field, and it no doubt saved many of their lives.
You can't conceive what a sight the battleground presented with all its devastation and wreckage, and its strewing of dead horses and dead men. Where there had been severe fighting in woodland the trees were all splintered and broken, and some that had been a foot or more through were shot away till they looked like pipe-stems.
On my uncle's farm, just below Big Round Top, eighteen hundred of the dead were buried in a single trench. They were covered very shallow, and at night you could see phosphorescent light coming out of the earth where they were buried. You might think the buzzards would have swarmed to the battlefield, and we used to have a popular guide here who declared that they gathered from the four corners of the earth to prey on the dead. He described how, when they rose from their horrid feast, they darkened the sky. Some one asked him why he told such a yarn as that.
"Oh, well!" he says, "it amuses the people. They want things made exciting."
Really there were no buzzards here, probably because they were frightened away by the smell of the powder and the noise of the cannonading. They never made their appearance till several months later.
Such of the wounded as were able to crawl dragged themselves to the streams and to the shade of bushes, and they often got to spots so secluded that they were not easily discovered. Moving them sometimes opened their wounds afresh, and they bled to death. We found two on Tuesday afternoon. One of them, with a compound fracture of his leg, lay in a swamp where he had sucked water from the mud.
A year passed away, and Lincoln came and made his great speech in dedicating the national cemetery here. I was within thirty feet of him when he spoke, and I remember distinctly how he looked — a tall, awkward figure with one of his trouser's legs hitched up on his boot. But his words made a tremendous impression, and that immortal speech goes far to compensate for the horrors of the battle.
1 In his maturer years he had risen to the position of bank president, and his residence was the finest in town. There I spent an evening with him in one of the handsome rooms. Roundabout were beautiful and costly mementoes of foreign travel, and in cases ranged along the walls was a wonderful collection of colonial china.