Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Battle of Gettysburg: the loyal townspeople

Part 3 in a series of posts on the behavior of the townspeople at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In his History of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, First Lieutenant A.P. Smith (pictured here) speaks very highly of the citizens of Gettysburg. Smith writes:

"The people of Gettysburg, like the bulk of the people of the free States, are heartily loyal. At many of the doors and windows, the ladies, lads and girls stood through that long, hot day, and passed water and food to the Union troops. More... The men of the Seventy-sixth will not soon forget, and I should fail in the performance of my duty, did I not mention the "nameless heroine," who, with a cup in each hand, so busily dealt out water to the thirsty boys, the tears of sympathy streaming down her lovely cheeks, as the wounded soldiers came hobbling by, until, pierced by a rebel ball, she fell dead by the side of her pail ! We regret that we cannot hand down her name to posterity, even in these humble pages. The memory of her deeds and heroic sacrifice shall remain green, though her name is unknown.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hunger on the march from Gettysburg: "I don't think I should have lived without that bread"

Everyday citizens often lined the streets as troops marched through their towns. Many of these citizens willingly opened their homes to the soldiers and offered food and water.


In the November 11, 1883 edition of the New York Times appeared the following entry from a Main soldier's diary. In this diary entry, the fallen soldier describes the kindness and bravery of a Martinsburg, WV woman who offered bread to the hungry despite the dire circumstances. He writes:

"I was taken prisoner July 3 at the Battle of Gettysburg. The smoke of that battle shut in and the grey enveloped us, and when the night came I was a prisoner in the rebel ranks. July 4 they drew us up in line. There were 4,000 of us. At early morning the command was given that the line start for Richmond, Va. -- the heart of rebeldom. We were all tired and thirsty and hungry, many of us were wounded, and it was under the hot summer sky of midsummer. We marched from the field of Gettysburg that day to the borders of the Potomac -- a long and weary march. That night we settled down on the banks of the river. The river ran high, the bridge had been destroyed, and we waited for the arrival of the pontoons and the consequent transportation across. Every one was hungry."

"I was hungrier than I ever was before, though not hungrier than I was subsequently during the war. The word was sent in among us announcing that there was nothing to eat on this side of the river, but that rations would be distributed when we had crossed. We were kept two days on this side of the river before a passage was made. Some of the men, as I well know, didn't get a scrap of food for two days. Most of them, I know, were kept alive through hope, and all of us were promised a plenty of rations across the river. Some of the boys did 'cross the river' before the pontoons came, and numbers died along the shore. The hunger of the men was terrible. I remember well on the afternoon of the second day that a squad of officers with small bags of biscuits came down among us and tossed the biscuits into the air for fun. Hats would go into the air and men would fight each other for the bread like a parcel of wolves. It was one of the most startling sights I remember of the war."

"We got across the Potomac the second day in boats. The day was tremendously hot, and our line of men, as I well know, was very weak, and many of them badly wounded. When the line was drawn up across the river the announcement came to us that there was no supply of food and that no rations could be distributed until the line reached Martinsburg. Martinsburg was 12 miles distant, and so we marched 12 miles further. The people of the town of Martinsburg were loyal people mostly. It was a loyal section and the people had heard of our coming. The fires had been built, and the kitchen ovens had turned out loaves and loaves of bread in anticipation of the march of the Union prisoners through the town."

Just outside the thick cluster of houses the line was drawn together. Guards were laced along both sides of the line, and we were to be prevented from making breaks from the ranks. The line marched through the city. I well remember one house and one woman. I would know her if I should see her to-day anywhere. She lived in a house with a high pair of steps leading down into a front yard with thick trees and a high fence and gate. I saw her come down the steps into the yard. she had her arms full of loaves of bread. She looked the way I always thought Barbara Frietchie must have looked. She beckoned, and a half dozen of us, getting a chance, made a break. We reached the fence and she shoved the bread out over the gate. The rest of the boys couldn't stand it and a dozen more made a break. The guards came along and cracked the muskets. 'Into the ranks or we'll shoot', said they, and then the officer in command shouted, 'Don't shoot them, shoot that damned old woman', and the guard pointed his musket in her face and the crowd fell back. For reply, the woman shoved another loaf of bread out through the gate. 'Eat it boys', said she, 'and may God bless you.' And, Sir, that woman never budged and never winked, and that guard never took down his musket out of shame, and the Union boys gave a cheer for the woman and were driven back into the ranks. I don't think I should have lived without that bread."