A Travellerspoint blog

Day 72 (11.12.07) - Town of Gettysburg

I took a walking tour of downtown Gettysburg today.

overcast 54 °F

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 17
Weather - Cool & Overcast, rain at night

Narrative:

I spent part of today revisiting some of the battlefield area's from yesterday, but included any appropriate information or photo's for those in yesterday's blog entry, so perhaps I can keep this blog entry a little shorter?

We stayed in the Gettysburg Hotel last night, the rates weren't too bad and it looked like a really historic place (the sign said it was built in 1797). It was also right on the central town square.

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I found out later that while a hotel has been at that location since 1797, the buildings have burned down three times - so maybe it isn't as historic as I thought. But I thought it might be a nice way to give Mom a treat and both of us a little more space for the night. However, I think we both decided that since all our stuff was already organized in the RV, it was probably easier just to stay there. Some RV parks have cabins, maybe the next time we need a 'treat', I'll just use one of those - then the RV will be close by (with our stuff), but we'll also have the extra space. We'll see, most of the time we're doing pretty well considering how cramped this is.

Anyway this morning I signed up for a 90 minute walking tour of downtown Gettysburg. Having toured the battlefields, I thought it would be interesting to learn how such a major event impacted the local town folk. The tour guide said she could tailor the presentation so Mom could join us, but she prefered to sit in the (warm) RV and relax.

My tour guide was Joanne. We were joined by another lady, Sharon from VT. Joann was very well informed and also carried a book full of photographs and documents. I tried not to hold her up too much with my note taking, photography and questions, but our 90 minute tour took about two hours, so I must not have been holding back as much as I thought.

In 1863, the town had 2,400 residents and was the county seat. Today, it has about 10,000 people and is still the county seat. While the National Park brings in tourists, it also surrounds so much of the town that it also restricts growth to some extent.

The tour covered a lot of the early history of the town, but I'll focus on the civil war period. You can spot the buildings that existed during the battle since they have a special brass plaque by the door:

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Gettysburg had free blacks and some even owned land and businesses in town. It also had no black codes (rules restricting blacks), although that doesn't mean there wasn't discrimination (it was a town in the 1800's afterall), but it was fairly progressive for it's time.

Most of the area was agricultural, the main industry in town was carriage making and it was also a crossroads for several important roads.

Since the town is only about 10 miles from the Mason-Dixon line, people had been concerned about rebel incursions for two years. When non had occured, they may have started to relax a bit. However, the town had rail and telegraph service as well as three newspapers, so was fairly well connected. When Gen. Lee started marching his army into the North, the town received a telegram warning them that they might be in danger .

On June 26th, confederates came through Gettysburg the first time. They demanded $200,000 worth of supplies from the town. The Mayor and Postmaster were both staunch republicans (e.g., not confederate sympathisers) as were most of the town folk. The mayor carefully wrote back that the town didn't have the resources Lee's army demanded, however, they were free to purchase supplies from the stores in town. The mayer and postmaster also left town, since as government officials they were most at risk for being taken captive. Many store owners locked up shop and hid, but the army was able to 'purchase' some things using the unpopular and worthless confederate currancy. After grabbing some supplies and causing some minor damage, the confederates moved on and the town thought they'd escaped relatively unharmed.

There was no military significance to the town - it just happened to be where the two army's came into contact in 1863. After the first brush with the Confederacy, the town had no reason to expect a major battle to break out in just a couple of days. The southerners had come through, taken a few supplies, then moved on.

Then on July 1st the fighting began NW of town (Lee's army was to the Northwest, when Union cavalry unit ran into. As the day progressed, wounded started pouring into the town. At first, they were put in the courthouse and the Lutheran Church. A Union chaplain was heading into the church to tend to their needs, when a confederate mistook him for a regular officer and shot him dead on the steps. His unit later erected a memorial to him on the steps where he died. (Sharon is on the left, Joanne on the right).

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As they day wore on, the Union retreated through the town with the confederates in hot pursuit. The confederate army occupied the town until they withdrew on July 4th. The wounded continued to pour into town until they filled all public buildings as well as many private ones. As homes were turned into hospitals, people hung red scarves from the windows to let others know. With one minor exception, confederate and union wounded were housed without regard to which side they had been fighting on.

The cemetary keeper had gone off to fight for the Union, but his wife, Elizabeth Thorne continued to reside in the Cemetary gate house with her children and elderly parents. When the Union army arrived, she was employed to show them the lay of the land, roads, etc., then told to evacuate. When she returned to town on July 7th, she had to go to work digging graves even though she was six months pregnant . In all, she dug about 100 graves with some help from her elderly father.

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While neither side targeted the town itself, there were just too many bullets and artillery shells being fired for the town to escape unscathed. One civilian was killed, 20 year old Jenny (or Ginnie) Wade, who remained behind to assist her sister who had just given birth. She was baking bread in the kitchen when a bullet hit her in the head. There are also nine buildings in town that still have a confederate artillery shell embedded in the building. One was the "Young Ladie's Seminary". Look carefully to the top left of the window above the right porch.

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This is what the spot looks like up close. Fortunately no harm was done. When the fighting broke out the head mistress told her students to "run home as quickly as you can". It didn't need to be repeated. (Many of the families who hadn't evacuated waited out the fighting in their basements.)

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With 170,000 men in and around the town for four days, there was very little food or water left. Most of the crops had been destroyed. The two armies left behind between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties, including dead, wounded and missing. In addition there were large number of horses killed in the battle as both sides used horses to pull cannon and supply wagons as well as for cavalry. The dead horses were burned, the dead buried temporarily in shallow graves (and sometimes retrieved by loved one s to be buried at home). The wounded placed in whatever building could be make into a temporary or makeshift hospital.

The town was overwhelmed, but within a week supplies and aide started coming in from around the country. The town store was converted to collect and distribute the aide that came in.

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A few months later, an army hospital was set up east of town in Camp Letterman and a new National Cemetary was set up to rebury the dead properly. President Lincoln was invited to give 'a few appropriate remarks' after the featured speaker. The last wounded were not finally removed to the military hospital until a couple of days before the Cemetary dedication on Nov. 19th. President LIncoln was only in the town for one day, some were concerned about even inviting him to such a solemn occasion, since he was just a little country lawyer, but he was the President of course. Of course, I rarely remember who the featured speaker was that day, but I do remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

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By the way, the above statue is the exact height and dimensions of President Lincoln (a little taller then myself?). He particularly liked wearing this model Brooks Brothers suit, after he was assassinated, they stopped making it. The face on this statue is based on a life mask, so this is about as close as I can get to the real thing. The other statue represents everyman. (I, of course, am not a statue, so should need no introduction...)

Before Abe left Gettysburg, he attended this church, which also later claimed President Eisenhower as a member when he bought property nearby.

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Later tonight, we decided to stay in a local RV park. It rained hard all night, but we woke up to clear skies and a very nice day Tuesday and finally left Gettysburg.

Posted by jl98584 15:54 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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