Tells Story Her Parents Gave Her Mrs. J. Paxton Bigham, Gettysburg, R. D. 2, read to the members of the Over the Tea Cups club Monday evening, an interesting paper prepared by her aunt, Mrs. George Finley Harper, formerly Miss Frances Cunningham, of Lenoir, North Carolina. Mrs. Harper is a native of Adams county.
The paper contained the account of the series of interesting experiences of Mrs. Harper’s parents during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. They were related to Mrs. Harper by her parents many years ago. Mrs. Harper recently prepared the paper recounting the experiences of her parents and forwarded it to Mrs. Bigham who read it before the club last Monday evening.
What makes a narrative of this kind so entertaining is that it is about people many countians remember, people who lived their lives as part of a community in which their own parents, or grandparents played their part. The picture of the folks who lived through those heroic days of July, 1863, was duplicated in many parts of Adams county and readers will get a true picture of the stress citizens, as well as soldiers endured.
By MRS. GEORGE F. HARPER
My most vivid memories are of the stories father and mother and their friends told of their experiences during the three days of the battle of Gettysburg.
The third child in our family was a sister, Elizabeth, aged twelve. She had suffered a severe attack of rheumatism which left her with a serious heart trouble. When the cannonading began that first day of July, this sick child became very much alarmed, so mother gathered her children and her faithful helper, Cassie, into the carriage and drove to Grandfather Cunningham’s two miles farther south.
Our home was on Marsh creek about a mile above the covered bridge, and so was within the Confederate lines. Mother had scarcely gotten her sick child to bed at grandfather’s when the Confederate soldiers came and declared that they must search the house. Grandfather told them of the sick child and they were very quiet and courteous in her room. But below stairs they demanded food, and, looking through the window at the long row of beehives, they suggested that honey be served. Grandfather said there was no honey in the house (which of course they did not believe) so they threatened that if it was not forthcoming, they would take it from the bees. Grandfather was old and feeble, but had lost none of his sense of humor – he said that doubtless the bees had gathered a goodly store, and the gentlemen were welcome to all they cared to take. Now this was the middle of a hot July day, and those were not the rather tolerant Italian bees of today. Grandfather’s bees were those bad-tempered snuff-colored little fellows that brooked no meddling, so the visitors concluded to eat unsweetened. Having eaten they went to the barn and took mother’s horse.
All the other horses had been sent across the Susquehanna, only this one was left for the sake of the sick child. Grandfather pled that it be spared, but not until mother added her tears did the soldiers show signs of yielding. One man said, “Lady, I would let you keep your horse if I had any authority.” Then the petty officer in command said, “Pull that bridle off and let her have her horse; I can’t stand women crying.” So the horse was saved.
In this day of telephones and motor cars, it is hard to realize how vital to the family life were the horses.
During Stuart’s Raid
At another time Jeb Stuart made a foray into southern Pennsylvania to gather horses; but news of Stuart’s raid had reached the farmers and most of the horses had been sent away. Ours were all gone save one fidgety, nervous little mare, with her first colt too young to walk. Mother was again at grandfather’s with this mare and colt. In grandfather’s big red barn there was one stable with box stalls. Grandfather put the mare and her colt in the last stall, closed all the stall doors, then closed all the stable doors, all lights were put out and the family went to bed.
About midnight there was a great trampling of horses and rattling of accoutrements outside. And when it grew light enough to see, grandfather noted that every barn door stood open. But further investigation showed that every box stall door was open save the last one. The mare and her colt had made no sound, and the soldiers had concluded that the barn was empty.
Stragglers Demanding Food
But to return to battle. Mother and the children had gone only a little while when stragglers began coming to the house demanding food. Father served everything he could find, milk, and bread and what other foods were in the larder, and it was not until late in the day that he realized he had kept nothing back for himself. So he went begging for food to grandmother Scott’s. So far as I can discover, grandmother was in the big stone house alone, grandfather was not living, and the two sons were in the Army. Father’s two brothers were also in the service, but father was past the draft age.
Towards evening of July 2nd, a Confederate officer rode to the door and told father that the buildings would be required for hospital use. It being July, the big barn was almost empty and that was preferred rather than the house. All night long the wounded were carried in on stretchers. It was fully two miles from the wheat field, where they had fallen and they were carried through pouring rain.
Listing the Wounded
Father was a methodical person, as soon as it was light enough to see he went out with a note book and took the names and addresses of all who were alive. Many had died before morning. Of these their pockets were turned wrong side out, and in most cases it was impossible to tell to which army they had belonged, for the Confederates were scarce of clothing, and were very often in Federal blue. Union wounded within the Confederate lines were brought in, too. The Union wounded were laid down in the orchard, and Father found many of them lying in pools of water. Later, tents were put over these men, and on the whole, they recovered better than those housed in the barn.
Adams county barns were built with a ramp at the back leading to the big threshing floor above the stables. This floor has two great doors that can be opened to allow loaded wagons to drive in. There is always a small door in one of the large ones for everyday use. This small door was taken from its hinges and laid on trestles for an operating table.
“No More Chloroform”
Father had no means of knowing how the battle was going until an order came to “use no more chloroform on Union soldiers.” He suspected then that all was not well with the Confederates. Soon after this a man came running to the house demanding something red to use as a flag—the Confederates were retreating and were being shelled. Our orchard was full of tents, there must be a flag to show it was a hospital. Father was not a handy man about the house. He opened a drawer and handed out the first thing he touched. It was white, not red, but the haste was great. In a few minutes this white thing was floating from the lightning rod of the barn. When Mother came back from Grandfather’s this was the first spot that caught her eye—a pair of her nether garments gleaming high against the blue! And those garments could not, with truth be called “scanties” in 1863.
When the Cannonading Ceased
As soon as the cannonading had ceased on July 3rd, Mother and the children came home. Before Cassie took off her bonnet, she set yeast, and for six weeks Cassie baked all the bread the big brick oven would hold every day. Every wounded man who could walk found his way to the house when the odor of baking bread floated out from the oven. They stood in line and took the hot loaves as Cassie drew them out. There was plenty of Government hard tack, but the ration was unobtrusively conveyed to the pigs. In those days the farmers’ wheat was ground into flour before it was sold, and twenty-five barrels of Father’s flour were in the store room in the barn. When Cassie would bake up one barrel, a hospital attendant would roll out a fresh one, until all were used.
This was all the 1862 crop of wheat, and the growing grain in the fields was tramped sown, so two years’ wheat was lost. They did try to cut the remnant still standing in ’63, and when the reaping machine went out, every Confederate who could crawl to the barn doors was there to watch, for most of them had never seen one before.
Children Carried Water to Wounded
Mother was unable to keep the children away from the homesick soldiers. They would carve them toys—finger rings from buttons—and play with them endlessly. The children would trot to the well with canteens strung around their necks, carrying cold water to the men. When Mother would go to the barn to take milk to the wounded, she would sometimes find a soldier asleep on the hay with a sleeping child on each arm.
The children broke out with sores were infested vermin and all of them had itch. Typhoid fever was rife among the civilian population.
Amputating a Soldier’s Leg
One day the surgeon in charge came to the house and told Mother that a Union soldier lying in a tent in the orchard would die if his leg was not cut off, but he would not consent to the operation. So Mother went to see him and petted and coaxed, and finally promised that if he would submit to the amputation, she would have him brought to the house and nurse him herself. So Frank Clarke submitted to the knife, and Mother kept her promise. It was not a light promise to give, for long before Frank’s wound had healed, Father and Mother had followed two little coffins to the old Marsh Creek burying ground. Little Lizzie had succumbed to the heart ailment, and Willie a boy of five, had contracted blood poison from being about the wounded men.
Frank Clarke got well, or at least well enough to be moved—against his vehement protest—to the General Hospital near town. So when the surgeon’s back was turned, he hobbled away on his crutches and hitch-hiked back to the farm.
He finally recovered and went back to his widowed mother in Michigan but he was mindful of his amputated leg, and asked Father, when the bodies of the dead were to be moved to the National Cemetery later, to try to find it. When the graves were opened, Father searched, but could find no extra leg.
Wounded Soldier Returns
He came back to visit us at least twice after that. The first return was while I was too little to remember, but I was at least four years old when he came the second time. Father was later than usual getting home from town one evening, and we could hear him talking with some one while he put away the horses. Then we heard the tap of crutches on the brick walk, and with a shout that “Frank Clarke had come!”, we rushed out to greet him. He had brought a gift for each of us. Mother’s was a mahogany work box, mine was a china figure of a boy on a pony I set great store by this toy and grieved when it was broken. But the gift that fell to my next older sister was my supreme delight. It was a box containing four fairy stories, Cinderella, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, The Three Bears and The Sleeping Beauty. That book opened a door to me that has never closed.
As for Frank Clarke, he lived to be twice married, moved to Kansas and my father visited him in his home there. He had two children, one called Margaret for my mother, the other one John for father. And this is one of the good stories out of the many sad ones that came of those July days in 1863.
Others came back for visits in later years. Two soldiers who had each had a leg amputated at the hip, used to come with their crutches, and run races—to our delight.
Letters to the Parents
Until after the surrender no letters could be gotten through the Confederate lines, but father notified the families of all the Union wounded who were brought to his place. Among many others, the sister of one badly wounded man, Ellen Howard of Meriden, New Hampshire, started at once for Gettysburg. And on the train a stranger engaged her in conversation, asking if, should she find her brother dead, she had money enough to bring the body home. She had not, and he opened his purse and handed her forty dollars. The brother had died before she arrived.
Burial of the Soldiers
The Federal soldiers who were buried at our place were later removed to the National Cemetery. Father had marked each grave with a numbered stake, so that he was able to give the names of all except those who died the first night. He did the same for the Confederates, and there were two long rows of these graves on a sunny corner of the orchard, carefully tended until they were removed to Richmond about 1875. Had the families of the Union dead at Gettysburg been able to forsee the peaceful and lovely National Cemetery later established there, no doubt many more of the fallen would have been left to rest in this shrine.
A Story of Valor
Over on the battlefield, near Spangler’s spring, a Lieut. Perman had been wounded, and lying in the sun, suffered terribly from thirst. Nearby, lying down to escape the bullets, was a Confederate soldier. Lieut. Perman offered the soldier forty dollars—all the money in his pocket—for water. The Confederate crawled off to the spring and brought back his canteen full. Then he bound up the officer’s bleeding wound, contriving a tourniquet with his bayonet. The sun was blistering, and the wounded man offered the soldier his gold watch if he could get him into the shade. The soldier hoisted him to his shoulders and started, but twice the Lieutenant fainted and fell off, and each time the Confederate lay down beside him till he had recovered, then started again. And finally they reached the shelter of a tree. Lieut. Perman was nursed back to health by Miss Mary Witherow in Gettysburg, whom he later married.
The Catholic Sisters from Emmittsburg rendered wonderful service as nurses in Gettysburg, where the churches were opened as hospitals.
A Bag of Salt
After the battle, a group of the retreating Confederates stopped in a strip of woods a little way beyond Grandmother Scott’s to prepare breakfast. They had killed a sheep and had preparations well under way when the pursuing Federals began dropping shells uncomfortably near; so it appeared wiser to the pursued to go, and go breakfastless. Two farmers of the vicinity, learning of the uneaten food, went out to take cognizance. They found much more than they could carry away, among other things, a bag of salt. Salt had grown scarce, and both men wanted it. They concluded to go home and come back with their wagons. In the meanwhile, a woman of the neighborhood whose husband was in the army, learned of the bag of salt and sent a boy with a wheelbarrow to get it.
The two farmers came back with their teams, and each noted that the salt was missing. Each man thought his neighbor had double-crossed him, and for years these two men eyed each other with suspicion and dislike.
A Confederate Deserter
At the withdrawal of the Confederates, all able to walk were ordered to leave. This took the doctors and nurses as well as many who could barely travel. After they were gone Father noted a mere stripling with his head down on the meadow gate crying as if his heart would break. When Father asked the cause of his grief, he sobbed out that “Our men are gone and now the Yankees will kill me.” Father was a comforting person. He assured the boy that he wouldn’t be killed, that there was food in Pennsylvania and it wasn’t at all a bad place to be. Months later when the incident had quite gone from his mind, he received a letter from this boy. “Mr. Cunningham, what you told me about the Yankees is true—I’m in the Union army now.”
Where the Grandparents Lived
To make clear the location of farms here mentioned, our place is now owned by Edward Scott, near the Gettysburg water company pumping station. Grandmother Scott’s was the next farm above, where Harvey Scott now lives. Grandfather John Cunningham’s farm was the one now owned by Luther Scott, about 1 ½ miles west of Greenmount.
Some ten years after the battle, a livery team came to our door with a gentleman who introduced himself as Col. McFarland of Harrisburg. He had lost a leg in the Gettysburg Battle and this was his first visit back to the field. He had been in an Infantry Regiment, and on that first day of July when the Union Army was marched on double quick time from Frederick to Gettysburg, they had passed a farm where a lady stood by the roadside with two brimming buckets of milk, and her hands full of tin cups. Col. McFarland had gotten one of those cups of milk, and in all his life nothing had ever tasted so good.
He had asked the lady’s name, and had been told it was Cunningham. Now he had come back to find and thank her. Mother was sure she had given no milk to soldiers that first day of July, she had been too busy with her sick child, and our house was not along the line of march. So Father told Col. McFarland to send the livery team back to town, and the two of them would see if it might have been my Uncle Francis Cunningham’s wife. My uncle lived at the old home place.
Aunt Emily remembered the incident perfectly. I suppose the Emmitsburg road grew too congested, and some infantry had been deployed via the Bull Frog Road, to a road connecting again with the Emmitsburg Road at the Peach Orchard. This road passed Grandfather’s farm. Aunt Emily and Col. McFarland both remembered that he had asked directions of her, and also asked about taking guidance of a man sitting on a horse nearby. Aunt Emily said, “Don’t trust him, he is a ‘Copper Head.’”
Col. McFarland Becomes a Florist
Col. McFarland had established a florist business in Harrisburg, which business is, I think still carried on by his son.
For some years after the War, Father had a negro boy, named Anthony Jackson, to help with the farm work. His brother, Billy, lived at my Uncle’s just over the hill. The two boys were eager to be together after the day’s work was done, but neither would cross the hill alone after dark for fear of the Confederate soldiers buried in the orchard. Both averred that they could hear chains rattling up there. Father assured them that these men had no chains when they were buried. “Well they didn’t know where the dead men got’em, but they knowed they had’em now!”
Story of Two Telegraph Operators
My mother’s cousin, John Scott, together with his son, Hugh, were the Telegraph Operators in Gettysburg at the time of the Battle. These two men kept at their post giving news of the enemy advance until a watching friend warned them that the town was actually in Confederate hands. Then they slipped out to a nearby alley, where a horse and buggy were waiting, and left town by an unguarded road. The two men had scarcely crossed the borough limits when a Confederate officer came to the Scott home and demanded of Mrs. Scott the whereabouts of the telegraph operators. Martha Scott, had been trained to speak the truth, but this was her husband and her first-born son. She answered without a moment’s hesitation, “They left town two hours and a half ago.” She had scarcely made this reply when an inner door opened and her sister, Miss Mary McAllister, came into the room. The officer asked Mary the same question, and she, with the same promptness, said, “They have gone two hours and a half.” These conscientious Christian women believed until they died that God had put these replies into their mouths, and always spoke of their answers as “A providential he.”
Judge Stewart’s Diploma Started Fire
Another relative of our family was young John Stewart, later one of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Judges. He had recently completed his law studies, and he and his young wife had started housekeeping in Chambersburg where he had been chosen Chief Burgess. The day of the burning of Chambersburg, the Stewarts were away from home. When the ransom demanded by the Confederates was not forthcoming, and the threat to burn the town was about to be carried out, a squad broke into the Stewart house, took John Stewart’s Princeton Diploma out of its frame in the library, and used it to light the fire. It was a harmless flourish to start the burning with this bit of parchment, and with this house.