- Historic Sites
The Children Of Gettysburg
The storm broke over their small town and changed their lives forever
May/June 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 4
Charles meant to go back to retrieve a sword he had found and then dropped. “But the next day,” he said, “swords were no longer a novelty.”
William Bayly arrived at the farm to find a lot of “extremely apprehensive” relatives and neighbors. His father was not home, and so, being the oldest male on hand, he took charge of protecting the women and concealing livestock (most of which was eventually stolen). “But the question was: How could I look after a number of hysterical women and at the same time feel the joy that warriors feel?” When at last his father returned, he was “glad to grasp the hand again and feel the security that its pressure brought.” It was not until the evening of the second day that he was able to act like the thirteen-year-old he was. He climbed onto the portico roof and “fixed myself undisturbed, to get the feelings of things.” All day it had been: “ ‘Do this or get that,’ and I was not getting my money’s worth of the show.” He was too far away to see details: “It was simply noise, flash and roar. … I had the sensation of a lifetime.”
When injured soldiers began to appear in town on that first afternoon, Leander Warren and his sisters answered their cries for water by fetching buckets from the well to fill a dishpan on the windowsill. Soon every large building was filled with wounded men. Daniel Skelly carried pails of water to hospitals. He went to the courthouse accompanied by a young woman. “Some of them,” he said, “were so frightfully wounded that a lady could not go near them. These I gave water to, while she cared for those not so severely wounded.” On that day and for a week or more to come, many of the children’s mothers and older sisters summoned courage to nurse wounded from both armies. They were unanimously horrified at the suffering and exhausted themselves trying to alleviate it without really having the resources to do so. In the accounts children gave afterward, none of them complained about their mothers’ absence, fatigue, or preoccupation, but those too young to understand must have felt abandoned.
Residents reacted with despair to the Union retreat from the ridges west and north of town that first day. Daniel Skelly said, “When our forces were being driven back through the town in the afternoon, I went home feeling that everything was lost and throughout my life I have never felt more despondent.” By seven o’clock much of the town was occupied by Confederates. Their line stretched all along Middle Street. A Georgia brigade was stationed around the Jacobses’ house. Henry said of them, “They were very courteous and affable, and, while exultant at the result, had too much consideration for us to be defiant.” However, he slept little that night. “Who knew what was yet to come, or whether we would sleep again in that house?”
A Confederate general took possession of Mary Warren’s house. The family stayed in the cellar and asked the general not to use the front room, for they had a new carpet. He complied. Before daylight the next morning Mary’s grandfather appeared and offered help. “My Father said, ‘You might take Mary along, we may have to leave here.’” The elder Warrens lived on Baltimore Street. “I will never forget that walk in the early morning,” Mary said. “Men and horses were lying in the street.”
Townspeople had little sense of where events would be taking the soldiers. The first day’s action had put residents in the northern and western parts of town at risk, but the long stretch of Baltimore Street to the south seemed safer, and Mary was one of the many who sought refuge there. It was on that street that a stray bullet killed Jennie Wade, a young woman baking bread. She was the only civilian to die in the battle. The fighting on the second and third days took place primarily to the south, and it was so fierce that even Henry Jacobs abandoned his telescope and took to the cellar. Sharpshooters occupied some town buildings. Afterward many a resident could display shells and bullets embedded in fences, siding, even bedsteads.
Tillie Pierce found herself in a hot spot. She had gone along with neighbors to the supposed safety of Jacob Weikert’s farmhouse on the eastern slope of the Round Tops, near the southern end of the Union line. Fierce fighting erupted on the far side of the ridge, and with shells whizzing overhead, a soldier told Tillie and her friends to go eastward to another farm. On arrival they were “told to hurry back to where we came from; that we were in a great deal more danger, from the fact that the shells would fall just about this place….”
Henry Jacobs’s father was at the telescope on the afternoon of July 3. He watched the cannon fire and then the beginning of the disastrous Confederate charge across open fields between Seminary Ridge and the Federal line. He summoned his son, and Henry saw the Confederates in retreat after the gray tide got as far north as it ever would, then broke against the Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge.