The Children Of Gettysburg

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The day after Lincoln spoke, Susan Holobaugh White, who was in Gettysburg visiting her cousin, wrote a letter to her husband. In the midst of descriptions of the excitement she inserted this: “…the news just came to the door that a little boy was openeing a shell and it exploded and cut him into and shot the arms off a man and both his eyes out. … I heard the nois and thought they was fireing.” Albertus McCreary described what was probably the same accident, with slightly different details. Walking along High Street near Powers’s stoneyard, he heard an explosion and turned to find a younger schoolmate lying on his back with his bowels blown away. Near him was a stranger almost torn to pieces, his hands hanging in shreds. The battlefield visitor had found a shell and wanted to open it. A witness said the boy ran from the stoneyard to warn the man of danger. “Just as he spoke, down came the shell on the stone and exploded.” Albertus placed this event a year after the battle, but perhaps his memory played tricks. Cemetery records state that on November 20, 1863, Allen Frazer, thirteen, was killed by the explosion of a shell.

Although the battle itself took only one civilian life, during the twelve months afterward the town cemetery keeper recorded ten deaths from diphtheria and twelve from typhoid, numbers much greater than usual.

Years later Charles McCurdy reflected: “The battle was too big for a little boy. Had I realized that the noise and tumult, the confusion and excitement … meant that 140,000 [it was actually 160,000] men were trying to kill each other … my emotions might have been more in keeping with the great tragedy.” Like Charles, the rest of Gettysburg’s children would struggle for the remainder of their lives to make personal peace with their memories.