Tag Archives: Battle of Gettysburg

Somebody’s Father at Gettysburg: 1863

The Children of the Battlefield.

The Children of the Battlefield.

Somebody’s Father.

I think that one of the saddest incidents of the war which I witnessed was after the battle of Gettysburg. Off on the outskirts, seated on the ground with his back to a tree, was a dead soldier. His eyes were riveted on some object held tightly clasped in his hands. As we drew nearer we saw that it was an ambrotype of two small children. Man though I was, hardened through those long years to carnage and bloodshed, the sight of that man who looked on his children for the last time in this world, who, away off in a secluded spot, had rested himself against a tree that he might feast his eyes on his little loves brought tears to my eyes which I could not restrain had I wanted. There were six of us in the crowd, and we all found great lumps gathering in our throats and mist coming before our eyes which almost blinded us.

We stood looked at him for some time. I was thinking of the wife and baby I had left at home and wondering how soon, in the mercy of God, she would be left a widow and my baby boy fatherless. We looked at each other and instinctively seemed to understand one another’s thoughts. Not a word was spoken, but we dug a grave and laid the poor fellow to rest with his children’s picture clasped over his heart. Over his grave on the tree against which he was sitting I inscribed the words: “Somebody’s Father. July 8, 1863.”

Riverside [CA] Daily Press 9 September 1893: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil trusts that her readers will excuse her for a moment; she has something in her eye.

Mrs Daffodil is unsure whether the soldier mentioned above is the same as in this story:

IDENTITY ASCERTAINED.— The identity of the dead soldier who was found on the bloody field of Gettysburg, with the picture of his three pretty little children tightly clasped in his hands, has been ascertained within a day or two. The wide publicity given to the touching circumstances through the medium of the press produced the desired result. The name of the deceased was Hummiston [Humiston], and his widow and three children reside at Portville, Cattaraugus County, New York. Large numbers of photographic copies of the picture upon which the dying eyes of the warrior-father closed have been sold, and the profits realized from their sale will be appropriated to the benefit of the children. It is hoped that a sufficient sum may be realized in this way, and by future sales, to aid materially in the education of the little ones who were made orphans at Gettysburg. Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] March 1864

Two vs. three children is a significant discrepancy, but may be due to inaccurate reporting. The three Humiston children are pictured at the head of this post, and here is an admirably detailed article about Sergeant Humiston. Since the soldier from the first story had his children’s picture buried with him, it must mean that this was, sadly, not a poignant and isolated incident.

See these other posts about Elizabeth Thorn: The Angel of Gettysburg, the man who decorated his own grave at Gettysburg, and a Quaker Prophetess who foresaw the Battle of Gettysburg.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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A Gettysburg Soldier Decorates His Own Grave: 1886

 

Headstone marker, originally thought to be for Private Stephen Kelly, but now for an unknown soldier, in Section A of the Pennsylvania Plot in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The headstone is now marked "UNKNOWN." Photo credit: Karl Stelly

Headstone marker, originally thought to be for Private Stephen Kelly, but now for an unknown soldier, in Section A of the Pennsylvania Plot in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The headstone is now marked “UNKNOWN.” Photo credit: Karl Stelly

Mrs Daffodil is rarely au courant with the details of military history; she often wonders why illustrations of combatants from the American Civil War do not depict armour, buff-coats or lobster-tail helmets. So Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome as a guest poster that thoroughly American person from the Haunted Ohio blog  Chris Woodyard, with a story from the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended on this day in 1863.

A Soldier Who Decorates His Own Grave.

“Do you see that man?” said a member of the Grand Army of the Republic on Decoration Day, pointing to a healthy looking person with a soldierly bearing entering the Grand Army headquarters at Twelfth and Chestnut streets. Several eyes turned in the direction of the man, who had on a G.A. R. uniform and looked every inch a veteran.

“Yes,” said one, “why is he specially worth notice?”

The speaker smiled. “Well,” said he, “that comrade is dead. He has no business walking around here like a real live survivor. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, and any day you should go up there I could show you his grave.”

Such a paradox naturally excited the curiosity of the bystanders. The dead-alive man seemed to be in very excellent health, but the fact that his grave was to be decorated on that very day was found to be a hard although strange fact.

“Yes,” said he,” with a twinkle in his eye, “my grave is in the national Cemetery at Gettysburg, and I am officially dead. At least it is so stated on the records of that burial place, and I have often had the melancholy pleasure of decorating my own grave.”

“That seems strange,” said a listener. The veteran was as solemn as his tomb itself. “I don’t look dead, I know,” said he, “and I don’t believe that I am, but when, a few years after the close of the war I visited the Gettysburg Cemetery and found a grave marked with my name I was shocked, but am used to it now. My name is Stephen Kelly; I live at No. 942 South Ninth street, and am reasonably well and happy, notwithstanding that my comrades insist occasionally that I shall visit the historical burial ground and spread flowers over my own grave. It’s a mistake, of course; I ain’t dead, but can’t get the cemetery people to acknowledge that fact. I was mustered in on Aug. 21, 1861, and was mustered out, as this certificate will show you, in 1864, honourably discharged at the end of my service.”

The papers were duly examined and found to be correct. “’Bates’ History,’ continued he, “and the records show that I was killed and buried at Gettysburg. The only trouble is that some other poor fellow killed in that bloody battle was buried for me. How the mistake occurred or who the unfortunate soldier was I could never find out; but I suppose some of my personal belongings, lost during the heat of the fight and bearing my name, were found on the dead soldier, and he was buried as Stephen Kelly. I go up every year to decorate my own grave.”

Mr. Kelly was a member of Company E, Ninety-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and served out his term of three years. He is now a member of G.A.R. Post No. 8, of this city.

Philadelphia Record.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 18 June 1886: p. 2

Talk about looking Death in the face…. It is an extraordinary story and the “Find-a-Grave” entry offers an even more extraordinary detail: That Pvt. Kelly was wounded 2 July 1863 and died in 1889 of his wounds. This is not impossible–some veterans lingered for years with war wounds–but I wonder if 1889 is the date that the monument was erected?

Another newspaper squib reported a possible reason for the misidentification of “Kelly’s” corpse.

It is said that there is a man who goes to Gettysburg every Memorial day and decorates his own grave. The story runs thus: “During the battle he was thought to be killed and another soldier took his papers from his pockets. The second soldier was buried as the first and No. 1, who recovered, goes to the place every year to keep green the grave which is marked with his own name.” Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 30 June 1891: p. 3

The dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery was the occasion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was also the site where Elizabeth Thorn, “The Angel of Gettysburg,” far gone in pregnancy, nearly single-handedly dug over one hundred graves to bury the battle’s dead. Her poignant story is one of Mrs Daffodil’s most-read posts.

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog you will also find a story telling of an extraordinary prophetic dream about a soldier’s death in that battle and his brother’s recovery of his corpse.

 

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

Peter and Elizabeth Thorn

Peter and Elizabeth Thorn

In honour of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a story of an ordinary woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances and how she rose to the occasion: Elizabeth Thorn, known today as The Angel of Gettysburg.

 A Woman’s Courage at Gettysburg.

Mrs. Peter Thorn, of Gettysburg, lived in the house at the entrance of the borough cemetery. The house was used as headquarters by General 0. 0. Howard. Mrs. Thorn’s husband was away from home at that time (serving in the 148th regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers, and stationed in Virginia), leaving her with two [actually three] quite young children. During the first day of the fight General Howard wanted someone to show him and tell about different roads leading from Gettysburg, and asked a number of men and boys who were in the cellar of the house to go with him and point them out. But these persons were all fearful and refused to go. Then Mrs. Thorn showed her courage and patriotism by voluntarily offering to show the roads. This offer was at first refused by General Howard, who said he did not wish a woman to do what a man had not the courage to do. Mrs. Thorn persisted in her offer, saying: “Somebody must show you, and I can do it; I was born and brought up here [a misunderstanding, perhaps–Elizabeth and her husband were German immigrants.] and know the roads as well as anybody.” Her offer was accepted, and with the general and his horse between her and the fire of the enemy, Mrs. Thorn went from one spot to another pointing out the different roads. When passing along the line of troops the general was greeted with: “Why do you take a woman for a guide? This is no place for her.” “I know it,” said the officer, “but I could not get a man to come; they were all afraid.” This answer to them started cheers for Mrs. Thorn, which lasted several minutes and showed that our soldiers admired the courage shown at such a time. The Popular History of the Civil War in America (1861-1865), George B. Herbert, 1885

General Howard wrote of Mrs Thorn in his autobiography: “After the battle Slocum, Sickles, and I took our headquarters on the ground near the gatekeeper’s cottage. Mrs. Peter Thorn, whose husband was a soldier, with her daughter [this is inaccurate—her daughter was not yet born] was caring for the cottage. I had been all day from breakfast at sunrise without food and was nearly famished. Mrs. Thorn, before we had time to ask, brought us some bread and cups of coffee. Those refreshments have never been forgotten.” Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General, United States Army, Oliver Otis Howard, 1907, p. 419

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is interesting, yet disheartening to see that these are the anecdotes most often told about Mrs Thorn, 20 years after the close of the American Civil War. The story of her pointing out the local roads appears in multiple publications during the 1880s, yet the General, whom she guided, only mentions her “refreshments.”  Let us look more closely at Mrs Thorn’s extraordinary story.

Elizabeth Thorn and her husband, Peter, as well as her parents, lived in the gatehouse to the Evergreen Cemetery at Gettysburg. Her husband enlisted as a soldier, leaving her with three small children—ages 7, 5, and 2.  She was six months pregnant when she volunteered to show General Howard the Gettysburg roads.

Her obituaries say merely that she witnessed the Battle of Gettysburg. Occasionally they mention that she assisted the General, or that she was Superintendent of the Cemetery in her husband’s absence. The papers are silent on her condition. They did not report how she did her duty in the aftermath of the battle.  Working almost entirely without help, in the heat and storms of that July, among the rotting corpses of men and horses, she dug graves in the rocky soil and buried over one hundred soldiers.

Mrs Thorn herself somewhat understated the trauma as she spoke in her memoir of scrounging supplies, baking bread to distribute to the troops, and returning to find her household and livestock destroyed. Here she recounts her memories of those days, beginning with the first day of the battle, July 1, when the family took refuge in their cellar:

I wanted to go upstairs once more to see if our men gained, but when I came on the stairway a shell had cut in the window frame, then jumped a little, then went through the ceiling, so I would not go up any more… Soon one of General Howard’s men came and ordered me to have supper for Gen. Howard. I complained I had no bread, for I had given it all away in the morning. But I said I could make cakes, and he said they were good enough for war times. They did not come for so long, it was near twelve o’clock. It was Gen. Howard, Gen. Sickles, and Gen. Slocum. The house was so full of soldiers that the boys had to lay on the floor in the kitchen, on feather beds. And as they saw the children lying there, they said it was very sad. After they had had some supper and I found they were going to leave I asked them if they thought I should leave the house in the night. Gen. Howard rubbed his forehead and said: “Leave the house? Leave the house?” Then he looked towards the others and said: “Comrades, I say stay.” Then he said we should take our best things and pack them up and in two hours he would send two men to carry them to the cellar. Then he smiled and said: “I guess you call all best.” But I said: “Some I call better than others.” He said they would begin hard fighting about day-break, near four o’clock, and then we should go to the cellar. About two hours after they left the men came and took the things to the cellar. Gen. Howard said: “When I give you orders to leave the house, don’t study about it, but go right away.” About four o’clock we went to the cellar. There were seventeen of us (other civilians)…We were in the cellar about two or three hours. The noise of the cannonading was terrible. At last the door flew open and someone said: “This family is commanded by Gen. Howard to leave this house and get as far in ten minutes as possible. Take nothing up but the children and go.” They said we should keep (to) the pike, where the soldiers could see us, and that would save us. When we were a little way down the pike a shell bursted back of us, and none of us were killed, but we commenced to walk faster…

Near midnight [this would be on the second day of the battle, July 2], when everything was quiet, my father and I undertook to walk home to the Cemetery house. As we left the [neighbor’s] house we had to pass through a room where the Union soldiers were sleeping, lying in two rows, with only one candle to light the whole room. About the middle of one row a man raised himself on his elbow and motioned me to come to him, my father signaled I should go to him, and he took a picture out of his pocket and on it was three little boys, and he said they were his, and they were just little boys like mine, and would I please let him have my little boys sleep near him, and could he have the little one close to him, and the others near him? And so, he took them and had them lying by him…. 

The next day Mrs Thorn and her family fled to the country, going to a farmhouse where the wounded were being treated. She wrote of seeing the amputated limbs tossed into a corn crib and removed by the wagonload.

 We were down the country four days and the fifth we went home. On the way home we met Mr. McConaughy. He was the president of the Cemetery at that time and he said to me: “Hurry on home, there is more work for you than you are able to do.” So we hurried on home. When we looked at the house I could only say “O my!” There were [sic] no window glass in the whole house. Some of the frames were knocked out and the pump was broken. Fifteen soldiers were buried beside the pump shed. I went to the cellar to look for the good things I had put there on the first night. One chest was packed with good German linen, others packed with other good things. Everything was gone, but three featherbeds and they were full of blood and mud. After I had dragged them out of the cellar I asked an officer who was riding by, if I would ever get any pay for things spoiled like this. He asked me what it was, and I told him bed clothes that were in the cellar, and he said in a very short way: “No!” So as soon as the pump was fixed I sent for three women and we washed for four days before we got them clean.

Then I got a note from the president of the Cemetery, and he said: “Mrs. Thorn, it is made out that we will bury the soldiers in our Cemetery for a while, so you go for that piece of ground and commence sticking off lots and graves as fast as you can make them.” Well, you may know how I felt, my husband in the army, my father an aged man. Yet for all the foul air we two started in. I stuck off the graves and while my father finished one, I had another one started. This lasted for days, until the boys sent word, if I couldn’t get help at all I should telegraph to some of my friends to come and help me. Two came, but one only stayed two days, then got deathly sick and left. The other stayed five days, then he went away very sick, and I had to pay their fare here and very good wages for their work. By that time we had forty graves done. And then my father and I had to dig on harder again. They kept on burying the soldiers until they had the National Cemetery ready, and in that time we buried one hundred five soldiers. In front of this house there were fifteen dead horses and beside the Cemetery there were nineteen in that field. So you may know it was only excitement that helped me to do all the work, with all that stench. And in three months after I had a dear little baby. But it was not very strong, and from that time on my health failed and for years I was a very sickly woman. In my older days my health has been better, but those hard days have always told on my life. Gettysburg [PA] Times 2 July 1938, p. 3

In the battle, nearly everything the family owned had been destroyed or stolen. For her efforts, Elizabeth Thorn received no extra money beyond her husband’s salary of a little over $12.00 per month and she and her father were criticised as unpatriotic for daring to ask for compensation for their substantial losses. President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address from a platform in Evergreen Cemetery on 19 November, 1863.  One wonders if Mrs Thorn, her new daughter in her arms, heard the President speak? Peter Thorn survived the war and returned to the cemetery. He and Elizabeth died within months of each other in 1907 and are buried at Evergreen.

You may see more photographs of the statue of this intrepid woman here. The sculptor hid a Civil War relic—a minie ball—in the base of the image. 

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

“A letter directed by a lady’s delicate hand:” A scene after the Battle of Gettysburg: 1863

Civil War hospital

Though it is difficult to discriminate where all are so brave, yet the bravest was a young Englishman, the color bearer of a New York regiment. He came to this country an orphan boy, was educated in our free schools, found friends who assisted him, had become prosperous in business, and when this foul rebellion endangered the liberties of our land, and the bells everywhere were calling together the sons of the Republic, he felt that for a country which had afforded him home and happiness, it was an honor and a privilege to suffer and to die. He volunteered with the hundreds of thousands of free men, and carried the colors of his regiment through all the battles fought by the army of the Potomac, until now, unhurt. All this he told me in broken sentences and added that “there was one on whom all his hopes centred, who made life precious and desirable to him,” and much more of a similar import, too sacred to relate.

To her I wrote a letter, telling of his sad state, how he had fallen, bleeding and wounded; and at his request, added, that though he had lost his leg, he was proud to tell her he had saved the regimental colors, and his own life too was still spared him, which was only made valuable by thoughts of her. This was surely enough to make any true woman feel proud that over so noble a heart, she alone held sway. His wound was doing remarkably well, and every day while attending to his wants, I would ask him pleasantly about the answer to our letter, remarking, that perhaps it was too full of sweet words to be seen by a stranger.

At last I found that all my cheerful words failed to rouse him from the despondent mood into which he had fallen, and I discovered his great anxiety at not receiving an answer to his letter. I begged him to be patient, and explained that the mail had been interrupted by the recent raid; all of which failed to re-assure him, and when going to him the next morning, I saw lying beside him on his pillow a letter directed by a lady’s delicate hand; I felt all would be well. Yes, the letter was delicately directed, delicately written, and delicately worded—but its meaning was not to be misunderstood.

It was a cool, calm regret that she could no longer be his; to which was added the fear that the loss of his limb might affect his prospects in life. He handed me the letter to read, with a look of fixed despair—buried his head in the pillow and wept like a child. To him she had been the embodiment of all that was true and lovely, and while others had mothers, sisters and friends, she was his all. The blow had been sudden, but sure. When he looked up again, his face bore the pallor of marble and I saw there was no hope. All day long, we gave him stimulants and tried by words of sympathy to rouse him, but in vain; he lingered two days, when the silver cord was loosed, and the golden bowl broken, he died, and his last words were “tell her I forgive her.” 

Hospital Scenes after the Battle of Gettysburg, July, 1863, Patriot Daughters of Lancaster (Pa.), 1864

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is the 150th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War. This affecting anecdote was taken from a slim volume telling of the work of a group of ladies nursing fallen soldiers just after the battle. Although the author expresses the proper anxiety over linen supplies and dainty food for her invalids, she is also righteously indignant over war profiteers and scathing towards certain other less-charitable organizations. If you are not acquainted with the book, it is well worth a perusal for its immediacy in the face of a monumental historical event.