A Pastor’s Perception After Gettysburg

Stone wall on Confederate side of battle – Gettysburg Battlefield

Reverend William G. Browning joined a group of ministers who arrived at Gettysburg by train on Friday, July 10th,  just one week after Pickett’s Charge. The Methodist pastor helped nurse wounded at the hospitals.

Homes, churches, and other public buildings housed the wounded. Union and Confederate wounded “lay side by side as brothers” in some hospitals.

An offensive odor permeated the air. Fences lay flattened. Bullets and shell destroyed homes and trees.

Browning visited the battlefield. He found a rebel field hospital in a barnyard. Confederate officers and soldiers who had been too severely wounded to retreat in their army’s ambulances were left behind. Browning saw more misery there than he ever expected or hoped to see again.

Some of the dead had been moved to a nearby field. Yet others who had died of their wounds remained in the barn and the barnyard with their dying comrades. No one had carried the corpses away.

The sufferers were unattended. Arms and legs heaped near a board used as a surgeon’s table. Wretchedness and despair filled the faces of the wounded.

Browning, though not a nurse, walked among them and did whatever he could to relieve their suffering. While there, he asked why they enlisted.

Two men answered that they were led into it.

Browning figured they were as sincere as any Union soldier. The Southerners felt wronged. They defended themselves from an oppressor.

Browning felt strangely fascinated when walking the battlefield. He stepped over broken guns, hats, bayonets, coats, and cartridge boxes. He saw many dead men who hadn’t yet been discovered. Many lay where they fell.

He found the marker of one of his parishioners in a field. He noted the area so that family and friends could find it, which they later did.

He preached at a memorial service for that parishioner on August 2, 1863. He used 2 Samuel 1:19 for his text: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!”

-Sandra Merville Hart


Gragg, Rod. The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of The Civil War’s Greatest Battle, Regnery History, 2013.