“We do not know until tried what we are capable of.” Sarah Broadhead, Gettysburg citizen, wrote this on July 7, 1863—just four days after the battle ended.
An undated article in Adams County Sentinel reported that the town was one vast hospital. Wounded soldiers filled churches, colleges, the seminary, the courthouse, and many homes. Houses and barns outside of town were filled with thousands of Rebels, left behind when their army retreated. Citizens were doing everything in their power for them.
The Sanitary Commission took over the Fahnestock store, a one-hundred-foot long building in the center of town. They filled it with provisions and clothing, which were distributed to soldiers in the hospitals. Sarah Broadhead praised the work of both the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission. Private contributions enabled both organizations to provide generously for the injured men.
Nellie Auginbaugh remembered the Union and Confederate sympathizers who came to town. They couldn’t visit hospitals until taking the oath of allegiance. Some resented the requirement and refused, but others took the oath.
According to Mary Cunningham Bigham, someone at her father’s farm on Emmitsburg Road baked bread to feed the soldiers every day for six weeks. Every soldier able to walk stood in line for the bread hot from a brick oven. The family used all of their 25 barrels of flour stored in the barn.
Visitors came to town to search for loved ones, help the wounded, or to satisfy their curiosity. Sarah Broadhead’s home stayed full and she had to turn people away. One man felt grateful to have a chair to sit on in front of a hotel.
There were no church services while the wounded soldiers occupied the churches. On July 12th, Sarah Broadhead didn’t even feel like she had a Sunday. Not only were there no services, but trains also continued to run and confusion reigned.
The battle had affected the whole town.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Slade, Jim & Alexander, John. Firestorm at Gettysburg, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1998.
Sandra’s newest Civil War romance novel, A Rebel in My House, is set during the Battle of Gettysburg. It shows what the townspeople endured through the eyes of a Gettysburg seamstress and a Tennessee soldier (Heth’s Division, Archer’s Brigade, 7th Tennessee) left behind in the retreat.