The Story Behind the Story-A Rebel in My House

After I wrote A Rebel in My House, my Civil War romance set during the turbulent Battle of Gettysburg, other authors and readers asked me why I wrote the novel. Since the anniversary of the historic battle is almost here, I thought I’d share the “story behind the story” with you, my readers and blog family.

Something drew me yet again to Gettysburg. I knew there was a story waiting there for me. My husband and I walked the battlefields. Ideas stirred when I found Tennessee troops in Archer’s Brigade, part of Heth’s Division who began the fighting on the first day. Nothing solidified so I kept digging. I discovered fascinating history at the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum in Lutheran Theological Seminary. Surely my story touched this place. Spending several hours exploring the museum and surroundings sparked no ideas so I trudged on.

I explored Gettysburg museums, spending hours at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, Gettysburg Museum of History, Gettysburg Railroad Station, General Lee’s Headquarters Museum, and The David Wills House where President Lincoln stayed. I learned captivating facts at the Jennie Wade House, Shriver House Museum, and “The Women of Gettysburg Tour,” an evening walking tour.

Ideas swirled as my husband and I walked the town’s streets around the “Diamond” or the town square. This is where the women and children suffered through a nightmare from which they didn’t awaken for many months.

Then we spent another afternoon and evening at the battlefield.

Three Tennessee regiments fought the beginning battle on July 1st. They didn’t fight again until they joined in Pickett’s Charge.  

The sun sank low on the horizon as I stood alone on Cemetery Ridge. The expansive field crossed by Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, captured my imagination. Though the land is peaceful once more, it still tells a story. My imagination soared while the sun disappeared.

As an author, I had to tell what the townspeople endured. What if a Gettysburg woman fell in love with a Confederate soldier? What if they both made promises to loved ones? Some promises are impossible to keep …

I reluctantly left the ridge. I had a story to write.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Civil War Camp Letterman: Caring for Gettyburg’s Wounded

Railroad cut, Gettysburg battle, July 1, 1863

Medical Director Jonathan Letterman shipped tents, supplies, and provisions to Adams County—where Gettysburg resides—on the evening of July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He ordered that a general hospital be established there on July 5th. Confederate and Union wounded would be provided transportation to the hospital for treatment.

The army erected tents on George Wolf’s farm on York pike approximately one and a half miles east of Gettysburg. Railroad tracks adjacent to the property made it easy to deliver supplies and transport patients to Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Surgeons, nurses, supply clerks, quartermasters, and cooks staffed the general hospital, known as Camp Letterman, when it was ready in mid-July. Infantry guarded Confederate patients and supplies.

Almost forty folding cots each with mattresses and linens fit in rows of tents. Camp Letterman held five hundred white tents with only ground as the floor. Trains brought supplies to warehouse tents set up near the railroad. A large cookhouse in the middle of camp gave cooks a place to prepare nutritious meals such as soup and bread.

Wounded from both sides arrived at camp in ambulances where they were assigned beds. The hospital camp was filled by late July. It housed over 1,600 wounded soldiers. Hundreds more continued to receive medical care in temporary hospitals in Gettysburg.

A morgue and cemetery near camp were established by the army. An army chaplain gave them a Christian burial.

Yet most of Camp Letterman’s patients survived. Surgeons worked around the clock while treating the seriously wounded. When patients recovered enough to travel to city hospitals, Sanitary Commission workers assisted the army in transporting them to the railroad depot. They waited a long time for the single Gettysburg railroad line.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.


Citizens of Gettysburg in the Aftermath

Confederate cannons at North Carolina Memorial, Gettysburg Battlefield

“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.


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.


Confederate Generals Hill and Heth Doubt Pettigrew’s Report

Confederate First Lieutenant Louis G. Young, aide to Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, accompanied his commander on reconnaissance on June 30, 1863. They planned to search Gettysburg for shoes and other army supplies.

Major General Henry Heth, Pettigrew’s Division commander, ordered him not to attack any portion of the Army of the Potomac. If he encountered a home guard, he could drive them away easily.

While on his way to Gettysburg, a spy of General Longstreet’s warned Pettigrew that Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal cavalry division held the town.

Pettigrew sent a message to General Heth requesting instructions. Heth reiterated his previous orders yet expressed doubt that the Army of the Potomac was in the area. Pettigrew withdrew.

He left Young, his aide, and Lieutenant Walter H. Robertson in the rear to watch Buford’s Cavalry, who followed their retreat from a distance.

Young easily watched them follow on the rolling countryside. The two officers hid on ridges where they could see and not be seen until the Union cavalry was 300 to 400 yards away. Then the pair rode into the open. Union troops halted until the Confederate soldiers rode away before following again.

This happened several times. Both sides observed the other without attacking.

Pettigrew reported what he’d seen to Heth and to Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, the corps commander. Neither believed that their enemy was nearby in force.

They called in Young to question him. He verified that the troops he saw were well-trained.

They didn’t believe him either.

The two generals’ disbelief was so emphatic that Young doubted any of the other commanders believed Pettigrew—including General Archer, who led Heth’s Division with his Tennessee Brigade to Gettysburg the following morning, July 1st.

-Sandra Merville Hart


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


J.E.B. Stuart’s June 1863 Raid into the North

From Observation Tower at Oak Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart left Salem Depot with three brigades on June 25, 1863, at 1 a.m. Brig. General Fitzhugh Lee, Brig. General Wade Hampton, and Colonel John R. Chambliss led the brigades.

Captain John Esten Cooke, Stuart’s chief of ordnance, wrote of his experiences on the raid. Stuart shouted orders to “Ho! for the Valley!” while in the villagers’ hearing. Once out of sight, he changed course to head eastward. They bivouacked under pine trees that night. The following evening, they skirted around Union General Hooker’s rear force in Manassas.

The cavalry passed abandoned cabins and debris near Fairfax Station where they must have found supplies because Captain Cooke laughed to recall that every Southerner wore a white straw hat and snowy cotton gloves. A bale of smoking tobacco or drum of figs rested on the pommel of every soldier’s saddle. They held ginger cakes.

Each cavalry man held aloft a case, shell, or solid shot with fixed cartridge when crossing the Potomac River on June 28th at 3 a.m. to keep the ammunition dry.

As Stuart’s cavalry approached Rockville, Maryland, from the south, a Federal wagon train of nearly 200 wagons entered from the east. The new and freshly painted wagons, each drawn by six sleek mules, stretched out for miles. Stuart’s men chased the fleeing wagons and captured them within sight of Washington D.C. Cooke believed he saw the dome of the Capitol.

Stuart captured Union prisoners, set fire to some of the wagons, and seized the rest of them.

The Southerners reached Brookville that night, where beautiful girls fed them from baskets filled with cakes, meat, and bread. They offered huge pitchers of iced water. Stuart paroled hundreds of the wagon train prisoners at Brookville before riding on.

On June 29th, Stuart’s men arrived at Westminster. They clashed with Union cavalry and chased them along the Baltimore road, causing Baltimore citizens to panic.

They left Westminster and bivouacked in the rain. They reached Pennsylvania the next day.

Stuart’s cavalry scattered Union Brig. General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry near Hanover. Kilpatrick rallied and drove the Southerners out of town.

Still traveling with a long wagon train they confiscated, Cooke writes that they “rode, rode, rode” perhaps all night because he does not mention them camping. They paroled more prisoners at Dover, which they reached around sunrise.

On the evening of July 1st, Stuart’s cavalry arrived at the Federal army post of Carlisle. A short assault ended when General Lee ordered Stuart to Gettysburg. He arrived there on the afternoon of July 2nd, the second day of the famous battle.

-Sandra Merville Hart


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

“J.E.B. Stuart,” A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2017/05/03

“J.E.B. Stuart,” Wikipedia, 2017/05/03


Almost an Author post – What Lincoln Teaches us about Effective Writing in the Gettysburg Address



November 19, 1863: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

abraham-lincoln-60558_960_720President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg for the dedication of a military cemetery. Edward Everett, the main speaker at the event, spoke for two hours. Then the President stepped to the front to deliver the “few appropriate remarks” requested of him.

The President spoke for about two minutes. Applause interrupted his speech at times. Some expressed disappointment over the length of his talk, which was probably highlighted all the more by Everett’s speech. Yet, history records every word spoken by Lincoln to commemorate this important event.

You are invited to read my post about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on Almost an Author.

-Sandra Merville Hart