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Today's tidbit is about Carrie Sheads, a brave woman who on the first day of the three day Battle at Gettysburg saved the life of a Union colonel. Carrie ran a girls' school in a house on Chambersburg Road in Gettysburg. The house was filled with wounded Union soldiers and Colonel Wheelock of the 97th NY Infantry, after a volley with the enemy on the school's grounds, went into the basement to rest.

In Women Of The War (1867), pages 241-243, Frank Moore describes the incident as follows.

"Among the last to leave the field were the 97th NY Infantry, commanded by Lt Col Charles Wheelock, who, after fighting hand-to-hand as long as there was a shadow of hope, undertook to lead his broken column through the only opening in the enemy's lines, which were fast closing around him. Arriving on the grounds of Oakridge Seminary, the gallant colonel found his only avenue of escape effectually closed, and, standing in a vortex of fire, from front, rear, and both flanks, encouraged his men to fight with the naked bayonet, hoping to force a passage through the walls of steel which surrounded him. Finding all his efforts vain, he ascended the steps of the seminary, and waved a white pocket handkerchief in token of surrender. The rebels, not seeing it, or taking no notice of it, continued to pour their murderous volleys into the helpless ranks. The colonel then opened the door, and called for a large white cloth. Carrie Sheads stood there, and readily supplied him with one. When the rebels saw this token of surrender they ceased firing, and the colonel went into the basement to rest himself, for he was thoroughly exhausted. Soon a rebel officer came in, with a detail of men, and, on entering, declared, with an oath, that he would show them 'southern grit.' He then began taking the officers' side arms.

Seeing Col Wheelock vainly endeavoring to break his sword, which was of trusty metal, and resisted all his efforts, the rebel demanded the weapon; but the colonel was of the same temper as his sword, and turning to the rebel soldier, declared he would never surrender his sword to a traitor while he lived. The rebel then drew a revolver, and told him if he did not surrender his sword he would shoot him. But the colonel was a veteran, and had been in close places before. Drawing himself up proudly, he tore open his uniform, and still grasping his well-tried blade, bared his bosom, and bade the rebel 'shoot,' but he would guard his sword with his life. At this moment, Elias Sheads, Carrie's father, stepped between the two, and begged them not to be rash; but he was soon pushed aside, and the rebel repeated his threat. Seeing the danger to which the colonel was exposed, Miss Sheads rushed between them, and besought the rebel not to kill a man so completely in his power; there was already enough blood shed, and why add another defenseless victim to the list? Then turning to the colonel, she pleaded with him not to be so rash, but to surrender his sword, and save his life; that by refusing he would lose both, and the government would lose a valuable officer. But the colonel still refused, saying, 'This sword was given me by my friends for meritorious conduct, and I promised to guard it sacredly, and never surrender or disgrace it; and I never will while I live.'

Fortunately, at this moment the attention of the rebel officer was drawn away for the time by the entrance of other prisoners, and while he was thus occupied Miss Sheads, seizing the favorable opportunity, with admirable presence of mind unclasped the colonel's sword from his belt, and hid it in the folds of her dress. When the rebel officer returned, the colonel told him he was willing to surrender, and that one of his men had taken his sword and passed out. The artifice succeeded, and the Colonel 'fell in' with the other prisoners . . . . . . On the fifth day after the battle, Colonel Wheelock unexpectedly made his appearance, and received his sword from the hands of its noble guardian . . . He had managed to effect his escape from the rebels while crossing South Mountain . . ."

Carrie and her family are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, near the iron fence separating the Evergreen from the National Cemetery.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux