The past couple of weeks I've been talking about battles and the soldiers. Today I'd like to tell you about a young girl who witnessed the fighting at Gettysburg.
Tillie Pierce Alleman
Gettysburg is located in a beautiful region near the southern border of Pennsylvania. Until the battle, it was almost an unheard of town filled with people happy with the serenity of the countryside. These were the same people who hid and sheltered soldiers who would otherwise have been sent to Libby Prison or Andersonville if they had been captured. Tillie, in her book, "At Gettysburg or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle. A True Narrative", reminisces about the happy times, of the groves on and around Culp's Hill and of the Round Tops where she had countless picnics. She remembers the times she drank from Spangler's spring, which was soon to be famous; the peals of laughter mixed with the birds singing and time spent picking berries along the roadside. Tillie's reminiscences take her back to the time when she happily attended the Young Ladies' Seminary and received her diploma. This same school soon sheltered Union wounded and dying soldiers. She remembered the old College Church on Chambersburg Street where she was wed, but it too had been used as a hospital during that horrible battle. All these happy moments were lost when the two armies converged on each other and the quietness erupted in the mighty din of battle.
Numerous times rumors had it that the Confederates were coming but those rumors proved false. Each time the town prepared as if they were true, the old men armed themselves with rusty, old guns; pick-axes; shovels and pitchforks. Watching them would have made you laugh because of the ineptitude of their drilling and their lack of obeying orders. These men afterwards laughed at themselves as they reminisced over their attempts at readying to protect the town.
There were numerous blacks in Gettysburg at that time and each time the news came that Confederates were coming the blacks gathered up their belongings and headed out of town. Picture this, a large group of unorganized blacks with bundles so big they looked as if they were going to buckle with the enormity of them. All of them crowded together trying to get out of town, the children, following along with bundles of their own to carry, falling behind and crying because they couldn't keep up with their parents. Tillie remembers hearing mothers hurry their children along with phrases such as, "Fo' de Lod's sake, you chillen, cum right long quick! If dem Rebs dun kotch you, they tear you all up." (Alleman, 20)
Tillie was fifteen years old when the Confederates entered Gettysburg on June 26, looking for any and all supplies they could find, horses, food and shoes among other things. When news came that the Confederates were approaching the schoolgirls were told to leave immediately and get home as quickly as possible. Upon reaching her house, Tillie saw the soldiers as a bunch of individuals clad in rags, coming in disorderly fashion down the street waving their pistols, shooting to the left and right. Fearfully she thought of how she and her family were to survive the coming days.
The Confederates left that same evening only to be replaced by Union cavalry on Tuesday, June 30. The following day more Union cavalry and countless wagons, some of them carrying wounded soldiers, passed through the town. Between nine and ten that morning Tillie heard rumbling cannons from Seminary Ridge, at first faint but gaining in intensity. The soldiers hastened through town in a desperate attempt to get to the battle as quickly as possible. In the next moments she heard soldiers remark there was no telling how soon soldiers would be coming back in one of those ambulances or on a stretcher.
After dinner, a neighbor lady, Mrs. Schriver, appeared at Tillie's house. Since her husband was a soldier off fighting she felt she and her two children would be safer if they went to stay with her parents at the Weikert farm. She asked if Tillie could accompany them because it would be safer for her as well and Tillie's parents readily agreed. In her haste to leave Tillie took her clothing to the basement for safe keeping until she returned but gave no thought to taking anything with her or of how long she would be gone.
The quickest way to the farm was through Evergreen Cemetery and while passing through, Tillie and Mrs. Schriver, passed Union soldiers setting up cannons. The soldiers told them to hurry as they expected the Confederates to begin shelling the area soon. Looking back towards Seminary Ridge, Tillie saw and heard the battle raging and saw troops running here and there. In the midst of bursting shells, the rising smoke from the fields and the undulating din of battle, Tillie felt great apprehension. These were sights and sounds Tillie had never experienced before.
Continuing on to the Taneytown Road, they passed an ambulance carrying the body of General Reynolds who had been killed in the fighting. A little further along, they stopped at a 1-½ story building that would become General Meade's headquarters the next day. A soldier, seeing them in their bewildered state, said he would try to find a way to help them get to their destination as best he could since it was extremely dangerous for them to stay there. Fortunately for them, a wagon was getting ready to leave and the soldier persuaded the driver to take the group with them. Thankfully they got onto the wagon but had the most jolting ride because the wagon had no springs and the driver drove at breakneck speed trying to get away from the battle as quickly as possible.
Finally, they reached the Weikert farm and were welcomed with open arms. Soon after their arrival, Union artillery hurried past in much excitement as officers urged their men on towards the battle all the while cutting the road to pieces. Because the road was now rutted making passage difficult, the men headed across the fields, shouting and lashing the horses in the wild rush. The next thing they heard was a caisson exploding and they saw a man's body hurled into the air. When the soldier was brought to the house, Tillie saw that his eyes had been blown out of his head and his body was charred. But surprisingly, the first thing he said was "Oh dear! I forgot to read my Bible to-day! [sic] What will my poor wife and children say?" (Alleman, 42) Soldiers carried him upstairs and wrapped his body in cotton and laid him on a bed. Sight of this man in such condition caused Tillie much distress. Things were getting worse by the minute.
Next the infantry began passing through. Seeing how thirsty the soldiers were, Tillie and others ran to the spring, filled buckets with water and began offering the passing men a drink. And so they continued helping the soldiers until nightfall.
Wounded soldiers trickled in with reports of the fighting with many wounded and killed. Tillie saw a soldier with his thumb wrapped and told him that she thought this was terrible. The soldier returned that she would be seeing many more worse than him and she believed it when she saw soldiers limping in, some with their heads bandaged or their arms in slings, some crawling or some brought in on the ambulances. Soon the barn filled with the wounded and witnessing such a bloody sight caused Tillie to become very disconsolate.
Weeping bitterly she and Beckie Weikert entered the house and went to the basement kitchen where they found nurses preparing beef tea for the wounded. Seeing how distraught the girls were the nurses began telling them funny stories to cheer them up and soon had them laughing uncontrollably. A chaplain who was present told Tillie, "Little girl, do all you can for the soldiers and the Lord will reward you." (Alleman, 45) Tillie felt ashamed and begged his forgiveness only to be told, "Well it is much better for you and the soldiers to be in a cheerful mood." (Alleman, 45)
Tillie closed her day with appalling visions such as she had never seen before going round and round in her head. What a way to go to bed, wondering what the next days would bring.
Quite a day for a young girl who had never seen the likes of this before and hoped she never would again. We think so often of how the soldiers suffered but little do we realize how civilians suffered. They witnessed much and gave of themselves in ways we probably will never be able to fathom.
Alleman, Mrs. Tillie (Pierce). "At Gettysburg or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle. A True Narrative." New York, W. Lake Borland, 1889. Reprinted, 1994, Butternut and Blue.