Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gettysburg Storekeeper Mary McAllister's account of the Battle

Mary McAllister was a citizen of Gettysburg who later in life gave her account of her experiences during the Battle of Gettysburg.  Mary was a store owner in town, and in 1863 was unmarried at 41 years of age.  She and her sister get caught up in the chaos of the battle in town, trying to care for the wounded and dying in the town.  Excerpted here is her recollections of the second day's battle.

July 2

A surgeon came over the next morning and he said, “We regret terribly about our Chaplain.  He was one of the best men.”  They had carried him into the yard and buried him.  His name was Rev. Horatio S. Howell (90th Pa. Inf.).  Well, we went through that first night as best we could.  

Next day, the second day of the battle, we went to work-for the rebels, too.  Martha cooked and did what she could and I undertook to bake bread.  I went on the street and the wounded begged so hard for bread and butter that I started to go to Scott’s, down the street, to try to find milk or butter.  Next, then, the wounded officers upstairs were making me go for some liquor some place and I went to Dr. Horner. He said, “Go to Alex Buehler’s drug store.”  So I went.  Alex said he would give me fifty cents worth in their canteen and he filled it.  Then there came a shell into their house and knocked a hole in the side of the front door, through the wall.  “Well!” he said, “you will be killed if you stay.”  As I went out, he said, “Don’t let them see it!”  

I think Col. Thompson (LtCol James McLean Thomson, 107th Pa.) was upstairs and two others.  One, a Capt. Gish (Capt. Jacob V. Gish, Co. B, 107 Pa.), was shot through the leg.  But they took the whiskey and divided it and you can tell it brought song.  So I never went for any more.  

The wounded ones downstairs were the ones I was most interested in.  All this time one poor man suffered awful.  He was struck with a bullet and it came around.  You could see it in his back.  I went into Mrs. Belle King’s where there was a good many surgeons and I begged them to come over and look at this man.  I said, “You can take the bullet out for you can see it.”  But they would not come and I threatened to report them and one of them sassed me a little.  Then I got Dr. Robert Horner (civilian physician of Gettysburg).  We had no light.  The gas was out and we had no lamps.  So Martha thought of twisting paper and dipping it in lard.  I held the lighted paper while the doctor took the bullet out. It was all ragged and the doctor gave it to the man and said, “There, take that and put it in your knapsack for a keep-sake.”  The man said, “I feel better already!”  I put wet cloths on the wound.  

In my store I then traded in meats and bacon from the country people.  In a corner of the basement I threw some pieces of bacon on the floor and piled some old sacks over them.  The rebels had full sway through here, but the rebels were actually good to us.  They went to Boyer’s store at the corner and got cod fish and wanted us to cook them and Martha did.  Then other rebels came and went down to the basement.  This was after they had taken the wounded men out of the basement to the church.  They did that at night.  Well, I had barrels of molasses in the basement – a whole lot of it. The rebels drew out that molasses in crocks and carried it out.  (Note:  Miss Mary told me the “crocks” were new chambers which they had taken from the shelves of her store, but she thought I ought to write “crocks”).  At last I went down with a bucket and I said, “You must give me some of that molasses.”  Well, they said they needed it worse, but they took my bucket and drew it full, though they objected.  Mrs. King would sass them like everything, and she said, “Well, I see you are not very particular about what kind of molasses jars you use.”  “If you were as hungry as we are,” they said, “you would not care.”  I had just got in another barrel of molasses the week before and it was still at the warehouse.  They stole all my tea but I had some hid and I had some coffee.  About all I lived on was strong tea and crackers.  

Five surgeons stayed with us.  They told Martha she would have to cook for them.  So every now and then I would get this side meat from the basement and we baked cake with some shortening, baked it on a griddle on top of the stove.  As fast as I got it baked, they ate it up.  On the evening of the second day’s battle a rebel came and said he was going to guard us.  Then he got another one (Confederate soldier) and he got very sassy.  I ordered him out but he said he was not going to go, and he was ugly (in his speech).  He would taunt the wounded Union men.  I went out on the street and halted an officer.  He jumped off his horse.  I said, “There are two of your men upstairs and I want you to take them out.”  “Hi!” he says, “you got some Yanks up here, treating them fine, too.”  He did not deign to talk to those rebels, but asked what they wanted.  “Well,” one said, “she ordered us out and she got a little lippy.”  The rebel officer said, “I wish every one of them were out, but at the same time you get out.”  “Now,” he says to me, “you get me something to eat.  I have not had anything for a few days.”  So I took him back and there were these surgeons sitting around the table and all we had was bacon and bread and molasses.  He only ate a little bread and meat, then he called for a clean plate and took a piece of pie with a great flourish.  When he was done, he never said a word, but went out.  They (the surgeons) would have liked to know who he was, but did not ask him.