Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Letter from 17 year old Jennie McCleary, a witness to the Battle of Gettysburg

Letter published in Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 02, 1938.  Reportedly Jennie was 17 years old at the time of the battle.  She is writing to her sister Julia, who lives back home in Kittanning (Armstrong County) with the rest of Jennie's family.

July, 22, 1863

My Dear Julia: 

Agnes wrote day before yesterday and I suppose has told you nearly everything concerning the battle. Perhaps I can tell you some things she may have forgotten or did not hear of. But indeed I scarcely know how to begin, so many things have happened and in so short a time that I have gotten things confused. It seems like more of a dream than reality. I wonder sometimes how we passed through it all with as little fear as we felt and so small an amount of damage done to our home, which was indeed nothing to speak of, only the tearing down of our fences. That was done by the rebels on the second day of the battle. They made a road all the way through town so that, as they said, it would be a way of retreat if the enemy conquered. 

But I had better begin with the first day of the battle and tell you all I can of it. On Tuesday, which was the day before the battle, we were all down at Huber's corner looking at some of our men who were passing through town on their way the mountain to attack the rebels there. There were 5,000 of Beauforts Cavalry with 20,000 infantry following. They, however, did not get there that day. The cavalry were ordered back to town before they got to the Mountain, as it was supposed the rebel force there was to great for them to attack. They encamped there that night. 

The next day we heard the rebels were just out of town. we did not know how many there were, nor how many of our own men were here either. About 9 o'clock every person was ordered to leave the street as it was supposed there would be a fight out at the ridge. We never expected a battle, thought it would only be an artillery duel or something of that kind. kate and I went on the roof of the house watching it. We could not see the rebels and only part of our men. We saw shells fly in the air and then burst. We did not stay on the roof long; found the contest was going to be of a more serious nature than we at first supposed. 

We had been downstairs but a few minutes later when we saw an officer dash up the street and order ambulances to carry the wounded from the fields. Next came a soldier wounded in the arm and then an officer on horseback. He wore no hat, his head was tied up blood streaming down his neck. I then went over to Weaver's to help them roll bandages. We had not rolled many before we saw the street filled with wounded men. Men wounded in arms, limbs, head and breast. Oh, it was sickening to see them and hear their groans. Weaver's house was soon filled. I never thought I could do anything about a wounded man but I find I have a little more nerve than I thought I had. I could look at the wounds, bathe them, bind them up without feeling least bit shock of nervous. The tears came only once and that was when the first soldier came in the house. He had walked from the field and was almost exhausted. He threw himself in the chair and said, "Oh girls, I have as good a home as you. If I were only there!" He fainted directly afterward. That was the only time I cried. 

At first we thought our men would be victorious, as they had brought quite a number of rebel prisoners into town, but it was not long after we found out different. General Reynolds who had the plan of attack, was killed shortly after the battle commenced. He attacked them rather recklessly, too, I think. his command was but a small one and they were worn out with hard marching and then he was not aware that the rebel force was so large. After he was killed, General Doubleday took command but things went wrong with our soldier all day. It was about 12 o'clock when we were told to go to the cellar, the rebels were entering the town. If ever I wished myself at home I did then. There I was, the only one of our family shut down in a damp, dark hole with crying children and a poor young soldier who had received three wounds and had not yet been attended to and though he seemed to try his best could not keep from groaning. I cannot tell what my feelings were then. To be in that place, to know the rebels were in town, to hear shells bursting and expecting every minute they would fall on the house, was indeed horrible. If I had been with the rest I would not know were or what was happening to them. We were down in the cellar about two hours. 

While there a good many of our soldiers were killed in our street. I saw two dead ones lying in McCurdy's alley when I crossed the street to go home. Four of our men were carrying a wounded soldier down the street when a ball came along and took the legs off the two front men. There were some rebels killed too. kate and i were down at the end of our street the Sunday after the battle, when we saw the dead rebels that had been lying there since Wednesday. 

When I went home I found two wounded men at our house. Col Leonard shot in the arm and Dr parker slightly in the head. They are both from Massachusetts. Dr parker was wounded whilst coming down the college church steps. One of the rebel sharpshooters fired on him from Boyer's corner, the same ball that struck him killed the chaplin that regiment. All that day our house was full of soldiers, all wanting something to eat. That day we gave then everything we had and what do you think we had to eat the rest of the week? Nothing but bread and molasses and coffee without milk. I must say we felt rather poverty stricken. If we had been by ourselves it would have been nothing but to seat from 12 to 15 men to a table like that , with bread and molasses breakfast, molasses and bread for dinner and the same for supper was anything but agreeable, but they were very well satisfied to get even that. 

The next day of the battle, which was Thursday, we heard nothing but a continual roar of cannons and musketry. The firing began about 4 in the morning and lasted until dark. Our forces were on the cemetery hill and Round Top. We did not mind the shells so much, we were getting used to them. The greatest danger was from the sharpshooters. Early that morning some of the men we had overnight , I think that the chaplin, a couple of surgeons and the colonel were standing on the porch when a ball came and struck just above their heads. Indeed i had to laugh to see them jump, although it was not a laughing matter, for if it had been a little lower it would have struck one of them.They did not appear to mind it at all, laughed at themselves for jumping. A good many shells were thrown into town that day and came from our own men. The rebels had possession of the town and as there were a great many collected in the diamond they fired on them. We were not in much danger that day, all we had to do was keep in the house and run to the cellar when the shells became thickest. We retired about 11 o'clock. 

All were in bed but myself when there was a rap at the door. Papa got up and went to the door. There were two rebels there. They said that General Trimble and three of his aids wanted supper and lodging. Well, all we could do was get what we had for supper and made a place for them to sleep, although our house was full already. After we had fixed everything his aides came to say the General had concluded to stay where he was. They however took supper and went away. After they were gone Kate and I were standing in the kitchen when there was a knock at the door. kate went and there were two of our soldiers wanting bread. They had not gone when someone knocked at the other door. I opened it and three rebels asked for bread and permission to sleep in the kitchen. I gave then bread but of course did not let them stay all night. 

That night the rebels tried to break in the house but Captain Palmer, the one who is still here, called to them and told them it was a hospital and they went away. I must tell you about General Trimble. He was wounded in Friday's battle, had his leg amputated and was at the college hospital and very anxious to be brought to tow.. mcCurdy had him brought to their house. He had been there nearly two weeks when yesterday he was ordered taken to the hospital . He was very angry about it.When the surgeon went into his room he said: "General I have orders to take you to Seminary Hospital" Well the General refused to go and said it was certain death to go there. "Well, but General, my orders are to take you there" "Well", said the General, "give ne a week to stay yet" "General , I am ordered to take you now." "Well give me four days" "General you have been in the army long enough to kow orders must be obeyed". "Well give me until tomorrow then" "General the ambulance is at the door and you must go now" "Well is General Paul to be moved?" " General Paul is very comfortable where he is." The General was terribly angry and said it would not always be this way and they would retaliate. 

The third day of the battle was comparatively quiet, until about three in the afternoon and the cannonading began and such cannonading no one ever heard. Nothing can be compared to it. No one who has heard it can form any idea of how terrible it is. All felt that the day must decide who should conquer. The firing was kept up until sometime after dark, it never for a moment ceased. During the night we knew we were victorious, we saw the rebel train moving off. In the morning not a rebel was to be seen. How happy everyone felt. None but smiling faces were to be seen then. It was indeed a joyous fourth for us. " I wish you could be here now, "tis not the same quiet old place it was when you were here. The streets are always full of strangers, soldiers , ambulances and government wagons. 

Frank was here a week before last from Thursday until Monday. Richard is here now, is the leader of a band that belongs to one of the regiments here. We got Mr Earnest's note late evening. papa had gone to bed, was not all that well. I opened the letter, just expected what was in it. I knew he was drafted, that his congregation thought too much of him to let him go. Will he be here now? Oh I have so much to tell you but my sheet is full and I am so tired writing. I know you will excuse bad writing, have been writing so long my hand trembles. You ought to see Uncle Samuels house. It is just riddled with shot.

Give my love to every person. kiss dear little alice and paul for me. Write soon, Your sister, Jennie. - 

From In the Swan's Shadow