Friday, December 13, 2019

Sarah Barrett King's account of July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg

Battle of Gettysburg 

Sarah Barrett King lived on the east end of Gettysburg at the time of the battle.  On the first day's fighting she and her family are forced to abandon their home and seek shelter with their neighbors, as their house becomes occupied by Confederates.  She writes of her stay with her neighbors and some of the odd experiences she had while away from the house.  

Friday, July 3, 1863. 

Friday we were surprised to see Rebs planting a battery in front of the house but some distance away.  I called Mrs. Rhinehart's attention to it and she went out.  A Union shell dropped in their midst and the battery was removed.  They told Mrs. Rhinehart that they thought the house was unoccupied and that we had better leave.  Minnie balls were falling around and against the house and they said the Union men would think sharpshooters were in it and direct their guns to the house. 

We were all in the cellar, Mrs. Bender and her children and a young girl, Mrs. Warner, a sister of Mr. John Bender, my mother myself and five children with Mrs. Rhinehart and her family.  She herself was baking.  She came in the door leading to the cellar and called to us women, saying "there were Rebs here and they said we had better leave or we would be killed."  "What are you going to do about it?"  I said,  "what are you going to do?"  She replied, "I am going to stay.  I told them I would be killed if I left and I might as well be killed in the house."  I said, "I will stay."

We stayed in the cellar while the skirmish fight was taking place.  Whenever there was a lull we went up to look around.  The lot west of her house had many riderless horses, wounded and in agony.

The Rebs brought a wounded Michigan soldier by the name of Smith and laid him down on the porch, saying   he was a wounded Yank.  Mother was a good person at such work and without assistance we had him in comfortable shape very soon, gave him some bread out of our basket which he enjoyed and was grateful for.    Mr. Smith was taken to Miller's where there was other wounded.  Afterwards he went to Aunt Polly Culp, living across the street from us and he was cared for by her until he returned to his home in Michigan. 

In the morning of the cavalry fight a very fine-looking cavalryman dressed in light homespun butternut uniform stopped and asked which direction the soldiers had taken.  We told him.  In a few hours his body was brought to [our] house the blood flowing and he was laid on the porch.    He was an officer by the name of Sweet from Virginia.  We were told afterwards that he was carried away quickly but we never knew where. 

Thursday just before dinner a Louisiana Tiger rode to the front of the lawn tying his horse to a fine apple tree.  We saw him coming dressed in brown corduroy suit and fully equipped, looking finely.  I had to laugh myself at his style.  Mrs. Rhinehart received him as if he were an old neighbor.  He ordered his horse fed and a good dinner, saying "He had been to every house since leaving Gettysburg and couldn't get anything to eat and General Lee had said they should ask for food and if they would not give it he should demand it and that was what he was going to do.  He wanted a good dinner.  She asked him, "What do you call a good dinner?"  He replied, "chicken."  "Oh my," she said, "chicken.  Why you have chased all the chickens off."  "Go out and shoot it if you can find one" and then "Is there nothing else you think good." "Yes," he said "some nice ham".  "Well I have that", she said.  The soldier said "I will lie down and sleep until it is ready".  "All right," said Mrs. Rhinehart, opening the door leading to a bed room.  "I will go upstairs." he said.  It was not many minutes before she called him.  He was ready to come down.  Mrs. Rhinehart said, "he didn't want to sleep, he was hunting, I expect he has found the boy's clothes, but he didn't want to sleep." 

Mrs. R. was cooking summer turnips for our dinner.  They were not done in time for the Tiger.  She asked me to sit down with the guest.  He struggled some time with the ham and finally gave up the undertaking, substituting coffee.  The bread, he told her, was not fit to eat, and he added, "Madam, I can go to any cabin in Virginia, poor or desolate as it is, from Winchester to Richmond, with not a fence standing, and get a better than this."  She replied, "Oh, you have all that you came for," and he left.  We thought he wanted to find money.  He either did not find the clothing or didn't want it.  Nothing was missed but a thorough search had been made.  At this time Mrs. Rhinehart had coops of chickens ready for the market man. He didn't come so she hid them.  She had none for Rebs. 

Before the Tiger left as we had no news we asked him how the battle was going.  He said, "Union men badly whipped, dead and wounded everywhere.  Every house a hospital.  I expressed a wish to be home and he offered to take some of my children on his horse but I thanked him.  I would not leave behind the others.  The Rhinehart girls never knew fear after that visit.  Later others came for some milk and they seemed to enjoy the visit.

Mrs. Rhinehart located the great cannon duel before Pickett's charge.  We thought it was thunder.  "No," she said.  "That is cannon near Round Top." 

The night after the skirmish fight or cavalry fight she succeeded in heating her oven and had her bread in baking.  We had all gathered in her dining room to talk over the terrible day, didn't think of eating.  I was sitting in the window that opened on the lawn.  I think it was 9 o'clock or near that time.  A soldier on horseback brushed by the window coming around the north side of the house.  Others followed until it seemed a regiment gathered there. 

Mrs. Rhinehart, with her little short pipe in her mouth, went forward.  They said, "Mother, can't you give us something to eat?"  "Well," she said, "I just put my bread in the oven.  You fellows kept fighting all day I couldn't get my bread baked."  They went to the oven and pulled loaf after loaf out, tearing them open.  The dough was not baked inside and fell to the floor.  They said, "can't you bake it?" She replied, "there is the stove, put it on and bake it."  They wanted butter and she said, "Why, you drove off my cows.  How could I have butter?  I have apple butter."  She gave them that.  They were fond of it and some of them wanted to take the apple jack to camp.    While they were feasting two men in gray uniforms with black stripes came to me and said; "Madam, we will sit on your stoop tonight and guard your house.  Of course we can't take care of the barn and garden," and added, "That is unless General Lee does not attempt to take Culp's Hill tonight."  We felt perfectly safe then. 

Not five minutes after there was a whisper in the room and one after the other stepped out quietly and quickly.  going away in a southerly direction.  One more mystery was added to the day. 

From In the Swan's Shadow