Remembering Gettysburg

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

To write secretly on a pocket Handkerchief.- Dissolve alum in pure water, and write upon a fine white handkerchief, which, when dry will not be seen at all.  But when you would have the letters visible, dip the handkerchief in pure water, and it will be of a wet appearance all over, except where it was written on with the alum water.

As far as I know, my great -grandfather never wrote a secret letter to anyone during the Civil War, but he did record his thoughts in his small pocket  journal. For all five years he was involved.

One of the most dramatic was at the Battle of Gettysburg, an important turning point in the struggle and most revered.  But you’d never know it from his comments. They seem so calm. Here is what he writes:

Wednesday July 1stGettysburg-Dead-Soldiers-th

Had orders to move at 8 AM. Proceeded on the  road to Gettysburgh–soon heard cannonading in that direction and on arrival found a part of our corps engaging the enemy, about 20,000 strong.  A severe engagement followed. Our forces were driven back by superior numbers.

Thursday  July 2nd

The Rebs hold the town with many prisoners and all the wounded. Have had a busy day in the hospital, that of the 2nd Dev. containing about 300 wounded. Am now in the Rebels clutches as they surround the town.

Friday, July 3rd

Passed over the battle ground of the 1st to look after the wounded. Found a great number.  Spent the day among the  Rebels. This has been the hardest day’s fighting.  The cannonading was terrific.

Saturday, July 4thimages

This morning the citizens and prisoners of Gettysburgh were greeted with the welcome news that the Rebels had left town.  Soon our skirmishers made their appearance and all seemed to feel greatly relieved. There has been no fighting today.  Went to the hospital on the Baltimore pike.

Sunday, July 5th

Spent the day at Div.  Hospital.  News this morning that the Rebs have retreated. Many wounded Rebs came in today.  Were ordered to follow the corps this evening. Rode till after dark then went to Mr Fahnertoes and spent the night.

I’ve read these entries since a girl.  We were never sure what “Am now in the Rebels clutches as they surround the townmeant.

A couple of years ago, I contacted the historian at Gettysburg National Park and he wrote:

” Your great grandfather was indeed an assistant surgeon with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and was, for a few days, a prisoner under Confederate guard during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The 11th Pennsylvania, part of the Union First Corps, was involved in the fighting northwest of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Once the battle had commenced, temporary field hospitals were established in Gettysburg, the first being in churches and other public buildings. According to our records, most of the surgeons from the Second Division of the First Corps set up in Christ Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street, where they treated wounded soldiers throughout the night and during the ensuing days of battle. It was on the steps of this church that Chaplain Horatio Howell of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry was shot and killed by Confederate soldiers, a scene witnessed by your great grandfather. The town fell to control of the Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia” on July 1 when the Union forces retreated through Gettysburg and established a strong position on Cemetery Hill south of town. The southern forces withdrew from Gettysburg overnight of July 4-5 after which the many hospitals there fell back into control of the Union Army.”

History is so close sometimes.

So I’ll remember WF Osborn, a civilian who went to school in Chicago to become a doctor and eventually became a full surgeon in the Union Army. A native of Fair Chance, Pennsylvania, how did he feel about the battle and his capture 146 years ago today?

The letters are still around, but 50 years later he wrote from Gettysburg:

“July 3, 1913—My Dear Wife: Barring our honeymoon trip I am having the time of my life. Fifty years ago, three hours earlier, I was engaged in battle on Seminary Ridge. Now both sides are in smiles. Three cheers for a united country.

This July 4th, three cheers.

History in The Making


jfk-images-3Something happened on the way to writing this blog. I guess it was history with the historic election of Barrack Obama. It was easy to get sidetracked.

As a young person I had seen history unfold with the assassination of John Kennedy. I was in high school near Annapolis, Maryland at the time and went down to the Capitol with several of my friends to catch the caisson coming by. I saw Jackie Kennedy and the children go up the stairs. Heard the heavy beating of the drums. Felt the deep grief with the thousands gathered there, some folks up in the trees. And I heard the shooting of Oswald over the radio as we stood twelve deep along the curb.

“Good riddance,” someone said. The only breaking of silence on that solemn day.

I saw history with the Vietnam Protest March on Washington and later, the Poverty March with mules come all the way from the Deep South. Heard Coretta King speak. A tumultuous time.

Now a new president.

History is that way.

We live it every day.

That’s why I love to research and write about it. I love the history of the Pacific Northwest from 1800 to the 1930s.  The Civil War.  World War II. The Depression.  Things really haven’t changed.  But every once and a while, an ideal comes full circle and a promise is fulfilled.