Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bringing the Citizens of Gettysburg to Life

I can honestly say that I can't remember being so pleased about anything outside of my own family than I am right now.
The Civil War unit I belong to - the 21st Michigan - is the host unit of an event that takes place in Port Sanilac, Michigan. Port Sanilac is a small tourist town located on the eastern edge of the thumb along the Lake Huron coastline (hold your right hand up with your palm facing you and point about halfway up your thumb; that's your own personal map of Michigan). It's a beautiful area in its own right, but there is a tiny, tucked-out-of-the-way historical village just on the outskirts of town which holds around 17 historic structures, including a church, schoolhouse, general store, house, train depot, and more historic old buildings that surround what could be a town green.
(This photo taken by Larissa Fleishman)

It's a perfect spot for a reenactment!
And we've been reenacting there for, I believe, five years and each year has been better than the last. This year, however, we took a giant leap forward, for we did something I've yet to see around here: we became the town of Gettysburg, and many of the participants at this reenactment became actual townsfolk from that most famous of battle towns.
Let's take a step back to late last year (2012) when the head of the museum village and I got together to plan for this year's (2013) event. See, the thing about Port Sanilac is that we control it; we come up with what we want and how we want to do it. And by "we" I mean the reenactors and not a committee. But for this year I told man in charge that I wanted to do a Gettysburg scenario. I've been reading about the plans for the big 150th anniversary of this major battle, and I wanted to bring a teeny-tiny bit of it here for those who were not able to attend the national event. The thing is, I wanted to do something different from any other reenactment. I wanted to bring the town and citizens of 1863 Gettysburg back to life.
I sent notice out to most of the local units and independents citing my plans.
And many responded.
So, as we pulled together in Port Sanilac and proceeded to show (in a very condensed version) how the Confederates came into town and took control while the citizens showed fear and concern.
That was followed by the Union army entering and driving the Confederates to the outskirts, and then our citizens were elated and showed their appreciation in seeing the men in blue come to their rescue.
Because of the few amount of military that attended, we really couldn't have a full-fledged battle, but we did show some of the skirmishes that took place in the town itself (very well depicted in first-hand accounts in the book "Firestorm at Gettysburg").
The soldiers here did a fantastic job in a realistic depiction of the town skirmishes.

Of course, I was there with camera in hand, snapping away as best I could to try to cover the whole scenario, and, well, I hope you like them. Descriptions of the actions taking place (most from original first-hand accounts) are included with each photo:

SARAH BARRETT KING: “June 26 – My father was sitting by a window, busily engaged reading a daily paper, little dreaming the Rebels were so close by. I said to him, ‘Here they come.’ He asked, ‘Who?’ I answered, ‘The Rebs, don’t you hear the yell?’ And he looked out and saw them in pursuit of Captain Bell. He said, ‘Bring the children in and close the door.’ I said, ‘No, I want them to see all they can of this’ and remained on the porch of the house.”

TILLIE PIERCE: “June 26 – What a horrible sight! There they were, human beings, clad almost in rags, covered with dust, riding wildly, pell-mell down the hill toward our home, shouting, yelling most unearthly, cursing, brandishing their revolvers, and firing right and left.”



ANNA GARLACH’s (speaking of her Grandmother: “Some of the (Rebels) asked her what she thought the Rebels were like (before they came to town), whether they had horns. And she replied she was frightened at first, but found them like our own men.”

SARAH BROADHEAD: “June 26 – We all stood in the doors while the cavalry passed, but when the infantry came, we closed them, for fear they would run into our houses and carry off everything we had, and went upstairs and looked out of the windows. They went along very orderly, only asking every now and then how many Yankee soldiers we had in town. I answered one that I did not know. He replied, ‘You are a funny woman; if I lived in town I would know that much.’”

"Soon the town was filled with infantry, and then the searching and ransacking began in earnest.
They wanted horses, clothing, anything and almost everything they could conveniently carry away."

"Nor were they particular about asking. Whatever suited them they took. They did, however, make a formal demand of the town authorities, for a large supply of flour, meat, groceries, shoes, hats and (doubtless, not least in their estimations), ten barrels of whisky; or, in lieu of this five thousand dollars."

The Union were given a heroes welcome from the townsfolk upon entering the town as they drove the Confederates back.

SALLIE MEYERS: “June 30 - How they dashed by!  Along the street we stood – all the girls and women of the town."
 
TILLIE PIERCE: “June 30 - A crowd of us girls were standing on the corner of Washington and High Streets as the soldiers passed by. Desiring to encourage them who, as we were told, would before long be in battle, my sister started to sing the old war song ‘Our Union Forever.’ As some of us did not know the whole of the piece we kept repeating the chorus.”

SALLIE MEYERS: "We had prepared food in advance, and had baskets and trays in our hands. They came by, snatching in their hasty passage whatever they could lay their hands on – sandwiches, pieces of pie, cold meat, bread, cakes, cups of coffee, and bottles of water."

SALLIE MEYERS: “The eyes of the soldiers blazed, they smiled and some joined in the song. It was the last song many of those brave men ever heard, and the bite we gave was the last many ever ate.”

MICHAEL JACOBS June 30: I could see men walking, attending to camp chores - all the activities of an army held in leash. The tide of war was, for the hour, halted under my very eyes."

HARRIET BAYLY: “June 30 – The whole air seemed charge with conditions which go before a storm; everybody anxious, neighbor asking neighbor what was going to happen and what will we do if the worst should happen?”

SARAH BROADHEAD June 30: "It begins to look as though we will see a battle soon, and we are in great fear."

SARAH BARRETT KING July 1: "I heard two (infantrymen) talking that morning and one of them said, 'Well, the ball is about to open.'"

SARAH BROADHEAD: “July 1 – I got up early this morning to get my baking done before any fighting would begin. I had just put my bread in the pans when the cannons began to fire, and true enough the battle had begun in earnest, about two miles out on the Chambersburg Pike. What to do or where to go, I did not know. People were running here and there, screaming that the town would be shelled.”

DANIEL SKELLY July 1: "Shot and shell began to flew over our heads, one of them passing dangerously near the tree I was on. Then there was a general stampede toward town and I quickly slipped down from my perch and joined the retreat to the rear of our gallant men and boys.

LYDIA CATHERINE ZIEGLER, July 1: "I slipped down from our house to the edge of the woods back of the Seminary and was enjoying the awe-inspiring scene when a bullet blew so near that I heard its whizzing sound. I ran back to the house and the family went down to the cellar, none too soon. Two shells struck the house."
 
CHARLES MCCURDY, July 1: "There was heavy cannonading and the musket fire was continuous, making a rattling sound like heavy wagons being rapidly  driven along a stormy pike, or like hail falling on a tin roof."
 
ANNIE YOUNG, July 1: "You could see the house steps covered with ladies as well as gentlemen watching the battle. It was not until I saw the fences on our own premises torn down and cannon placed all around us, one battery just in our back yard, that I began to realize our danger. Then we shut up the house and went into the cellar, taking with us provisions to give our men, and rags for the wounded."

SARAH BROADHEAD, July 1: "As we past up the street we saw wounded men coming in from the field. Though our enemies, I pitied them. For a time we forgot our fears and our danger. All was bustle and confusion."
 
DANIEL SKELLY, July 1: "In company with a young lady, Miss Julia Culp, a neighbor, I went to the courthouse with buckets of water and passed from one to another of the wounded, relieving them as best we could under the circumstances. Some of them were so frightfully wounded that a lady could not go near them. These I gave water to while she cared for those who were not so severely wounded."
 
NELLIE AUGINBAUGH: "We passed many killed in the act of getting over a fence. A few had no heads. Sometimes a head would be sticking between the rails of a fence with no body."

TILLIE PIERCE: "The approaches were crowded with wounded, dying, and dead. The air was filled with moanings and groanings. As we passed on toward the house, we were compelled to pick our steps in order that we might not tread on the prostrate bodies."


MISS JANE SMITH: "What pen can tell or thought conceive the awfulness of the strife that has ranged from between three and four o'clock this afternoon until midnight tonight! The roar of cannon and rattle of musketry beggar all description. Hundreds of souls have been ushered into the great 'I Am.' I pray for them."

TILLIE PIERCE: "As soon as possible, we endeavored to make ourselves useful by rendering assistance in this heartbreaking state of affairs."

TILLIE PIERCE: "Some of the soldiers fairly begged to be taken next, so great was their suffering, and so anxious were they to obtain relief."

TILLIE PIERCE: "I saw a surgeon hastily put a cattlehorn over the mouth of the wounded. At first I did not understand the meaning of this, but upon inquiry, soon learned that it was their mode of administering chloroform in order to produce unconsciousness..."



"...but the effect in some instances was not produced, for I saw the wounded throwing themselves wildly about, and shrieking with pain while the operation was going on."


SARAH BROADHEAD: "Shall we - for I was not alone - endure the spectacle of hundreds of men wounded in every conceivable manner, some in the head and limbs, here an arm off and there a leg, and just inside a poor fellow with both legs shot away!"

SARAH BROADHEAD: "What can we do? is the only question, and the little we brought was distributed. It is heart-sickening to think of those noble fellows sacrificing everything for us, and saving us, and it is out of our power to render any assistance of consequence. I turned away and cried."

SARAH BROADHEAD: "I am becoming more used to sights of misery. We do not know until tried what we are capable of."

DANIEL SKELLY: "Emergency hospitals were set up on the field. Surgeons were busily at work with the restricted equipment at their command, performing the necessary amputations among the severely wounded men."

SARAH BROADHEAD: "Who is victorious, or with whom the advantage rests, no one here can tell. It would ease the horror if we knew our arms were successful."


Death of Ginnie Wade – July 3, 2013
At about 7 A.M. on the morning of July 3, the Confederate sharpshooters began firing at the north windows of the house. The prep work to bake biscuits was begun at 8 A.M. At about 8:30 A.M. while Ginnie stood in the kitchen kneading dough, a Confederate musket ball smashed through a door on the north side of the house, pierced another into the kitchen, and struck Gin in the back beneath her left shoulder blade embedding itself in her corset, killing her instantly. The cries of her sister and mother attracted Federal soldiers who carried her body to the cellar. Later she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in a coffin some Confederate soldiers had fashioned for an officer. In the early afternoon of July 4, Jennie's mother baked 15 loaves of bread from the dough which Ginnie had kneaded.


Ginnie Wade was the only civilian casualty of the battle of Gettysburg. Nor was the tragedy complete, for unbeknownst to Gin, her fiance` Corp. Skelly had been wounded and taken prisoner at Winchester on May 13. Transferred to Virginia, he died in a hospital on July 12. News that he had died in Confederate hands came several days after the Southern Army had withdrawn from Gettysburg.


Elizabeth Thorn was the wife of Peter Thorn, the caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery. When the Civil War began, Peter joined the United States army. In the three weeks following the battle of Gettysburg, Elizabeth dug 105 graves. She did not receive any more compensation than the $13 a month she regularly received as caretaker of the cemetery, and she was six months pregnant.
 ~ ~ ~

 Many reenactments have period fashion shows, and Port Sanilac is no different. This year, however, we put together something a little bit different. We decided to have a "Citizens of Gettysburg" fashion show. It's this presentation that I am probably most proud, for the ladies really studied their characters and presented themselves in a 1st person manner as they spoke to the audience.

Before the Citizens of Gettysburg fashion show began, I explained to the audience that what they were about to hear were true stories of actual people that lived in Gettysburg during the battle back in July of 1863. The young lady on the right of this photo was our 'hostess with the most-ess' - Sue Lamkin.

The Citizens of Gettysburg fashion show began with Mrs. Sandy Root, clothing historian. She explained to the audience about the clothing styles that the ladies of Gettysburg wore...

...including the underpinnings. The people in the audience were fascinated by nearly every aspect of what women wore during the early 1860's. Mrs. Root called up a little girl to be her helper.

Because death was so prominent during the war, mourning fashions were also discussed. Here, Mrs. Kerstens shows later mourning wear.

Getting into meeting our Gettysburg citizens, we have Mrs. Mary Martin (Vickie St. John), whose home on Middle Street was where some of the young ladies of town would go to learn the milliner's trade. It was Mrs. martin's home that Nellie Auginbaugh was at when the Rebels first entered town.


Let's let Nellie Auginbaugh (Kristen Mrozek) tell us of her Gettysburg experience in her own words (while learning a milliner’s trade at the home of Mrs. Martin): “June 26 – Mr. Martin excitedly rushed into the work room, exclaiming that the Rebels were coming. ‘They’re at Cashtown now. Send the girls home,’ he told his wife. Several of the girls stopped immediately and left. I was working on a bonnet that Mrs. Martin, who was very particular, had made me rip twice that day and start over again, and I said ‘I’m not going home until I finish this bonnet, not if the whole Rebel army comes to town.’
Once more, Mr. Martin came running in and, hurrying over to me, he grabbed my work from my hands and exclaimed, ‘Go home, girl! The Rebs are at the edge of town.’
I did."

Joining Nellie here is her mother (Carolyn Paladino) to help fill in the story: "As I reached the center square, the Rebels were riding into it from the other direction with yells and cheers. I was frightened and ran all the way home. I had to cross the square and go down Carlisle Street. When I reached the house, Mother was standing in the doorway, ringing her hands.
‘My God, Child! Where have you been?’
Never in my life had I ever heard my Mother use the Lord’s name in that way, and I always told her that she frightened me more than the coming of the Rebels because I thought she had suddenly lost her mind.”

Now we have Tillie Pierce (Samantha Mansfield), who, hoping to find a safe haven, instead found herself right in the thick of things. She was 15 years old when the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in her hometown in July 1863. She watched the Union army march through town. At the urging of her family, Tillie, along with neighbor, Hettie Shriver, fled the village and went to the "safe" farmhouse of Jacob Weikert, located at the base of Little Round Top. During the battle, Tillie provided water and food to the soldiers and assisted the surgeons and nurses caring for the wounded. On July 7, 1863, she journeyed back to her home and on the way was sickened by the sights, sounds and smells of war. She stated, "The whole landscape had been changed and I felt as though we were in a strange and blighted land." She continued to help care for the wounded after the battle. 25 years after the battle, she wrote an account of her experiences during the battle. "At Gettysburg, Or What A Girl Saw And Heard Of The Battle" is still in print today.

And now we have Ginnie Wade (Melody Cary) and her mother (Candy Cary) explaining of the tragedy that took place on the morning of July 3, 1863. On the first day of the battle, Ginnie, her mother, and two younger brothers left their home in central Gettysburg and traveled to the house of her sister, Georgia Anna Wade McClellan at 528 Baltimore Street to assist her and her newborn child. More than 150 bullets hit the McClellan house during the fighting. (see above to hear of how Ginnie died).
 
Here is Mrs. Shriver (Jackie Schubert), whose husband, before the battle, had planned to turn their home into a saloon with ten-pin bowling. It was in the garret of this home where it is suspected that a Confederate sharp-shooter may have shot and killed Ginnie Wade, though this has not been proven. But it is the story being told and, thus, until proven otherwise, I will include it here and ask the reader to do further research if they have an interest.



Our final Citizens of Gettysburg are Elizabeth Thorn (Larissa Fleishman) and her mother, Mrs Masser (Violet Kyryluk).
At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg Elizabeth was caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery, the job normally performed by her husband Peter who was serving with the 138th Pennsylvania which was at Harpers Ferry and Washington, D.C. during the Gettysburg Campaign. She had her parents and her three sons all living with her in the cemetery gatehouse.
After the battle Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant, dug 105 graves. She did not receive any more compensation than the $13 a month she regularly received as caretaker of the cemetery,
As Elizabeth herself stated: “So you may know it was only excitement that helped me to do all the work, with all that stench. And in three months after I had a dear little baby. But it was not very strong, and from that time on my health failed and for years I was a very sickly woman. In my older days my health has been better, but those hard days have always told on my life.”

And here we have the wonderful living historians who brought the lives and fashions of the Citizens of Gettysburg back to life for the people of Port Sanilac, Michigan. They did such a tremendous job in the knowledge of the ladies and fashions they represented. I cannot thank them enough for all of their hard work.

Finally, since this is the only time we plan to present a Gettysburg scenario in this manner for the foreseeable future, we felt it would only be proper to have our 16th President give not only his most famous of speeches, but to tell how he came about to write it.


Mr. Lincoln (Fred Priebe) had the audience in the palm of his hand. It sent chills to everyone who watched and listened.



And there you have it.
It was a lot of fun and as historically accurate as we could keep it, though there were some liberties taken for varying reasons. All 'n' all, however, I am very pleased and proud of everyone who participated, from our Gettysburg citizens to the moaning, groaning wounded men of battle.
I hope you enjoyed the photos and the stories that went along with them.
See you next time!

Thanks to the various members of the following units for joining us in the 21st Michigan in helping to make the past come to life:
17th Michigan
16th Michigan
24th Michigan
7th Michigan
2nd Michigan Artillery
8th Arkansas
5th Texas
and a few independents.














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