Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stories of the Tillie Pierce House of Gettysburg

The restored Tillie Pierce Home

Tillie Pierce at the time of the battle

I am dedicating this post to Tillie Pierce of Gettysburg, one of the unsung and fascinating citizen heroes of that town during the horrific battle that took place there on the first three days of July in 1863. And for weeks before the battle and months after...

First, I'd like to begin by presenting segments that she wrote years after the events took place, eventually released as her remembrances in book form entitled "At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle" under her married name Tillie Alleman.

Tillie Pierce was born in 1848 and, up until early adulthood, had lived all her life in the village of Gettysburg. Her father made his living as a butcher and the family lived above his shop in the heart of town. Tillie witnessed the entire battle at the age of 15 and published her observations twenty-six years after the event.
Tille attended Rebecca Eyster's Young Ladies Seminary, a finishing school near her home. She was in attendance at the school on June 26, 1863 when the cry, "The Rebels are coming!" was heard throughout the city streets.

"We were having our literary exercises on Friday afternoon, at our Seminary, when the cry reached our ears. Rushing to the door, and standing on the front portico we beheld in the direction of the Theological Seminary, a dark, dense mass, moving toward town. Our teacher, Mrs. Eyster, at once said:

'Children, run home as quickly as you can.'

"It did not require repeating. I am satisfied some of the girls did not reach their homes before the Rebels were in the streets.

"As for myself, I had scarcely reached the front door, when, on looking up the street, I saw some of the men on horseback. I scrambled in, slammed shut the door, and hastening to the sitting room, peeped out between the shutters.

"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.

"I was fully persuaded that the Rebels had actually come at last. What they would do with us was a fearful question to my young mind.

"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.

"But our merchants and bankers had too often heard of their coming, and had already shipped their wealth to places of safety. Thus it was, that a few days after, the citizens of York were compelled to make up our proportion of the Rebel requisition."

On July 1st, as the sounds of the battle increased and the fighting neared her home, Tillie joined a neighbor, Mrs. Shriver, as she and her two children fled to her father's (Jacob Weikert) house on the slope near Round Top. Tillie's parents remained in town.
It was quite a treacherous journey along Taneytown Road.

"At last we reached Mr. Weikert's and were gladly welcomed to their home.

The Weikert Home, at the foot of the Round Tops

"It was not long after our arrival, until Union artillery came hurrying by. It was indeed a thrilling sight. How the men impelled their horses! How the officers urged the men as they all flew past toward the sound of the battle! Now the road is getting all cut up; they take to the fields, and all is in anxious, eager hurry! Shouting, lashing the horses, cheering the men, they all rush madly on.

"Suddenly we behold an explosion; it is that of a caisson. We see a man thrown high in the air and come down in a wheat field close by. He is picked up and carried into the house. As they pass by I see his eyes are blown out and his whole person seems to be one black mass. The first words I hear him say are: 'Oh dear! I forgot to read my Bible to-day! What will my poor wife and children say'

"I saw the soldiers carry him up stairs; they laid him upon a bed and wrapped him in cotton. How I pitied that poor man! How terribly the scenes of war were being irresistibly portrayed before my vision."

During the battle's second day fighting shifts to the area around Little Round Top. Tillie remains in the Weikert home carrying water to passing Union troops while others bake bread for the soldiers. Towards noon she witnesses an incident at the front of the house:

"This forenoon another incident occurred which I shall ever remember. While the infantry were passing, I noticed a poor, worn-out soldier crawling along on his hands and knees. An officer yelled at him, with cursing, to get up and march. The poor fellow said he could not, whereupon the officer, raising his sword, struck him down three or four times. The officer passed on. Little caring what he had done. Some of his comrades at once picked up the prostrate form and carried the unfortunate man into the house. After several hours of hard work the sufferer was brought back to consciousness. He seemed quite a young man, and was suffering from sunstroke received on the forced march. As they were carrying him in, some of the men who had witnessed this act of brutality remarked:

'We will mark that officer for this.'

"It is a pretty well established fact that many a brutal officer fell in the battle, from being shot other than by the enemy."

July 3

Lee aims his attack at the center of the Union line. The ferocity of the battle forces Tillie and the others to flee to a farm house farther from the fighting. Late in the day, as the battle subsides, the family decides to return to the Weikert farm:

"Toward the close of the afternoon it was noticed that the roar of the battle was subsiding, and after all had become quiet we started back to the Weikert home. As we drove along in the cool of the evening, we noticed that everywhere confusion prevailed. Fences were thrown down near and far; knapsacks, blankets and many other articles, lay scattered here and there. The whole country seemed filled with desolation.

"Upon reaching the place I fairly shrank back aghast at the awful sight presented. 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.

"When we entered the house we found it also completely filled with the wounded. We hardly knew what to do or where to go. They, however, removed most of the wounded, and thus after a while made room for the family.

"As soon as possible, we endeavored to make ourselves useful by rendering assistance in this heartrending state of affairs. I remember Mrs. Weikert went through the house, and after searching awhile, brought all the muslin and linen she could spare. This we tore into bandages and gave them to the surgeons, to bind up the poor soldier's wounds.

"By this time, amputating benches had been placed about the house. I must have become inured to seeing the terrors of battle, else I could hardly have gazed upon the scenes now presented. I was looking out of the windows facing the front yard. Near the basement door, and directly underneath the window I was at, stood one of these benches. I saw them lifting the poor men upon it, then the surgeons sawing and cutting off arms and legs, then again probing and picking bullets from the flesh.

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

"I saw the surgeons hastily put a cattle horn over the mouths of the wounded ones, after they were placed upon the bench. At first I did not understand the meaning of this but upon inquiry, soon learned that that was their mode of administrating chloroform, in order to produce unconsciousness. But the effect in some instances were not produced; for I saw the wounded throwing themselves wildly about, and shrieking with pain while the operation was going on.

"To the south of the house, and just outside of the yard, I noticed a pile of limbs higher than the fence. It was a ghastly sight! Gazing upon these, too often the trophies of the amputating bench, I could have no other feeling, than that the whole scene was one of cruel butchery."

The battle's aftermath:

Hearing that her family is safe in town, it is decided that Tillie should remain at the Weikert farm for a few days after the battle. On July 5, Tillie and some friends climb to the crest of Little Round Top and survey the battlefield below:

"By this time the Union dead had been principally carried off the field, and those that remained were Confederates.

"As we stood upon those mighty boulders, and looked down into the chasms between, we beheld the dead lying there just as they had fallen during the struggle. From the summit of Little Round Top, surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments, was there in one confused and indescribable mass."

And, upon her return to her home on Baltimore Street:

" find no less than five Union soldiers in the house. They were all sick and disabled; two of them were captains, and were very badly wounded.. Mother nursed and dressed theur wounds during all the time of the battle..."

The book Tillie wrote afterwards has much more detail than the few lines here and is an incredible 1st person depiction of what the citizens of Gettysburg witnessed first hand.

The Weikert home still stands, although, from what I understand, it has gone through quite a bit of renovation over the years.

As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, Tillie's family home remains standing also. Through the 145+ years since the great battle, her house, too, has had extensive renovation applied, including a second front door when it was turned into a college dorm.

Tillie's home before restoration -compare this photo with the one at the top of this post

In 2006, new owners Keith and Leslie Grandstaff, took upon themselves the monumental task of renovating the historic home back to it's original 1860's splendor, inside and out. Once completed, the building then became the Tillie Pierce Bed & Breakfast and opened for business in 2007.

Now, if you recall, I have written of late of my and my family's vacation in Gettysburg in April of 2008. We had been there twice before in the two previous years. The big draw for me, this third time, was to be able to take the opportunity to stay in this historic house while wearing period clothing - this house in which the infamous Tillie Pierce lived, this house that saw the Yanks and Rebs, this house that became a Civil War hospital, this house that President Abraham Lincoln surely saw as he rode by on his horse to give his Gettysburg Address - - - a truly historical house in every sense of the word...and WE were going to stay in it!
It just doesn't get any better!
And, once we got there, it was everything I had hoped it would be. Here is what I initially wrote, along with some additions as I remember more:
We initially we had some concerns: it was pretty warm, the room we had, although fairly large (the suite), was too small to accommodate all seven of us, and my seven year old daughter, Rosalia, had a fear of staying there. As soon as we entered the home she began to cry. When asked what was wrong she said she could feel someone staring at her…someone who couldn’t be seen. Upon speaking with her afterwards she told me that whatever was there kept following her/us.
She was absolutely freaked out.

The front entranceway inside the Pierce home

Another concern was trying to keep the kids busy with no TV to watch. But Keith and Leslie were extremely nice and, since there would be no other guests staying there that night, gave us – at a reduced rate – another room for our family overflow.
In fact, it was the actual bedroom of Tillie Pierce herself! They also gave us a couple of roll-away beds to use. Now, if that isn’t courtesy, I don’t know what is. Keith also promised to have the air-conditioning on for us.

My brave daughter on the stairway

The rooms, just so you know, are filled with antiques, including the beds we slept on. It was great – a dream come true! Dressed in period clothing and staying in an actual Civil War house in Gettysburg. It does not get any better!

After getting settled - and getting Rosalia to stop crying - we were invited by other members of our Civil War unit (we planned this vacation together) to watch the sunset from Little Round Top. And what a beautiful site that was!

Sunset from Little Round Top - my wife and son Tom

After, it was back to the Pierce home.
Everyone but me (or so I thought) went to bed. I decided to stay up and read for a bit. While in my period clothing, I went to the un-used darkened front bedrooms (all bedrooms were on the second floor) to look out to see Gettysburg at night. Below us and also across the street I could see there were ghost tours going on. Gettysburg is considered the most haunted town in America, in case you didn't know. So I decided to see if I could scare anyone by just standing there in my period clothing, maybe looking like a spirit from the past, but no one looked up at the window I was in. I even moved the curtains to try to get attention but, unfortunately, no one noticed, so I went back to the room. I found out the next day that my 20 year old son, Tommy, did the same thing and got the same response that I got - nada. He would have been even cooler for a ghost hunter to see, being dressed as a Civil War soldier. That would have been a riot if we could have given a bit of a fright to a few folks on a ghost tour.
Later, while lying in bed, I heard a few creaks - nothing unusual in an old house -, a couple of raps - hmmm... -, and slight footsteps up in the garret (attic) - OK! Tom, who was in Tillie Pierce's room, said he heard the samething.

Tillie's Room where Tom slept

Could it be? One has to wonder...

Then there are the hallway lights. They kept shutting off. I would turn them back on, and minutes later they would shut off again. Do timers work in this way? Not any that I have seen.
My wife, by the way, refused to walk in the hallway alone. She did not like the feeling she had and would have me join her if she needed a towel or another item from the hall closet.

The upstairs hall leading to our suite

The tribute to Tillie at the staircase didn't help matters much for her!

This can be a little spooky at night with a single light shining upon the picture

My two other children, Rob and Miles, seem to take everything in stride and had no problems whatsoever.

Aside from the lights and the clear sound of footsteps, probably the next oddest thing I heard was how the ticking of the wind up clock (that was already in the room when we got there) became very loud for about a minute – yes, LOUD – then quieted back down. As this occured, I made noise - rustling of paper, clearing my throat, etc., to see if extra sounds would make a difference. It didn't change a thing. The ticking remained very loud. Was it a ghost?
Hard to say. If it was a spirit of some sort, I think it liked us. Maybe because we were in period clothing and knew we were paying homage to them in a respectful way - who knows? Whatever the reason, I felt very comfortable and slept great. Rosalia fell asleep very quickly, considering how afraid she was initially. They say kids can see and feel things better than adults. By the way, Keith mentioned to me that he heard groans the previous morning – I didn’t tell anyone else in the family, and I asked him to do the same. We had a wonderful omelet breakfast - cooked by Leslie - that we ate in that beautiful period dining room.

A fine meal, that was! What was neat was that we had the dining room to ourselves - kind of like it was ours'. day maybe...

Not too long after our excusion at the Tillie Pierce House, ghosthunters from the A&E show "Paranormal State" recorded their show from the house.
Now, if you'd like to see what they themselves had witnessed, watch the three clips (or google A&E Paranormal State).

What I found most interesting was when the ghosthunters on the show said the spirits seem more active when visitors are dressed in period clothing. And there we all were - seven of us, just a few months earlier, dressed as if it were 1863!

Some things they had happen to them did not occurr while we were there; the banging at 3 a.m., for instance.
But, my daughter's initial reaction, of which she still speaks of, really gets me to thinking. You must remember, this little girl grew up visiting period homes (monthly visits to Greenfield Village, Crossroads Village, as well as the various other museums around our area), so old homes and antiques are an everyday occurence for her.

I can't really explain what actually went on in that house. But, something did - three of us in my own family witnessed it, and the ghosthunters experienced something paranormal as well.

Staying in the Tillie Pierce House has truly been a highlight of any vacation I have ever taken so far. As one who loves history, this is MY Disney World, MY Caribbean cruise, MY tropical paradise.

A Family Photo taken by owner Keith Grandstaff

Would I stay here again after what we (and others) have experienced?
Oh yeah...without hesitation!
AND I would in period clothing to boot!



Mrs. G said...

Interesting post (although I don't believe in ghosts ;-) I'm glad your family had such a great vacation, what wonderful memories! Thanks for the history lesson, you listed more detail than I knew from reading about Tillie Pierce previously.


Nana LV said...

I was forturnate to attend a DAR Meeting in so. California in February 2009, remembering President Lincoln. Tillie's story was read at this gathering of patriotic women. Ever since, I have not forgotten Tillie's story and have wanted to find it.
Thank you for publishing it online.

Lavinia, Palo Cedro, no. California

Historical Ken said...

You are both welcome, and thank you for the kind comments.

sarpanayoga said...

Your family looks great dressed for the ocassion. I especially enjoyed the shot of your son in the sunset with your wife in the foreground in her beautiful flower adorned bonnet. I too am concerned about how people treat one another and the loss of manners amongst so many these days. Eventhough I have studied these words before they brought me to tears because my daughter is 13 and the thought of her being in that position is painfull. That Tillie could have the fortitude to see such carnage and still make herself usefull to the surgeons in the midst of danger is shear human dignity and compassion. I admire her and pray
for the rest of her dear soul.
My daugher and I are going to stay in the original Samuel Getty house this summer.We are thrilled.
Your story and photos have made me realize that my next stay needs to be the Tillie Pierce house,thanks.
Respect still lives,
K.AllisU.humbled DAR member

Historical Ken said...

Thank you for the kind comments.
The bonnet my wife is wearing in the photo is one that she made.
We really enjoy going to Gettysburg (and other historical places) dressed in our period clothing - it just seems to add...
On a sad note, the owners of the Tillie Pierce House had to sell due to financial reasons. The future of the place is up in the air.

foreverhopesndreams said...

I will be working at the Tillie Pierce House! It is reopening in August 2011. That is all of the info I have for you, but things are underway for it to be a B&B again and I am finding that I am interested and very excited to learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg, especially the history of the women and I have never had an interest for historical facts, but I am now. Stop by soon!

Daisy Martin said...

My husband and I are staying at the Tillie Pierce House tomorrow and the next night, in the suite. Avid historians and paranormal investigators, we are very excited. Ever since my open heart surgery (where I experienced a jaunt in the infamous white light) spirits seem to be attracted to me and I see and hear them with ease. I'm interested to see if I meet anyone from another era in the house. I'll let you know.



Historical Ken said...

Terri -
I look forward to hearing from you.

Daisy Martin said...

What a wonderful time we had in Gettysburg and at the Tillie Pierce House. I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt, it IS haunted. But the spirits there are quite nice and mean no one harm.

When we arrived Sean told us I could take a peek at the unoccupied rooms and do evp sessions in there if I liked. I liked! In the room directly to the right as you come up the steps to the second floor, there was a man who didn't like me being in that room. He said into my voice recorder more than once, "Get out, you don't belong here."

Standing at the top of the steps at the attic, a young male spoke into my voice recorder, “I’m from the South.”

The first night there I woke up at 3am. I could sense a female in the room standing in the parlor section of the suite, watching me. I closed my eyes tight and forced myself not to look in that direction. I'm usually fearless in haunted locations, unless I'm woken out of a dead (no pun intended) sleep.

On our second day there the person who set out the continental breakfast for us told me there were several spirits there, one of them being a young child named Meg. When I went back upstairs I did an evp session. I ask, “Is Meg here?” Male responds, “Who’s Meg?” Then the young female (not a child though) said, ““This is Hannah.”

The second night I felt the presence of a young male soldier standing in the spot between the bedroom and parlor of the suite. Again I refused to look in that direction.

On our last night there, I sat in the darkened downstairs parlor and asked the spirits to play a game with me by appearing as a green ball of light on the wall by the settee. Then I took the picture of that area. Sure enough, there was a bright green ball. First time I've ever seen a green orb! But several minutes later when I ended the evp session by saying, "EVP session end," the stern man from upstairs said into my recorder, “Get back to your room.”

Our last morning there I went in the Tillie Pierce room and did an evp session and asked if Tillie was there with me. A young female (The woman who had earlier announced herself to be Hannah) spoke into my recorder, “This was her house when she was alive.” A couple of minutes later, when my husband came up the back steps and knocked on the door (he'd locked himself out) the stern male said into my recorder, "What’s that?" The young female responded to him, "Its her husband.” After I opened the back door for my husband and went back to my evp session, the sweet young woman said, “Are you going to spend another night?”

I caught many, many evps there and what I believe to be orbs. I heard moans, I felt like I was touched, I felt unseen eyes on me several times, I had a wonderful time!

And then there was the battlefield! EVPs and anomallys in pictures, cold spots (even though it was very warm outside and humid) and even the sensation of being touched.

If you’d like to see my picture of the ghost soldier near the base of Little Round Top or the picture I took at Devils Den of the two purple pillars of light coming out of the rock that have faces in them and part of a body, email me or go to my facebook page and friend me. The pictures are on my facebook page.

On our first evening, at dusk near the slaughter pen, I heard a cannon fire. But my favorite experience of our Gettysburg trip, is the EVP I caught at the spot where General Armistead received his mortal wounds. I was telling him how brave he was as I held my recorder in the ropes, hovering over the spot where he fell. A make voice said, “I died here, down here down on this ground with my comrades.” What really gives me chills is that his last words on this plane were said to have been a phrase that had the word “comrades.” Wow! Brave, brave men, each and every one and on both sides.