Chapter VI: The Farm and the Aftermath of Battle
Total casualties on and about the McPherson Farm on July 1, 1863 were staggering. The Union First Corps lost 55% of its strength and never fully recovered from its losses incurred in the Herbst Woodlot and McPherson's fields. Heth's and Pender's Divisions of the Confederate Third Corps lost four out of every ten men that left Herr Ridge and crossed Willoughby Run. 101 A list of numbers engaged and casualties incurred (where possible) during the struggle for the McPherson Farm and Herbst Woods follows:
|11 North Carolina||?||c. 100||?|
|26 North Carolina||c. 800||c. 350||c. 43%|
|47 North Carolina||?||c. 80||?|
|52 North Carolina||?||c. 70||?|
|subtotal||c. 2000||c. 600||c. 30%|
|subtotal||1048||c. 500||c. 47%|
|subtotal||c. 1100||c. 100||9%|
|[the following is written in the book
in pencil - authorship unknown - TWM ]
|55 North Carolina||?||?|
|subtotal||c. 1500||c. 800||53%|
|32 North Carolina||?||?||?|
|43 North Carolina||?||?||?|
|45 North Carolina||?||?||?|
|53 North Carolina||?||?||?|
|2 North Carolina||?||?||?|
|subtotal||c. 2100||c. 750||c. 35%|
|c. 7748||c. 2750||c. 35%|
UNION FIRST CORPS
|Cutler's Brigade||Engaged||Casualties||Percentage||84 New York
||(14 Brooklyn)||356||c. 100||c. 28%||95 New York||c. 250||115||c. 46%|
|147 New York||380||207||54%|
|56 Pennsylvania||252||79||31%||76 New York||375||169||45%|
|subtotal||c. 1613||c. 670||c. 41%|
|Stone's Brigade||Engaged||Casualties||Percentage||143 Pennsylvania||465||253||54%|
|149 Pennsylvania||c. 450||336||74%|
subtotal || c. 1332 || 853 || c. 64% |
|Biddle's Brigade||Engaged||Casualties||Percentage||80 New York||375||c. 100||c.26%||151 Pennsylvania||467||c. 300||c. 64%|
|142 Pennsylvania||336 c.||200||c. 59%|
|121 Pennsylvania||263||179||68%||subtotal||1441||c. 779||c.54%|
|c. 6182||c. 779||c. 55%|
Those wounded who were ambulatory enough to make it, sought refuge in the McPherson farmhouse and barn, while those less fortunate in the serious nature of their wounds had to rely on the devotion and bravery of friends to assist them in reaching even the crudest of shelter (such as in Major Chamberlin's case). As dusk closed in on July 1, however, the fields around the McPherson Farm were strewn with the dead, dying, and wounded men of both armies, and Confederate details were sent out to go over the battlefield for the purpose of "burying the dead and caring for the wounded". The McPherson Farm area, now in the rear of the Confederate lines west of Gettysburg was one of the places visited by these details.
One such squad, commanded by J. A. Walker of the 45th Georgia, went over the ground between the seminary and Herbst woods:
I first came upon the ground fought over by McGowan's South Carolina troops. Many of his dead were still unburied and a few wounded sitting about the fence corners. . . . We buried a great many in this field and about sundown came to the corner of the Reynolds woods, where General Reynolds had been killed that day. I rested for a while on this fence, very near the corner where it turns towards Herr's Tavern. . . . at this point of woods had been a fiercely contested battle. General Reynolds, whose statue is in the National Cemetery here, was killed under this large oak. Many of General Archer's Tennesseans were cap- tured in these woods and the trees today give evidence of war in their shattered limbs and perforated trunks. . . . It was now night and I could no longer see to work. Very near this place is a small farm house . . . . It is a few hundred yards north of the "Reynolds" oak. This farm house was the72
scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Taken and re-taken, riddled by bullets, filled with dead and dying, the very cows and horses shot down by stray bullets, and yet not materially damaged. Seeing a light in it I went to see if my services were needed. I found it filled with Federal dead and wounded. I made known my business to them, when they informed me of their having been already captured and left to be treated for their wounds. Physicians for both armies were in attendance, and finding my services not needed I started for the door. In one corner of the room sat a common pine table, used by the family for a dining table.The house described in the above narrative was, of course, the McPherson tenant house. The comment made by Walker concerning the livestock "battle casualties" are in part true. John Slentz swore in his petition for damages claims that seven of his nine head of horned cattle were killed in the battle, while the two remaining were crippled
On this table, sitting upright against the wall, was a federal major, William or George Chamberlain,
103of the One Hundred and Forty-eighth, One Hundred and Forty-Ninth, or One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Regiment, exact number forgotten. He signaled me to come to him, when he introduced himself and began a conversation. . . . Opening his shirt front he exposed to my view a ghastly wound through the breast, the ball, I think, coming out at his back, but he had no idea of giving up the ghost. . . . His appetite showed no signs of an early dissolution, and dividing my biscuits with him bid him good-bye. . . . 104
with wounds. However,
Slentz claimed that the horses were rustled by the Confederates and not
killed by projectiles
When Walker exited the door it was quite late:
My labors were now over and as it was near midnight I bivouacked my men in the yard, spreading down our blankets along the ground near the pike and where the fence now stands. Sleep was out of the question to me, and while the men were snoring soundly I was left alone in my meditations. With my face upturned to the sky and looking at the stars, it fell to the lot of a little calf to speak more eloquently than all the rest of war's sacrifices. The mother of the little dumb beast was killed by a stray shot during the day. Evidently a pet of the household, it wandered about the whole of the night, bleating and moaning piteously for its dam. There was not a sound on the earth except the weary stepping of its tired limbs, and when it came over to where I was lying and touched its cold nose to my hand I felt that it was indeed a cruel fate that demanded of the brute sucking its share of trouble.
Walker's claim that there were surgeons of both armies caring for the wounded
within the farmhouse, all other accounts consulted specifically bemoan
the lack of surgical help until after the close of the battle. Any relief
for the stricken soldiers was gratefully acknowledged by the wounded there.
Some captured Federal officers were permitted by the Confederates to help
with the wounded on the First Day's Battlefield. Lieutenant John Q. Carpenter
of Company E, 150th Pennsylvania was one such officer allowed to care for
the wounded of his regiment on July 2. Helping out on the McPherson Farm
in the burial of the dead, Carpenter was instrumental in having disabled
soldiers carried into the McPherson barn, including Lieutenant Henry Chancellor
of his own regiment (who would die nevertheless on August 7) .
Lieutenant R. B. Beath of the 88th Pennsylvania, in order to escape capture, passed himself off as a surgeon's assistant to avoid capture on July 1. With a white band of cloth tied around his arm he was recognized as belonging to the hospital corps, and allowed by the Confederates to pass to the rear of their lines to help the wounded of the Union First Corps,
. . . .upon reaching McPherson's barn he found it full of bleeding and mangled soldiers in a most distressed and sickening condition, without a surgeon to dress their festering wounds and bind up their splintered bones. Many of the unfortunate were so shockingly lacerated that they were unable to move, being in some75
glued to the floor by the blood flowing from their gaping wounds congealing in pools under them, and all were in torment, suffering from thirst and hunger. These pitiful cases awakened all the sympathy in the Lieutenant's heart, and he at once set to work to alleviate their sufferings.Nothing more than fetching drinks of water and binding the bleeding wounds could be done by the amateur and impressed corpsmen. Throughout the active battle (July 1-3, 1863) those in McPherson's barn and barnyard were not given professional attention. After the repulse of "Pickett's Charge" on the 3rd of July, Colonel Henry Morrow (himself slightly wounded), commander of the 24th Michigan, left his place of refuge in a church steeple and confronted Confederate Brigadier General John B. Gordon and his staff on the streets of the town. Morrow spoke to Gordon of his concern for those "wounded of our first day's battle [who] lie uncared for", and was surprised at Gordon's reaction to the news. He assured Morrow that he would send him a detail of ambulances that very evening to bring in the wounded. At nightfall Colonel Morrow started out from town to where his Iron Brigade had fought, accompanied by twelve Confederate ambulances.
about uncared for two days later. Perhaps the ambulances ventured no further than Herbst Woods where the Iron Brigade fought, and to the field south of those woods where men of the 24th Michigan lay (men of Morrow's regiment). Perhaps Gordon directed the ambulance drivers to care for Gordon's own men, too (certainly not unlikely), making sure all were picked up from where his brigade had fought--north of town, almost two miles from the McPherson Farm.
After the withdrawal of the armies starting on July 5, these soldiers still lay in and about McPherson's farm buildings unattended. Strangely, many knew of their suffering but none had gone to give them the medical assistance they needed. The Federal forces could not exactly assure safe conduct for any of their surgeons volunteering to go behind enemy lines; besides there were plenty of field hospitals and men requiring attention within their own Union lines. The Confederate hospitals, granted, were further south than McPherson's farm buildings, but since the area was within the Confederate province (and near Lee's own headquarters), the Southerners should have made an effort to set up a field hospital there. After all, in ignoring those Yankees within the stone barn, they also overlooked the pained men from Virginia and North Carolina. It was not until after the Confederate forces melted back towards the Potomac that those lying within the dark barn saw any rays of hope.
The first to relieve the wants of these melancholy soldiers were not army
or civil surgeons, but concerned citizens from the area. 77 One such samaritan
was possibly William McClean:
I was informed that men were suffering in the McPherson barn, on the Chambersburg Pike. My good wife went to work, baked biscuit, prepared gruel and we gathered fresh Antwerp raspberries in our garden, and loaded up with as much as I could carry, I started, on foot of course, to the barn. As a civilian, I must confess to a little trepidation in going to what was so recently the front, and hearing the firing of artillery, as the retreat was being followed up. There were parties engaged in burying the dead in the fields, where they fell. A dead soldier in blue was lying along the side of the turnpike, black and swollen from the heat and rain, disfigured beyond recognition. When I entered the barn it was crowded with the wounded of both armies, some of them having, fallen four days before and without having any food, except in some cases the little hardtack in their haversacks, and without any surgical attention to their wounds. There was so many of these wounded and so closely packed together, that I was obliged to tramp on some of them in distributing my supplies. You may imagine how pleased and grateful they were for this fresh food, in their famished and suffering condition. One of them told me that as he was lying on the field, Gen. Lee had given him a drink out of his canteen. Lee's headquarters were in this locality. Many of these poor fellows must have died afterwards from gangrene.This same day the wounded were paid an unscheduled visit by a curious preacher--probably one of the battlefield's first tourists.
He had come all the way from York Springs to look over the field of battle, and July 5 was his second day of "touring".
. . . I started out Chambersburg Street on a tour of observation. In looking over the ground many little hillocks could be seen where the dead had been covered with earth just where they fell and died. In the Theological Seminary I found all the rooms filled with the wounded. Going beyond I passed over the open ground in the direction of a large stone barn on the Chambersburg pike. The landscape here was thickly dotted with those same little hillocks in every direction. As I neared the stone barn and was gazing around indifferently, I heard a voice calling and a man looking over the side of a pig sty. He beckoned to me with his hand and as I approached cried out: "For God's sake, Chaplain, come and help us; there's no one here to do it." When I examined the situation I found that the barn above and below, the wagon shed, the tenant house, the pig sty, and the open barnyard were all crowded with badly wounded soldiers. . . . At this moment my curiosity was superseded by a sense of duty, and I began what I have since regarded as the best Sabbath day's work of my life. In the retreat during the night these men, who had been in the hands of the enemy for three days, were left behind. No relief had reached them at this early hour and I happened to be the first to come to their assistance. My first work was to carry them water, for the morning was very warm and they were all thirsty. On going to the pump I found two of them trying to fill their canteens. Both were wounded in the arm which they carried in a sling. One pumped and the other held the canteen using their sound limbs. As the time passed, other persons strolled in and rendered aid, but it was not until about noon that any part of the hospital corps arrived. And then only one surgeon and two assistants came to render their service.If these philanthropic civilians were shocked and stunned by the carnage within the McPherson farm buildings it must have been nothing compared to the loss felt by John and Eliza Slentz. A cursory inventory of the damage revealed that the tenant family lost their four horses (one bay mare, one black mare, a yearling colt, and another bay horse) as well as three cows and five calves. Lesser stock loss included four hogs, at least forty chickens, and three turkeys. Four tons of hay stored in the barn were destroyed--either for use as bedding for the wounded or for forage for the hundreds of horses encamped on the farm for five days. In the fields, Slentz's
In the wagonshed a few boards were laid on some trustles and the work of amputation begun. I was asked to assist in holding the limbs of the subject operated on. The heat was intense and as the men had received no treatment for three days the odor from the wounds was repulsive. One after another was placed on the scaffold, put under the influence of chloroform and while the surgeon dextrously performed the operation, I would hold the limb until it was separated from the body. During all this time I suffered no nausea from the offensive smell or ghastly sight of bloody limbs that lay at my side. In due time the ambulances came and all of these wounded men were removed to the hospital in the town. While mingling among these men at the stone barn, I entered the gangway between the stables and found my way to the rear. A number were lying there in the dark. . . .
growing crops would never be harvested--eighteen
acres of growing wheat are trampled and ploughed under by shot and shell
and moving armies, as well as sixteen acres of corn, fourteen acres of
oats, and eighteen acres of grass. Within the family's garden, Slentz claimed
a half-acre of potatoes; the rest was too insignificant for the federal
or state government to show an interest in, but it would have been enough
to feed the seven-member family throughout the oncoming winter. Among the
personal items taken or destroyed by the occupying armies, Slentz lost
grain bags, a bushel measure, scythe, grain cradle, hay forks, cow chains,
axe and mattock, shovel, halters, feed, bridles, collars, cord wood, flour,
bacon, lard, and apple butter. From within the house he would have to replace
a broken ten-plate stove "thrown out of the window" of the kitchen
and a bureau, as well as silverware, quilts and comforters, bed curtains,
pillow slips, shirts, nightgowns, chemises, sheets, table cloths, stockings,
towels, carpet, bolsters and pillows, books, a chaff bed, shawls, dresses,
aprons, hose and drawers, and even the very candlesticks that provided
light for the home.
103 Major Thomas Chamberlin of the 150th Pennsylvania; wounded in the chest and arm,
he had been carried there by Sergeant Ramsey and others. (see pp. 59-60.)
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104 J. A. Walker, "Soul Stirring Incidents", Philadelphia Times
(Saturday, March 17, 188?), in Gettysburg Newspaper Clippings, 6, "Relating
to the Battle", GNMP library, p. 14.
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105 John Slentz claims file.
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106 Walker, p. 14.
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107 Chamberlin, p. 311.
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108 John D. Vautier, "At
Gettysburg: The Eighty-Eighth Pennsylvania Infantry in the Battle",
The Press (November 10, 1886), Gettysburg Newspaper Clippings, vol 6, "Relating
to the Battle", p. 125.
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109 Donald L Smith, The Twenty-Fourth Michigan
of the Iron Brigade (Harrisburg, Pa, 1962). p. 148.
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110 All evidence within
the unsigned article partially quoted here points to the author being William
McClean (son of Moses McClean).
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111 "The Days of Terror in 1863",
Gettysburg Newspaper Clippings, vol. VI, "Relating to the Battle",
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112 Leonard Marsden Gardner, "The Carnage at Gettysburg--As
Seen by a Minister", Civil War Times, vol. III, no. 4 (July 1961),
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113 John Slentz Claims file. See Appendix A for transcription of
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