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Sarah M. Broadhead, Gettysburg - Civil War Diarist

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Sarah M. Broadhead, Gettysburg - Civil War Diarist

Posted: 22 Apr 2000 6:00AM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 22 Jun 2001 11:38AM GMT
Surnames: Broadhead
Extracted from a Civil War book -

In 1863, Gettysburg (Adams Co.) was a small but thriving market town with rail connections to Baltimore and Harrisburg and was home to Pennysylvania College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Gettysburg had a population of about 2,400 people, with small-scale manufacture of goods such as carriages and shoes. The Wagon Hotel, a Gettysburg inn, catered to teamsters and fronted on Baltimore Street. The town's location at the intersection of several major roads made a visit from the invading Rebels a distinct possibility.

Sarah M. Broadhead, resident of Gettysburg, lived with her husband, Joseph, and four-year-old daughter, Mary, in a house on Chambersburg Street. From their windows the family had a fine view of Seminary Ridge with its Lutheran Theological Seminary buildings. In Gettysburg, as in other Pennysylvania communities, fears of a Rebel invasion fostered rumor and panic. Sarah kept a diary "to aid in whiling away time filled up with anxiety, apprehension, and danger." Some months after the battle, she had an edition of 200 copies of the entries for June and July printed for private distribution.

June 16 - "Our town had a great fright last night between 12 and 1 o'clock. I had retired, and was sound asleep, when my child cried for a drink of water. When I got up to get it, I heard so great a noise in the street that I went to the window, and the first thing I saw was a large fire, seemingly not far off, and the people were hallooing, "The Rebels are coming and burning as they go." Many left town but, having waited for the fire to go down a little, I returned to bed and slept till morning. Then I learned that the fire was in Emmettsburg, ten miles from here just over the Maryland line, and that the buildings were fired by one of her townsmen. Twenty-seven houses were burned, and thirty-six families made homeless, all effort to stop the flames being useless as, owing to everything being so dry, they spread with great rapidity."

Later, in Gettysburg, Sarah and her husband, Joseph, huddled in their neighbor's cellar listening to the thunder of artillery on the nearby battlefield. Confederate soldiers occupied the town, and sharpshooters kept up a constant fire against Federal marksmen holding the houses in the southern end of town. Rifle fire from both sides made Gettysburg's yards and streets places of deadly peril.

"Then cannonading commenced about 10 o'clock, and we went to the cellar and remained a little while until it ceased. When the noise subsided, we came to the light again, and tried to get something to eat. My husband went to the garden and picked a mess of beans, though stray firing was going on all the time, and bullets from sharpshooters or others whizzed about his head in a way I would not have liked. He persevered until he picked all, for he declared the Rebels should not have one. I baked a pan of shortcake and boiled a piece of ham, the last we had in the house, and some neighbors coming in, joined us, and we had the first quiet meal since the contest began. I enjoyed it very much. It seemed so nice after so much confusion to have a little quiet once more. We had not felt like eating before, being worried by danger and excitement. The quiet did not last long, about 4 o'clock P.M. the storm burst again with terrific violence. It seemed as though heaven and earth were being rolled together. For better security we went to the house of a neighbor and occupied the cellar, by far the most comforable part of the house. Whilst there a shell struck the house, but mercifully did not burst, but remained embedded in the wall, one half protruding. About 6 o'clock the cannonading lessened, and we, thinking the fighting for the day was over, came out. Then the noise of the musketry was loud and constant, and made us feel quite as bad as the cannonading, though it seemed to me less terrible. Very soon the artillery joined in the din...and we again retreated to our friend's underground apartment, and remained until the battle ceased, about 10 o'clock at night... We expect to be compelled to leave town tomorrow, as the Rebels say it will most likely be shelled. I cannot sleep, and as I sit down to write, to while away the time, my husband sleeps as soundly as though nothing was wrong. I wish I could rest so easily, but it is out of the question for me either to eat or sleep under such terrible excitement and such painful suspense. We know not what the morrow will bring forth, and cannot even tell the issue of to-day."

Note, there is a photo of Sarah in "Voices of the Civil War - Gettysburg," Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia.

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