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The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F.X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 51 | Chapter Index

Chapter 52: 1863

From Dr. Moore's Reminiscences, 1860-65, we glean what follows in reference to the Battle of Gettysburg and a subsequent visit to the battlefield:

"One is apt to suppose that persons living in the vicinity, whilst a great battle is going on, ought to know, at once, when it is over to which side the victory belongs. Yet it is not so. I and many others had no means of learning who had gained the day at Gettysburg, until the news reached us through the Baltimore papers. I even think that in a battle like the one under consideration the soldiers themselves do not know, until some time after, how much glory they have won or lost; for, on the very night that Lee had retired from the field, the Union soldiers, on Round Top, were busily engaged putting up a stone fence to protect themselves from an expected charge the next day.

"I saw this wall, some three and a half or four feet high, with the inscription on a board, stating it had been built by the Pennsylvania Volunteers, on the night of the 3rd of July, to protect themselves from the rebels. . . .

"The first and second day's fighting I neither saw nor heard. There was a vague belief that the work of death was going on, but no one could be found to furnish the particulars. We could see the tents disappearing from around Emmitsburg, and the soldiers going off, in dense columns, northward ; but their ultimate destination we could only surmise.

"On the 3rd of July, however, all doubts were dissipated. Between one and two o'clock, in the afternoon, some others with myself were up the hill, reclining beneath the shade of a big chestnut tree, when suddenly there was a sound like thunder; then came another and another and another, until there could be no more doubt that the battle of the giants had fairly opened. We then proceeded to the northern spur of the mountain, and took a position a quarter of a mile or so east of Indian Lookout. There a scene was presented I never shall forget cannons blazing from the hills and from the woods around; farm houses here and there in flames, sending up huge volumes of smoke, which, mingling with that from the artillery, was borne along with the wind in one great sulphurous mass to the northwest.

View from the rear of the Seminary

"The continuous roar of the artillery for upwards of two hours, and the knowledge of the fact that each discharge meant death and judgment to many caused a feeling to come over me I never felt before or since.

"It may seem singular, but it is true, that though we were looking down on the contending hosts we could not, even with the aid of a large telescope, tell one side from the other. This resulted from several causes. We were wrong in supposing the Union forces closer to us than their opponents. We could see the Union and Confederate flags, and also other banners with red and blue center-pieces, but they were all so strangely commingled that we could not tell friend from foe.

"If I had understood the line of battle as I afterwards did by going over the field, the whole thing would have been clear enough. But, seeing the Confederate batteries closer than the Union Army, which had left us only a few days before, broke up one's calculations entirely. Noticing the Confederates so near us we took it as sure the Unionists were retreating to Emmitsburg, but they came not.

"On towards 4 o'clock the cannonading ceased, and it was then Lee ordered Pickett to charge the enemy's position. From our location we could not get, even with the telescope, anything like a satisfactory view of that heroic attack. We could see masses of men moving eastward, but when they had got to the place where the slaughter was greatest, a piece of woodland cut them off from view. In going over the grounds afterwards I saw a trench, newly made, a little west of Round Top, in which 3,000 Confederates were said to have been buried. These belonged to Longstreet's Corps, and fell on the second day of the battle when he tried to storm the Round Top; and, as the trees in the neighborhood were literally skinned by bullets, the wonder is that any escaped alive.

"On the left hand side of the road to Gettysburg, and about seven miles from where we stood, there was a large farm-house built of stone, and from the windows of this one might see puffs of smoke issuing in rapid succession. My attention was called to it by a friend who stood by. ' Keep your eye on that house,' said he, 'and you will soon see it in a blaze; it is now filled with sharpshooters, and the artillerymen on the hills east will dislodge them.' His surmises were correct, for within ten minutes a Salamander could not have lived within twenty yards of it. It was the same who first expressed the belief that Lee had been checked, for the reason that the firing did not advance south of Round Top. . . . Bella, horrida bella, et Toms Greek mutio spumantem sanguine cerno.

"Tom's Creek is a clear mountain stream which flows eastward between Mt. St. Mary's College and Emmitsburg, and the words given in italics were spoken by Dr. McCaffrey when the first mutterings of a great civil war were heard along the valleys of the Blue Ridge.

"His vision would have been literally realized had Gen. A. P. Hill been up in time with the men under his command. I speak here in accordance with common reports of those days. With the exception of the foregoing parody, I cannot now recollect any other instance in which the President indulged in either wit or humor. Persons who had met him in company away from the College have a different story to tell. They represent his conversation as lively to a degree, and liberally charged with funny illustrations.

"But within the College grounds he followed the advice of the Mantuan bard: '"Tu regere imperio populos, Rornane, memento.'

"Two weeks had fully elapsed before it was thought advisable to visit the battlefield. For many days after, the Union army held possession of it, and as the guards on duty at various points were not over careful in their handling of firearms whenever their command to halt was not heard, it was conceded that the more prudent course was to remain beyond the range of their rifles.

"After the soldiers had gone I started early one morning in company with a few congenial spirits to the scene of the late bloody encounter. The road from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg is almost straight as an arrow, but the country through which it passes, though seemingly level as viewed from the mountains, is really not so much so as it appears. The battlefield covers an area of about five miles in length by two and a half in width. As I did not pass over the entire field I will confine myself to the portions visited. Taking Emmitsburg as the starting point and proceeding northward along the public highway, few indications of the mighty struggle could be seen until a point was reached almost due west from Round Top. There, in a grove on the right hand side of the road, were planted some rebel batteries that, on the third day of the fight, had sent shells eastward into the Union ranks. In this artillery duel the odds were with the Northern army, which occupied higher ground. Yet it is not those great guns that do the harm; their noise is destructive of military discipline to the inexperienced, but the veterans dread far more the fire from the small arms, which is usually delivered at shorter range and with more telling effect.

"From this point on to Gettysburg the evidences of war were more frequent and unmistakable. On both sides of the road were dead horses and the so-called graves of soldiers. Buzzards and crows, in great numbers, either soared high in the air or gorged themselves on the dead bodies about to our right and left. About a mile south of Gettysburg stood a deserted one-story log cabin, and in this, we were told, General Reynolds breathed his last. He had met the Confederates west of the city on the first day of the battle, and there received the wound that finished his career as a soldier.

"The main business street of Gettysburg runs east and west, as nearly as I can remember, and at the eastern end there is a gentle slope upwards for possibly an eighth of a mile, at the end of which stands the town cemetery. The fighting through the streets must have been warm, for the shutters and doors of the houses were furrowed with bullets, and a little above the entrance to one of the business houses I noticed an oblong shell buried more than one-half its length in the brick wall. It was lucky for the proprietor that it did not explode; for, had it done so, the wreckage of smoked hams, bags of potatoes and onions, canisters of tea and coffee, crockery and queensware, with the unclassified merchandise of that village grocery, would have been a sight to behold

"The fighting on Cemetery Hill must have been obstinate indeed, for inside of an area of five or six acres I counted seventy-five dead horses. One poor beast received his death wound in leaping over a low worm fence, and there he lay, half on one side, half on the other, with the broken rails under him, a bayonet driven through his heart.

"The headquarters of General Meade were in a farmhouse, six miles east of the battlefield. He had been censured for not having followed up and exterminated what remained of the Confederates. But it seems to me that Meade and his officers were quite willing to see Lee and his men take the homeward track, and equally content with the glory of acting as chief undertakers on that historic occasion. It was generally admitted that Lee was a dangerous man to pursue. . . .

"It has been noticed, from time immemorial, that heavy rains usually follow within a few days after a great battle, and this was verified at Gettysburg. Hence, at the time of my visit to the field a fortnight afterwards, but few traces were visible of that crimson tide which flowed from the veins of heroes then cold in death, and in many instances only half buried over the surface of that spacious arena.

"On the top of the ridge, which runs parallel with the northern spur of Round Top, I found the graves of several Union soldiers, if indeed I may use the word grave in this connection, for the dead bodies were simply extended on the stony ground, doubtless where they had fallen, and some few sods placed over them formed the sepulchral mounds of men not unworthy of marble monuments and statues of enduring bronze. The rains had, in some cases, washed the soil away, so that the feet and hands protruded. Relatives of soldiers killed in action might be also seen from time to time moving slowly over the plain with downcast looks and hearts oppressed with sorrow. It was pitiful to see the grief of a gray-haired man from one of the Eastern States, who was there with an undertaker to resurrect a son who had fallen in the third day's fight, probably shot by one of Pickett's men.

"When the undertaker had opened the grave the remains were so decomposed as to render identification by means of the features impossible, but the letter had so accurately described the place and manner of death that there could be no reasonable grounds for doubt. However, to be entirely certain, the undertaker ran a little piece of twig through the wound. But, as it sank deeper and deeper, the strain on the old man became unendurable. He tried to stifle his sobs but in vain. At last, raising his streaming eyes to heaven, and in great agony, he cried out: 'O, my son! my son I had hoped for your safe return to gladden our home and your mother's heart. But God has willed otherwise. Ever blessed be His name.'

"Many of the public buildings, including some of the churches, in the town were turned into hospitals. I visited a few of them, but to see one was to know all. Wounds of every variety were on exhibition here an arm missing, there a leg broken, first by a ball or fragment of shell, then amputated; lungs and liver pierced, flesh wounds, wounds of the body, wounds of the head, wounds of the upper and lower limbs let us draw the curtain. Detachments of their more fortunate companions-in-arms looked after the sick and dying, and did their utmost to alleviate the sufferings incidental to their condition. Charitable ladies of the neighborhood also administered to their wants. And to the credit of their charity be it told that no distinction was made between the wounded on account of difference in color of the clothes they had worn previous to the mighty contest.

"Where the true spirit of wisdom exists an honorable foe need fear no more than those dangers and losses connected with civilized warfare; but where men are but the tools of the kings, we find them very often relentless and cruel, under pretense of meting out justice to the 'wicked;' that is, to all who refuse to fall down and worship their lord and master, the king.

"The liberation of Mr. Davis from prison after the war was what I expected, and would look for again, under like cirumstances, from a free and great-souled people. By the way of contrast, the execution of Riel, the Manitoban patriot, was strictly in line with the policy of those chamberlains who serve Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India. Thank God, such is not the spirit of the Republic, which after the war with Spain in 1898, displayed the same nobility in its treatment of the defeated foe.

"But speaking of the wounded: One of these attracted my attention in a special manner by reason of his classic features, and of that expression which the Greek sculptor has perpetuated in 'The Dying Gladiator.'

'Whose manly brow Consents to death, but conquers agony.'

"He had followed Lee from the South, but was doomed never to return; though the little gold ring I noticed on his finger expressed, no doubt, the hope of some fair lady, that he would one day come back victorious from the field to claim her for his bride.

"As we stood there looking at those victims of the fierce struggle, one of the surgeons came from an inner apartment and said : ' I am fairly astonished at the vitality of that unfortunate man; and you will be also after seeing his wound.' Then turning down the cover to a little below his breast he disclosed a gash of grape-shot, or fragment of shell, which seemed to have almost cut the man in two. . . .

"Relic hunters were not numerous on the day of my first visit to the field. But as time passed and the fame of Gettysburg expanded, crowds flocked thither from all quarters, so that of the hundreds of shells, grape-shot, broken rifles, cartridge boxes and bayonets, none probably were to be found a year after.

"I must confess that I too was anxious to come into possession of some article that would recall to mind in after years what I had seen and heard of the fray.

"But I wished to be select where there was such an abundance. It occurred to me that a gold-hilted Damascus or Toledo blade one that had dropped from the right hand of an officer whilst leading a charge, would be the proper sort of a souvenir for me. I did not expect to find the scabbard, for that being attached to the belt would naturally have been borne off the field with the dead hero. However, having looked around nearly a whole day I failed to find the sword. As it grew late I was willing to compromise on an ivory and mother-of-pearl-handled revolver, provided it belonged to some officer and was liberally stained with blood. But neither did I find the revolver. Finally, I had to be content with one of those old-fashioned percussion-cap rifles with which England had kindly supplied the South in exchange for cotton during that period of our history. It was a load to carry; and, on account of the recoil, was nearly as dangerous to the one who fired it as it was to the intended victim. The mark, if smaller than a meeting-house or barn, you might hope to hit once in a lifetime, but the kick was always sure and powerful.

"On June 15, '63, a great fire wiped out one-fourth of Emmitsburg. It broke out at 11 p. m. at Guthrie and Beam's stable. A bucket brigade was formed, the men rilling and passing the full buckets, the women the empty ones; wet blankets were spread on the roofs and kept wet. The church bells were rung but people from the country were afraid to come in, fearing that the Confederates were burning the town as they had Chambersburg. After midnight the College hands and large boys came out and replaced the tired villagers, but seven a. m. struck before the fire was under control."

Gen. Howard had his headquarters in the priests' house in Emmitsburg when the army was on its way to Gettysburg, and his soldiers bought all the tobacco, and what whiskey they could get at a dollar the canteen. The Confederate cavalry of Jenkin's Brigade passed through the village Sunday morning after Gettysburg, and at about ten came Kilpatrick's horse in pursuit; the roads were full of the retreating army, the fields were full; mud knee-deep everywhere; the tired and hungry soldiers ate and drank whatever was given them, the people standing on the sidewalks with buckets of water.

Things at the College meanwhile went on as well as could be expected or better; and a correspondent telling of the Commencement writes to the Freeman's Journal, New York: "The speeches delivered had at least three crowning excellencies. Each speaker had something to say; he put it briefly, and spoke instead of declaiming it."

The Commencement at St. Joseph's was over on Thursday June 25, and on Friday one hundred and fifty trunks on wagons and a hundred girls in stages drove to Gettysburg, but had to keep on ten miles further to New Oxford as the train had stopped there. They caught it and went on to Philadelphia. It was the last train that went west of Hanover till the Battle of Gettysburg was over, for North and South of Emmitsburg the border was full of armed men. A fortnight later a student A. J. Brown writes from the College: To Mr. John Watterson, (Bishop Watterson.)

"July 13, 1863. My very Dear Friend: "... I scarce feel this vacation passing by. It seems to pass very quickly. However, this is owing, perhaps, to the fact that we are kept in almost constant excitement. But the immediate neighborhood is at present in a comparatively quiet state; occasionally we see a few troopers pass by, but this no longer attracts attention, except on one occasion when Stuart's (Confederate) cavalry passed. The Army of the Potomac was truly a beautiful sight. I believe it was even grander than that presented by the "Blairsville Blues" and "Blacklick Greys" of days gone by. The army came in from Frederick City by the Turnpike and Frederick mud roads. On the latter most of the wagons, ambulances, cannons, etc., came, which, by the way, were coming in from early dawn till nightfall, and I do not know by what time of night they all got in. They camped around Emmitsburg. Their camp-fires as viewed from the College windows, almost led one to imagine that this section of the country, for miles around, had received in one shower all the stars of the heavens. We were visited by single soldiers, officers, groups, etc., to the amount of some thousands, some for the purpose of seeing old friends and companions, as for example Prof. O'Leary, Maj. Anderson and many other old students of this place, who, by the way, all hold honorable positions in the army. But most of the privates and many of the officers came to try the qualities of Miss Leo's bread, butter, milk, etc., which, I am pleased to say, were dealt out with a liberal hand. I heard that the 11th Regulars (in which were the Blairsville boys) passed, but it was too late that evening to try to hunt up any of our old acquaintances, so next morning I put off to the camp in a heavy rain, and mud half knee deep, but before I reached the place they were parading, making ready to march to Gettysburg, so I did not see any of our old friends of Blairsville. Whilst parading and marching out they seemed to present one solid mass of human beings, interrupted only by regiments and brigades of horsemen, and their French bugles made our beautiful valley resound with martial music. The country around here sustained little or no damage from their marching through it, except where the owner was reported to be a rebel, and then pity that place! Unfortunately, Mr. Elder was reported such by some of his malicious neighbors, in consequence of which his place was almost destroyed. But perhaps you will say what I have already said is of minor importance, and that I should spare some of that talk for describing the battle of Gettysburg as seen by us from Indian Lookout.

"Truly, we were at that place (Indian Lookout) almost the whole time during the three days' battle; had plenty of glasses, viz., telescopes, spy and opera glasses; had a clear view of the field and could see so as to mark the men in their lines attending cannon, the cannon themselves, regiments making charges, officers riding headlong about their lines, and, in a word, the whole scene was spread out to our view. We could distinctly observe the changes in the positions of the armies; sometimes one army would slowly give way, but seeming to dispute every inch of ground with as much energy as if the fate of the Nation depended on its holding or yielding the position; again rallying and driving the foe headlong before it for some distance, when the retreating body, either reinforced by some fresh troops or perhaps reinforced with courage, would charge again and the battle would become terrific.

"On Friday, the third day of the battle, between the hours of 2 o'clock and 5:30 p. m., it is said, was the hardest contest witnessed during the whole war, and we watched it with interest, some fifty or sixty of us, from Indian Lookout; indeed, all the members of the College except Fathers John McCloskey and Xaupi were up there. . . .

"N. B. There are 13 seminarians here yet; 4 expect to go out to vacation about 20 boys." [No wonder time passed so pleasantly. With such a company vacation became one long picnic.]

Feb. 17. G. H. Miles resigned his chair, as " the pay does not support me. It is out of my power to teach for less than one thousand dollars a year. If your number should reach 150 I should expect twelve hundred." He had come in the Spring of 1859.

July 13. A Southern father and mother named Tinges, of Churchville, Harford Co., Md., write to Dr. McCaffrey thanking him for information about their "prisoner-son," and begging him to tell their "boy," who is at Mr. Henart's farm near Millerstown, now Fairfield, Pa., they are going there to try and see him, that " all are well at home and thankful that he is a healthy prisoner instead of a suffering one, and thus able to relieve the poor sufferers under his care. May God reward you for all you have done for the relief of the sufferers."

Chapter 53 | Chapter Index

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