Another human interest story from Hanover!
Many of you know I have a special fondness for human interest stories from the Gettysburg Campaign. Some of it stems from old family stories passed down from my paternal great-great-uncles who fought in the 7th West Virginia at Antietam and Gettysburg, or from my maternal great-great-grandfathers who fought in various Ohio regiments, mostly in the Western Theater. My father was born in 1914, and as a young lad, he heard many tales (perhaps exaggerated, but unfortunately not documentable) from the aged Civil War vets who lived in his home of Athens County, Ohio.
I am now n the process of writing a new Civil War book manuscript for Ten Roads Publishing entitled Gettysburg Glimpses 2: More Stories from the Gettysburg Campaign. I have been perusing old newspapers, books, journals, letters, etc. for fresh stories that have seldom been used (if at all) since they were written by the eyewitnesses in the 19th century. Some of these anecdotes take place here in south-central Pennsylvania, including a few interesting ones from that I found in Harrisburg in the state damage claims. There are also some fascinating incidents from this area that appear in the regimental histories of troops that passed through here en route to Gettysburg.
Here’s one story from I particularly like, as it includes alleged dialogue between the soldiers and an unnamed Hanover area farmer. Was he one of the very men mentioned by Licensed Battlefield Guide John T. Krepps in an earlier post on the Union V Corps’ movements through the region, perhaps even Jesse Keller, on whose Adams County farm Ayres’ Division camped?
Ayres’ Division of the Union Fifth Corps went into camp just beyond Hanover, Pennsylvania, in a wide field of ripening wheat, which was trodden flat as the brigades of infantry marched over it to their respective positions. The farmer owning the land seemed the picture of despair, as he stood at the gap in the fence, watching with astonished eyes the ruthless destruction of his grain. The unfortunate farmer was becoming troublesome, so Lieutenant George F. Williams of the 146th New York was stationed in the road with a guard for the double purpose of keeping him quiet and, at the same time, preventing the men from straggling towards the town, its modest church-spires being visible beyond a strip of woods on the right.
“I say, Mr. Officer,” cried the man, as I pushed him aside with my sword to let the column pass, “you’ve no right to go in there. That’s my wheat them soldiers are treading into the dirt.”
“Oh! we won’t argue the question of rights,” said I: “when on the march, as we are, armies can not stop for trifles. At any rate, your grain is doomed: so stand aside, sir, and let the troops go on.”
“But that’s wheat. Do you understand? Wheat! Almost ready to cut too. Why didn’t that general of yours take his men into the meadows? The grass there is all mown. Why does he spoil my wheat?”
“My good man,” I replied, “I know it seems hard to destroy your wheat-crop; but don’t you see that our artillery and wagons are going into the meadows? Had we gone there, they would have been compelled to take your wheat-field, and ploughed ground is too soft for wheels. Besides, they need the hay for their horses and mules.”
“I’m a ruined man,” groaned the distracted farmer. “Why, now they are carrying off my fences! What are they going to do with them?”
“Burn ’em, me darlint,” said the Irish soldier Dennis, who had, as usual, chosen to join my temporary guard. “Shure, thim rails makes illigant fires.”
“Fires! Burn them! Why, they’ll tear down my house next.”
“Come, come, my friend. There’s no use your staying here, for you can not stop the destruction of your property. You had far better see the general, and get his certificate of the damage done. The government will pay you for it.”
“That so? Well, if I get the pay for it I don’t care how much they take,” exclaimed the farmer, as he started across the fields to find General Sykes.
“An’ do ye think Uncle Sam will pay him?” queried Dennis, a look of blank astonishment spreading over his fun-loving face.
“One of these days, I suppose, though there won’t be much haste about it,” I replied as we fell in the rear of the brigade to rejoin our regiment. Our expectations of a quiet night’s rest were, however, doomed to be disappointed; for the men had scarcely finished pitching their little shelter-tents when the bugles sounded the ominous call to strike them again for the march. In less than an hour after we had entered the wheat-field the entire corps was in rapid motion.”
The farmer was never compensated for his losses.
George F. Williams, Bullet and Shell: War as the Soldier Saw it. (New York: Forbes, Howard, and Hulbert, 1884).