Lancaster nurses visit Wrightsville and York
A delegation of ladies from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, volunteered to travel to the distant Gettysburg battlefield to help minister to the wounded soldiers being treated at a myriad of temporary field hospitals in and around the badly battered borough. One of the writers left her impressions of their brief pause in Wrightsville, and then a longer-than-planned sojourn in York.
She also gave a colorful word picture of their carriage ride from York to Gettysburg across what is today U.S. Route 30. It is a portrayal of pastoral beauty and serenity that is quite different than today’s car ride across the modern landscape.
The ladies begin their day in Columbia, Pennsylvania, where they need to arrange for a boat to ferry them across the broad Susquehanna River because the Union militia had burned the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
“The morning sun rose in a clear cloudless sky, and the beauty of this noble river never seemed so resplendant. Five o’clock found us at the appointed place, together with many others who had been there the day before, besides large accessions of new arrivals. Fortunately our horses were put on the flat, and ourselves in the carriages on the boat. There we ate our breakfast, waited four long hours, and arrived at Wrightsville at ten o’clock.
As soon as we entered the place, we saw traces of our unwelcome guests; a large house near the bridge was destroyed, and in passing through the main street, we saw many houses perforated by shot and shell. All around were rifle-pits thrown up, and there were many signs of war. But after leaving Wrightsville, (though the entire distance was traversed by the foe) there were no depredations committed, not even a rail from any of the fences disturbed, showing the strict discipline under which they were kept, while in this part of the State.
Not however, on account of any regard for us, as one of their Generals asserted while at York; but they knew that if they relaxed their discipline, their army would become so demoralized, that they would lose all control of it. It was twelve o’clock when we arrived at York, where we met some friends returning from the battlefield, who gave us much valuable information as to what we would require. The most pressing want seemed to be tin-ware, wash basins, tin cups, etc., which of course we immediately procured.
Here we dined, and though York had anything but an enviable reputation during the raid, yet we must bear testimony to the loyalty and kind hospitality of Mr. Alfred Gartman, who, though an entire stranger to most of us, gave us a warm welcome, and a dinner, which in after days, when we were our own cooks and when our store rooms were not always luxuriously supplied, we looked back upon with longing eye?
The day had become excessively hot; and we found that if we went through to Gettysburg, we would arrive there at night, which would be very undesirable; so we accepted Mr. Slagel’s kind invitation, and found a cordial welcome to one of the loveliest spots and one of the kindest Christian homes that can be met with anywhere. Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Slagel were unremitting in their attentions, not only during our stay with them, but while at the Hospital, supplying our table every week with the best their farm afforded.
We arose invigorated by a good night’s rest, and with a solemn feeling pervading our hearts, of the responsibilities of our undertaking and the nearness of our duties. We felt that God had so far smiled upon us, and would not now desert us, and that in His strength we would go forth.
All around was in the height of summer beauty; the birds sang in the clear morning sky, and the stately hills looked down on orchards laden with their crimson fruit. Though late in the season, the harvest was just yielding to the sickle. All here was beauty, quietness and peace, whilst all beyond was desolation, destruction and war. Here we listened to the sweet songs of birds, whilst within a few miles, the air was laden with shrieks of the wounded and groans of the dying.”
Taken from Hospital Scenes after the Battle of Gettysburg, published in 1864 in Lancaster by the “Patriot Daughters of Lancaster.”