A Newspaper Editor's
View of Gettysburg
Having done all he could in Grover's behalf, Cole then visited the hospital on College Hill, where a large number of wounded rebel prisoners were being treated. To his surprise, Cole came upon the great Mississippi orator, Col. John K. Clinton, who spoke in Cortland years before during the campaign of Stephen A. Douglas. Clinton was only slightly wounded, but had been taken prisoner. He had led the "Louisiana Tigers" in a desperate charge on Battery B, I Corps, at the close of the battle on July 3.
Cole said one of the most heart-rending experiences he had at the hospital was his encounter with a young captain from Georgia who was lying on a blanket on the floor. He had had both arms and legs shot off. A day or so before the battle he had received a letter from his young wife, but hadn't had time to read it.
"The letter was filled with assurances of prayers and blessings for the Southern Army, and urging her husband to fight gallantly for the cause of the South. Alas! he had fought his last fight! A moment after, the surgeon addressed him, saying: 'Captain, we can do nothing for you; you can live but a short time.' Tears rolled down the pale face of the young man, but he had not a hand to wipe them away. We wiped the tears from his eyes and gave him some water, when he looked up, and said 'Thank God, I am going to die beneath the stars and stripes.' We could not help turning away and weeping."
Cole and his companion then mounted their horse and rode over the battlefield. "Horror of horrors! We are unable to describe the scenes which we witnessed. We saw men—rebels—piled up in heaps, who were yet unburied. Many of them were in such a state of decomposition that their appearances were nauseating in the extreme, while their bloated and blackened corpses were disgusting to the sight.
"The once beautiful 'Evergreen Cemetery,' presented a sad appearance. From its commanding site, it was found necessary to post certain of our batteries on the summit of the eminence on which the city of the dead is located. It was one of the best positions we occupied, and the fire of the enemy's artillery was constantly directed upon it with a view of driving us back from the crest.
"The ground about our guns was literally strewn with shot and shell; tombstones erected over the remains of beloved relations were thrown from their positions and broken into fragments; graves were turned up by plunging shot; tasteful railings and other ornamental work around the lots were badly shattered, and even the beautiful archway over the entrance to the sacred enclosure was splintered and penetrated. One thing remained untouched, which was the placard at the entrance reading: 'All persons are prohibited from disturbing any flower or shrub within these grounds.'"
The battle took its toll on Gettysburg, and its residents "probably suffered more from the rapacity of the rebels than those of any other town in Pennsylvania," Cole said. Stores were ransacked and emptied of their contents. Anything they could not use the rebels destroyed.
"Dwellings too were entered, and where men's clothing could not be procured, that of women and children was taken into the streets and roads, torn into fragments and cast aside," Cole said. He added:
"The houses of the professors in the educational institutions shared the same fate; and from one store here even the clocks were taken out and destroyed. Everything eatable and drinkable was secured by the rebels, and such was their unlimited stealing that they did not even extend the courtesy of offering Southern shinplasters. Visitors to the battle-field will fare badly if they do not provide themselves before leaving with such articles of food and luxury as may be necessary during their sojourn in that section."
But Cole was not impressed with what he termed the "selfishness of the people" of Gettysburg.
"The conduct of a majority of the male citizens of Gettysburg, and the surrounding county of Adams, is such as to stamp them with dishonor and craven-hearted meanness. And these are the unanimous sentiments of the whole Army of the Potomac—an army who fought as men never fought before, and who feel that the doors from which they drove a host of robbers, thieves and cut-throats, were not worthy of being defended. The male citizens mostly ran away and left the women and children to the mercy of their enemies.
"On their return, instead of lending a helping hand to our wounded, and opening their houses to our famished officers and soldiers, they manifested indecent haste to present their bills to the military authorities for payment of losses inflicted by both armies. On the streets the burden of their talk was in regard to their losses, and whether the government could be compelled to pay for this or that.
"One man said the stench from dead horses on his farm was very offensive, but he would not bury them himself unless some officer of the government would guarantee that he should be paid for it. On Thursday, a bill of seventeen hundred dollars was presented to Gen. Howard for damage to the cemetery during the fight. One man presented Gen. Howard a bill of thirty-seven cents for four bricks knocked off the chimney of his house by our artillery.
"Our wearied, and in many instances wounded soldiers, found pumps locked so that they could not get water. A hungry officer asked a woman for something to eat, and she first inquired how much he would pay. Another begged for a drink of milk, and the female wished to know if he had any change.
"These persons, it should be remarked, were not poor, but among the most substantial citizens of the town and vicinity, around whom, upon either hand, are fertile lands of yellow wheat pining for the sickle, and tall maize nodding obeisance to the wind and to numerous passers-by."
Cole said "We saw a poor wounded soldier in the city of Gettysburg pay a dollar for a bandage about two inches wide and a yard long. Pies baked in saucers, were sold for a dollar a piece, and milk was dealt out to the wounded and thirsty defenders of the soil of Pennsylvania at twenty-five cents a quart."
In striking contrast was the hospitality shown by the people of Maryland. "No doors were closed upon the weary soldiers, nor pumps chained up against them," Cole said, adding that women and children "appeared at the doors of their dwellings with delicacies and cold spring water for the soldiers.
"We spent the night of Tuesday at the mansion of one of the substantial farmers, who was surrounded by all that wealth could give him. His family had taken every sheet and pillow case from their beds, and the wife and three daughters had taken every garment of their underclothes and torn them into bandages, and sent them to the Union soldiers, free of charge. Their supply of provisions was nearly exhausted, and their sumptuous table of ten days before, had given place to bread and bacon. But such as they had was freely provided, and no remuneration would be received."
Cole admonished his readers; "Let us from all quarters have a little less lip-patriotism which is ready to show itself in deeds and sacrifices, too, if they are called for."
First Lt. Uberto A. Burnham, quartermaster of the 76th, read Cole's account with great interest, but made some interesting observations. In a letter dated July 31, 1863, written at "Camp at Warrenton Junction," he said, "Of the original 76th which came from Cortland, there are indeed very few left. Those who are left are true fellows, and carry with them the memories of many bloody battles."
He noted that if Cole "had been a soldier he would have been more discreet and not told how he got his pass. If when he was at Westminster he had gone about one-half mile east of the town on the Baltimore Pike, he would have found the quartermaster of the 76th, who would have been glad of the opportunity to provide him with a horse."
But Burnham said that Cole's account was generally accurate. "What he said of the generous hospitality of the people of Maryland is all true. We all give Maryland a warm place in our memories. We (those belonging to the train) were not in Pennsylvania 24 hours, and therefore did not get much acquainted with the people. I have no doubt some or those living in the southern part of the state think more of their pockets than they do of their country, but never in my life did I hear before of such extortion, such meanness, as Editor Cole tells of. It must be most of our sutlers come from southern Pennsylvania."
Burnham was the last survivor of the 76th, and passed away on July 3, 1930, at the age of 93. He served as first sergeant of the regiment until February, 1863. when he was commissioned and became quartermaster.
© 1996, Richard F. Palmer
An Account of the Battle of Gettysburg by Sergeant Edgar D. Haviland,