Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
Evergreen Cemetery's gatehouse smack in the middle of the battle, as remembered by artist Edwin Forbes. It was someone's home. Between July 7th, 1863 and the middle of November, a small immigrant woman dug 105 graves. July, August, September, October and part of November. She dug.
So think about this. Early July, 1863. Elizabeth Thorn, wife of a soldier away somewhere in the war had already had a long, long battle. She'd rubbed elbows with both armies, met the Confederate soldier riding dead Private Sandhoe's horse, plunged into the battle with General Howard, fed officers, was evicted out into the battle again, saw her belongings carted away, argued with guards to get back to her home after her boss told her ' Start digging '. Pregnant, 3 small boys and a shovel. That was July. It took her 4 1/2 months.
Evergreen Cemetery's president was David McCaughey, a local attorney who interestingly organized that officer's - only reunion in 1869. In the new hotel he built. It was not well attended. He also interestingly kept a tiny, pregnant Elizabeth Thorn digging graves from July 7th to November 19th, 1863.
Forbes was back in Gettysburg documenting the National Cemetery, literally next door to Evergreen. Men- more than one, swinging pick axes at unforgiving dirt within sight of the little Mom doing the same thing.
Elizabeth, 3 small children and her parents picked their way around bodies and climbed over a few July 7th, back to what was left of home. She began digging not because, as is some popular myth, she was a patriotic woman although she was- her boss ' had it fixed ', soldiers were to be buried in Evergreen.
Two of the Thorn boys sometime in August, outside their home's door. Mom was somewhere behind them in this shot, over that hill. Digging.Interesting, this shot captures pretty much the direction of her efforts- if you walked past that small ( evergreen ) tree and kept going, you'd have met her.
Her account is some of the most riveting of the battle. It just hit me- post-battle, she dug until Lincoln got there.
She paid for help burying those men- the cemetery was paid for their internment.
105 graves- it's a famous story. The thing is, what were any of us doing between July and November? Elizabeth Masser Thorn was burying 105 fallen soldiers- July, August, September, October and a few weeks in November, 1863. Then the president came to town.
By November the last wounded were being sent to hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Harrisburg. Nurses, army and civilian, at Letterman helped the Sanitary Commission and Christian Commission begin the process of closing. Tents down, supplies directed, orders to move to another battlefield received. Adams County Sentinel published articles on the harvest, church news, births, deaths and marriages and battles elsewhere. And Elizabeth was still hacking graves from hard, PA soil. That's crazy.
Today is November 8th- so she had another 10 days or so.