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Carrie Sheads

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by W. Richardson, Oct 23, 2014.

  1. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    GETTYSBURG will be ranked in history as one of the few great, decisive battles of the world; and, in consequence, every hero who fell, and a great many of those who figured there, will enjoy a prominence not accorded to those who fought and bled on the other fields. So of those who were casually connected with those three momentous days, so big with the destiny of the republic.


    The name of Carrie Sheads, besides its association with that great battle-field, will be remembered as of one who, being summoned, by the terrible boom of hostile cannon, from a life of quiet and scholastic seclusion, met the terrible demands of the hour with the calmness of a heroine, and, amid the roar and crash of battle, and the fierce hate of the fiery belligerents, acted with a discretion and genuine courage which entitle her name and her act to be held in perpetual remembrance by the daughters of America.


    When Lee's army advanced to the invasion of Pennsylvania, Miss Sheads was principal of Oakridge Seminary, a short distance west of the village. As many idle and groundless rumors of the rebel advance had reached the village, she had at length dismissed anxiety, become indifferent to the reports, and kept on in the even tenor of her way, little dreaming how soon or how fiercely the storm would burst around her. The evening of the 30th of June came, and with it Buford's cavalry, the van of the army of the Potomac. The first brigade of this division camped on the Chambersburg Pike, not more than two hundred yards from the seminary.


    Closing the usual routine of the day, she promised her scholars a holiday on the morrow, to enable them to visit the camp, and contribute to the comfort of the weary and hungry soldier boys.


    The next morning was ushered in by the heavy boom of artillery, soon followed by sharp volleys of carbine and musket shots. So suddenly and unexpectedly had war unfurled its gorgeous but bloody panorama around her and the cluster of girls in her care that no time was left to withdraw to a place of safety, and the battle was now actually raging a few hundred yards from her door.


    So near the line of battle, and situated on the turnpike, the buildings of Oakridge Seminary were soon used as a hospital; and, with that amazing suddenness which can happen only in a time of active and invasive warfare,

    Miss Sheads found herself converted from the principal of a young ladies' seminary into the lady superintendent of an army hospital. The world is familiar with the story of this great battle, of which this cavalry engagement on the morning of the 1st of July was the opening; how Buford, with his handful of cavalry, checked the advance of the rebel masses, till Reynolds, with the First corps, came to their relief, and, by the assistance of the Eleventh and part of the Third, seized upon the key point of the position, — the Cemetery Ridge,—which was strengthened by the entire Union force as it came up, and which, at the end of three days of awful carnage, remained secure in the iron grasp of the Federal army. The issue of the first day's fight was the falling back of Howard —who commanded after Reynolds fell—from Seminary Ridge, where the action began, to Cemetery Ridge, on the other side of the town. Slowly and sadly the veterans of the First corps turned to obey the order. And, although the rebels pressed them hard, and sought by desperate charges and wild huzzas to rout them in confusion, still they maintained their discipline, and obstinately contested every inch of ground.


    Reynolds had fallen, but the dead hero had left his own gallant and self-devoting spirit in the breasts of his men. They were fighting on their own soil, by their own hearthstones, on hills that had been familiar to many of them from boyhood; and this had made heroes of them all.


    Among the last to leave the field were the Ninety-seventh New York infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Wheelock, who, after fighting hand-to-hand as long as there was a shadow of hope, undertook to lead his broken column through the only opening in the enemy's lines, which were fast closing around him.



    Arriving on the grounds of Oakridge Seminary, the gallant colonel found his only avenue of escape effectually closed, and, standing in a vortex of fire, from front, rear, and both flanks, encouraged his men to fight with the naked bayonet, hoping to force a passage through the walls of steel which surrounded him. Finding all his efforts vain, he ascended the steps of the seminary, and waved a white pocket handkerchief in token of surrender. The rebels, not seeing it, or taking no notice of it, continued to pour their murderous volleys into the helpless ranks. The colonel then opened the door, and called for a large white cloth. Carrie Sheads stood there, and readily supplied him with one. "When the rebels saw his token of surrender they ceased firing, and the colonel went into the basement to rest himself, for he was thoroughly exhausted.


    Soon a rebel officer came in, with a detail of men, and, on entering, declared, with an oath, that he would show them "southern grit." He then began taking the officers' side arms. Seeing Colonel Wheelock vainly endeavoring to break his sword, which was of trusty metal, and resisted all his efforts, the rebel demanded the weapon; but the colonel was of the same temper as his sword, and turning to the rebel soldier, declared he would never surrender his sword to a traitor while he lived. The rebel then drew a revolver, and told him if he did not surrender his sword he would shoot him. But the colonel was a veteran, and had been in close places before. Drawing himself up proudly, he tore open his uniform, and still grasping his well-tried blade, bared his bosom, and bade the rebel "shoot," but he would guard his sword with his life. At this moment, Elias Sheads, Carrie's father, stepped between the two, and begged them not to be rash; but he was soon pushed aside, and the rebel repeated his threat. Seeing the danger to which the colonel was exposed. Miss Sheads, true to the instincts of her sex, rushed between them, and besought the rebel not to kill a man so completely in his power, there was already enough blood shed, and why add another defenceless victim to the list? Then turning to the colonel, she pleaded with him not to be so rash, but to surrender his sword, and save his life; that by refusing he would lose both, and the government would lose a valuable officer. But the colonel still refused, saying, "This sword was given me by my friends for meritorious conduct, and I promised to guard it sacredly, and never surrender or disgrace it; and I never will while I live." Fortunately, at this moment the attention of the rebel officer was drawn away for the time by the entrance of other prisoners, and while he was thus occupied Miss Sheads, seizing the favorable opportunity, with admirable presence of mind unclasped the colonel's sword from his belt, and hid it in the folds of her dress. When the rebel officer returned, the colonel told him he was willing to surrender, and that one of his men had taken his sword and passed out. This artifice succeeded, and the colonel “fell in" with the other prisoners, who were drawn up in line to march to the rear, and thence to some one of the loathsome southern prison pens, many of them to meet a terrible death, and fill an unknown grave.


    When the prisoners had all been collected, and were about starting. Miss Sheads, remembering the wounded men in the house, turned to the rebel officer, and told him that there were seventy-two wounded men in the building, and asked him if he would not leave some of the prisoners to help take care of them. The officer replied that he had already left three. "But," said Miss Sheads, “three are not sufficient." "Then keep five, and select those you want, except commissioned officers," was the rebel's unexpected reply. On the fifth day after the battle, Colonel Wheelock unexpectedly made his appearance, and received his sword from the hands of its noble guardian, with those profound emotions which only the soldier can feel and understand, and, with the sacred blade again in his possession, started at once to the front, where he won for himself new laurels, and was promoted to the rank of a brigadier-general. He had managed to effect his escape from the rebels while crossing South Mountain, and, after considerable difficulty and suffering, succeeded in reaching Gettysburg in safety.

    General Wheelock finally died of camp fever, in Washington City, near the close of the war, in January, 1865.


    As the battle raged. Miss Sheads and her little flock continued unterrified in the midst of the awful cannonade, she soothing and cheering the girls, and they learning from her that noble calmness in danger which, under all circumstances, and in either sex, stamps the character with an air of true nobility, and indicates genuine heroism.


    The seminary was hit in more than sixty places, and two shells passed entirely through it. At length Miss Sheads and her young ladies became accustomed, as it were, to the situation, and in the intervals of the uproar would walk out in the grounds, and watch the magnificent yet fearful sight, that the slopes of Cemetery Hill presented.


    All devoted themselves to the great number of wounded with whom their halls and large rooms were crowded. For many days after the fighting ceased, and Lee had withdrawn his mutilated army south of the mountain, these poor fellows remained there, and were most kindly cared for, till all whose injuries were serious had been removed to the general hospitals that had been fitted up on the hills at the other side of the town.


    The annoyance suffered by having the battle at their threshold was not the only trial which the war laid upon the family of Miss Sheads. There were four brothers, who, imbibing the spirit of patriotism which animated so many thousands in all the loyal states at the outbreak of the rebellion, thought


    "The time had come 'when brothers must fight,
    And sisters must pray at home."​


    The two eldest joined the army at the first call for troops, and by reenlistment remained in service until one was discharged for disability, and the other fell while bravely fighting at the battle of Monocacy.


    The other two joined the army later; one of whom entered the hospital at City Point, while the other received, at White Oak Swamp, wounds which have made him an invalid for life. All four have proved their loyalty on the bloody field, and, while two of them


    "Sleep their last sleep,
    And have fought their last battle,"​


    another, by her exertions in providing for the sufferers and for the family, at the time of the great battle, has rendered herself a chronic invalid. Thus five of this interesting and deeply loyal family have laid the most precious of earthly gifts —life and health—as free-will offerings on the altar of their country.


    Source: Women Of The War: Their Heroism And Self-Sacrifice Pages: 238 - 244 by Frank Moore


    Respectfully,

    William
     

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  3. JerseyBart

    JerseyBart Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    The seminary is an amazing place. The stories of regular people being forced to do irregular tasks always amazes me. Thank you for sharing.
     
  4. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Thanks for sharing.
     
  5. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Captain Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Thank you W. Richardson.
    I had asked myself already how the people from the seminary reacted to the battle unfolding in front of them. A very interesting read! But I'm astonished that Ms Sheads had planned to give her girls a holiday so that they could "visit the camp, and contribute to the comfort of the weary and hungry soldier boys."
    I had thought that an army camp full of soldiers would have not been considered the proper place to be for young girls inthe 19th century. If even female nurses had to be 50+ so that they can neither seduce nor being seduced by the wounded soldiers, a bunch of young healthy girls would have been seen as more than endangered IMO.
     
  6. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Find A Grave Link for Carrie Sheads:
    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10929950&ref=acom
    10929950_111758770588.jpg

    Congressman Thaddeus Stevens obtained clerkships for Carrie and her sister Elizabeth (Lizzie) in Washington DC. Carrie worked there until her death in February, 1884. Her body was returned to Gettysburg for burial. Elizabeth died in 1914 and is buried beside Carrie. Three of her brothers died in the war and a fourth was reported to be disabled. The home / school building mentioned in William's post still exists and remained in the family at least until 2008 (see linked website).
    http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/christmas-decorations-on-the-carrie-sheads-house/
     
  7. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Here is pictorial look at this story. The map below is from there. The house is number 6. Very clear that it was in the territory that changed hands July 1st...

    [​IMG]
     
  8. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    I need a map like that so I won't get lost in Gettysburg, like I usually do! Thanks for posting. Is there a key for the other numbers?
     
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  9. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    If you click on the link (the word "Here") and scroll down the new tab to the second panel the key for the numbers is just below.
     
  10. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    from that link:

    It is a map of houses with battle damage. The Sheads' house has an artillery shell lodged in it (from the same link : )

    Sheads01010908.jpg
     
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  11. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    Please excuse my ignorance, but is that shell exiting the building? If so, did it go right through the house? if it could do that, just imagining what it could do to a body is horrific.
     
  12. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Indeed. There were 2 shells that went through that house. The other one all the way. That damage (as well as the entry damage for this shell) were repaired and are not visible today.
     
  13. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    Thanks ErnieMac.
     
  14. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    "
    The colonel then opened the door, and called for a large white cloth. Carrie Sheads stood there, and readily supplied him with one. "When the rebels saw his token of surrender they ceased firing, and the colonel went into the basement to rest himself, for he was thoroughly exhausted.

    Soon a rebel officer came in, with a detail of men, and, on entering, declared, with an oath, that he would show them "southern grit." He then began taking the officers' side arms. Seeing Colonel Wheelock vainly endeavoring to break his sword, which was of trusty metal, and resisted all his efforts, the rebel demanded the weapon; but the colonel was of the same temper as his sword, and turning to the rebel soldier, declared he would never surrender his sword to a traitor while he lived. The rebel then drew a revolver, and told him if he did not surrender his sword he would shoot him. But the colonel was a veteran, and had been in close places before. Drawing himself up proudly, he tore open his uniform, and still grasping his well-tried blade, bared his bosom, and bade the rebel "shoot," but he would guard his sword with his life. At this moment, Elias Sheads, Carrie's father, stepped between the two, and begged them not to be rash; but he was soon pushed aside, and the rebel repeated his threat. Seeing the danger to which the colonel was exposed. Miss Sheads, true to the instincts of her sex, rushed between them, and besought the rebel not to kill a man so completely in his power, there was already enough blood shed, and why add another defenceless victim to the list? Then turning to the colonel, she pleaded with him not to be so rash, but to surrender his sword, and save his life; that by refusing he would lose both, and the government would lose a valuable officer. But the colonel still refused, saying, "This sword was given me by my friends for meritorious conduct, and I promised to guard it sacredly, and never surrender or disgrace it; and I never will while I live."


    I wonder why this Colonel was so headstrong and against giving up his sword even if it meant giving up his life ? Was his honor that high, that deep ? Was his belief in his word that deep ?

    Respectfully,

    William
     
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  15. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    He seems to have been an intensely determined man. A few quotes from the Boonville (NY) Historical Club blog:
    http://boonvillehistoricalclub.wordpress.com/boonville-history/remembering-a-civil-war-hero/
    According to Hall (History of the Ninety-Seventh Regiment New York Volunteers – Conkling Rifles by Isaac Hall) Wheelock “possessed a highly social nature but was a man of great determination; and was keenly sensitive in his views of right and always ready to defend them.” ​

    From a letter he wrote describing his escape from retreating Confederates after Gettysburg - "I can assure you my reflections were not very pleasant, two days and two nights without food or water, except berries, and water from the heavens, which was plenty, as it rained constantly. While making my escape from the guard I fell down a ledge of rocks, about eight feet, and perhaps that saved me…as I was contented to remain there through the night for the reason that I could not well help myself. I am yet sore from the effects of that fall. I killed a rattle snake which I dislike almost as bad as I do a rebel.”​

    "On his last visit to the village, a friend had argued with Wheelock about going back. Although his health was feeble, the commander insisted on “seeing this thing out. ..... Soon after his death, the men learned that Wheelock had been brevetted a brigadier general back in August and offered the command of a brigade, but had turned down the position to stay with the boys of the 97th."​
     
  16. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    Yes he did seem to be a very determined man.

    Wheelock “possessed a highly social nature but was a man of great determination; and was keenly sensitive in his views of right and always ready to defend them.

    Respectfully,

    William
     
  17. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    It is difficult to know how deep our sense of right and wrong is when the rubber hits the road. Would I die for my principles? I guess that depends on what the consequences of denying them would be. Hope I never need to find out!
     
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  18. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    That is true and something I do not think any of us know or will know until placed in a situation were the rubber hits the road. We all do know right from wrong but notice it says "his views of right". What I am working towards is this..........

    Could not the same be said of the men of the South ? As to why they fought ? Why the war came ?
    Wheelock was willing to die over a sword and his word to defend it. The Confederates "in their view of right" was fighting for much more.

    Not meaning to deviate from the topic, but when I was reading this and posting it, Wheelocks actions struck me, here was one man willing to die for his views of right and his word to defend the sword. Does that not explain also to some degree as to why the South fought, seeked Independence ?

    Respectfully,

    William
     
  19. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    William, I was wondering when the other boot was going to drop, and I wasn't disappointed. I think you are hoping to open a can of worms with this post.:smile:
    I think that this entirely depends on why each soldier chose to fight. If they were fighting for the rights of their states, did the average soldier have a clear understanding of exactly what those rights that were being infringed on were? Were they fighting to preserve a way of life? Did all those soldiers who fought enjoy the priviledges of that way of life? Were they fighting to keep slaves in bondage? These things are unknowable.
    However, I can understand that some of the men who fought for the Confederacy fought because their lands were being invaded. This can be seen in the reluctance of many Confederate soldiers to go to fight in Maryland during the 1862 campaign. It is one thing to defend your home, and quite another thing to invade someone else's home.
    I would hazard a guess that many had similar feelings about the Gettysburg campaign, but by that time perhaps larger issues of loyalty prevailed.
    We can only guess what motivates soldiers. It would be hard enough now to guess, but 150 years ago, we cannot even begin to guess what motivated men to fight and keep on fighting. Personal beliefs, pressure from family, political rhetoric, any and all of these things. Perhaps even just a basic bloodlust.
    Did they think they were right? Well, we are all quite capable of finding ways of justifying our actions. Does that make them right? Maybe and maybe not. I think however, that the main issue with the outcome of the war is not who was right or who was wrong. The main issue is that because the war was fought, 3 million people were no longer were owned.
    Three million people were free to live as they chose, to keep their fanilies together, to live as human beings, not as animals.
    To keep on fighting with words a war that ended 150 years ago does nothing to heal any breaches in the country. Living in a vast country such as the United States or Canada precludes any other but National unity. Our regional differences can find unity only in loyalty to the whole. Regional differences will always be a fact of life. What the West needs or wants is differnt from what the West Coast needs or want which is different from what the Northeast needs or wants which is again different from what the South needs or wants, not to mention any other areas in between. The Civil War was a horrible experience of testing for your country. Reconstruction was in a lot of ways even worse. We now live in a different world, in which people move from North to South from East to West and everywhere in between. Sectionalism continually loses ground, which I think it a good thing. Time to move forward. Celebrate your history, don't become a slave to it.
     
  20. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Everyone was fighting for what he/she thought it was "right", unless someone else made him/her fight.
     
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  21. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    See always jumping to conclusions...........On the can of worms one you are wrong.

    Now as to the rest of your post........I can agree with most of it. Most of what I asked, as you pointed out, can not be known.

    Respectfully,

    William
     

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