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Elizabeth Thorn's Boys Through The Gatehouse Portal

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by JPK Huson 1863, Jul 14, 2017.

  1. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    thorn boys and cem.JPG
    Fred and George Thorn's portal forever opens onto Evergreen's side porch. The door behind them, no longer bricked over, enticingly swings on phantom hinges- into Gettysburg's forever summer, 1863.

    With apologies to Gettysburg Greg, swear I've been poking around in these old treasures for quite awhile. Evergreen's Gatehouse is a huge favorite; more precisely Peter and Elizabeth Thorn's home. If I can't boast a copy of every, single era photo including one featuring the Thorn family laundry, over five years there are a good number.

    thorn kids.jpg
    I forget who the man is said to be. For some reason not Peter Thorn, who was home on emergency leave from the war or John Maser, Elizabeth Thorn's immigrant father who lived, until July 1st, 1863, in the other side of the gatehouse? No expert here, seems as if, with the boys so close, he would be one of the two.

    Favorite? Two small boys dangling legs over the Thorn side, of what was the main, residential entrance. Long bricked over, an identical mismatch on the other side indicates where Elizabeth's parents, the Maser's, lived until July 1st, 1863. Elizabeth moved back in to the Gatehouse July 7th. Her boys, Fred, George and John would have, too- these two must be Fred and George- born 1856 and 1858. Two year old John let loose outside? Thinking not.

    ' Famous ' for having buried over 100 men, alone, in blazing PA heat while pregnant with daughter Rose, heck, that was just a veritable nightcap- trifecta, on powerful men pushing an immigrant woman through terrifying events centered around her teeny home. Understandably, we have more than one thread on the Thorns!

    https://civilwartalk.com/threads/fo...eth-thorns-story-digs-on.126016/#post-1364759

    https://civilwartalk.com/threads/elizabeth-thorns-gettysburg-gatehouse-home.110227/#post-1060632

    thorn2.jpg
    Harper's illustration, the family home top, right


    “everything in the house was gone except three feather beds and a couple of pillows. The beds and a dozen pillows we had brought from the old country (Germany) were not fit to use again. The legs of six soldiers had been amputated on the beds in our house and they were ruined with blood and we had to make way with them.”
    Elizabeth Maser Thorn

    What a lot these little boys saw.

    thorn bys.JPG
     

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  3. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Great pictures.
     
  4. PeterT

    PeterT 2nd Lieutenant

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    Excellent!
     
  5. JOHN42768

    JOHN42768 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Very nice
     
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  6. jay gale

    jay gale First Sergeant

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    very cool, fascinating walking through that Cemetary and seeing so many prominent Gettysburg names there.
     
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  7. MRB1863

    MRB1863 Captain Forum Host

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    Mrs. Thorn..........a true patriot of tremendous character. God Bless her.
     
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  8. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    DSC04473.JPG

    I knew little about her before last year's September to Remember gathering where I encountered her fairly recent statue and descriptive plaque just inside the Evergreen Cemetery gate house. Since I haven't posted these here as yet this seems like a good place to do so!

    DSC04474.JPG

    DSC04475.JPG
     
  9. jameswoods

    jameswoods Cadet

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    The following is an unpublished essay I wrote about the Thorns which includes some information about Elizabeth's brother that I haven't seen elsewhere.

    Peter Thorn and Elizabeth and her brother Baltzer and parents John and Catherine Masser all immigrated to the United States from the Duchy of Hesse Darmstadt, Germany. Whether the romance that ultimately resulted in the marriage of Peter and Elizabeth in September 1855 began in Germany, or on the high seas or with a social meeting in company with her older brother in the United States is unknown, but in 1862 the entire family was living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse. The Massers lived in one side of the archway building; Peter, Elizabeth and their three boys: Fred (6 years), George (4 years) and John (1 year) in the other. Peter was the hired caretaker for the Cemetery and undoubtedly had the help of his friend and brother-in-law, Baltzer Masser.


    That year, Peter and Baltzer could no longer ignore the appeals to patriotism that had filled the newspapers since the outbreak of the war and both enlisted in the newly formed 138th Pennsylvania Volunteer infantry. Assigned to the relatively peaceful task of guarding a critical railroad junction in Maryland, the unbloodied 138th granted Corporal Thorn a furlough in January 1863. Neither he nor Elizabeth could know that when he returned to his regiment that February that they would not see each other again until the end of the war, more than two years later. Thirty one year old Elizabeth and her sixty three year old father would have to manage until his return. In June 1863, then six months pregnant with her fourth child, Elizabeth was about to come face to face with the war that had thus far eluded her husband.

    On June 26, members of the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, known as “White’s Comanches”, routed the hastily trained local Gettysburg militia and galloped into town in advance of Major General Jubal Early’s Division. Elizabeth was a short distance from the Gate House when six of the riders came up Baltimore Street into the Cemetery whooping their war cries and firing their pistols into the air. Frightened for her mother, Elizabeth briefly fainted but, coming to, she hurried to the building where she was assured by the mounted Confederates that she nothing to fear from them except their appetite for bread and butter and buttermilk. That whole day Elizabeth and her mother baked fresh bread for the Rebels while her boys pumped water until their hands were blistered. On the 27th of June they were gone.

    On the following Wednesday, July 1st, the Confederates returned but instead of militia they found two Corps of the Army of the Potomac drawn up to oppose them. The Battle of Gettysburg had begun. Elizabeth followed the fortunes of the battle from the window of the Gate House’s upper floor and, in late afternoon, saw the Union soldiers retreating through the fields and town in great numbers. Cannon were unlimbered around the Gate house and one of Major General Otis Howard’s officers asked a boy of about 13 years of age to put some names to the roads that could be seen from Cemetery Hill leading into Gettysburg. Elizabeth objected to exposing the youngster to possible injury and volunteered herself for the task. Walking with the officer out to the crest of East Cemetery Hill, Elizabeth identified the Harrisburg Road, Hunterstown Road and York Pike before returning to the safety of the Gate House.

    Later that afternoon Elizabeth started to go up to the second floor when she noticed that a Confederate shell had cut through the window frame and ricocheted through the ceiling. Realizing that the upper floors were no longer safe, Elizabeth moved the children’s mattresses to the first floor kitchen and that is where they slept while Generals Howard, Slocum and Sickles and Meade had a midnight meal of the bread cakes she had baked earlier. General Howard told her before he left that she and her family could safely stay where they were until daybreak, but he expected hard fighting to begin then and to seek shelter in the cellar at that hour. However, if and when they were ordered to leave, they had to obey immediately. He also told her to pack her best things and place them in the cellar for safekeeping. This she at once did and then tried to get some sleep before the storm broke.

    Between seven and eight o’clock that July 2nd morning, the order was given and without the opportunity to take anything with them or get anything to eat, the Thorns were turned out amidst an artillery exchange between Confederate and Federal batteries. With shells bursting behind them, they were directed to head south along the Baltimore Pike and for the next four days lived as refugees begging for food and places to rest in houses invariably filled with wounded soldiers. Finally, on July 7th, Elizabeth and her father and children started back toward Gettysburg. On the way Elizabeth met David McConaughy, President of the Evergreen Cemetery, who told her to, “Hurry on home, there is more work for you than you are able to do”.

    Entering the Gatehouse, Elizabeth’s heart sank; all the windows had been shattered, furniture was missing and the good German linen and clothes she had packed in two sturdy chests and left for safekeeping in the cellar were all gone. The three featherbeds her children had slept on were soiled with mud and stained with blood. With no time to brood over things that couldn’t be helped, Elizabeth set out to fix the pump (broken in their absence) and then to scrub the bed clothes until they were clean. It took four days and the help of three other women to do it but it got done. No sooner had that been accomplished, than Elizabeth got a note from David McConaughy notifying her that temporary graves were needed to be dug as temporary resting places for Union soldiers killed in the battle.

    Elizabeth and her father started at once, even attempting to hire others to help. However the foul air sickened the two who came (there were fifteen dead horses near the house and another nineteen in the cemetery) and they soon left, leaving the entire burden to fall on an old man and a pregnant woman. At that time only forty graves had been dug and additional bodies were being delivered daily. Without any other choice, father and daughter redoubled their efforts and by the time the National Cemetery was ready, the two had buried ninety one soldiers and fourteen civilians. Before the battle, burials at the Cemetery averaged five a month for a town of approximately 2,400 inhabitants.

    Three months later, on November 1st, Rose Meade Thorn was born. However, Elizabeth wrote that the baby was not very strong (Rose died at age fourteen) and that her own health was poor for quite some time after that period, but improved as she got older. Elizabeth would bear four more children, only two of whom would survive to maturity. Peter Thorn survived a wound received at the battle of Opequon in 1864, saw the Confederate surrender at Appomattox and participated in the Grand Review of the Armies at Washington, D.C. in 1865 before finally returning home, a civilian once again. Elizabeth’s brother was listed as a deserter in May 1863 and disappeared from history.

    The Thorns stayed on as caretakers until 1874, both dying in 1907 and lie in adjoining graves approximately 200 yards from the arched Gate House that was their home. Without the 1905 memoir that Elizabeth penned before her death, her remarkable story would have been lost to posterity. Fortunately it survived and in recognition of her fortitude, a memorial sculpture portraying the heroine stands just within the cemetery grounds. Elizabeth is shown with the back of one hand to her brow the other resting on her stomach as a long handled spade leans against her body; she is taking a moment’s rest.

    Jim
     
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  10. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    Thank you so much! I'd never have gotten through that without several side rants- you did extremely well! McConaughy's portion would have sidetracked the whole thing and gotten a lynching party together. Sorry- not a fan and find it a terrible chore writing objectively when it comes to his responsibility in Elizabeth's ordeal. We just had to move a few Hosta on our property here in Central PA. Resorted to the backho digger and my husband after hacking for an hour, in July, at baked, PA dirt. Doesn't Elizabeth write her father had to stop helping, too, due to how arduous the work?

    Not to pick holes- but Elizabeth met Generals from both armies, was asked to cook, then told to leave her home. It was a crazy kind of battle for her- of all the civilian accounts I've read, hers is the most varied. Taking second place only to the Gettysburg citizens from the black community who were kidnapped and taken South for terrifying, her story still isn't as comprehensively known as even poor Mary Virginia Wade.

    It's amazing, the Woman's Memorial was dedicated in 2002- read somewhere one man's efforts spearheaded the memorial to Elizabeth but now cannot find his name.
     
  11. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    As ever, thank you! Who didn't know you'd have Elizabeth? Plus, bet you know this. I can't find it. It's such a recent memorial it should be simple to re-discover and noooooo. Read one man became interested in Elizabeth's story and was the force behind her memorial. Any idea who he is, please? You know our cemeteries and research down to bedrock.
     
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  12. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Unfortunately, I only know what's on the tablet. And I accidentally found the statue while looking through the cemetery.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  13. infomanpa

    infomanpa Sergeant

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    I was pleasantly surprised when driving through Evergreen Cemetery that I could drive right through the gatehouse! My first thought was...is this allowed? I guess it spooked me that here I was, at Gettysburg on July 3, crowds everywhere and no one going in or out of the cemetery with a car.
     

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