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Encounter with the Sherfy Women?

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Tom Elmore, Aug 12, 2017.

  1. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore Sergeant Major

    Jan 16, 2015
    At around 10:15 a.m. on the morning of July 2, four companies of the First U.S. Sharpshooters, along with the 3rd Maine, clashed with Wilcox’s Alabama troops in and around Pitzer’s woods, about 1200 yards west of the Emmitsburg Road. The Federals were heavily outnumbered and soon retreated on the run toward the southeast (in the direction of the Sherfy farm buildings). Lewis J. Allen, First Sergeant of the Sharpshooters’ Company F, recalled that he struck plowed ground upon leaving the woods and soon became so winded in trying to outrun his pursuers that he fell with exhaustion upon passing the gate of a farm house. The two women of the house came out. Allen wrote, “The Irish lady, seeing my convulsive clasp on my side and struggle for breath (said) ‘Lord save us, he’s shot!’ They ran into the house, crying: ‘Where’s the butcher knife?’ and to my horror, she brought a huge knife like a seaman’s cutlass, cutting off my belt, knapsack, haversack and canteen. As last I managed to gasp, ‘Don’t cut any more, I’m not shot!’ She fiercely turned with: ‘Ye blathering divil ye, ye’re making all that divil’s fuss and not shot?’ I looked up to see a squad of rebs coming through the gate as I had done, and, making hasty grab for my traps that lay as the old lady had strewn them about me, I went out of the front gate ‘on the fly,’ and turning left on the road ran in the direction of Little Round Top …” (Allen was evidently running south along the Emmitsburg Road, and turned left at the Peach Orchard onto the Wheatfield Road.)

    Allen’s description of the “old lady” seems to fit Catherine Heagen, the mother of Mary Heagen Sherfy, Joseph Sherfy’s wife. It was later told that Catherine had had a close encounter with a minie ball, which lodged in the folds of her skirt, thankfully after having spent its force passing through a fence. Another reference notes that the Sherfy family soon left the premises, perhaps intending to go to Littlestown, although they wound up at Two Taverns.

    Six days later, on 8 July, ex-soldier John B. Linn was walking over the field like a sightseer when he came to Joseph Sherfy’s place. Linn wrote that “the house was terribly used up by shell, one had struck a bureau and knocked it into thousands of fragments. Mr. Sherfy said they had left when our skirmishers were approaching the house from the east, and the rebels were at Pitzer’s on the west. The rebels searched the house thoroughly, turning everything in drawers etc. out, and clothes, bonnets, towels, linen, etc. were found tramped in indistinguishable piles from the house out to the barnyard. Four feather beds never used were soaked with blood and bloody clothes and filth of every description was strewn over the house.” Linn’s conversation with Joseph Sherfy confirms that the family left on the late morning of July 2. One online account places the time as 10:30 a.m., which coincides with the clash in Pitzer’s woods.

    Allen’s description of the “Irish lady” sticks out. Joseph Sherfy descended from German settlers with the surname of Sherfigh/Sherfig, however, the origin of the Heagen (variant spelling Heagan) surname is not clear – it might be Irish. As an aside, Mary Heagen Sherfy was reportedly an avid silkworm buff. Was it a coincidence that their closest neighbors, Henry Wentz and his wife, raised silkworms in their attic?

    The family in 1863:
    Joseph Sherfy (1812 or 1813 - 1882), a deacon at Marsh Creek Brethren Church (Dunker).
    Mary Heagen Sherfy (1813 or 1817 - 1904).
    Catherine Heagen, Mary’s mother.
    Otelia Sherfy, daughter, age 18.
    Mary Sherfy, daughter, age 16.
    Anna (“Annie”) Sherfy, daughter, age 13.
    Raphael Sherfy, son
    John Sherfy, son
    Ernest Muhlenburg Sherfy, son

    Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters, by Capt. C. A. Stevens, 1892, p. 311
    Linn, John B. "A Tourist at Gettysburg," Civil War Times Illustrated (Sep/Oct 1990)
    Find A Grave Memorials - Rev Joseph Sherfy, Mary Heagen Sherfy

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