One Woman's Battle; In Her Words, Elizabeth Masser Thorn's Gettysburg

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Gettysburg Thorn.jpg

" There were no window glass in the whole house.... fifteen soldiers were buried by the pump " , " We saw some of our furniture going on some of our wagons down the pike ", " For all the foul air, we struck off the graves and began " Elizabeth Masser Thorn, Gettysburg

Badly impeded by lack of files, still needed to post this. What's still unclear to me is how well there's an understanding of what on earth happened to civilian populations when a war rolled over them.

And it was north and south- please do not ask me to use caps. 150 years after the fact it's geography, not loyalty. While an awful lot of $ ran away with the place civilians paid the highest price. The Thorn family of Gettysburg, while somewhat honored years later still maintained a lower historical profile than the man who told 4 months pregnant Elizabeth, caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery, to get home and make it quick- bury those bodies and tidy up the place. That'd be her boss, David McCaughy.

She describes Wednesday's terror first. Husband Peter was away fighting with the 148th PVI when yet another threatened invasion became the real thing.
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Elizabeth Thorn's statue now adorns the cemetery grounds- best known for burying over 100 men in the July and August ( and September ) heat. it wasn't through patriotism. She had to. The thing is, that's only part of her story. Through the years a newspaper reporter would seek Elizabeth out and ask her, ' What was her battle? '. She'd tell them. Gluing together bits and pieces- some seem incomplete but you can hear her.

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I've always wondered if this wagon was bringing another dead soldier to the cemetery- remember the National Cemetery hadn't been planned as yet- McCaughy told Elizabeth at one point the plan was that Evergreen would hold all of them. " It is made out that we will bury the soldiers in our cemetery for awhile ...."

You hear this kind of story a lot, neighbors clinging together, helping each other, finding basements and other places where it may have seemed to safe to ride out the battle. You don't hear these names and we should? Mrs. Cook, Mrs. Barbehenn? 17 all together in that teeny basement? Have you seen the Gatehouse?
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Part of the shambles she came home to. Note laundry- wounded packed the Gatehouse, the family moved back in 5 days post battle, too.
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It was a daughter, not a son. Rose- who died young. Elizabeth always blamed the dreadful exertions those awful days, burying men in baked PA earth for her daughter's ill health. She was probably correct.

Reporters tended to jot things down variously as time went on- posting bits and pieces as i found them, eralier ' finds ' , in her words are the most likely.

They'd been told by poor Howard to leave the gatehouse- and did.
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More ( and sorry it seems all over the place- simply cannot find the sequence because the files are wreck but the gist is what's important ).
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Gettysburg Guide #154

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Well done. Elizabeth Thorn deserves to be remembered, as are all the civilians who sought to care for their families as the war raged at their doorstep.

According to Margaret Creighton's book "The Colors of Courage" (citing news articles in the Complier and the Gettysburg Times) Elizabeth Thorn was approached during the day on July 1 and asked if there was a man available to point out roads to General Howard and show him where they went. With her husband off to war himself, the only man was her aging Father, who only spoke German. She was not about to send one of her young sons. She volunteered to go herself. The officer making the request objected that it was not a job for a woman, and that she would be afraid. Elizabeth insisted that she was the only one available and that it was just as dangerous inside as it was outside. As Creighton tells the story, soldiers seeing her on the field were astounded, and some wondered aloud what the world was coming to that the army now included women. However, it is reported that the men cheered her and a regimental band even struck up a piece. She pointed out to the officer who was with her the roads to York, Hanover and Carlisle. As Elizabeth remembered it, the officer kept his horse between her and the Confederate fire in an effort to shield her. It would be that same Union officer who would later ask that she prepare dinner for General Howard and others, which was not much of a reward for her assistance if you ask me.
 

J&FD1861

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Wow. I wonder if my German GGGUncle met her. At Gettysburg he was a 22 year-old Adjutant/Lt. for the 39th NY Volunteers (Garibaldi Guard). Whatever passed for graves registration might have been his responsibility, and they had 95 casualties in the battle.
 

Tom Elmore

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Elizabeth provides an interesting observation about a squad of six cavalrymen from Lt. Col. Elijah V. White's partisan raiders, known formally as the 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, who rode out along the Baltimore Pike on June 26 in pursuit of some of Captain Robert Bell's local cavalrymen. It includes a rather extraordinary description of the first Union soldier killed at Gettysburg - George W. Sandoe - from the Confederate cavalryman who shot him. See following for additional details:

https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/06/09/gettysburg-off-the-beaten-path-the-death-of-george-w-sandoe/
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
f six cavalrymen from Lt. Col. Elijah V. White's partisan raiders, known formally as the 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, who rode out along the Baltimore Pike on June 26

That's who they were! Fascinating! Nothing makes this stuff come alive more than eye-witness accounts stacked next to ID's. So that was the 26th? Civilians speak of being on edge, the town going back and forth between apprehension and thinking it just another threat because there had been so many. Seeing those troopers must have set the seal on how real it would be this time.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Well done. Elizabeth Thorn deserves to be remembered, as are all the civilians who sought to care for their families as the war raged at their doorstep.

According to Margaret Creighton's book "The Colors of Courage" (citing news articles in the Complier and the Gettysburg Times) Elizabeth Thorn was approached during the day on July 1 and asked if there was a man available to point out roads to General Howard and show him where they went. With her husband off to war himself, the only man was her aging Father, who only spoke German. She was not about to send one of her young sons. She volunteered to go herself. The officer making the request objected that it was not a job for a woman, and that she would be afraid. Elizabeth insisted that she was the only one available and that it was just as dangerous inside as it was outside. As Creighton tells the story, soldiers seeing her on the field were astounded, and some wondered aloud what the world was coming to that the army now included women. However, it is reported that the men cheered her and a regimental band even struck up a piece. She pointed out to the officer who was with her the roads to York, Hanover and Carlisle. As Elizabeth remembered it, the officer kept his horse between her and the Confederate fire in an effort to shield her. It would be that same Union officer who would later ask that she prepare dinner for General Howard and others, which was not much of a reward for her assistance if you ask me.


Yes, it's rather an astonishing portion of her story isn't it? She tells it to newspapers a few times, each time with less detail as if she's getting tired of the story. You do get a very good idea of the stress under which Howard operated, listening to her- that he later sent Elizabeth and her family our into the battle, honestly feeling they were better off out in that shambles says a lot. She reports he rubbed his face, seemed unsure what to do. To me, he comes across as a good man seriously overwhelmed.

I think he visited her post war, if not the tepid 1869 reunion McCaughey tried to put together when his hotel was finished ( the one for officers only? ) the next one? Have to say it was what Elizabeth Thorn had to say about O.O. Howard, not any of his actions as a general, that turned me around about the man. Authors don't seem terribly kind about him but through her eyes he's an awfully good guy.
 

James N.

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Elizabeth provides an interesting observation about a squad of six cavalrymen from Lt. Col. Elijah V. White's partisan raiders, known formally as the 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, who rode out along the Baltimore Pike on June 26 in pursuit of some of Captain Robert Bell's local cavalrymen. It includes a rather extraordinary description of the first Union soldier killed at Gettysburg - George W. Sandoe - from the Confederate cavalryman who shot him. See following for additional details:

https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/06/09/gettysburg-off-the-beaten-path-the-death-of-george-w-sandoe/
That's who they were! Fascinating! Nothing makes this stuff come alive more than eye-witness accounts stacked next to ID's. So that was the 26th? Civilians speak of being on edge, the town going back and forth between apprehension and thinking it just another threat because there had been so many. Seeing those troopers must have set the seal on how real it would be this time.
The presence of White's Comanches, as the 35th was also known, also gives the lie to the old story about Jeb Stuart having all Lee's cavalry off on a wild goose chase, leaving his commander blind and groping in the dark for any sign of the Federal army. I was surprised when I read about the Comanches being present on the field on July 1 when I read David Martin's book of that title; it seems there were other Confederate cavalry units reported there as well. As I recall, White was officially scouting for Ewell, and may have been attached to Grumble Jones' cavalry brigade.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
also gives the lie to the old story about Jeb Stuart having all Lee's cavalry off on a wild goose chase, leaving his commander blind and groping in the dark for any sign of the Federal army

Yes, I ' think ' there's a thread where quite a few of you ( meaning anyone who knew what they were talking about ) pretty much shredded the whole Stuart thing? Rats- quite a few years ago. Like a lot- joined here having read Killer Angels...... . It's a very nice book just a little dangerous.

What you have to love about these bits and pieces from civilians is that of course there would be no agenda, they wouldn't know who was what, they merely reported what they encountered.
 

Tom Elmore

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Jan 16, 2015
The "White Church" was Mark's German Reformed Church located on the Baltimore Pike, which was used as a field hospital, reportedly under the charge of Surgeon George M. Ramsay from the 95th New York. If Elizabeth proceeded further south on the pike to the next farmhouse, she might have been at the Peter Conover farm, where the "officer in charge" she encountered would likely have been a surgeon (with the rank of Major) working in yet another field hospital established at that location - mainly by the Union First Corps. The identity of the senior surgeon at that site is not known to me, but Surgeon Andrew Jackson Ward of the 2nd Wisconsin signed a voucher to purchase 75 gallons of milk and 510 pounds of meat from Peter Conover on July 4, so Ward is a possible candidate.
 
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