Gettysburg’s Jacob Weikert Farm

20 02 2018

[A shortened version of this article ran in the February, 2011 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. I wrote about it back then here. In that post you can see some photos of the farm and farmhouse.]

Medical staffs of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac descended on the farm of Jacob Weikert on the Taneytown Road south of the town of Gettysburg like a twister on July 2, 1863. Elements of the corps were fighting just to the west of the farm, which bordered on Little Round Top in that direction. By the time the last wounded soldier was evacuated to other treatment facilities, or buried on the premises, somewhere between 750 and 950 had been treated on the farm, including some Confederates. Weikert’s family sacrificed much in material goods and performed vital services during this time, but they are possibly best remembered for a story frequently used to illustrate the greed and selfishness of the local civilian population.

Jacob Weikert (b. 1797), a carpenter by trade, married Sarah Ikes (b. 1805), in 1824: their union produced thirteen children between 1825 and 1849. In 1840 Jacob acquired a farm of 190 acres with a large, L-shaped two-story house of nearly 2,200 square feet, for a total purchase price of $3,973.16. The dwelling was situated hard-by the Taneytown Road, sturdily built with stone walls nearly two feet thick. By 1863 Jacob had sold off several tracts of land leaving him with 115 acres, on which he grew wheat, oats, corn, and timber.

At the time of the battle, two minor children, Rebecca (Beckie) and David, as well as an adult son and his family lived with Jacob and Sarah Weikert. Another daughter, Henrietta (Hettie), had married in 1855 and lived in town, where she and her husband George Schriver operated a saloon and bowling alley in their home on Baltimore Street. At the time of the battle, George was serving with Cole’s Maryland Cavalry (he would die in Andersonville prison in 1864).

About noon on July 1st, as fighting raged to the northwest, Hettie Schriver determined that with her husband away, it would be best to take her two children to the relative safety of her parents’ home to the south. She invited her neighbor’s daughter, fifteen year-old Matilda (Tillie) Pierce, to accompany her, and Mrs. Pierce “readily consented”. It is through Tillie’s memoir “At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle” that we know much of what occurred at the Weikert farm in the following days.

After a harrowing journey, upon arrival at the Weikert house Tillie immediately took up the task of carrying water from the spring on the north side of the house to the passing columns of Federal soldiers. She and others repeated this maneuver until the spring was dry – they then drew water from the pump on the south side of the house until nightfall put an end to the operation.

July 2nd saw the arrival of the medical staffs. Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Clinton Wagner had selected the Weikert farm as the hospital for the 5th Corps’ 2nd Division that afternoon. Dr. John Shaw Billings was first to arrive, finding the place deserted but with a fire blazing, dough mixed and pans ready for bread baking. Dr. Cyrus Bacon “ransacked” the house for operating tables and linens for dressings, including a “neatly worked ladies chemise” that he surrendered to one of the women of the house, but not before she provided something to take its place. Ambulances and medical supplies arrived and all was put in order as casualties began to pour in.

That same morning Tillie picked up where she had left off the evening before, carrying water to soldiers moving on the Taneytown Rd. One of the men she served that day was none other than General Meade. The Weikert women spent the afternoon baking bread. Soldiers were being struck down where they stood on the west side of the house. Artillery fire began to pick up, and the family evacuated the house for a brief time, only to return upon reaching their destination, determining it was more dangerous there. This was probably the period during which Dr. Billings arrived.

Casualties arrived at the hospital all during the day and night at an alarming rate, while the surgeons busily operated in and around the house. Limbs amputated in the improvised operating room in the southeast corner of the ground floor of the house were deposited out the south window. Later that day, the mortally wounded Brigadier General Stephen Weed was brought into the house and placed in a room in the basement. He would die there before morning. The bodies of Col. Patrick O’Rorke and Lt. Charles Hazlett were also reportedly brought to the house and laid on the porch on the evening of the 2nd. The Weikert’s cooked bread and soup and served the medical staff and wounded until late in the evening.

Early on July 3rd, in anticipation of renewed action nearby the hospital was relocated further east toward the Baltimore Pike, and the evacuation of the wounded commenced. The transfer was reportedly complete by that evening. The family had left the farm that morning for the area of Two Taverns, returning again in the late afternoon to scenes of carnage. Wounded filled the house, barn, and carriage house. Amputated limbs sat in piles. For days after, soldiers too seriously injured to be moved to the relocated hospital were treated at the farm.

Tillie Pierce returned to her home in Gettysburg on July 7. She left the Weikert farm in a distressed state, linens and clothing torn up for bandages, furniture and kitchenware broken up, walls and floors bloodstained, crops and fence rails used up.

Jacob Weikert, despite what Tillie Pierce describes as the significant hardships suffered and humanitarian efforts made by his family during those trying times, is perhaps best known as a villain. In a tale used to illustrate what has been called by one historian “the greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness of many of the citizens who lived in the vicinity of the battlefield”, Lt. Ziba Graham of the 16th Michigan claimed that on July 3rd:

“On my way back to rejoin the regiment I called at a large house for a drink of water; I saw that the well crank had been removed. I turned to a rebel captain who was lying on the grass and asked him if he knew where it had gone to; he said that but a few moments before the owner of the house had taken it off, declaring he was not going to have his well pumped dry by rebel soldiers, and that they wasted the water. This captain begged that I might get it again. There were some fifty rebel wounded in the yard, besides a few of our own men. The surgeons who had been with them, and who had partly gone around in their first examination, had cleared out and left them on the commencement of the firing, and with the fever of their gunshot wounds they were thirsting for water. I went into the house, found this man, a mean Dutchman, buried in the bosom of his family, and his family buried in the bowels of the cellar, they having taken safe refuge from the hail of iron which was bursting in every direction. I ordered him to give up the well crank. He first refused. Just at that time a shell struck his chimney, and the noise and rattle of the falling brick nearly frightened him to death. I threatened to shoot him if he did not give me the crank; this brought it out of its hiding place back of the stairway. I went out, watered the boys, put two of the least wounded in charge of it and then left, receiving the thanks of all.”

We know from Tillie Pierce that the Weikert’s had been more than generous with their water in the preceding days; that in fact their spring had been drained by thirsty soldiers. And we know from the owners of the house today that the well, now used as a supplemental water source, is nearly dry by the Fourth of July – while the overall water level in the well may certainly have depleted in the intervening 147 years, the relative annual levels are likely similar. Assuming Graham’s story is not apocryphal, was Weikert’s removal of the pump crank an act of “greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness” or a practical act of survival in the coming days for his family and for any remaining Union casualties on his property?

Sarah Weikert died in 1877. Jacob followed her in 1878, suffering a stroke in an apple orchard near the house. Jacob made three claims to the War Department for damages incurred in 1863, including the use of his house and carriage house, damages to the house and bedding, hay, wheat, oats, corn, rails, timber, damages to the land and stone walls, clothing, and furniture. The three claims were for $186, $1,277, and $2,756. Some of the same items were listed on each claim. In the end, he received a total of $45 in payment for the loss of three tons of hay.

Today the Weikert farm sits outside NPS boundaries and is a private residence. While an antique store is operated out of the barn, please respect the privacy of the homeowners.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Weikert farm owners Gerry and Beth Hoffmann, the staff of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and to the Adams County Historical Society for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

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