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.

Sources:





Preview: Tagg, “The Generals of Shiloh”

7 02 2018

GeneralsShiloh_LRGAuthor Larry Tagg’s 1998 The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle, is by now a pretty standard book in the libraries of countless Gettysburg geeks. Brief sketches of general officers and their involvement, arranged in order of battle format, with a photo and suggested readings after each bio. (I’ve long been working on a something similar, however, with so few actual “generals” involved at First Bull Run, I have it down to regimental and battery command level.) It’s a handy and useful guide.

Now from Savas Beatie we have a new, similar work from Mr. Tagg (whom I interviewed here about his The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln), The Generals of Shiloh: Character in Leadership, April 6-7, 1862. Same order of battle format. In a preview, I can’t really get into the thoroughness of these sketches but they are, keep in mind, sketches. So let’s focus on what you get.

  • 236 pages of narrative
  • A “Critical Bibliography,” that is, a bibliography of sorts, in narrative form.
  • No notes, end or foot. Also, no suggested readings at the end of each entry, as in the Gettysburg book.
  • No Index

Now, this last bit, the index, is perplexing. (Yes, I know the notes are perplexing too, however at least some explanation can be given by way of the bibliographic essay.) Despite arguments that “you can find whoever you want by the order of battle” you can’t find whatever you want without an index. This was a huge gripe about Generals of Gettysburg. In one discussion group, years ago, it was discussed so often that I finally contacted Mr. Tagg for an index, which he graciously sent, and which I forwarded to the discussion group for inclusion on their website. When Generals of Gettysburg was reprinted by a different publisher later, I believe an index was included. So, I’m not quite sure why the exclusion here. But, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

As a guide to the commanders of both armies at the Battle of Shiloh, The Generals of Shiloh is a nice addition to your Shiloh library. Albeit, maybe a little frustrating to use.





Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour 2018

31 01 2018
img_20160423_165859213

Bull Runnings tour attendees 2016

Ladies and gentlemen! The moment you’ve been waiting for… the pride of, well, something…the not-very-regular Bull Runnings tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park (and environs)!!!!

Our last tour, in 2016, was, I think, a success, so I’ve decided to try another. A little different take this time, but one I think you’ll dig.

On Saturday, April 7, we’ll meet at the battlefield for a unique experience touring the field (and environs) through photographs. Our guest guides:

John Cummings is a Visual Historian with a primary focus on Civil War era image analysis. He is the author of three books on the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania region. He has also written for several national and local magazines and newspapers, and provided historical research and commentary for four documentary films. He provides battlefield guide services, and research assistance to visitors. He served on the former Spotsylvania Courthouse Tourism and Special Events Commission, and is the chairperson for the Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, (FoFAB). Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, where he spent a great deal of time on the Manassas battlefield, he now lives with his wife, Karen, in Spotsylvania County. He publishes a the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.

Dennis Hogge is the author of Matthew Brady’s First Manassas: A Biography and Battlefield Tour. A lifelong resident of Northern Virginia, he is a member of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, the Friends of Historic Centreville, the Historic Centreville Society, the Lane-Armistead Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Williamsburg Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

John describes the tour thus:

We will discuss wartime photo documentation of the battlefield, examine camera locations, true and false, and place late 19th century images used to illustrate memoirs published by the Century Magazine in their “Battles and Leaders” series. From the battlefield we can regroup at Centreville, site of Confederate winter camps and fortifications.

I can make no promises, but if last time is any indication there should be plenty of very experienced and knowledgeable Civil War scholars in attendance. That will leave lots of opportunity for back and forth between not only attendees and guides, but between attendees themselves. Remember though that this tour is for folks with all levels of experience.

Caravan tour. Consolidation of passengers and vehicles is vital. No charge, but everything is on your own.

More details to follow. But for now, save the date, April 7, 2018. I’ll need to get a feel for how many folks are planning to attend, so I’ll set up an event page on Facebook. Facebook is free. If you’re reading this, you have access to a computer. Don’t be a curmudgeon.

Just for giggles, who thinks they’re in for this? Comment here.

 

 





Hiram Berdan Recruits His Sharpshooters

18 01 2018
Hiram Berdan sharpshooter

Colonel Hiram Berdan from this site

While skimming though one of the newspapers from which nearly all the soldier accounts archived on this site are gleaned, I came across this little bit regarding the recruitment (actually, the recruits in this case are applicants, so this is more like interviewing or auditioning than recruiting) of Col. Hiram Berdan’s famous sharpshooter regiment. I thought many of you might find it interesting, as did the Yates County Chronicle on 8/1/1861. I was unaware of the proposed winter grays, and got a kick out of Hiram going all Quigley Down Under on the whining applicants.

From the New York Herald.

Berdan’s Regiment of Sharpshooters — Interesting Examination of Applicants at Weehawken. – This corps of riflemen was some time since accepted by the government, and in the interval the selection of the men has proceeded with considerable activity. Col. Berdan, who is one of the best, if not the best, marksman in the United States, has restricted the qualifications for joining to the following terms: The candidate (who is allowed to use his own rifle), before being enrolled, is tested as to his skill, and required to shoot with precision enough to put ten consecutive balls within and average distance of five inches from the center of a target, placed at the distance of six hundred feet. The range of each shot is measured from the center point of the target to the center of the bullet hole, and the sum total of these distances must not exceed fifty inches. This precision is imperatively required, and no person is accepted into the regiment who cannot fulfil all that is set forth above. Upon this point Col. Berdan is decided, and an excess of even a small fraction of an inch beyond the limits prescribed, disqualifies the applicant. The regiment is being recruited from all the States, and will number about 1,500. The Governor of each State is charged with the selection and enrollment of the men, but in Missouri, where the gubernatorial department is rather in confusion, Frank Blair is to raise and command the quota of that State. — The number so far recruited in New York State does not exceed seventy, very few of whom are from our city. An agent is stationed at Albany for the examination of candidates there, and Colonel Berdan’s Secretary, Mr. J. Smith Brown, is the agent in New York. His targets and grounds are located on the heights back of Weehawken, where, for a few days past, the examination of candidates has been going on. Yesterday some twenty five or thirty Swiss riflemen from the city and vicinity proceeded to the ground and tried their skill. Many of them have already seen active service in the Alps, at the Crimea, and in the last Italian campaign; but whether on account of their disuse of firearms while engaged in business in New York, or other reasons, their marksmanship did not come up to the required standard. The shooting of course was excellent and seldom equaled; but as the Colonel exacts the very creme de la creme of skill, no one of them had the confidence enough in his abilities to submit to the rigid test. The weapons used were generally of exquisite workmanship, and may of them were the regulation Swiss ordnance rifle. Many complaints have been made that the requirements are too strict, and that such precise shooting could not be made by the Colonel himself. To stop these grumblers, Colonel Berdan, while on the ground Monday afternoon, leisurely took up the rifle and put ten balls in the target, at a total distance of eleven and a half inches from the center, or at an average distance of one inch and a half for each ball. Col. Berdan is at present in New York. He has telegraphed to Secretary Cameron for a mustering officer, and as soon as a reply is received the regiment will be rendezvoused at Weehawken, preparatory to their departure for the seat of war. The drill will not be according to the usual manual, inasmuch as the men are intended to deploy in small squads in the field of battle and manoeuvere at will in picking off commanders, officers and artillerists of the enemy. A code of signals will be adopted among the men to warn each other of the approach of the cavalry – the only effective branch of the service in cutting up riflemen. The men will also be drilled to load and fire in lying, sitting and other postures, and to make their weapons effective if possible at a range of five hundred to one thousand yards. The uniform will be green throughout for summer and gray for winter, without any appendages or brass buttons or plates that might serve to make the men targets. — The uniforms are intended to so assimulate to the colors of nature as to render the men almost indiscernable to the enemy, thus permitting them without any extra risk to themselves to approach and pick off their foes. Col. Berdan is devising a model for an improved rifle which, when manufactured, will be supplied to those of the regiment preferring them to their own private arms. It is expected that the men will be encamped at Weehawken in the beginning of next week.

Yates County Chronicle, 8/1/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Bull Run at Gettysburg: James McKay Rorty

10 12 2017

On Dec. 2, I was in Gettysburg for a gathering of friends. Arriving on Saturday afternoon and the meeting not set to begin until 6 pm, I decided to “get my steps in” and did a little loop on Hancock Ave. from the Alexander Hays statue to the First Minnesota July 2 monument and back, stopping at each marker along the way. This meant there was a lot of back and forth and backtracking. While there were plenty of Bull Run connections along the way, let’s just take a look at one: Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery.

IMG_20171202_153801553_HDR

Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, at Gettysburg

You’ll recall that Private James McKay Rorty of the 69th New York State militia was captured at First Bull Run, escaped from prison in Richmond and made his way back to Washington (read his Bull Run account here, and also read a more complete biography of Rorty here). Mustered out of the militia, he subsequently enlisted in what was designated the 5th Regiment of Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade (read his letter to his father explaining his rationale for enlistment here). This turned out to be a battery of New York Light artillery – he had expected it would be cavalry – though his record of formal attachment to specific batteries thenceforth is murky. Regardless, by May of 1862 Lt. Rorty was serving as ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Israel B. Richardson.

At Gettysburg, now Captain Rorty was ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who had succeeded Richardson upon the latter’s mortal wounding at Antietam and was then in command of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. Technically, Rorty was in command of the non-existent 14th New York Independent Battery of the Irish Brigade. At the same time, Rorty maintained his association with Irish Nationalist organization the Fenian Brotherhood, and was recording secretary in the group’s Potomac Circle. You can read about Fenians in the Civil War here – there’s a lot to it, and it’s not always what you think. Long story short, Rorty was a big deal in “the movement.”

9e7732c71d504513f30daf5b7691401d

Artillery officers on the Peninsula, 1862. Rorty is seated on the right. Fellow Bull Run vet Alonzo Cushing is standing, center. From LOC.

On the afternoon of July 2, Rorty became anxious to join in the fighting, and petitioned his boss for assignment to a combat unit. Hancock acquiesced, and some time that day Rorty was placed in command of the 122 men and four 10 pounder Parrot rifles of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, 2nd Corps’ Artillery Brigade. Late in the day, the battery was in place in the Plum Run Line that helped repulse the assault of Longsteet’s Corps’ assault on the Peach Orchard salient. The battery lost one man killed, eight wounded, and 13 horses rendered unserviceable.

On the morning of July 3rd, Rorty’s command was moved to a point about 250 yards south of the now famous “copse of trees” believed by most to be the focal point of General Robert E. Lee’s assault known as Pickett’s Charge. During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry advance, Rorty advanced his guns to the stone wall in front of his position, and returned fire. His command began to suffer casualties, and Rorty moved from gun to gun, issuing orders and encouragement. Eventually three of his four rifles were out of action, and Rorty himself stripped down to his shirtsleeves, grabbed a sponge staff, and joined the crew of his last gun. The Captain called for help from the nearby 19th Massachusetts Infantry, and received about 20 men in reply. Then, the Confederate infantry moved out from the tree line to the west.

Rorty’s lone gun continued to fire on the advancing rebels, until the men of Brigadier General James Kemper’s brigade came past the barn of the Codori farm and into canister range. Some time before the advance petered out at the stone wall, Capt. James McKay Rorty was dead, killed instantly by a shot to the head or heart. Nine more of his command lay dead; another eight were wounded.

Two weeks after the battle, Rorty’s brother Richard gathered his remains from where he had been buried on the field and returned them to New York. He was reinterred in Calvary Cemetery on July 19, 1863.

6016383_1113996429586016383_1399684971Rorty’s grave in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, New York, from FindAgrave

 





Preview: Ayers, “The Thin Light of Freedom”

1 12 2017

51kX8OoXrAL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is Edward Ayers’s follow-up or companion to 2003’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Both works benefit from and are in part a product of Ayers’s groundbreaking Valley of the Shadow project (watch a video presentation of it here).

The Thin Light of Freedom follows the story of the people of The Great Valley, basically that area of Virginia and Pennsylvania comprising the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, through the latter stages of the Civil War and Reconstruction to Virginia’s return to statehood in 1870.

The focus here is not just on military voices but on those of the people of the area, who lived through the war and its privations and the social upheaval attendant to emancipation. Diarists and letter writers north and south are featured, with a heavy reliance on manuscript sources. Follow all the links I’ve given you above and you’ll get an idea of the extent.

You get:

  • 501 pages of text in 11 chapters plus prologue and epilogue, starting with “The Great Invasion” of 1863 and ending up in 1902 (though we go from 1868 to 1902 in one chapter)
  • 25 maps and illustrations
  • No bibliography but rather “A Note on the Documentation”
  • 45 pages of end notes
  • A full index

It’s a big honkin’ book.

Edward L. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond

 

 

 

 

 





Preview: Scales, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865”

30 11 2017

Layout 1The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 is John R. Scales’s study not of the man, the myth, or the legend, but rather of his wartime activities. (Is it possible to examine these events without discussing the morals and politics of the man? Ummm, yeah, it is — don’t be fatuous.)

Essentially, this book serves as a staff ride of Forrest’s career. Each chapter discusses a particular raid or battle or campaign, for the most part. Each starts with a discussion of the operational environment. Then decisions made are examined. Each includes a driving tour, and each concludes with a review and evaluation of Forrest as commander.

You get:

  • 435 pages of text in 12 chapters, with plenty of charts and graphs, and 109 (one hundred and nine!!!) Hal Jesperson maps.
  • An epilogue with Scales’s assessment of Forrest.
  • A bibliography (primarily published works)
  • A full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes

John R. Scales is a retired brigadier general who served in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. He is the author of Sherman Invades Georgia and A Reluctant Hero’s Footsteps.