Near the battlefront,
children, black and white, witnessed the destruction of farms
and villages. Their letters and diaries describe foraging soldiers,
exploding shells, burning cities, mangled corpses, and stacks
of human limbs.
daughter, eight-year-old Annie P. Marmion lived in Harpers
Ferry Virginia when the Civil War began.
objects in life were to procure something to eat and to keep yourself
out of sight by day, and keep your candle light hidden by night;
lights of every kind, being regarded as signals to the Rebels,
were usually greeted by a volley of guns.
Annie P. Marmion,
quoted in Emmy E. Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 15
is strange how our aversion to suffering is overcome in war –how
we are able to see the most sickening sights, such as men with
limbs blown off and mangled by the deadly shells, without
a shudder; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist
in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press cold
water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy.
King, a former slave, who was just sixteen year old when she
a nurse for
the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. Quoted in Werner,
Reluctant Witnesses, 43
near the battle lines grew up rapidly during wartime. This was
especially true of those children who lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
During the battle, many children huddled in cellars while cannons
shook their homes’ foundation.
Your request that I should tell you ‘all that I have passed
through,” I am afraid I cannot comply with, for I have lived
a lifetime in the past few weeks, and yet, to look back, it seems
like some fearful dream. God grant that you, that none I love,
may ever pass through such scenes, or witness such bloody, fearful
sights! Words can give you no conception. It was perfect agony….If
the Rebels are going to invade your State, as they have this,
I would advise you to pack up and go as far north as you can.
Your affectionate cousin,
in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 59
I went over to Weaver’s to help them roll bandages. We had
no rolled many before we saw the street filled with wounded men….
Oh, it was sickening to see them and hear their groans….
I never thought I could do anything about a wounded man but I
find I had a little more nerve than I thought I had…. The
tears came only once and that was when the first soldier came
in the house. He had walked from the field and was almost exhausted.
He threw himself in the chair and said, “O girls, I have
as good a home as you. If I were only there!”He fainted
directly afterward. That was the only time I cried.
Jennie McCreary, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 64
was about noon…the street was full of Union soldiers, running
and pushing each other, sweaty and black from powder and dust.
They called to us for water. We got great buckets of water and
tin dippers, and supplied them as fast as we could from the porch
at the side of the house off the main street….. While we
were carrying water to the soldiers, a small drummer boy ran up
the porch, and handing me his drum, said, “Keep this for
me.” I took it, ran down the cellar steps and hid it under
a pile of shavings. He looked to be about twelve years old….
We were so busy that we did not notice how close the fighting
was until, about half a block away, we saw hand-to-hand conflicts….
We kept right on distributing water until an officer rode his
horse up on the pavement…and said, “All you good
people go down in your cellars or you will all be killed.”
Albertus McCreary, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 64-65
fairly shrank back the awful sight presented. The approaches
crowded with wounded, dying and dead…. By this time amputating
benches had been placed about the house….. I saws them lifting
the poor men upon it… I saw the surgeons hastily put a cattle
horn over the mouths of the wounded ones…and learned that
was their mode of administering chloroform, in order to produce
unconsciousness. But the effect, in some instances, was not produced;
for I a saw the wounded throwing themselves wildly about, and
shrieking with pain while the operation was going on….
Just outside the year I noticed a pile of limbs higher than
It was a ghastly sight.
Tillie Pierce quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 72
ever I wished myself at home I did then. There I was, the only
one of our family shut down in a damp, dark hole with crying
and a poor young soldier who had received three wounds which
had not yet been attended to .... To know the rebels were
to hear the shells bursting and expecting every minute they would
fall on the house, was indeed horrible.
McCreary, a 17 year old living in Gettysburg, Pennysylvania
quoted in Elizabeth Daniels, The Children of Gettysburg,
wounded] lay on the threshing floor, each on a single blanket,
without covering of any kind. It was too early for organized relief.
They had received no care and were a pitiful and dreadful sight.
McCurdy, who was ten years old in 1863,
quoted in Elizabeth
The Children of Gettysburg, p. 105.