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Near the Battlefront

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.

A physician’s daughter, eight-year-old Annie P. Marmion lived in Harpers Ferry Virginia when the Civil War began.

The great 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

It 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.

Susie King, a former slave, who was just sixteen year old when she became a nurse for
the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. Quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 43

Gettysburg

Children 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.

My dear Mina:
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,
Annie Young

Quoted 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.

Seventeen-year-old Jennie McCreary, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 64

It 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.”

Fifteen-year-old Albertus McCreary, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 64-65

I fairly shrank back the awful sight presented. The approaches were 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 the fence. It was a ghastly sight.

Fifteen-year-old Tillie Pierce quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 72

If 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 children and a poor young soldier who had received three wounds which had not yet been attended to .... To know the rebels were in town, to hear the shells bursting and expecting every minute they would fall on the house, was indeed horrible.

Jennie McCreary, a 17 year old living in Gettysburg, Pennysylvania in 1863,
quoted in Elizabeth Daniels, The Children of Gettysburg, 100

[The 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.

Charles McCurdy, who was ten years old in 1863,
quoted in Elizabeth Daniels, The Children of Gettysburg, p. 105.

Copyright Digital History 2016