Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Angel of Gettysburg

When people talk about women of Gettysburg, the most prominent resident that comes to mind is that of Miss Virginia “Jennie” Wade; however, there is a story that is even as compelling than that of Miss Jenny, and that is the story of Elizabeth Masser Thorn.

Elizabeth and her husband Peter (both German Immigrants) where married in the town of Gettysburg in 1855.  A few months later, Peter was hired as the superintendent/care taker of the new town cemetery called Ever Green Cemetery (later renamed to Evergreen Cemetery).   The Thorns and Elizabeth’s parents lived in the archway entrance of the cemetery’s gate house. 

Photo of the Cemetery House as it appears in 2015. (has additions added to it.  It originally was just the two arches)

Peter later enlisted into the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry, never dreaming that the war would come so close to home.   In July of 1863, he was off fighting in Virginia when the Confederates arrived in the small town of Gettysburg.  In his absence, Elizabeth took over his duties as the caretaker of the town cemetery.

On June 26, Elizabeth reported Confederate soldiers coming up the street an into the cemetery.   She and her family were forced to give them food and water until they left when the Union Army began to arrive.

Then she was asked by the Union Army to go out into the fields and show them the location of the streets coming into town.   At first they requested a man to go with them, but her oldest son was too young and her father was too old, so she volunteered to go with them.

On July 2, the Union Army advised Elizabeth and her family to leave the area.   There was fierce fighting that took place within the cemetery and on what is called cemetery hill, and it was a good thing that they did leave.  The family fled, hungry and weak, to the Musser farm some 2 miles away from the cemetery.

The photo above is a depiction of the battle that took place on cemetery hill on July 2.   You can see the gate house on the top of the hill.

Near midnight (on July 2), Elizabeth and her father snuck back to the cemetery house hoping to check on their valuables that they left in the basement.   After they encountered some resistance, they found that there were wounded soldiers in their basement, using their bed clothes and there was pretty much nothing left.  Even the hogs were missing form their pens.

So, they headed back to the Musser farm to collect the others and left for a white church.   From there they moved on, thirsty and hungry, around 3 a.m., they met up with some other neighbors and stayed for a few days.

Between July 2nd and July 6th, Elizabeth asked some of the Union officers if she could get some provisions since the family was driven from their home with nothing to eat or drink.   The response that she was told, is that she just wanted to live off the army?  She was then asked if she knew Jennie Wade, she said yes.   They then told her she was killed along with Maria Bennet, who really wasn’t.   They then gave her a pass to go to the provision wagon a mile away where they filled their aprons with coffee, sugar, and hard-tack. 

On July 6th, they were baking bread for the soldiers and helping care for the sick and wounded when they noticed their furniture on a wagon heading down the pike.  Nothing could be done to stop them.
On July 7th, they finally returned to the cemetery gate house.  While they were on the way home, Mr. McConaughy (president of the cemetery) said, “Hurry on home, there is more work for you then you are able to do.”

When Elizabeth looked at the house, she could only say, “Oh, my”.  There was no glass in the windows and the structure had several other damages.  All of their valuables in the basement were gone.  There were three feather beds full of blood and mud.

Within the cemetery, which was severely damaged by the battle, there were several dead soldiers and even 15 dead horses.

Elizabeth asked an officer who was riding by, if they would ever be reimbursed for items that were damages.   His response was, “No,” and he rode away.

Elizabeth and her family washed and worked on the house for four days, when she received a note from Mr. McConaughy about burying the dead.  

The smell was horrible, and she could not get people to help with the burials since the stench was so strong.   A couple came and helped for a few days, but left horribly sick.  She was ordered to bury 105 soldiers, 15 horses, and 14 civilians.   The National Cemetery was not ready yet, so these burials had to take place within Evergreen Cemetery.

Not only was it extremely hot, the ground was hard and rocky, her only helper was her 63 year old father, her home was totally destroyed, she had 3 young children to take care of, but she was also 6 months pregnant.

Elizabeth was an extremely strong woman and three months later she carried her baby to term and gave birth to a daughter that she named, Rose Meade, after General Meade of the Union Army.
For her diligence in taking care of others and for keeping up with the cemetery until 1865, she is considered to be the “Angel of Gettysburg.”  Her memorial stands just inside the gate of Evergreen Cemetery.

Here is Elizabeth’s diary account of the battle.
Here is the Evergreen Cemetery’s Official Website.

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