Dowsing the Dead

I ran across a clipping in my archives (read: piles of paper on one of my many “desks” at home) reprinted in the Gettysburg Times by Tony Gonzalez of The Tennessean titled, “Historians use divining rods to find old cemeteries.”

Now, the historians I know are probably going crazy right now. Dowsing falls in the category of the paranormal which, to them, has no place in providing information from the past. The problem for me is that I’ve seen too many times when the documented history has validated paranormally obtained information.

Like the time in the Gettysburg Hotel when Laine Crosby, an Investigative Medium, was “communicating” with a man she said had worked in the hotel when it was a bank. However, she saw him in the blue uniform of a Union soldier and he said that he was from Gettysburg. I told her, indeed, there was a unit that fought at Gettysburg that had been recruited in Adams County, of which Gettysburg is the seat. I asked could she ask him his name. Hesitatingly, as if listening to something that was hard to discern, she said “Cul…bert…son. I don’t know if that’s his whole name or if he’s telling me he’s Culbert’s son.”

Later research confirmed there was a Culbertson who fought with the unit. Skeptics will say she looked it up ahead of time, but from her reaction when we were talking, I’m convinced she didn’t even know there was a unit from Gettysburg. Later, she came up with the name again, while visiting the David Stewart Farm outside of Gettysburg. The Civil War era Culbertson never lived there, but the family later bought the place, and it was a WW II era Culbertson that was communicating with her. This was all confirmed later by the current owner who had the deeds and records of the farm.

As far as dowsing is concerned, I have had several personal experiences that convinced me that something is going on that can’t be explained.

My first experience was with the late Cecil Downing, a soft-spoken, unassuming man who had discovered several hundred wells for people all over the state of Pennsylvania. He dowsed a site on the battlefield known for its numerous camera fails. As he walked with his forked plastic rod, it would dip suddenly toward the ground. He spent well over an hour walking back and forth and determined there were “ley lines”—lines of energy—radiating from one specific area. It was his contention that spirits could travel more easily along these naturally-occurring paths of energy.

It made sense to me. I have the theory that ghosts are “energy thieves.” Since they cannot create their own energy by eating (like living beings create their energy) they have to get it from somewhere, like batteries, natural sources, or living human beings.

My second experience in dowsing was with my wife Carol. Keep in mind she was a biology major in college, in retail for a while and finally ended up in computers. Needless to say, she has a scientific, inquisitive, analytical mind. So when she first picked up dowsing rods, it was with a heavy dose of skepticism.

We were in an abandoned churchyard near Bowling Green, VA. We were told there were emptied graves nearby.  It was fall and the leaves lay in an even carpet through the woods. Carol began walking with the copper rods—two wires bent at a 90 degree angle inserted into a sleeve so they would turn freely. As she walked along, the rods began to cross. She then stepped into a depression which was once a former grave. She backed out of the depression, and the rods uncrossed. This happened several times during the session.

Also sometime in the fall, again with leaves obscuring any depressions in the ground, we were at one of the temporary cemeteries established after the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. These graves, too, had been emptied years before, the bodies taken to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Again, as Carol walked along, the rods began to cross, then she stepped into a depression. She back out, and the rods uncrossed.

Finally, for my book, Civil War Ghost Trails we were conducting a “mini-investigation” at Shiloh Battlefield in Tennessee. I was using a recorder to get EVP. We had heard that after the battle, there were so many Confederate dead that they were forced to bury them in mass graves. The Park Service knows that there were eleven or twelve mass graves, but the 19th Century commission could only locate five. Carol, using her dowsing rods, with me video recording the event, tested the ability of the rods to find graves over a known mass grave. Indeed, they reacted. Carol then moved behind the site and the rods began to react again. Individual graves now lost? Possibly.

Writing Blood and Ghosts with Katherine Ramsland and working with Gregg McCrary, former FBI profiler taught me that investigators should not rule out any method that leads to clues or evidence. In conversation, Gregg said, “Whatever works.” Perhaps historians’ and other investigators’ concerns about obtaining evidence paranormally can be summed up by one of the historians working in Tennessee to locate graves with dowsing rods before they are destroyed by modern development: “I can dowse, but I do not trust this method. It can’t be explained why it works.”

But it does work.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

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Gettysburg at 150: The Show’s Over, The Ghosts Remain – Paul Greenberg – Page full

I might not agree with all the facts Mr. Greenberg included in his article, but I like his approach to the epic event that the Battle of Gettysburg represents.

Gettysburg at 150: The Show’s Over, The Ghosts Remain – Paul Greenberg – Page full.

July 9 Gettysburg Campaign: The Aftermath

The armies left Gettysburg—or what is left of the armies. One third of the soldiers who marched into the Battle of Gettysburg did not march out. They lay dead, dying, wounded or are “missing,” throughout the fields and town.

First, the wounded.  If they couldn’t walk because of the nature of their wounds or there was no kind-hearted soul to help them, or if the combatants retreated from the area where they fell, the wounded lay suffering in the hot sun or pouring rain, sometimes unable to reach their canteen or food. If they were mobile or helped along, they would somehow make their way to an aid station (sometimes just a shady area in the rear of the battle lines) or field hospital (often a nearby farm house or barn) to be treated.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the field of antiseptics was not explored until the late 1860s, so successful treatment by a surgeon didn’t mean the wounded man was out of the woods. Gangrene often set in and the soldier might suddenly die two weeks into his recovery.

As the July days went on in Gettysburg, those few left behind to administer to the wounded realized the logistics of feeding and supplying the wounded scattered all over the battlefield in barns, farmhouses and private homes was a near impossible task. So by July 20, Camp Letterman General Hospital was established about a mile out on the York Road for the 4,217 wounded that remained. According to Greg Coco in A Vast Sea of Misery, by July 25, 16,125 wounded had been transported out of Gettysburg.

The spot chosen was part of the farm of George Wolf called “Wolf’s Woods,” had abundant water supplies, and was where the railroad paralleled the York Road for easy transport of the wounded to the railroad cars. Ironically, it had been a favorite picnic spot for the locals. Deaths continued, however, even under the better conditions of the general hospital, so in the compound was a structure known as “The Dead House” and a graveyard. In late November Camp Letterman was closed.

What of the dead? Hardly anyone realizes that virtually every soldier who died at Gettysburg was buried twice.

First they were interred where they were killed on the battlefield, sometimes by comrades, sometimes by local farmers who couldn’t stand the stench. If they were buried in a farmer’s cow pasture, it is easy to see how a wooden headboard with identifying information could be knocked over and the gravesite trampled so that within a year the site would disappear.

As the post-battle rains came and the bodies bloated in decomposition, the women of Gettysburg might look out their kitchen window some morning and see an arm or head emerging from the earth. Horrified, they would tell their husbands to do something. They would contact their political representatives. It got so bad that word reached Andrew Curtin, wartime governor of Pennsylvania, and he assigned the duty of purchasing acreage for an official cemetery for the reburial of the dead to local Gettysburg attorney David Wills (of the Wills House on the Gettysburg Square).

Wills purchased 17 acres on Cemetery Hill, right next to the citizens’ Evergreen Cemetery and, appropriately, a major battlefield landmark. Soon after, exhumations from the battlefields, transportation of the bodies and re-burial in the new cemetery began.

Re-burials were halted in November 1863 while President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the new Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Burial crews were still working in the spring of 1864.

But the soldiers buried in the National Cemetery were only the Union soldiers. What happened to the Confederates?

Being the “enemy,” the Confederates remained buried on the battlefield until various “Ladies Memorial Associations” from the South contacted some Gettysburgians who had been instrumental in the Union re-burials. Dr. Rufus Weaver, son of Samuel Weaver who oversaw the Union re-burials, was contracted. He halted his successful college teaching career at a medical college in Philadelphia and worked from 1871 to 1873 at disinterring 3,320 Confederate remains, shipping them to major cities in the South such as Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, Raleigh, NC, and Richmond, VA. Weaver, per his contract, was owed $9,536.00 for the work. Although he tried to collect until 1887, he was never paid.

When I was a park ranger visitors would ask “Did they get all the dead?” We asked our bosses what we should say and they said to tell them all the bodies were removed. Whether they truly didn’t know for sure or whether they were trying to keep visitors from digging on the park I don’t know. Later studies confirmed that many, many bodies remain unaccounted for. As well as hundreds of Union soldiers, Greg Coco estimated as many as 1,500 individual Confederates remain unrecovered. The most recent remains were found near the Railroad Cut in 1996.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

July 4 Gettysburg Campaign: Worst 4th of July Ever

Happy 4th of July…2013.

I can assure you, your Independence Day is going far better than the July 4th spent by the soldiers who had just fought the battle, their relatives, and the townspeople of Gettysburg in 1863.

I was pleased to hear Superintendent Bob Kirby, in his opening remarks for the commemoration ceremonies, use the same figures for troop strengths and casualties that we had used in the Park Service in the 1970s. The most horrific of all, of course, is the figure of 51,000 casualties.

That’s not the number of dead, but of killed plus wounded plus missing or captured. And it does represent both sides. The numbers are almost beyond comprehension. But keep this in mind: The next time you visit or see Yankee Stadium on TV, it holds about 52,000. Imagine all those people, helpless, thirsty, hungry, bleeding, in need of medical care, lying in the fields or strewn through the small town of Gettysburg  with a population of 2,400. There were about 400 buildings in the town (200 of which still stand) and about 700 structures in the area, including barns, farmhouses and outbuildings. Not all the outbuildings were used as hospitals, nor were some of the houses in town, so the ones that were used filled to overflowing with the broken bodies of men and boys.

Some observers of these buildings from a distance were struck by the odd “pyramids” below the ground floor windows, then horrified when they got closer and saw they were piles of bloody hands, arms, feet and legs amputated and tossed out by harried surgeons working non-stop.

Then there were the dead. The “optics” were something that would make the worst modern 3-D movie pale in comparison. Men, or what appeared to once have been men, were eviscerated, headless, torso-less, limbless. Bits and pieces of humans were tossed about the farmers’ fields gathering flies, waiting for some unfortunate to pick them up.

The smells were probably the worst, and the least mentioned in the histories. One hundred eighty thousand men (probably more), some with acute diarrhea from lousy food, water, and just plain fear, did not observe the niceties of Victorian Society. Who was going to run across a bullet-swept yard to use the outhouse when there was a nice chimney corner two feet away? Multiply that 180,000 by two or three times a day for four days and that’s just one of the smells permeating the town.

Then there were the horses. Ninety thousand horses were used by the armies. A horse produces about 10 pounds of manure per day. That’s 900,000 pounds of manure per day, or 2,700,000 pounds for three days—and 3,600,000 pounds if you include the Glorious Fourth.

And of those 90,000 horses, some 5,000 were killed. After they were left to rot in the hot sun for days, someone realized how hard it is to bury a horse and decided to burn them. Add to the smell of manure the smell of 4,500,000 pounds of rotting horsemeat, bones, and sweat soaked horsehair wafting on the smoke-filled air.

Then there were the human remains. According to one respected source, there were approximately 7,700 dead left on the battlefield when the armies departed. I would add between 1,000 and 2,000 to that figure, because tucked among the 10,800 missing were those so completely mutilated by canister, or liquefied by an exploding shell that they would not be counted among the dead, but were still on the field, “missing.” Adding those figures up and multiplying gives us, in Civil War soldiers’ terms, a “butcher’s bill” of between 1,200,00 and 1,350,000 pounds of putrifying human flesh left lying around for several days in July.

And no one in Gettysburg could escape it. Gettysburg women took to carrying handkerchiefs soaked in rosewater to cover their noses when the wind blew in from the fields. Townsfolk would notice a strange taste and foul smell to their well water that kept getting worse, until they finally dredged up pieces of bodies blown into their water supply. And weeks after the battle, on rainy days, women would look out into their gardens and to their horror see a grizzled arm, or head emerge from a hasty grave.

Suffice it to say, the Gettysburg of today is nothing like the Gettysburg of July 4th 1863.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

July 3 Gettysburg Campaign: Not Just a Summer Job

Unlike a lot of people, I can actually tell you where I was 50 years ago at this very moment.

I had begged my father to take my family to Gettysburg for the 100th Anniversary of the battle. I had discovered Gettysburg and the American Civil War just a few short years before, after a day trip there from Breezewood, PA, where we were staying. After that trip I had read McKinlay Kantor’s children’s book on Gettysburg. My folks realized that studying the Civil War was a much better alternative than some of the things I could have gotten into, so every Christmas or birthday I would receive Civil War books. By the time the Gettysburg Centennial rolled around, I had watched the television special on Mathew Brady’s photographs of the war and the fictional series of two brothers—one Yank, one Reb—from Harpers Ferry, called “The Americans.” I was primed.

My dad displayed fatherly logic when he said that Gettysburg would be so inundated with tourists that we wouldn’t be able to get a motel room. I was relegated to spending the anniversary at our home in northern Ohio, 300-some miles away.

National Geographic Magazine had put out a special for their July 1963 edition about the Battle of Gettysburg. There was a map inside that had a timeline for the battle. So, I know that at exactly this time, 50 years ago, I was on our living room floor reading about the great cannonade that preceded the grand assault known as Pickett’s Charge.

We did go to Gettysburg the next year, and subsequent years, sometimes twice a year. My parents enjoyed the quiet of the small town and the feel they got from the lush farm fields. The almost spiritual hold the town had on us was palpable. I remember driving other places and my parents saying, “Doesn’t this remind you of Gettysburg?”

I moved to Gettysburg the summer before my senior year in college. I was tired of working in construction for my dad, so I applied to the National Park Service for a seasonal position. To my amazement, I got it. I don’t know who made the decision that Mark Nesbitt, English Lit major at a small college in Ohio would make a good park ranger/historian, but it changed my life.

I remember all the good people I worked with that first summer. We were stationed at an outdoor post—Little Round Top, The Peace Light, The Angle, the National Cemetery, or doing Living History—for half the day. The other half we were indoors, introducing the programs in and around the Visitor Center, which was the new Cyclorama building. Everyone feared Little Round Top in the afternoon because there was no shade. Doing Living History, dressed as a Civil War soldier, and giving the story in first person, was great because you could really see the people respond emotionally to history.

I gave my talk as a young Confederate, vowing that I was fighting and would die for a man that didn’t even know my name—General Robert E. Lee. I remember after one talk an elderly southern gentleman, tears streaming down his cheeks, trying to give me a five dollar tip—which we could not accept—and telling me that I reminded him of his grandfather, a veteran, who had in his old age said the very same thing.

I’ve written to the moment, 50 years ago, when I read that Pickett’s Charge began their march across the fields toward their dissolution in a black-powder cloud tainted crimson. Twelve thousand men and boys stepped off and began taking casualties from Union artillery on Little Round Top almost immediately; the Union gunners said it was as easy as target practice.

They reached the stout post and rail fences that lined both sides of the Emmitsburg Road. They tried to break down the fences, but they wouldn’t give, so they began to climb them. Federal infantry, crouched behind a stone wall atop Cemetery Ridge, stood and cut loose a volley. Confederates toppled from the fence. They continued to take volleys, marching up the gentle slope, until they were about 50 yards away, then ran up to the stone wall. Brigadier General Lewis Armistead shouldered his way to the front of the crowd and realized they could not stay in this position. His old black hat was on top of his sword, giving his men a rallying point, making himself a target as well. He shouts, “Give them the cold steel, boys! Who will follow me?” and hops over the wall. Some 3-400 men follow him. This moment is considered, arguably, the “high tide of the Confederacy,” the closest they will ever come to victory in their four year struggle for independence.

The Confederates are driven back from the wall and withdraw to the Emmitsburg Road, then to Seminary Ridge. About twenty minutes to cross; ten minutes of fighting, and twenty minutes to return. Fifty minutes and two-thirds of the original 12,000 become casualties. Some accounts say that you could walk from the stone wall to the Emmitsburg Road without stepping on the ground once, if you chose to use the bodies as grisly stepping-stones.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

July 2 Gettysburg Campaign: Everything On the LIne

Yesterday Franklin Horner and the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves marched until 1:00 a.m., some twenty-five miles. Today they began marching at 6:00 a.m. He writes that they have halted within sight of the rebels and are expecting to march onto the battlefield soon. Suddenly, his writing changes to present tense, the immediacy so great he forgets punctuation: “ evening we are on the battlefield and in line of battle the boys are determined to drive the rebels out of the state the battle is rageing [sic} fiercely now we will soon be in.”

From Thomas Ware’s diary on this Thursday we learn that he marches through Cashtown and came in sight of Gettysburg. They rested in an “old field” until 2:00 p.m. “…at which time we left to Attack the Enemy. After passing through a very heavy shelling for 20 minutes we rested and then formed a line of battle. Here at the foot of the mountain the engagement became general & fierce…”

Franklin Horner, exhausted from marching, lack of sleep, little food and the sheer nervousness of not knowing whether, in ten minutes, he would be alive or dead, ends up on the boulder-strewn west slope of a small hill south of Gettysburg, which would later come to be known as Little Round Top. It is from there he writes his entry in his diary.

Thomas Ware, his brother Robert, and the rest of the men of the 15th Georgia have marched hours with but little rest to finally end up at the lower end of an oddly-shaped triangular field near a jumble of huge boulders the locals call the Devils Den. Just beyond Ware in the Triangular Field, within musket-range in fact, is the upper slope of Little Round Top where Horner stands, two American enemies, after 35 days of campaigning, finally on the same part of the battlefield at Gettysburg.

It is here where I must end my narrative. I do not want to spoil the ending of the book for those interested in reading it. A hint as to how it ends: one soldier lives, the other dies.

I will share an interesting story, a “perk” so to speak, associated with the writing of the book. Several years after it was published, I received a letter from a resident of Washington, Georgia, asking if I would like to speak to the descendents of Thomas Ware. That was a particularly busy year for me so I deferred, suggesting perhaps a later time. I honestly never expected to hear from him again. But Gary Norman was persistent, and the next year my wife Carol and I flew to Atlanta and drove our rental car through a night-time thunderstorm to Washington. We were put up in a delightfully restored building owned by the president of the local historical society. The next day we were treated to lunch with over 25 Wares, Normans, and Remsens, names which appear in the roster of Company G, 15th Georgia Infantry.

One person I was particularly interested in meeting was Mary Lucy (Ware) Probst, Thomas Ware’s grand-niece, whose name had been given to me by family member Ken Norman early in my research. Every family should be lucky enough to have someone like Mary Lucy in it, for if they did their heritage would never be lost. I spoke with and wrote to her numerous times during the development of the book. It was only fitting that I should present to her, on behalf of the family, the microfilmed copy of Thomas Ware’s entire diary, which I had purchased from the University of North Carolina, Southern Historical Collection for my research. Now, anyone in the family can read first hand of their relative’s heroic, harrowing journeys.

I spoke that afternoon to some thirty heirs to the legacy of the one Confederate soldier, out of several hundred thousand, whom I had chosen to represent all the rest. For me it was emotional to have gotten to know their ancestor so well, and to pass that information on to them. I spoke about observations he had made of the land through which he was marching and how many of those landmarks remain. I talked about how astounded I was that throughout his entire diary, there were no references to slavery for this Southerner. The only “N” word Thomas ever used was “Negro” speaking of someone named Steve who sent him some food from home. I told them of the admiration I had for their kin, who endured more, physically and emotionally, than anyone should have to protect his family back in Georgia. I told them how honored I was that they should invite me to speak to them.

Gary Norman’s wife Suzanne is a Ware. They sponsored a reception at their house after my speech to the family. Speaking to Suzanne about the research and miles traveled to produce the book, I told of my one disappointment. In all the volumes of books and papers I perused and the archives I visited, I never found a photo of Thomas Ware. I had no idea what this young man, whose life I had chronicled, whose most intimate hopes and fears I was privy to,  looked like.

“Oh,” Suzanne said. “I have his photo hanging on my wall.” She walked me into the house and handed me a small picture of the young man whose life took up so much of my life for the past several years. I felt a well of emotion as I looked into his face. Two words, probably sounding strange to the rest of the Ware family who had gathered around, but summing up all that he and I had been through over the several years it took to research and write his book came out of my mouth:

“Hello, Thomas.”

Thomas Ware

Thomas Ware

July 1 Gettysburg Campaign: “None in the world”

Franklin Horner begins his day at 5:00 a.m. They marched nearly the whole day putting in fifteen miles and crossing the Maryland-Pennsylvania line into York County. Somewhere he hears they are within five or six miles of the rebels and they expect to get into a fight tomorrow. He records that he hears some firing in their front, that the wagons are all being sent to the rear and a night march is expected.

Thomas Ware begins his march at 4:00 p.m., and marches through the night. They stop and rest somewhere east of Fayetteville and west of Cashtown on the Chambersburg Pike.

The firing Horner hears is coming from the fields to the west and north of Gettysburg, PA, a town of about 2,400 souls at the intersection of several roads.

The night before, on June 30, General John Buford’s Union cavalry trotted through the town from the south and spread out to the west. As was standard practice for the cavalry, they sent out videttes—single horsemen ahead of groups of horsemen—to locate any enemy that might be near. No doubt they saw or heard Confederates to the west. Confederate general Johnston Pettigrew reported back to his corps commander at Cashtown that night that on his scout toward Gettysburg he had run into Federal cavalry and had heard drums behind them, indicating there might be infantry backing them up. General Lee had let it be known that he did not want to bring on a general engagement since his army was not concentrated yet, so Pettigrew backed off.

Pettigrew’s report to corps commander A. P. Hill took place at the Cashtown Inn and was overheard by one of Hill’s division commanders, General Henry Heth. Hill didn’t believe that there could be infantry in Gettysburg; his reports all said that the Army of the Potomac was still in Maryland. Pettigrew listened while Hill threw away fresh intelligence about the enemy for stale. Heth asked if Hill had any objections if he went into Gettysburg the next morning and procured supplies—especially shoes—for his command. “None in the world,” Hill said. Those four words would bring on what some historians think was the watershed battle of the American Civil War.

The morning of July 1, Heth’s men drew fire from Buford’s videttes, but pressed on until they struck the main cavalry line. They were held up by Buford’s men, who had sent couriers back through the town of Gettysburg to inform the nearest infantry that the fight was on. They found the Union Army First Corps, under the command of Major General John F. Reynolds (whose home was Lancaster, PA) on the road the Confederates would march to Philadelphia, if they were successful in driving back his troops. With a will only a man fighting to defend his own home and family could summon, Reynolds rode ahead of his troops, through the Seminary to the ridges and swales to the west. He had turned in his saddle to watch his troops march toward him when a minie ball struck him high in the back of the neck. He had been on the battlefield just a few minutes.

The fighting would rage with Confederates assaulting the Union lines along McPherson’s Ridge from the west. As more Union troops came through the town, they attempted to gain the high ground to the north on Oak Hill. Just as they approached the hill, Confederates arriving from the north as part of the rebel army’s concentration planted themselves on it. The Union troops “refused” their line, or bent it back, to receive any attack.

As in any battle there were moments of serious hard fighting as well as lulls. As more Union troops arrived on the field they took up position north of the town, straddling the approach routes there, and holding off Confederate assaults as best they could from behind the only protection they could find—some post and rail fences. The Federal line formed a rough, sideways “L” blocking Confederates first coming from the west in the morning, then from the north in the afternoon. Fighting continued through the afternoon until Confederate forces finally arrived from the east and attacked the Union flank on Barlow’s knoll. It crumpled and the entire Federal line imploded, moving rapidly through the town.

It seemed a complete Confederate victory on the first day. Lee, who had not wanted to bring on a general engagement, observed the rout as he arrived on the battlefield from Cashtown and must have been pleased at what he saw. Was it this vision that changed his strategy from avoiding an engagement to, “The enemy is there, and I am going to strike him”?

And while the Federals where whipped on the first day, they fell back to the high ground south of the town and began to form, as the rest of the army came up from the south, one of the strongest positions they could have found; One that most military men credit with the eventual Union victory.

Yet, for all the momentous, history-changing events that are occurring just a few miles from them and toward which they are inexorably being drawn, neither Franklin Horner nor Thomas Ware mentions the name Gettysburg.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

June 30 Gettysburg Campaign: Pay Day

This Tuesday, the last day of June, was the day Franklin Horner and his fellow Union soldiers mustered for pay. They took up the line of march at 7:00 a.m. and marched until 7:00 p.m. covering some 20 miles. As they passed through several towns they uncased the colors—their flags—and had their bands play martial music.

Thomas Ware began their march about 9:00 a.m. It was a short day ending at 1:00 p.m. stopping to camp in the town of Fayetteville. His comrades gathered a large amount of cherries, which were in season in Pennsylvania and, as he put it, “We made fences fly…” for firewood, of course. He has some time to write a letter home.

Horner casually mentions that they marched twenty miles this day, but it was probably one of the hardest marches he’s had to make. They are on the move for twelve hours, which means a lot of it was stop and go before they could go into camp and take a long rest.

Since it is the end of the month, there are some administrative duties each company has to take care of. They determine how many men are present and accounted for so that they can requisition money from the government to pay them for their service. In the Union army, pay was $13 per month.

The end-of-the-month muster also gives us a general—but not specific—idea of the troop strengths at the time. When historians analyzed the muster records, they felt confident in determining the number of soldiers present on July 1, the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg. But there are variables: men get sick overnight, or drop out of the ranks marching the next day. In addition, the muster rolls give only an approximate number of combat troops. There were thousands more non-combatants, from teamsters to farriers to personal servants to “camp followers” who accompanied the armies and remained behind the lines during combat. The total number of human beings being drawn to this part of Pennsylvania as if caught in a whirlpool may never be known; but it certainly was more that the 97,000 Union and 75.000 Confederate combat troop figures we used in the National Park Service.

Once again, the Federals are marching an inside arc to the Confederates’ sweep northward and eastward. The rebels had been reported in York and so Horner’s unit is sent toward the east, always trying to be the buffer between the enemy and their capital. Music playing and flags flying while marching through northern towns were more for the civilians’ benefit than the soldiers. Horner, who had lived through the bloodiest single day in all of American History at the Battle of Antietam, knows he is headed toward yet another, and potentially bloodier battle with one of the finest and most deadly armies on the face of the planet; one that had already whipped his army more than once before. The cheering civilian residents of the towns may not have exactly inculcated Horner and his fellow veterans with confidence.

Perhaps because of the extra free time he has thanks to a short march, Ware’s thoughts turn homeward and he records in a sort of code that he has been using, that he wrote a letter to “J. B. F.” Throughout his diary, Thomas Ware uses his alphabet code to record letters he sends to someone at home. Could it be that he has a sweetheart in Washington, Georgia?

This night, Ware and Horner are only thirty-seven miles apart, a day’s march for each of these American enemies to a collision-point.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

June 29 Gettysburg Campaign: Confederate Army in Scotland

Franklin Horner had orders to march at daylight, but because of the Union troops concentrating in the Frederick, MD, area, his unit did not get started until 1:00 p.m. They marched about 10 miles and went into camp at 11:00 p.m.

Thomas Ware’s regiment, along with the 17th Georgia and other from the division were sent to destroy four miles of railroad north of Chambersburg, a place called Scotland Station. They tore up all the rails and burned the ties and a substantial bridge along the way, then returned to their camps. He writes of the “Q Masters” (Quartermasters) continuing to gather up all the horses and beef cattle they can find. Some of his comrades see the finer horses in the area tied up in the woods in an attempt to hide them from the round up.

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday: When Horner and the men of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves are attached to the Fifth Corps, they also find that they have a new commanding general for the entire army. Major General George G. Meade, formerly commander of the Fifth Corps, was ordered to replace Major General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

For Meade it is a dubious distinction. To go from commanding a corps to an entire army in the midst of an active campaign and the invasion of the north by the enemy threatening to capture his home state’s capital is a lot to put on any commander’s plate. Overnight he goes from commanding one corps to commanding eight times that many men, all needing to be fed, supplied with enough ammunition and supplies in case a battle looms, and ordered where to march without impeding one another to intercept the greatest threat to the nation’s security in its history. Interestingly, either Horner hasn’t heard or he’s more concerned with his own sore feet, or where he’s going to get his next meal, but he doesn’t even mention the change in high command in his diary entries.

Though Horner only marches 10 miles this day, it takes 10 hours to do so. It was stop and go, apparently because of the concentration of Federal troops attempting to stay between the invading Confederates and Washington. The good news is that the Union army is taking the “inside route” while the Confederates swing wide to the north and east and must march farther.

(Taking a short break to speak and sign at the Adams County Winery’s 150th Anniversary Commemoration day. I’ll be right back!)

(Did you miss me? What a great day. Gorgeous weather in the beautiful mountains near Cashtown. Spoke to a BUNCH of interesting people. Saw some old friends from the Licensed Battlefield Guides. Thanks, Rob, for a well-done event. Okay. Back to the blog….)

Railroads are historically protective of their right-of-ways, some of which were established in the early 19th Century, so it’s easy to find some of the places Ware mentions along the railroad north out of Chambersburg, since they haven’t changed much in 150 years.

The railroad bridge at Scotland, PA, is made of stone and concrete now, but does rise some fifty feet above the river, as Ware records about the old wooden bridge.

In an interesting sidelight, Scotland, PA, is the ancestral home of my wife Carol. It wasn’t until her mother Phyllis told me that the Chambersburg Country Club property included the building that had been her ancestor’s home that we made the connection between Thomas Ware, a soldier I chose somewhat randomly to write about and our relationship by marriage. The subject of my book on this day marched past the farm of my future wife’s ancestors 150 years before.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

June 28. Gettysburg Campaign: Marching to Stop the Rebels

For Franklin Horner, the campaign has begun in earnest. Starting at 6:00 a.m. they march until 1:00 p.m. and encamp near Buckeystown, MD. Horner writes that they have joined up with the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps.

For Thomas Ware, just north of Chambersburg, PA, it is a welcomed day of rest. He writes about the “soldiers taking evry [sic] thing. Camps full of chickens, butter & milk. Our mess had a chicken stew, cherries in great abundance…can get almost any thing at your own price.” He records what a rich country it is north of the Mason-Dixon line and how thickly settled it is. “People all Dutch…Our army living all-together on what we capture. Our advance infantry at or near ‘Harrisburg.’”

The last two days for Ware have been eye-openers. His comments yesterday concerning how many young men in Chambersburg are not in the army must make him realize that there is an abundance of manpower in the north. Even during this huge Confederate invasion, they haven’t been called upon to serve. As well, today’s observations about the agricultural riches in the area must be a harbinger of the importance of making this a successful campaign and a short war, since it appears that the north’s resources are vast.

His comments about the people all being “Dutch” refers to the fact that this part of Pennsylvania was settled by German (“Deutsch”) immigrants. This area and the area to the east are still populated with Hollabaughs, Weikerts, Trostles, Spanglers, Culps (and Kulps) and even a Stoltzfus or two.

My narrative in 35 Days to Gettysburg for this day covers the organization Horner and the men of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves just joined. It is a template for the way both armies are organized. The 12th Pennsylvania Reserves is a regiment that joins four other Pennsylvania Reserve regiments to form Fisher’s Third Brigade. Two brigades (the First and Fisher’s Third) made up General Crawford’s Third Division. Three Divisions made up the Fifth Army Corps. Finally, the Fifth Corps (pronounced “core”) was one of seven army corps (plus a cavalry corps) that made up the 97,000 man Army of the Potomac.

The same regiment-brigade-division-corps-army organization was employed in the 75,000 man Confederate Army with a few minor differences.

I use all figures guardedly. These are the figures we used when I worked for the National Park Service, and I’ve heard different ones from historians since. The point is, nobody knows for certain.

We used the figure 620,000 men dead from both sides after the four years of Civil War. We used to say that more Americans died in the Civil War than in the Spanish-American War, WW I, WW II, Korea, and Vietnam all added together. We’ve had some wars since, but as if to make the Civil War our most horrible conflict in perpetuity, a historian re-analyzed the census figures and upped the death figure to 850,000.

To make that more relevant to modern times, recall that the country was about one-tenth the size it is today, so you must multiply either of those figure by ten to accommodate for the century-and-a-half of growth. Imagine if one of our four-year wars today cost eight MILLION five hundred thousand American lives. Figures that large are almost too big to wrap your head around. But if you boil is all down to individuals, the tragedy on a family-to-family basis is incalculable.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote