Gettysburg – how the townies fared during the historic battle
By: Frank D. Quattrone – Ticket Editor
Gettysburg. How many striking words have been spilled describing the turning point of the Civil War – the tactical maneuvers and the aftermath – even more so, the acts of heroism and high valor that distinguished the most famous battle ever fought on American soil?
Although it would take years to underscore the full meaning of this most emphatic contribution to our nation’s unity and independence, its impact – expressed most eloquently in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address just four months later – has been well documented.
What more could a visiting newspaper editor add, after spending a relaxing weekend getaway there with friends? It was one week before the annual reenactment of the celebrated three-day battle that raged in the once quiet town from July 1 through July 3, 1863.
My own personal interest was piqued by Michael Shaara’s superb fictional account of the battle, titled “The Killer Angels,” later adapted into Ronald F. Maxwell’s fine four-hour film “Gettysburg” (1993). Shaara’s son Jeff, who appeared for a book signing in Gettysburg last week, has also done his part to continue his late father’s Civil War research with the novels “Gods and Generals” and “The Last Full Measure,” and his recent nonfiction volume “Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America’s Hallowed Ground” (Ballantine 2006).
Perusing the extensive library of excellent books available at the Gettysburg National Military Park Information Center alone would discourage one’s vanity in attempting to add another word. During a book signing at the center, we even met the latest author to enter the fray. Although it was not his first book on the Civil War, New Jersey’s William B. Styple has compiled another amazing chapter in the history of the war. Titled “Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War,” the book is based on in-depth interviews conducted by artist James E. Kelly (1855-1933) with more than 40 Union generals in an attempt to capture them during their time of greatest glory.
Oddly enough, it was a little volume I discovered at the bed and breakfast where we stayed that provided the impetus for this latest excursion into Gettysburg lore. That B&B, the charming Brafferton Inn, at 44 York St. – the oldest house (1786) built in the town’s historic district – proved to be the perfect choice of accommodations for our memorable weekend.
Built of native fieldstone 10 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Brafferton Inn once belonged to longtime residents the Codori family. Purchased about 20 months ago by innkeepers Joan Hodges and her son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Amybeth Hodges, the inn offers 14 guest bedrooms, including five suites, each with its own private bath, air conditioning and period furnishings authentic to the 1860s.
The original stone walls remain, as well as the 19th-century brick addition beneath the enclosed atrium, where more rooms can be found, plus a rocking chair and domestic artifacts from the 1860s under the skylight. On a clear day, guests can sip coffee, tea or Joan’s home-baked cookies at tables on the raised, open-air wooden deck or on the patio overlooking Joan’s well-tended garden. Other rooms facing York Street are situated above the craft shop adjacent to the Brafferton, the former location of the Codori family’s butcher shop.
In the sitting room, guests can chat, relax, enjoy the aforementioned complimentary refreshments, leaf through the Hodges’ well-stocked library of Civil War literature or check out the walls, adorned with original paintings (all for sale) by noted Civil War artist Keith Rocco. In the attractive dining room, where a pastoral mural graces the walls, guests enjoy a full homemade breakfast each morning of their stay.
Brian also informed us that a stray bullet fired during the battle is still lodged in a mantelpiece in one of the occupied guest rooms. He said, “Of the 2500 people living here at the time of the fighting, with so many stray bullets hitting the town, it’s a miracle that only one civilian – Jennie Wade [whose house, now a museum at 548 Baltimore St., is still standing] – was killed. The civilians just happened to be in the way” as a great battle was fought all around them.
Joan Hodges, a nurse and critical care specialist by profession and a one-time research and development staffer with Hewlitt Packard, is a former resident of Warminster, where Brian grew up. She still enjoys seeing New Hope whenever she returns east to visit another of her sons, who lives in Princeton. As an active member of the Main Street Committee, Joan works hard contributing to the ongoing revival of the historic district, which includes the Brafferton as well as Lincoln Square a half block away – the site of the landmark Gettysburg Hotel (established in 1797) and the Wills House (now under renovation), where President Lincoln put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address.
Our room, which features a comfortable four-poster bed and a wicker rocking chair, is named, according to Brian Hodges, after Tillie Pierce [Alleman]. Here’s where our journey begins. Our room’s namesake, a schoolgirl of 15 at the time of the battle, lived at 309 Baltimore St., a few blocks from the old Codori house. Brian showed us her memoir. Titled “At Gettysburg: or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle,” it was published in 1889, and is acknowledged by many as one of the most outstanding of the 80 or so personal accounts written about the battle. Hard to put down, it is a riveting story of how the locals survived during the fighting.
Our appreciation of the battle itself was greatly enhanced by Brian’s allowing us to borrow a beautifully narrated three-hour driving tour of the battlefield, which we accomplished comfortably from our car, especially because of the intermittent rain. We did walk along the Confederate positions on Seminary Ridge overlooking the Union’s defenses on Cemetery Hill a mile away. With Gettysburg College in the near distance, we surveyed the open field where Pickett’s Charge very nearly succeeded despite General Robert E. Lee’s plan, which defied all military logic.
And then our hearts flipped when we noticed bullet holes pock-marking the thin trees lining the rocky rise where Colonel Chamberlain’s desperate charge down Little Round Top with the men of the 20th Maine startled and ultimately repelled the rebel advance.
We also visited Culp’s Hill, site of the bloody but successful Union defense against General Ewell’s determined attack on the battle’s second day. It was chilling to realize that Culp’s Hill, within walking distance of the Brafferton Inn and Tillie Pierce’s house, had been a popular picnic site for the townsfolk.
SHRIVER HOUSE MUSEUM
Tillie’s account of the battle dovetails neatly with the story of George and Henrietta (Hettie) Shriver, who lived with their daughters Sadie, 5, and Mollie, 3, next door to the Pierces, at 309 Baltimore St., now the Shriver House Museum, a beautifully restored Civil War era home (built in 1860) where costumed guides like Lori Berlich provide hour-long tours that illuminate the civilian experience at Gettysburg.
At the Shriver House, we learn that George Shriver had already answered Lincoln’s call to arms and was serving as a sergeant in Cole’s Maryland Cavalry (where he was paid a total of $3 a month!), leaving the house to his capable 25-year-old wife during his absence. An ambitious man, ahead of his time, he had hoped to raise his family as well as build a saloon and “ten pin [or bowling] alley” at the site, and actually completed the work before going off to war.
The tour takes visitors through the formal parlor on the first floor, where the Shrivers would entertain neighbors during special occasions; and the more comfortable sitting room, where they would gather as a family. Here at the cozy common table, George could read his newspaper, the girls could play, and Hettie could make candles or serve the family dinner.
The four rooms on the second floor include the master bedroom, a guest room, the children’s room and a combination work/storage room where George kept maps, guns and the books for his business. Hettie’s sewing machine was located in a bright alcove by the front windows.
On June 30, 1863, Hettie heard a ruckus behind the house and was relieved to see Union cavalry riding up Washington Street. As Tillie Pierce soon found herself doing, Hettie and the girls offered the soldiers fresh water to quench their thirst. Certain that a battle would soon break the quietude of their little town, Hettie decided to take the girls to safety at her father’s farmhouse (Jacob Weikert) about three miles away and asked the Pierce family if their daughter Tillie, 15, could join them. Here is where the two stories intertwine.
Ironically, their “safe” haven was located just below and between the two Round Tops, where some of the fircest fighting took place on the second day of the battle. The ladies, who brought water to the wounded and dying, saw more than their share of carnage. Tillie describes the operating tables where surgeons amputated arms and legs to try to save lives, and they saw piles of amputated limbs reaching to the top of their garden gate. Confusion reigned throughout the area.
When it was safe to return about a week later, the women discovered that the whole town was filled with wounded soldiers from both sides – 20,000 wounded were left behind, and the smell of gunpowder, blood, decaying horses and bodies filled the area for months to come, making Gettysburg virtually uninhabitable, were it not impossible to leave.
The local Catholic church became a field hospital, so it moved its services to the second floor of the Brafferton Inn. The garret (or attic) of the Shriver House was used by Confederate sharpshooters (rifles and white papers that once held gunpowder can be seen there today) as the family hid in the basement, where George Pierce’s saloon and bowling alley served as comfortable havens from the rebs occupying the house above. Neither soldiers nor civilians got in each other’s way.
Visitors can still see the saloon (the bowling alley is gone), where they can view extensive displays of artifacts found at the site, all providing a mosaic of life during the war – including bullets, medical supplies, coins, flasks, children’s shoes, toy wagon wheel, roller skates, lady’s compact case, a velvet pipe and tobacco, and a rubbing from Hettie’s gravestone in Washington, D.C.
She died in 1916 at the age of 80, having remarried some time after she learned that her husband George had been captured by the rebel army at Cold Harbor in 1864. He was taken to Andersonville Prison, where he died of starvation eight months later.
Lincoln himself walked along Baltimore Street in front of the Shriver House when he came to Gettysburg four months later to deliver his immortal address. The Tillie Piece house, by the way, is slated to open as a B&B some time this fall.
Brian Hodges said that during Remembrance Day each November, when the townsfolk and guests celebrate Lincoln’s visit, hundreds of reenactors, many dressed in evening clothes, stay in the town rather than in tents on the battlefield.
The town, just 120 miles away and about two hours distant from the county, is overflowing with charming restaurants and shops, museums dedicated to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, Eisenhower National Historic Site, and countless hotels, motels and B&Bs.
But for our money, the best way to see and appreciate the Gettysburg experience is to take a room at one of the town’s charming B&S, like the historic Brafferton – an excellent reminder that the citizens of Gettysburg, even in its darkest days, have never been lacking in good hearts and hospitality.
is located at 44 York St.,
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Info: 717-337-3423 or
Shriver House Museum
is located at 309 Baltimore St.,
Info: 717-337-2800 or
& Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 4117
Gettysburg, PA 17325.
or 717-334-6274 or
©Montgomery Newspapers 2007