After the carnage and devastation experienced by both sides in early July 1863, the silence of the guns on July 4th allowed Northern soldiers the opportunity to view the result of battle. They quickly discovered the depth of the local farmers’ patriotism as the latter saw an opportunity to profit from the soldiers’ misery.
Sharp Gettysburg Farmers
“Most of the thrifty, compulsively orderly farm families of German ancestry had, until now, viewed the sectional conflict with indifference, a struggle over issues that were foreign to their interests. When, after two years, the war finally intruded itself upon their lives, it entered with a destructive force few parts of the North had yet experienced. For miles about, their carefully tended fields had been stripped of laboriously built post and rail fences, all the greyed wood having gone to fires or barricades.
There was not a grazing animal to be seen. The low stone walls dividing the properties in the area, products of countless plowings by generations of frugal farmers, had been broken down by shot and shell. Once rich fields wheat and grain had been trampled to worthlessness by masses of farm-boys turned soldiers who could fully appreciate the extent of the damage they were doing. The ground itself was furrowed and scarred by the wheels of caissons and gun carriages. Once symmetrical orchards had been made incongruous; some trees had been reduced to stumps while on others fractured limbs with crumpled dead leaves hung limply.
Regardless of what high principles the Union soldiers may have been fighting for on their soil, they were being regarded by some of the ruined farmers as the source of financial devastation, and they were not anxious to comfort the soldiers in any way.
One officer of a New York regiment complained that ‘a well-to-do farmer near us refused us straw for our men . . . not a man or woman in the vicinity offered a hand to help or drop of milk for the poor sufferers.’ A Northern surgeon said ‘I have yet to see the first thing brought in for the comfort of the wounded. Some farmers brought in some bread which they sold for 75 cents a loaf. The brave army that has defended this State surely deserves better treatment.’
The morning after the epic Little Round Top battle a committee of farmers confronted a Northern major of the 155th Pennsylvania and demanded payment for straw taken for field hospitals. They were driven away with threats of arrest ‘for their disloyalty as well as their inhumanity.’ Perhaps the meanest offenses were being committed by the local farmers who removed the handles and buckets from their wells to prevent the soldiers from reaching water.
What particularly offended a Northern artillery colonel was the hundreds of people who had come “in their wagons to see the sights, to stroll over the ground and gaze and gape at the dead and wounded.”
(Debris of Battle: The Wounded of Gettysburg. Gerard A. Patterson. Stackpole Books, 1997, pp. 53-55)