Americans are attracted to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for scores of reasons. While many study detailed battle tactics, it is the powerful human-interest stories that compel most to visit this treasured battlefield. And because Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly, but eloquently, her in November 1863. often forgotten, though, is the fact that Lincoln never mentions Gettysburg by name in his address.
Gettysburg is often mentioned as a crosswords hamlet that by chance witnessed the war’s greatest battle. The town, the county seat of Adams County, had a population of 2,500 residents. In the early 1700s Gettysburg was an intersection of various footpaths to the Alleghenies, which rose to the west. By mid-century, a Mr. Gettys built a tavern and a store where the dirt paths crossed. His son laid out the town in 1786.
Before 1840, the town boasted two colleges and was a major manufacturer of covered Conestoga wagons, which were in high demand by pioneers going West. But the main vocation around Gettysburg as the Civil War broke out was farming and town gardening. Read newspaper accounts, and you are struck by the constant references to harvests. The press acknowledged families that grew 4-foot cabbage heads, 11-inch peaches, and cornrows that topped 12 feet in height. In the spring of 1846, locusts began billowing up from the ground. Within weeks, the dastardly little red and black creatures had eaten all the crops in sight. Though it was a calamity for many, most knew that the locusts only swarm every seventeen years.
In the spring of 1863 the locusts did return, but worries quickly turned to the swarming Confederates who were invading northward. Farmers feared that they would lose everything. One such family was the Bayly family, who lived on an expansive farm near town. Harriet was the mother of six boys and a girl, Jane Ann, as the war broke out in 1861. When Jane Ann was merely a toddler, her daddy brought her home a chestnut mare and she named her Nellie. “She was the nicest little animal we ever had, swift as a bird, gentle as the sound of her name and so kind always,” Mrs. Bayly wrote.
A few months before the battle, ten-year-old Jane Ann developed a sore throat and high fever. It was diphtheria, and she died a terrible death. Her grief-stricken mother knew that her only memory of her little girl would be Nellie.
When thousands of Confederates descended upon the lush fields of Gettysburg, Mrs. Bayly knew Nellie was in danger. After trying to hide her for days, the family finally gave into Confederates who had surrounded the farm. “She is our dead child’s pet,” Mrs. Bayly said to a Confederate soldier. “You can have anything on the farm if you will not take her.”
“Madam, if you have a parlor, lock her in it for you will surely lose her if you don’t.” The gentle horse seemed spared. But soon, the soldier in gray returned saying he “hated to do it,” but that he was ordered to take the horse. “That was the last we ever saw of Nellie,” Mrs. Bayly wrote after the battle.