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The farms of Gettysburg

July 4, 2013 | 0 comments

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest engagement of the most dreadful war ever waged on American soil.

When General Robert E. Lee and his 75,000 man Army of Northern Virginia boldly marched into Pennsylvania, allowing the Confederates to forage and feast on the fruits, vegetables and livestock of the North, Lee hoped for a decisive victory so the South could break the union's resolve and negotiate an end to the war.

When the battle of Gettysburg was over, General Lee's reputation as "invincible in battle" was destroyed. The Union victory at Gettysburg -and simultaneous Confederate surrender of Vicksburg, Miss - proved crucial because it halted a series of Northern defeats and commenced the beginning of the end for the South.


One of the striking things about a visit to the Gettysburg Civil War battleground where 53,000 soldiers died in just three days was the proximity of the farms to the center of the action.

Imagine being a farm family in those days. This was some of the most productive land in the country and these farmers were no-doubt doing quite well until they found themselves in the middle of a bloody war.

Cannon holes in a barn and fences that once kept their cattle home are still in place.

One family greatly affected by the war was the Bayly family who lived three miles north of the city of Gettysburg. They farmed on property purchased from the descendants of William Penn. Their 300-acre farm included crops, horses, cows and other livestock, poultry and a second house for extended family.

When General Lee brought his Confederate soldiers north his armies seized livestock from farms along the way. Some farmers moved their livestock out of the path of the approaching Army, hiding in the brush and timber. Others lost all of their animals and horses to the soldiers who also took produce from their gardens and fruit from their trees.

William Bayly detailed the experiences of farm families in a collection of stories that is now a part of the Adams County Historical Society collection. He tells of being forced to chase chickens to give to the hungry Confederate soldiers. The soldiers also took his family's entire flock of sheep - about 100 - their pigs and cattle.


Stone fences were crude but they kept cattle in place on these farms and represented the hard work that went into clearing the farm land. During the battle these fences served as protection for foot soldiers.

Soldiers forced families to share their homes and took every horse they could find. The 2400 people living in Gettysburg at the time and all the farm families around the area experienced the horrors of war.

Bodies of soldiers and horses were everywhere on these farms and had to be dealt with after the bloody battles. In all, 5000 horses were killed in the three-day battle.

Many of the farms were being operated by women and children as the men of the family were gone fighting the war. These women took cover during the battle and then tended to the wounded when it was over.

The war raged on for two more years after the Gettysburg battle but the aftermath would be felt for decades. Farmers whose livestock were stolen and farms were destroyed sought compensation but received little or none. Buildings that survived the battle were permanently scarred by musket fire.

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