Monday, December 24, 2012

Daniel Skelly: A Young Gettysburg Hero Part One

To tell the truth is very difficult, and young people are rarely capable of it.
                                                                                                       ― Leo Tolstoy

     What makes any memoir of value to a historian is its attention to detail, its objectivity, its descriptive qualities, and if the author is someone of historical importance, its interpretive analysis. What is remarkable about the memoirs by Daniel and Tillie are the details they remembered years later about what they witnessed, and their honesty. Each had a remarkable story to tell. Tillie would meet General Meade as she passed out water alongside the road. Much of her time over the three days of battle was spent at the Jacob Weikert farm helping the wounded. She also gave one of the most remarkable and accounts of the battle's aftermath--a catastrophe she described as "a strange and blighted land." 
     Daniel Skelly gave his own detailed account of the battle from his vantage point within the town of Gettysburg.  Daniel was an eighteen-year-old employee of the Fahnestock Brothers dry goods (clothing and supplies) company in Gettysburg. His brother, Johnston Hastings "Jack" Skelly, was a Union soldier—a corporal in the 87th Pennsylvania. Rumors of a coming invasion by a Confederate army were rife in the months preceding the battle. He wrote in his memoir years later:

Daniel Skelly in 1863

     The month of June, 1863, was an exciting one for the people of Gettysburg and vicinity. Rumors of the invasion of Pennsylvania by the Confederate army were rife and toward the latter part of the month there was the daily sight of people from along the border of Maryland passing through the town with horses and cattle, to places of safety. Most of the merchants of the town shipped their goods to Philadelphia for safety, as was their habit all through the war upon rumors of the Confederates crossing the Potomac.

     The 28th and 29th were exciting days in Gettysburg for we knew the Confederate army, or a part of it at least, was within a few miles of our town and at night we could see from the house-tops the campfires in the mountains eight miles west of us. We expected it to march into our town at any moment and we had no information as to the whereabouts of the Army of the Potomac. 

     The next day, Tuesday June 30, two brigades if Union cavalry arrived in Gettysburg--almost 3,000 troopers and six cannons under the command of Brigadier General John Buford. The citizens of Gettysburg rejoiced and welcomed the soldiers as heroes. Daniel watched them arrive through town along Chambersburg Street:

     Surely now we were safe and the Confederate army would never reach Gettysburg.… General Buford sat on his horse in the street in front of me, entirely alone, facing to the west in profound thought... It was the only time I ever saw the general and his calm demeanor and soldierly appearance... made a deep impression on me.

Tillie Pierce witnessed the arrival of the troopers with awe remembering years later:

     It was to me a novel and grand sight. I had never seen so many soldiers at one time. They were Union soldiers and that was enough for me, for I then knew we had protection, and I felt they were our dearest friends.

 Brigadier General John Buford

     Little did they know that two entire Confederate corps--50,000 men, were headed towards Gettysburg and would begin to arrive the following morning. General Buford knew their only chance was to delay the enemy long enough for the Union army to arrive in force before his two brigades were pushed aside. When one of his brigade commanders spoke confidently of whipping any rebels the next day, Buford said, “No, you won’t. They will attack you in the morning; and they will come ‘booming’—skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until supports arrive.” 

     Daniel knew none of this except that the next day he might get to see some real action. He made plans to be in a position to witness the big show....

To Be Continued....

Look for my new book on Gettysburg for teens this June from Sky Pony Press: Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon, and Indiebound. 

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