Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tillie Pierce: A Young Gettysburg Hero Part One

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
                                                                       --Mark Twain

     The 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle is next July. A year ago I decided that I wanted to write an account of the battle and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address for young readers. The question became, how could I find a way of approaching this epic event in a way that could captivate teens? How could I find a way of telling this story in a way that could interest young women as well as young men?

     Digging around the original accounts of the battle I quickly learned that two of the best civilian accounts were written by teenagers. Daniel Skelly was an 18 year-old store clerk with a young man's penchant for adventure. Tillie Pierce was an innocent 15 year-old student, the daughter of a well-to-do Gettysburg family. Each of them witnessed and participated in the events of those three tragic days in July 1863 that marked them forever. Decades later, each would pen those experiences in a short memoir.

     Daniel's family urged him to write his memories a few months before he passed away in 1932 in a self published volume: A Boy's Experiences During The Battle of Gettysburg. Tillie Pierce wrote her own memoir in 1889: At Gettysburg, or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle. A True Narrative.

     I realized between the two accounts there was the kernel of a joint narrative that would be ideal for retelling the Gettysburg story from their own voices.

                                                                  Tillie Pierce photographed in 1863 when she was fifteen.

Daniel Skelly photographed in 1863 when he was eighteen.

     One passage of Tillie's truly inspired me to writing their story. When the fighting on July 1 could be heard approaching Gettysburg, Tillie's neighbor, Mrs. Schriver, arrived and suggested she evacuate with her family to her father's farm a few miles outside of town along the Taneytown road.  No one could know that Jacob Weikert's farm, located at the foot of Little Round Top, would be a mere few hundred yards from some of the most savage fighting of the Civil War the next day.

                 The Jacob Weikert Farm as it looks today. Photo courtesy of The Gettysburg Daily.

She spent that afternoon passing out water to Union soldiers as they marched past the front of the house along the road. That night, she decided to explore what was happening as more of the wounded began to arrive. This passage is from Tillie's memoir:

     That evening Beckie Weikert, the daughter at home, and I went out to the barn to see what was transpiring there. Nothing before in my experience had ever paralleled the sight we then and there beheld. There were the groaning and crying, the struggling and dying, crowded side by side, while attendants sought to aid and relieve them as best they could.

     We were so overcome by the sad and awful spectacle that we hastened back to the house weeping bitterly.

     As we entered the basement or cellar-kitchen of the house, we found many nurses making beef tea for the wounded . . . a chaplain who was present in the kitchen stepped up to me while I was attending to some duty and said:

    “Little girl, do all you can for the poor soldiers and the Lord will reward you.”

     The first day had passed, and with the rest of the family, I retired, surrounded with strange and appalling events, and many new visions passing rapidly through my mind.

The Jacob Weikert Barn as it appears today. Photos courtesy of The Gettysburg Daily
     Thus began what must have been a terrible and quick journey for Tillie from the warm security of childhood to the stark realities adult responsibilities over the next few days. Telling of the grit this girl was made of, she wiped away her tears, and went back to help those men. Over the next two days she would see much worse.

     This was my inspiration to write a new book for teens. Nothing could make history more alive for readers that putting the experiences of Tillie and Daniel onto the page in their own words.  Their courage and determination, not to mention the honesty of their memoirs, are truly inspiring even 150 years later.

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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