Patriotism or Greed? Damage Claims after the Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg brought the reality of war to northern civilians. Typically when people discuss the experiences of the citizens of Gettysburg they include tales of bravery, such as the well-known hero John Burns…

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The Battle of Gettysburg brought the reality of war to northern civilians. Typically when people discuss the experiences of the citizens of Gettysburg they include tales of bravery, such as the well-known hero John Burns, or the tragic Virginia “Jennie” Wade.  The stories rarely include themes of greed, selfishness, or unpatriotic behavior. However, this was a claim made against the citizens of Gettysburg in 1863. Lorenzo L. Crounse , a reporter for The New York Times wrote on July 5 that, “The actions of the people of Gettysburg are so sordidly mean and unpatriotic as to engender the belief that they were indifferent as to which party was whipped. . .. they have only manifested indecent haste to present their bills to the military authorities for payment of loses inflicted by both armies . . . .” This post will explore this accusation through an examination of a damage claim submitted by a Gettysburg resident.

The above images are parts of a damage claim filed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Harriet B. Krauth.  Krauth was born in Gettysburg in 1810 and married Charles Phillip Krauth in 1834. Charles Krauth was a professor of theology at the Lutheran Seminary and had a residence on its campus. During the first day of the battle the Krauth home and property were damaged by rebel forces. Damage claims were filed by Professor and Mrs. Krauth in 1864 [Claim 214 – 2047], but were denied by the federal government.  (Federal law mandated that damages had to be the result of Union army actions.) However, Harriet Krauth refilled the claim with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania following a state law designed to reimburse residents for damages incurred during the Gettysburg Campaign.  This claim was reviewed by the state in 1868 [renumbered as claim 3575] and eventually was approved in 1871 for the full amount of $519.70. By this time Harriet was a widow, which is evident by notes in the claim report, and by the fact that only her name remained on the state damage claim.

While this artifact may seem to be a simple bureaucratic financial document, in truth, it may shed light on questions concerning the patriotism and behavior of Gettysburg citizens. Were the civilians being greedy or selfish by filing these claims? Or were their responses reasonable actions of self-preservation? Of course these questions are complicated and cannot be answered by one artifact; this topic will be revisited in future posts.   But for now let us ask, what can this one document tell us?

The Krauth claim was selected to begin an examination of patriotism in Gettysburg simply because it was the first to be accessed when researching Gettysburg claims.    Of immediate interest is the amount of the claim, $519.70. In today’s terms this seems to be a remarkably small amount considering the scale of the armies and the battle that crossed paths with the Krauth property. However, it must be remembered that since the average annual salary was $300-500 in 1863, this was a rather substantial amount of money.  And while several farmers in the area claimed damages of well over $1,000, the claim was still of a significant amount for the Krauth family.

The damaged property listed in the claim are also interesting. These items included mattresses, bedding, carpeting, clothing, furniture, food, and tools.  Is it surprising that there were no damages listed for the house itself?  Also itemized were men’s and women’s underwear, dresses, a veil, and what appears to be a detailed grocery list. One might not have expected to find such items; perhaps this is what led many to believe that selfishness was behind these claims.  To a certain extent, this is an understandable viewpoint. Many of these items are not irreplaceable valuables or necessities. On the other hand, it is difficult to see this claim as greedy. These items do add up to a large amount of money, especially in 1871 when Harriet was a 61-year-old widow. Furthermore, the Krauth’s had the legal right to be reimbursed for damages that were caused by the rebels. Therefore, as long as the Krauth claim is accurate, the fact that she wanted reimbursement does not necessarily reflect a lack of patriotism or greed.  It could simply reflect a reasonable exercise of her legal rights to ask to be compensated for what she had lost.

The next post in this series will continue to explore the behavior and attitudes of Gettysburg’s civilians and how they reflect selfishness and/or patriotism.


More information on damage claims, including the Krauth claim, is available at the Adams County Historical Society, located in Schmucker Hall on the campus of the Lutheran Seminary.

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