By James Duke’24
War on the Doorstep: Civilians of Gettysburg
By late June of 1863, alarms warning of approaching Confederate forces were nothing new for the 2,400 residents of Gettysburg. Living just ten miles from the Mason-Dixon line, small-scale raids, kidnappings of freed-people, and rumors of an imminent clash between the two great armies had long plagued the borough and its surrounding community. Nevertheless, none of these events could prepare Gettysburgians for the ferocious 3-day fight between 165,000 soldiers in early July of that year that would transform the lives and lands of Gettysburg’s civilians forever. However, these civilians’ experiences were not monolithic; while some were defined by tragedy and blight, others included remarkable episodes of perseverance, successful pragmatism, and creative profiteering. This blog series profiles the lives of diverse Gettysburgians who were forced to confront the war at their very doorsteps, each on their own terms, whose stories speak to the kaleidoscope of experiences of civilians struggling to survive, and thrive, along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border during the Civil War.
Author’s note: I would like to give special thanks to the Adams County Historical Society for providing me with Anna’s primary source materials.
Anna Louisa Kitzmiller (1845-1919), born Anna Louisa Garlach, was a lifelong resident of Gettysburg. She, along with so many others born in the decades before the Civil War, had the unfortunate fate of being caught in the literal crossfire and chaos of the battle which swept through her hometown, leaving seas of dead and wounded across the once-picturesque countryside and the charming small town. A teenager at the time of the battle, she lived in a house which comprising 319, 321, and 323 Baltimore Street, where she hid with her family during the battle. Her town besieged, she saw soldiers in blue and grey fill the streets, the bloody warfare which plagued Virginia spilling North. From her home, she witnessed the ebb and flow of Union and Confederate lines, as well as the presence of a particular stranger dressed in blue, General Alexander Schimmelfennig, who hid behind her house for three days during the battle. Alone, confused, and wary of the violence around them, the Garlach family was trapped for three days of bloody battle during which they grew to have an intimate knowledge of war and its aftermath, despite knowing little about the picture and larger significance of the fighting that was unfolding around them. They are but one human piece of a larger puzzle—the story of Gettysburg. – their story is one of many which tell the tale of Gettysburg.
Anna’s father, John “Henry” Garlach (1817-1887) was a carpenter by trade. He had purchased the house on Baltimore Street in 1855, where he lived with his wife, Catherine. Catherine Garlach (1822-1893) would be the fateful observer and protector of Schimmelfennig during the general’s three days of concealment, bringing him food whenever she went to feed the hogs in the backyard. Anna had four siblings – George, William, Catharine, and Frank, of whom she was the eldest. One of around fourteen carpenters in Gettysburg, Henry must have made a decent living, despite his manual profession. The family had property downtown with a real estate value of $1,300 dollars; his personal estate was worth $500. The family also clearly cared about the education of their children, as Anna attended the Gettysburg Female Institute, located on the corner of Washington and High streets, with Tillie Pierce, one of the more well-known civilians of Gettysburg during the war.
Though Pierce’s account of the fighting is one of the more oft-quoted narratives of the battle, Anna also published her own account of the battle in the Gettysburg Compiler in 1905. Eighteen at the time of the battle, Kitzmiller finally told her story as she remembered it at age sixty. Starting on the evening of June 30th, Kitzmiller described the Federal army entering town, and how she and her family endeavored to feed them, then offered them dinner on the next day. Several of the neighbors fled outright, fearing the coming conflict; if the Federal army had arrived, the Confederate army likely was not be too far behind. Henry, enraptured by the approach of the army, went to see what was going on in town. He did not return until the battle was over. Soon, other neighbors joined the Garlachs in their home; Anna notes eleven in number besides her own family, making a crowded group of fifteen occupants on July 1st. The large home of the Garlach family made a good place to gather; they had plenty to give and a great deal of space. As was true for other civilians moving from house to house seeking shelter and comfort with friends and acquaintances, within the Garlach home, Gettysburgians who once had been used to socializing and doing business together now huddled in shelter for fear of the massed armies at their doorsteps; the labor of the day was mere survival. The first shots of battle rang out as Anna was shelling beans for the soldiers who were to come for dinner. They never came.
The battle raged for hours as the Garlachs anxiously marked time. Eventually, a wounded Union cavalryman made his way into town, right past the Garlach house; Catherine tried to dress his wounds, but before she could finish the job, the Union retreat into town was in full effect. The man went riding off to join them. Much to Anna’s shock, the brave men whom the young girl had fed the day before were now fleeing just as many civilians had during the army’s advance. Not long after, the streets were full of men packed so tightly they could have been cobblestones. Anna would later recall in her memoir, “In the retreat of the first day, there were more people in the street than I have seen since at any time. The street seemed blocked. In front of our house, the crowd was so great that I believe I could have walked across the street on the heads of the soldiers.” If the soldiers who were supposed to protect the civilians were retreating, what were the Gettysburgians to do?
The Garlachs were told to go to the cellar by retreating Federal troops, but Catherine took Anna and the others up the street to a house with a ‘ten pin alley,’ the George Shriver home, where they hid until nightfall until the streets were safe to return home. George Shriver not only ran the bowling game but also the Shriver saloon. The Shrivers were wealthy due to their thriving liquor business, and their saloon was a place to secure needed supplies for the refugeeing family. The constant rush of both soldiers and civilians was a common occurrence throughout this first day of battle;– though many had fled before the battle, many more had remained. Inside the saloon, the former place of liveliness and laughter became quiet except for hushed whispers and distant gunfire. Anna and Catherine found a place to secure the children with them, keeping them calm until night fell.
Soon, the Garlachs departed from the Shriver house, as did the neighbors who took refuge with them. Once back in their own home, which the Garlachs realized was now firmly within Confederate lines, Catherine made beds on the floor for the night to shield themselves from the ever-present risk of stray bullets. It was during the calm of night which Union General Alexander Schimmelfennig slipped into the alley beside the house, hiding in the pigsty. Located in the back of the house away from the street, the pig sty offered Schimmelfennig a degree of concealment from Rebel forces. Forced between the rock of isolation from protective Federal troops and the hard place of an invading Confederate army, both Schimmelfennig and the Garlach family faced a similar situation; they seemed to be mere pawns of battle who truly had no idea as to what was going on outside their home, the only hints being the booming bass of cannonades and staccato volleys of musketry in the distance.
Meanwhile, Henry eventually found himself on Cemetery Hill, having gone there to get a good look at the battle. This vantage point gave an unobstructed view of the town and the surrounding area, but it was also where the Union line formed to face the Confederate army. Suspecting him of being a possible spy, Union troops detained Henry, forbidding him from crossing the battle line and returning home. Longing to be back with his family and anxious for their safety, it is clear Henry would have realized his mistake. In going to get a clearer look at the chaos around him, he opened the Garlach home to a whole world of it. Catherine was forced to take on a new role within the besieged household. Though she held status within the household as the mother, with the man of the house missing, it was up to Catherine to fill both roles of caretaker and protector.
Catherine began to seek secondary places of shelter within the home, ordering her children to cling to the floor as to avoid stray bullets. Though the house had received little direct fire, the Garlachs had no idea if their house was a target – or an acceptable sacrifice. Furthermore, they knew that sharpshooters from both armies were using civilian homes all throughout town as sniper nests; would their house be seized for such a purpose and made into a direct target as a result? Crossfire was inevitable, and pockmarked bullet holes on the structure today show that the Garlachs’ fears were validated. Tasked with keeping the children quiet, Anna kept her brothers close and never out of her sight. Just a day ago she had been handing out food and water to soldiers, but now she was hiding from them; where had the army gone? Why had her sleepy little town become such a hotly contested target and into whose hands would it finally fall? All of these questions raced in her mind as she tried to comfort her brothers, one just a baby and the other just old enough to ask innocent questions such as, “Where’s Dad?”
It was during the morning of July 2nd that Catherine discovered Schimmelfennig among the pigs. He simply said, “Be quiet and do not say anything,” though of course her discovery would have startled her, nonetheless. The sudden intruder must have reminded her of the men whom she had fed not too long before, as well as those who had retreated so haphazardly through town. Despite the dangers of harboring an officer behind enemy lines, she took pity on him, feeding the stranded general while the battle raged. Though after the war some called him a coward for hiding so, especially forcing a woman to be his protector, Anna testified to the bravery of Schimmelfennig; to her, his hiding behind enemy lines was the only course of action he should, or could, have taken. It is possible she found him a little dashing, too. Her admiration for the general’s bravado was something she carried with her for the rest of her life.
Although Catherine did everything in her power to provide Schimmelfennig sustenance and shelter during the battle, she was careful not to take too many unnecessary risks. Catherine’s responsibility for her family was paramount. She set about making the cellar of their house into a livable space, assisted by the eldest of the boys, William. The cellar floor had flooded due to recent rains, so Catherine made platforms of salvaged wood on which she settled the terrified family, including Anna’s youngest brother Frank, who was only a baby at the time. They used their cellar as a safe-house of sorts – if firing commenced once again, they would seek cover there. While William and Catherine worked to make the basement habitable, Anna kept Frank close. Such a young, vulnerable soul, Frank’s world had turned upside down. With no other way to express his terror and confusion, he wept. Anna held him and comforted him as she knew a sister should.
For most of July 2nd the Garlachs stayed in the kitchen. Sharpshooters of both armies roamed the streets, skirmishing and raiding as they went on the hunt for a Rebel or Yankee soldier. Anna noted the craftiness of one Confederate who put his hat on a stick to draw the fire of Union men, then proceeded to down the enemy combatants once they had taken their shots. Later, William went to peek out of the attic window and narrowly avoided being hit by a stray ball; someone must have mistaken the boy for a sharpshooter. Catherine ultimately forced him to remain downstairs for the rest of the battle; she desperately did not want to lose a son, and she already feared that her missing husband might be dead or a Confederate prisoner. Once again keeping William at her side, Anna sought to keep both boys in check. Though the fighting would move further southward, away from their house as the day wore on, the Garlachs were not out of danger. The brutality of the enemy and the sinister sharpshooting certainly shook the family, but it would not harden their hearts. The family huddled around their hearth and stayed awake late into the night, anxious over intense firing on nearby Culp’s Hill which erupted at various times throughout the evening. They remained on the kitchen floor, cooking their meals while huddling together for safety. the anxious family did not know when the horrors of battle would leave their town, if ever.
The next day, while the Garlachs sheltered in their cellar, a Confederate sharpshooter broke into the home. With her husband gone, perhaps dead, Catherine was the only person who stood between the enemy soldier and her family. She sprang into action, forbidding the soldier from entering the home and scolding him that he might draw fire upon the innocent women and children who resided there. Convinced and ultimately deterred by her display of motherly fury, the soldier departed after creating a smokescreen with a shot from his rifle. According to Anna’s account, more tried the same scheme, but none got past Catherine. Equally inspired and scared by her mother’s protective attitude, Anna redoubled her efforts. She had mouths to feed, including two young lives which depended on her to survive.
Many families were not so lucky to have met Rebels who could so quickly be deterred; houses all over town were ransacked for their goods, if any remained. Several white men were detained or imprisoned by the Southerners, and the free black population of Gettysburg fared far worse, with as many as forty black men taken south to be sold into slavery. Not willing to put her family or Schimmelfennig into any more danger, Catherine Garlach would only go out to feed the soldier during the quiet nights, holding bread and water in the pail used to feed the pigs. In the space through which not too long before thousands of enemy soldiers had poured, Catherine set out to feed a man who could have been killed on the spot if he were to be discovered by the enemy – a general who had been reduced to hiding in a hog’s heaven. The only thing between the invading force and the Garlach family was one woman determined not to let any harm come to her kin or the fighting man in her care. In those times when Catherine was gone, the vulnerability of the household was palpable. What if she did not come back? Were they truly alone? Having little time to process what was going on around her, it is no doubt that Anna took this time to cry, herself.
Following the Union repulse of the Pickett-Pettigrew charge, the living retreated, but thousands of wounded and dead remained. Anna went from taking care of her brothers to tending to the wounded. On the 4th of July, the Garlachs found themselves responsible for a wounded adjutant from the 17th Maine, simply named Roberts in Anna’s account. He remained in their care until he was well enough to go home to Maine with his father. Another soldier whom Anna mentioned was a man named Mr. Godspeed, one of the men whom they had previously fed. The family would send the wounded Godspeed food every day, visiting him at the Presbyterian Church until the field hospital had closed and he was sent along.
Just as Roberts eventually returned to his kin, so would Schimmelfennig. When Catherine came to check on him on the morning of July 4th, she saw him stiffly limping to a group of blue-clad Union men who seemed excited to see him ,as they had previously thought him dead as well. Catherine’s husband, Henry would also return to great jubilance from the weary and teary-eyed family. The home which had served as a shelter for three days of battle was finally whole again. Henry was employed as a coffin maker and as such was busy after the battle. Though his was grisly work, he would have been able to support his family and repairs to his pock-marked home with the unexpected income.
Anna’s story claims that years later, once she had settled down with her own children, Schimmelfennig’s descendants came to visit and she showed them where their ancestor had hidden for those few days of survival through her mother’s creative subterfuge. No doubt, the descendants were grateful for the Garlach’s devotion to their loved one, and finally being able to see the iconic location of his hiding and to meet his caretakers was an important moment in their lives. Anna went on to marry Jacob A. Kitzmiller (1842-1897) on the 24th of July, 1866. Kitzmiller was a native Gettysburgian and a well-regarded member of the community – a member of the Gettysburg School Board, a member of the Gettysburg Bar Association, and formerly a Private in the Union Army. Kitzmiller had lost an arm at the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. In a way, he must have reminded her of the wounded blue-clad soldiers whom she and her mother had worked to care for during those July days of 1863, as well as the stranger Catherine had risked life and limb to save.
The war never really left Anna, just as it never really left the town in which she lived. Her generation was scarred by the war and forced to deal with its consequences. It is not difficult to believe that Anna was just as wounded by the war as Jacob – just in a different manner. Mental traumas could cut just as deeply as physical injuries, and the trauma of witnessing the battle certainly left a mark. Constant reminders of the war were all around Anna – even in her marriage bed. Despite the challenges that may have come from Jacob’s amputation, the couple had two children, Ida (1867–1939) and Louise Kitzmiller (1869–1948). Anna would outlive her husband of thirty-one years, remaining in the battle-scarred town for the rest of her life. She passed away at age 71 and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery alongside the family to whom she was so devoted. Though she was not a famous general or nationwide celebrity, Anna’s story illustrates the power of giving during a war which took so much. Furthermore, her story, along with those of all the other civilians who were trapped in the town of Gettysburg during the three-day battle, remains to remind us that the American Civil War was not only fought between armies, but by the men and women trapped between them.