Daniel Klingel: A Free Labor Triumph Destroyed by its Very Defense

By Emily Jumba ’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.

Daniel Klingel (Clingle/Kelingel) was born around 1839 to Daniel and Sarah (Salome) Klingel in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.  Daniel was the third oldest of their seven children.  His siblings were John, William, Catherine, Alfred, Sarah, and David.  Klingel’s father was a shoe and boot maker.  The family also hosted five additional young boarders in the 1850s: Henry Tellers, David Lohr, David Drowery, James Topper, and Susanna Little.  They ranged in age from 17 to 24 in the 1850 Census.  It is possible that the gentlemen worked as apprentices in Klingel’s shop, and that Susanna helped care for the children of the house. They also could have been boarders whom the family took in for additional rental income.  Daniel Klingel would grow up to achieve the free labor dream of owning land, which he acquired through hard work and moral living.  Tragically and quite ironically, his triumph would be undone in the battle that raged across his land in the name of protecting that same free labor ideology, forever changing both his socio-economic status and personal fortunes.

As a young man, Klingel followed in the footsteps of his father and became a farmer and a shoemaker who produced both boots and shoes.  His hard work paid off, eventually earning him enough money to procure his own residence and establish himself as a proudly independent member of Pennsylvania’s free labor society.  On August 30, 1860, he married Hannah S. Eyler.  Klingel’s younger brother, Albert, was among the first men in Pennsylvania to be drafted to fight for the Union.  He mustered into Company H of the 165th Pennsylvania on November 8, 1862.  Daniel and Hannah purchased their Gettysburg farm in April of 1863 from an attorney, Jacob Benner, never suspecting the tragedy and tumult that would soon present itself on their very doorstep.  They also owned Klingel’s Boot and Shoe Emporium on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg.  When the Battle of Gettysburg began, the young family was still at their farm, where they rode out the first day of fighting.  The 63rd Pennsylvania took up a position south of their farm along the Emmitsburg Road in an attempt to block a Confederate advance.  On July 1st, Daniel helped to nurse fourteen to sixteen wounded Confederate soldiers that had been brought to his home.  They occupied its bottom floor.  Perhaps Klingel was helping them out of a nineteenth-century belief in the common humanity of the “enemy,” feeling the need to ease their suffering, despite their being invaders.  It is also possible that Klingel was forced to nurse the soldiers by their comrades, as had happened with other civilians during the battle.  If such were the case, it may have furthered Klingel’s already growing resentment towards the invaders of his community and front door.

On the morning of July 2nd, he fled with his family (Hannah, and their two young children Samuel and Catherine) across the Trostle Farm to Little Round Top, which Klingel (ironically) believed would be a “safe spot” out of the way of the core fighting.  On their way, the family was stopped by an officer who at first attempted to take Klingel’s hat, but then proceeded to pay for it when Klingel protested.  During the chaos of the battle, soldiers and civilians sometimes crossed paths, and in some instances such as this one, the civilians refused to let the soldier run rough-shod over them.  Klingel refused to hand over his hat just because a soldier demanded it.  He had already given over his new family home to wounded soldiers and knew it was likely that more of his property would be destroyed in the fighting; to hand over one of his prized personal effects without protest or remuneration seemed an unnecessary and embarrassing step too far for Klingel.  Additionally, the ever forward-thinking Klingel may well have already been fretting about what the impending battle would do to his personal finances, and he could not afford to merely give his possessions away for free.

Daniel Klingel left his family at the base of Little Round Top, and then returned homewards to save his and Hannah’s better clothing.  Likely fretting over the future of the family’s cherished finery and again with an eye to the future financial ramifications of the battle, Klingel may have been intent on salvaging their most beloved possessions from sure destruction not only for their own use, but also for possible sale to help recoup their losses after the battle.  If Kingel were to leave such items at home, it was possible that they would be used for bandages in the makeshift hospital that his home had turned into, or perhaps just be destroyed or stolen by the soldiers occupying the house.  However, on his way back to his home, Klingel was stopped in the woods by his neighbor Reverend Joseph Sherfy, who warned him that intense fighting had moved onto the Klingel farm.

Klingel made his way back to his family and found a muddied soldier’s cap along the way, which he took.  This new acquisition had the potential to make him a dangerous target for enemy abuse, as he was wearing part of a military uniform; however, Klingel’s actions once again somewhat reflect his previously demonstrated refusal to just hide in fear during the battle. Back at Little Round Top, he ran into Union soldiers whose reconnaissance of the ground he helped by identifying key features on the landscape and locations at which he had seen Confederate soldiers gathering.  Both before and during battle, both at Gettysburg and in myriad other conflicts, civilians were regularly called upon to perform a variety of ad hoc military roles such as those that Klingel experienced in nursing and scouting.  Civilians were not just passive observers of the battle, as they often became important, active agents in how the battle was to unfold, whether they wanted to or not.

Afterwards, upon realizing that Little Round Top might well soon become enveloped in heated fighting, Klingel continued on with his family to a friend’s home along Rock Creek.  Like many other Gettysburg civilians who fled their homes, but not their town, during the battle, the Klingels found themselves a constantly mobile unit, relying on the kindnesses and generosity of friend networks who would continue to shelter and shuttle along vulnerable families to protection throughout the bloody contest.

After the Klingel family fled, Major Tremain examined Klingel’s property and reported back to Major General Daniel Sickles.  Sickles proceeded to commence his infamous plan of rejecting Major General George Meade’s orders that sought to keep his men posted on Big and Little Round Top, and instead marched out to the advance position of the Peach Orchard.  Brigadier General Joseph Carr ordered his troops to use the Klingel home for cover as some of them took up sinister sharpshooting positions.  Some of his men from the 16th Massachusetts quickly broke holes in the walls to allow them to shoot out of, turning the once charming domestic abode into a veritable fort for organized killing.  Brigadier General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys joined Carr there.  Eventually, the 11th New Jersey, 72nd New York, 73rd New York, 120th New York, 12th New Hampshire, and 16th Massachusetts would maneuver into Klingel’s apple orchard.  The 11th New Jersey and 120th New York faced devastating losses as they made a stand against the waves of Mississippians and Alabamians.  Late in the day, Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox, commanding the Alabama Brigade, ultimately led his troops in overrunning the Klingel Farm, routing the Union troops, and forcing Humphreys’s division into a dangerous, pell-mell retreat toward Cemetery Ridge.        

The Confederates continued to hold the farm and use the house for cover until the famed Pickett-Pettigrew assault on July 3rd.  Prior to the assault, Confederates employed Klingel’s southern field as an artillery emplacement with guns menacingly aimed at the Union lines along Cemetery Hill.  For the most part, however, on this day, the farm proved not a protective bastion nor a strategic gun emplacement, but rather a frustrating obstruction in the path of the advancing Confederate columns, who had to break formation to march around the farmhouse.  During the course of a battle, locations could quickly and suddenly shift from holding key strategic significance or shelter to actively impeding one side’s fighting abilities.

When Klingel returned to his farm after the battle on July 4th, he found Union officers sitting around his kitchen table, who had taken most of his supply of flour.  They were likely resting after the fighting and trying to sort through the mountain of tasks to attend to in the aftermath of the fight.  The windows of the house were shattered and the walls were riddled with bullet holes, in addition to the gaping holes they bore that were created by the ramming of Union soldiers who had crudely constructed their sharpshooter nests there.  Klingel also found his crops, shoemaking tools, and fences destroyed, his cattle missing, and dead soldiers scattered across his property.  Klingel would later claim the loss of 3.5 acres of corn, 3.5 acres of oats, 2 acres of timothy grass, damage to his orchard, and a missing cow.  He also claimed that there were “rifle pits” dug across his property.

After the battle, Klingel and Sherfy worked together to make cakes from some flour that they had scrounged up for the soldiers.  Across the battle-scarred borough and its outlying farms, neighbors regularly banded together in those post-battle days in an attempt to help each other survive, begin to rebuild, and try to recoup their losses.  Klingel later recorded that he shared some of the cakes he made with a sick soldier who had not eaten for two days, but not as a free hand-out: the soldier paid Klingel a whopping five dollars for half of a cake.  Here, Klingel once again demonstrated his ingenuity in finding even small ways to make up for some of the damages that his farm had suffered during the battle.  If a soldier was willing to pay five dollars for a piece of cake, Klingel was more than ready to accept the payment.  Such recompense also helped to restore a sense of agency and control to Klingel in the midst of a situation where chaos seemed to run riot.  His wife, Hannah, also began baking bread for the soldiers and even set up a system whereby officers could pay her in advance for a place on a running waiting list to receive the next loaf.  Meanwhile, as it had on July 1st, the house also continued to serve as a field hospital in the days following the battle, with the family helping out by continuing to bake for the soldiers and attend to their wounds.  Some of the dead soldiers that the Klingels had found on the property were also temporarily interred where they lay during this time, turning the once fertile farm into a charnel house. In 1933, human remains were still being discovered on the Klingel property, along with uniform buttons and the remnants of cartridge boxes—a testament to the hard fighting around the property and the macabre scenes across the farm in the battle’s wake.  Excavators from the National Park Service believe that the bodies were those of two men from Wilcox’s Alabama brigade.

For Daniel, one of the greatest tragedies of the aftermath was the hard fact that the family had been living on their farm for only about three months before carnage swept through the property; the self-made Daniel Klingel, who had worked so hard to become an independent free laborer, and had only recently achieved his freeholder dreams, was literally being unmade by a battle and a war fought across his property to secure such free labor dreams for all in perpetuity.  Klingel filed a federal claim for $880 in 1868, but was denied most of the money, only receiving a paltry $2 for some hay that had been taken by an officer.  Klingel’s life had been a prime example of the free labor ideology dream.  He had worked hard, maintained a good moral character, and managed to purchase land of his own to work on, becoming self-sufficient.  He even had his own shoe business to supplement his income.  Klingel’s fortunes were completely undone by the battle, which left all of his hard work in ruins.  Despite the federal government supposedly championing free labor, it was still hesitant to reimburse even those civilians who had previously upheld those ideals for damages incurred by the biggest battle waged in the name of Union, democracy, and free labor unless those civilians could definitively prove that their damages were caused by Union troops themselves.  The United States government was leery of creating a morally degenerate pauper class that was dependent on government handouts, and, true to free labor ideals, expected people to be able to pull themselves out of their financial woes through work hard and self-reliance.  Additionally, with more than two years of astronomic war-related expenses weighing on the federal government, the public coffers were not exactly overflowing with extra funds with which to compensate inconvenienced civilians.

Despite (or perhaps, in light of) his personal misfortunes the previous year, Daniel ultimately enlisted in Company G of the 209th Pennsylvania Infantry on September 6, 1864.  He may have enlisted because he needed the financial boost that a soldier’s bounty would provide to support his family after the devastating losses during the battle.  It is also possible that he enlisted out of a desire to gain revenge for the destruction that the Confederates had caused to his family life that he worked so hard to build up.  However, he soon received a medical discharge on March 19, 1865 after being diagnosed with heart disease.  Upon returning home, Klingel found that, surprisingly, his fences had been completely fixed and his orchards were once again thriving.  Perhaps Hannah and their neighbors had worked together to rebuild, reminiscent of how Sherfy had come to help bake bread for the soldiers in the days after the battle.

However, Klingel’s ongoing personal financial burdens from the war, coupled with his ill health, ultimately forced him to sell the property to Joseph J. Smith on March 29, 1867 and move his family back to Mount Joy (where he was born).  In addition to these financial and health problems which contributed to his sale of the farm, Klingel also had several crushing memories associated with the land, causing him to seek out a new start for his family: first, just three months after purchasing the land, a major battle was fought across it, destroying much of the farm that Klingel had worked to build up.  Then, in September of that same year, as the family was starting to recover, their young daughter, Catherine passed away.  Not even a year later, the Klingels’ infant son John Elmer Ellsworth (named, interestingly, in patriotic honor of the famous first Union officer to die in the Civil War) also passed away, just days before Daniel Klingel mustered into the 209th Pennsylvania.  Soon after Klingel returned home from his military service, he and Hannah had a daughter named Sarah, who passed away later that year.  The Klingel family had faced tragedy after tragedy in that home, starting almost as soon as they moved in, which may well have driven them to move elsewhere.  Klingel had actually attempted to rid himself of the land shortly after being discharged from the army in 1865, but was unable to sell it until 1867 at public auction.

In November of 1867, back in Mount Joy, Hannah gave birth to another son, who was named Harry.  However, the family faced tragedy again a few months later when Hannah passed away on February 18, 1868.  Harry would only outlive her for five more months before also passing away.  Despite this successive wave of unrelenting tragedy, by 1870, Daniel Klingel had remarried, to Mary E. Conover.  Their first son, Allen, who was born in 1870, only lived for five months.  In 1872, they had another son, Daniel, who passed away at nine months of age.  Their later sons, George and Robert did survive to adulthood.  Between his two marriages, Daniel had lost six children and his first wife in a ten year span, with only four of his children surviving to adulthood.  Despite having achieved the free labor dream early in his life, Daniel’s personal fortunes had tanked at every turn continuously almost immediately after becoming a freeholder.

The Klingels resided in Mount Joy through the 1870 Census, which lists Daniel’s personal estate value at $2,575, and his real estate value at $5,000.  He had seemingly recouped his financial losses from the Battle of Gettysburg by then, but at the same time was struggling through significant emotional duress after the deaths of so many loved ones and continued to battle his heart issues.  In addition, his socio-economic status had suffered as a result of his sale of the Gettysburg farm, as he was no longer the self-sufficient landowner of free labor dreams, but merely the owner of a store whose health was in rapid decline. 

Between the 1870 Census and 1885, the Klingel family again moved, this time to Baltimore in another attempt to start anew.  There, he opened a new shop on Madison Avenue.  However, Klingel’s health continued to deteriorate. Adding to his list of troubles, he was forced to reckon with the early death of his second wife, Mary who passed away at a mere 39 years of age, in 1883.  In one of the few success stories of his post-Gettysburg life, on September 10, 1890, he received a military pension for complete medical disability as a result of the heart problem that had caused him to be medically discharged in 1865.  Nevertheless, the pension proved bittersweet; while it provided necessary money to help support the aged and infirm Klingel, it meant that he would spend the rest of his life as a dependent of the federal government—the exact opposite fortune that he had once dearly held as a free laborer and landowner in April of 1863.  This socio-economic retreat would not have been lost on Klingel, who had sacrificed both his home to a battle fought in defense of democracy and free labor ideals, and his health in large part to the stresses and grief that accompanied his successive property and familial losses.  Despite every attempt to plan ahead for financial hardship and fight for self-reliance, before, during, and in the immediate wake of the battle, and despite his numerous attempts to begin anew after successive financial and personal losses, Daniel Klingel realized that hard work and moral living could only take one so far in what Abraham Lincoln famously called “the race of life.”  Successes could be fleeting, and precarious at best.  For Daniel Klingel, fortune simply was not in his favor.  On August 17, 1893, Klingel passed away and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, back in Gettysburg—the place in which he both enjoyed the first glimmers of free labor’s successes, and saw those glimmers forever snuffed out.

The Klingel farm house in Gettysburg, where the family rode out the first day of the battle.
The rear of the Klingel farm from the perspective of Sickles Avenue.  The Klingels fled this direction, towards the Trostle Farm, on the second day of the battle (photo credit https://www.agedwoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/IMG_3212.jpg)
The nearby Trostle farm, which the Klingel family fled across, in the direction of Little Round Top on July 2nd.

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