A Gettysburg Journey

My name is Amanda Zook Collins. I have been actively researching the Battle of Gettysburg since I was 9 years old. I had the privilege of being homeschooled, and this granted me access to so many opportunities to develop myself into the person I have become today. My mother focused very hard on making my home education hands on. Which means our family vacations each year coincided with our school studies.

Growing up so close to the Gettysburg Battlefield, it was more my backyard than my own backyard. When I was 9, we were studying the Civil War and of course a trip to the Battlefield was put on the calendar. I will never forget my first visit to the former Visitor Center in the 1990s before it has been relocated and reconstructed to the much grander scene that it is today. On display in the museum was a frock coat with bullet holes in it, and the caption read “Gen. Samuel K. Zook shot on July 2, 1863, on the Wheatfield of Gettysburg” I remember asking my mother if we were related to him and she told me I would have to ask my daddy when we got home. This turned into a father daughter genealogy project! Turns out we are related. Ever since knowing that I have ancestral blood that died on the Battlefield of Gettysburg I have been avidly researching the Battle and cannot stop. Our cousin has a monument to honor his sacrifice on the Wheatfield that can be seen today. It has become a study place for me, my family knows you will often find me with a book sitting on the rock in the Wheatfield.

As I have grown over the years as a researcher of American History, mainly the Civil War, specifically Gettysburg. I was blessed to meet my husband, through history of course. Travis and I met as Civil War Reenactors and together have shared the passion for Gettysburg. We knew we were destined for each other when in comparing ancestry and research while dating we discovered that my cousin was removed from the Wheatfield and taken to a barn for medical care. Travis too had a cousin who was wounded on July 2, 1863, and was taken to the same barn for medical care. Our ancestors lay bleeding under the same roof together 150 years before my husband and I met. We love to share this story with people. It is a very unique history-based love story. One not too many other couples can tell. Together now for over a decade my husband and I support the learning of American History. Know your patriotic heritage. Immerse yourself into knowledge of the men and women who had the dream, and worked to shape this country from its founding all the way up to you today and the part you play in America’s tomorrow.

In over 20 years of my life, I have discovered that 3 days of fighting produced 6 months of hardship for the small town, that was in fact an economic boom of its time. 7000 acres have been preserved, as have many buildings inside the borough, with more than 13,000 monuments, plaques, and presentation boards scattered everywhere. One has a hard time making a turn in Gettysburg without there being some sort of sign to tell you about the historical value of the ground you’re standing on. With SO much history here, it is almost impossible to claim to know it all. I’ve been studying for over 20 years and still to this day learn new things and continually get excited to learn more. I am very excited to begin this blog and aspire to be active in the posts as often as possible. My mission is to bring to you my new readers information I’ve learned about Gettysburg and hope that like me, you will learn something new each day and become excited to learn more. One of the most exciting points of Gettysburg’s history is that it begins when William Penn was plotting the Mason Dixon Line and continues all the way through WWII. There is an incredible amount of history here in one small town, that spans well outside of the Civil War Battle it became so famously known for.

My favorite focus of study has been that of the people who called Gettysburg home, never expecting to play host to a battle in their backyards one dreadful summer. The eyewitness accounts written by men, women, and children is astounding. I have learned the most of the Civil War’s hardship by reading these accounts. Women like Elizabeth Thorn, a German immigrant in her early 30’s with two small children and 6 months pregnant. She lived in the Evergreen Gatehouse and was hostess to three well known figures in command of the Union Army. The hardship she endured and struggles she had trying to keep her family safe while the battle raged, was only amplified upon the ceasing of gunfire. After spending days seeking shelter and food, she herself not eating for days, returned home to find over 20 dead horses surrounding her house and hundreds of wounded soldiers screaming in anguish needing care. In addition, she and her elderly father spent day after day working by hand to dig graves for the dead. Humiliated by the army, having dutiful tasks thrust upon her in threat of being evicted from her home, this young mother and faithful daughter provided for her family and did her patriotic service to the honored dead without complaint. Giving birth to a daughter in October that year, both she and the baby were in very poor health and had a long road ahead of them. Elizabeth persevered and maintained the home and family until her husband’s return from war. Together the Thorn’s moved on with their lives and owned the Battlefield Hotel upon resigning the commission of gatekeeper at Evergreen Cemetery.

When the Battle was over, while the adults worked tirelessly trying to care for the wounded and bury the dead, the children were off on an adventure. Like all children do in the summer they explore the world around them. For Gettysburg’s children that particular season, was more of an education then they would receive at any school. Even though death and bacteria surrounded them, the children looked past the devastation and were taking bread and water out to the men who lay wounded around the town in fields waiting to be brought to a hospital. These men were not all recovered quickly, and some laid for days and would have died had it not been for the brave compassionate children who befriended them and kept them alive while waiting. These children would never have such an experience meeting people from all over the country, each with a story to tell, each with a family back home. The children of Gettysburg became quite famous, and loved, not only by the men they gave company to on the Battlefield but later on by Congressmen in Washington who invited them to visit and share their story of being a child during the Battle of Gettysburg. So many of these children wrote books documenting their experiences. Not just of meeting people and caring for wounded, but also the adventurous part of the Battle. Young boys who were in the streets while bullets flew over their heads, having sightings of cannon, horses and famous Generals in their small town. Afterwards doing their patriotic duty of collecting lead from the Battlefield to return to the army to make more bullets for the next battle. But also, being kids having fun exploding artillery shells that put the fireworks of July 4th to shame. As much as these children had fun, they equally had hardship, when one young man witnessed his best friend blow himself up by mistakenly not handling an artillery shell properly. Accidental deaths happened days and weeks after the Battle was over as children were discovering guns in their backyards and were play acting at what had just happened. The sadness of the Battle of Gettysburg would last a lifetime for the residents who lived here. The bacteria from death and rotting corpses began to overpower the young and the weak. Sickness claimed lives of children months after the Battle. As the stench grew, the scavengers began to appear. Accounts I’ve read draw a picture in your mind of dark clouds hanging over Gettysburg’s Battlefield, however they were not rain clouds, but the number of thousands of vultures coming to feast and clean up as God created them to do. To this day, these birds still gather in swarms in July, it has been left to them in their heritage that you clean up Gettysburg in the summertime. I’ve read newspaper articles stating how the simplest houseflies that feast upon open wounds where they smell blood began to swarm around town in such force that it appeared to be Biblical. These small flies that many saw as a pest and not a threat, were indeed one of the largest threats to those who were assisting the wounded. Weeks after the Battle articles were written to warn people to be mindful of the flies, as a simple fly bite was so infectious doctors were finding it to bring upon death from bacterial illness. This caused people who were leaving their homes to take caution and wrap themselves in scarves, and gloves, and drape their faces as much as possible to protect themselves from even a simple insect bite.

As we look at the Battlefield of Gettysburg today, we can see its splendor and its beauty. We love it and enjoy driving through its pathways, seeing its monuments and crisp open fields. We respect the history here, and we want to know more. Home of the first ever National Cemetery, we will never forget the words Abraham Lincoln said here, which honor so greatly the men who died here. In this beauty that we all respect and love to site see, we also honor the sacrifices made here. Not just by those in uniform fighting for a cause, doing their patriotic duty to their country they so proudly loved to serve. But equally to the people who called this town home 160 years ago, the impact it had on lives here forever changed. The innocent who died here, caught in the crossfire of a great war, and those who effortlessly gave all they had to give in caring for the wounded left behind when both armies moved on. I invite you to please join me as we all take a Gettysburg Journey together in this blog. Where I am excited to share with you my research, I hope it will inspire you as it has me to learn more about your country and your faith. Each of us is not only a part of America’s history but most importantly we are America’s future.