A frequent misconception about the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg is that the armies departed by July 7 and left the civilians of Gettysburg with the job of cleaning up the battlefield and burying the dead. This is, of course, not true. Some civilians did assist in the burial of the dead, not always willingly, and those farmers who lived on the battlefield, or whose farms were turned into field hospitals, suffered considerable damage that needed to be repaired (and in some cases the farm was a complete loss), but the army did not abandon Gettysburg. It left behind medical personnel to care for the wounded and a small detachment of troops to police the battlefield and to help secure the immense amount of government property left on the field and see that the remaining dead were properly buried. Every rifle, bayonet, piece of harness, cartridge box, rag, etc., was government property and might be salvaged for the war effort. The job of supervising this work fell to two officers, Captain W. Willard Smith, an aide-de-camp on the staff of General in Chief Henry W. Halleck and also an assistant quartermaster, and Captain Henry B. Blood, from the Quartermaster Department. Both men were ordered to Gettysburg on July 6 to supervise the remaining burials, re-bury any bodies improperly buried, and to secure the government property on the field, including that which locals had carried off and were continuing to carry off, sometimes by the wagon load.
To assist them with their work Smith and Blood had available the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, from the Army of the Potomac General Headquarters Provost Guard (575 men according to the June 30 muster), about 100 men detailed from regiments from the army, and the 36th Regiment Pennsylvania Militia. Smith’s and Blood’s job proved to be a more formidable challenge than they may have imagined, as the July 25, 1863 letter of Captain Smith to Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs, the Quartermaster General of the army, attests to. I will return to the story of the quartermasters and the battlefield cleanup in later posts for it is an interesting and little known part of the battle story. Now, let us hear from Captain Smith. Spelling and punctuation is the captain’s.
D. Scott Hartwig
Gettysburg PA July 25/63
Brig Genl M C Meigs
Qr. Mr. Genl,
Dr. Turner says he wished the Chlorofom, & Gumasalic, to use on the Horses backs & wounds, to keep the magets out. I have used in its place a much cheaper medicine, and find it answers evry purpose, the wounds & sores are healing remarkably fast; I have already turned over to Capt Rankin* A.A.Q.M (127) one hundred & twenty seven Horses, and (24) twenty four mules, besides exchanging, some seventy five Horses & mules with teamsters who had unserviceable ones.
I have about two hundred & twenty five Horses & Mules on hand, about fifty of which can be used if absolutely necessary.
I have taken possession of two Barns, filled with hay, belonging to a Copperhead for which I agreed to pay at the rate of fifteen dollars per ton.
I am now picking up some very good Horses, Sabres, & Guns, but they are found mostly from five to fifteen miles from here. I occasionally find parties who positively refuse to give up the property, in two instances persons have drawn revolvers to frighten us away, in both instances we got a wagon load of property. I am not very careful how I treat such parties, yesterday, I took from George & Wm. Keefauver, Guns, Blankets, Axes, Picks, &c. I left with him two axes, one Pick, Shovel, Forks, & one Gun, claimed by one of the woman as their property. They now call on me for a large proportion of the tools, and one over coat, claimed to have been purchased from a Solider on the last day of the fight for one loaf bread! I told him if he could prove that he owned the tools I would return them, but that I would not return the over coat, and that he ought to be ashamed to rob a Solder who had come here to fight for him. I find too many such men here, many Horses and Mules are blistered & in some instances the U.S. is cut out, the other day, I took a four year old Mule, the man had attempted to cut out the U.S. he told me it was a two year old Mule not broken, which he had just purchased from a neighbor who raised him. I did not believe him, the mule had marks of harness and very little of the brand was still visible, he also said he had no government property in his house. I insisted on going in, and found a wagon load. I arrested the man and put him to work.
I have the honor to be
Your obdt Sevt
W. Willard Smith
Capt. ADC & A.A.Q.M.
*Captain William C. Rankin was a QM on the headquarters staff of Gen. George G. Meade
[If any of our readers are aware of an image of Captain Smith we would be delighted if they would share it.]