William C. Storrick certainly holds an interesting, if not a unique position among the pantheon of notable Gettysburg residents present during the time of the great battle. Perhaps best-remembered today under the umbrella term of “local historian,” that term perhaps disserves his memory.
Born in 1856, William was seven years old when Gettysburg became doubly historic. On his 90th birthday, September 16th, 1946, Dr. Storrick recalled the date that he, as a youth, was fated to meet Abraham Lincoln. After his father read that the President was due to speak in town, he determined they would walk the two miles east into town, to the Square. “We’ll go,” he said.
Continuing his reflections, he observed
And there were the finest bands I ever heard playing. After a time someone said, “There, Mr. Lincoln comes. I was awed by the appearance of the great tall man and we and others shook hands with him. Mr. Lincoln went to the curb and mounted a horse and continued shaking hands with people there. As I remember the horse was of good size but Mr. Lincoln’s long legs made it appear small.
Father and son decided not to wait on the parade, but instead headed out to Cemetery Hill, locating “good places near the platform,” Storrick would write. “The Hon[orable] Edward Everett, the speaker for the day, was late and the program was held up waiting for him.” He later recalled
As Everett neared the end of his address I noticed Mr. Lincoln draw a paper from his pocket and put on a pair of glasses that I noticed particularly, because they were just like my grandmother’s glasses. The address by Mr. Lincoln didn’t make much of an impression on my seven-year-old mind. But there were lots of adults there, too, who did not think much of it.
Of course, William Storrick was far from the only witness to any of these events; Lincoln left and the community attempted, for a time, to find its way back from the shock of it all. When the war was ultimately won, and the meaning of Gettysburg’s place in that conflict initially assessed, the young man still found himself working on his father’s farm. Like many in this region, he became familiar with the soil; and made it his friend. If knowing orchards and land became his ‘first love,’ Mary Jane Brinkerhoff (of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge,) was a close second. She became his bride on March 17, 1879. Their union would last some sixty-five years.
William taught public school and would do so for thirty-four years. In spite of, or some say despite, his early experiences he maintained an active interest in his farm, adjacent to the Cavalry Battlefield site. Soon, children arrived – two sons, and two daughters. Future hands for the business – “The Storrick & Hartman Nursery,” as the advertisements ran. Expanded to over one hundred acres by 1900, it shortly attracted the attention of those who had a need to master horticulture. With the growing interest of the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission to accurately represent landscapes and crop fields, as indicated in Colonel Cope’s map, a specialist was required. On May 10, 1909, therefore, William Storrick was placed in charge of the farms of East Cavalry Battlefield. At that time, “the Commission …had a concrete building erected on the Cavalry Field for” his use, most likely near the Brooke-Rawle flagpole.
Storrick’s skills being evident to the Commission, he was afterwards transferred to their Gettysburg headquarters. There, he was promoted to forester, and given charge of the 19 farms on U. S. land. In a later (1920) review of his work it was observed, “He has rendered long, expert, and loyal services and [he] is thoroughly posted in the history of the Gettysburg campaign.”
William Storrick appeared to be one of those people, almost like Eisenhower, who found themselves in just the right place at just the right time; to face a specific set of circumstances. Rising from the boy who had crossed paths with Lincoln on the steps of the Wills House to land manager, he now prepared to utilize his teaching skills on a national platform.
Touring for a fee on the battlefield had been a continuous free-market activity since the days of Lincoln’s visit. Some had done it much better than others. It was the intention of the War Department to constrain and professionalize this activity.
On Wednesday, February 23, 1916, Colonel Emmor B. Cope, with the assistance of teacher Storrick began a “school of instruction” for potential guides under the new regime. As the Times reported the following day
The classes will be continued for some weeks, it is expected, and all the second- and third-class guides will be given an opportunity to profit by them.
The large relief maps are used to great advantage in this work, and guides who appeared on Wednesday were asked to point out places and describe certain incidents using the map for their work. The instructors told them of various matters of importance, and numerous questions were also submitted for their study.
Many authors and writers would later teach of the Battle of Gettysburg from an historical distance. Growing up, William was no doubt familiar with stories of thieving armies, as they swept their war-torn way through Pennsylvania during the summer of ’63. Having lived the experience first-hand, an echo returned to him later. In May of 1914, his home along Baltimore Street was burgled (although nothing was taken.) Six years afterwards, however, he and Mary Jane experienced a far more disconcerting loss – that of their oldest son, Charles. After graduation from Gettysburg College in 1902, he took a remote position with a lumber firm in British Columbia; and there had drowned.
This loss perhaps heightened Storrick’s sense of perspective, both academic and personal. His son had been 39 years old. Time was passing, but William was still vital. As he once tended to fresh crops in the field, instructing and training new crops of incoming Licensed Battlefield Guides became yet another role to which Storrick was dedicated. Having been designated “Superintendent of Guides” in 1917, he held that responsibility until his retirement from government service on October 1, 1930. In this way, his singular knowledge and understanding was dispersed to countless thousands of visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park through the over 200 guides instructed during his Federal tenure.
Had that been the sole sum of William Storrick’s contributions to Gettysburg, it alone would stand as noteworthy. However, he was not yet done. Utilizing the copious notes amassed in his dual careers as both a schoolteacher and a guide instructor, William thereafter released a guidebook on the battle. Some eighty pages in length, it contained a great many images and battle details, with an account of Lincoln’s address. Interestingly, it was unafflicted by any commercial advertisements. Almost immediately, though, the perfectionist in the author sensed opportunities for improvement.
The second version of the book held over one hundred and fifty pages, containing more information there simply wasn’t space for in the first edition. The book was widely read and went through numerous reprints. It served as a staple for anyone seeking to get a basic sense of the battle, the battlefield, or the modern (1930’s) Military Park.
This achievement in letters brought Storrick a new level of attention, even as the 75th observance of the Battle of Gettysburg neared. It was reported that when he and Dr. Douglas S. Freeman met, following the latter’s winning the Pulitzer for his work on Lee in 1935, he dedicated William’s copy this way – “Inscribed for W.C. Storrick in appreciation of his matchless knowledge of Gettysburg. – Douglas Southall Freeman.”
William Storrick was certifiably now recognized as a historian. He joined forces with the local paper, The Gettysburg Times, to write enlightening articles on various Civil-War topics on occasion – Lewis Armistead, Johnny Clem, Adelbert Ames (a golfer!) and railroad engineer Herman Haupt, who had once taught civil engineering and mathematics at Pennsylvania College.
But the “local celebrity” never tired of repeating the incident that had launched his career. A March 17, 1938 story in the Gettysburg Weekly Gettysburgian announced “Old Resident Tells Story of Lincoln’s Visit Here,” opening with the line, “I shook hands with Lincoln.”
During that grand 75th Reunion year, Storrick’s unseen influence was well-nigh persuasive. His tour books could be found on the shelves of most every Gettysburg shop, and the groundwork he laid still heavily influenced the Guide Service. Perhaps as a result of this cumulative exposure, William was later asked to appear on the CBS Radio network program “We, The People” (airdate Tuesday, November 19th, 1940.) Travelling to the studios in New York and resting in the Pennsylvania Hotel later must surely have seemed a world away from the battlefield. But the battle that could not be won continued to step ever closer. Six days following news of the D-Day invasion, William’s wife of sixty-five years died in her sleep.
Folks in town began to realize that Time, too, would ultimately claim their special link with ‘Lincoln days,’ as some had called them. In recognition for all that Storrick had done through the venues of education and literature to convey the story of the battle and the struggle here, Gettysburg College awarded him an honorary doctorate on May 28th, 1945.
Fourteen months later, retrieving the Times from his porch one evening, he fell and fractured his hip. Following a hospital stay of 322 days, his hip was considered “healed,” yet Dr. Storrick was now considered an invalid, and directed to use a wheelchair. Still he persisted. The press marveled at his endurance. In a birthday notice from the Times, 1947, entitled, “William C. Storrick Marks His 91st Anniversary Today,” the author noted
Although his once accurate memory fails him occasionally now, Mr. Storrick still is able to vividly recall many historic dates and events of many years ago. Despite his advanced years he continues to read newspapers, books, and magazines without glasses. His hearing is considerably affected.
His hip affliction, coming so late in life, has not in the least dimmed his spirits and the well-liked old gentleman retains his keen sense of humor and [he] bears his ailment without complaint.
It was that last bit – that “bearing his ailment without complaint” bit – together, with his sense of humor, that had appeared in the columns of the paper before. Way back in 1935, when he was still (comparatively) young, a reporter had asked him, as a seventy-nine-year-old, his philosophy of life. His response?
Most older people live too much in the past. As for myself, I live to review the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future with courage and confidence.
At six o’clock in the morning of January 4, 1951, behind the thinning veil of an early winter’s day in Gettysburg, William Storrick died peacefully at the age of ninety-four. Facing the future with courage, his work had made it possible for many to review the past.
In the years following “the Professor’s” death, whole new arenas of Civil-War and Gettysburg scholarship have appeared. Change is inherent in the order of all things over time. Historians have appeared and disappeared throughout the ages, from the ancient scribe Homer down to those of the present day. Readers of this blog may well be more familiar with names like Coddington, Bearss, Pfanz or Stewart; or others, – Frassanito, Sears, Reardon, or Hess. Yet in those early days, educator William C. Storrick first made understandable, to the general public, a wider, deeper, and more detailed interpretation of many of the important events that had transpired on these fields.