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Off the beaten path: Tales from the Gettysburg battlefield

Written by Dustin B. Levy/Hanover Evening Sun | Apr 17, 2017 6:57 PM
Gettysburg_battlefield_monument.jpg

A life-size bronze sculpture of a dog named Sallie sits at the base of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Sallie faithfully accompanied soldiers from the 11th into battle throughout several engagements in the Civil War before suffering a fatal bullet wound at the Battle of Hatcher's Run on February 6, 1865. Veterans of the 11th decided to honor Sallie with this sculpture when they erected their monument at Gettysburg in 1890. (Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- Think you know everything there is to know about the Gettysburg battlefield? Think again.

Even veteran park rangers at Gettysburg National Military Park find themselves constantly learning new things.

"There's always new research being conducted," said Angie Atkinson, a 9-year ranger. "There's always new ways to look at things. There's always an opportunity to read something that is new and exciting about this place."

Atkinson, who grew up in York County, explained that her grandmother originally fostered her interest in history.

"Something just stuck with me," she said. "I never thought I would end up working here, but it is truly an honor."

Learn about a loyal dog named Sallie who accompanied the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry into battle and the mystery of a cannon bearing the name 'Cora.' Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun

 

While Atkinson does not have a direct connection the Battle of Gettysburg, she feels a sense of responsibility to convey the weight of the 1863 clash that resulted in 51,000 casualties.

On Wednesday, Atkinson guided a tour of some more eccentric elements of the Gettysburg battlefield. Here are five tales that you might not have known.

A soldier's best friend

The 11th Pennsylvania Infantry monument is like no other on the battlefield. That's because it features a canine companion, Sallie the brindle bull terrier.

Sallie, the regimental mascot, would follow the soldiers into battle. After one bloody July 1863 battle that wounded many members of the infantry, Sallie stayed behind with the soldiers.

"After three days of intense battle, she would be found here, suffering, dehydrated, but nonetheless sanding guard over the men here at Gettysburg," Atkinson said.

Sallie died two years later at the Battle of Hatcher's Run.

Today, Sally's emblem on the monument is a park gem. Visitors will often leave dog treats and biscuits on Sallie's statue, which faces the battlefield.

"I think it's just a way for individuals to honor Sallie and her service," Atkinson said.

On Wednesday, Sallie was decorated with bright, yellow dandelions. A visitor from Seattle stopped by to place a penny on the monument.

"The important thing is that (the story) still brings them here, whether it be Sallie, whether it be the men that fought here, they still come to Gettysburg to see what happened 150-plus years ago," Atkinson said.

Nexus of the battle

A couple monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park might betray your expectations of the park's structures. One of them is the Mississippi state monument.

This post-centennial monument, created by Donald De Lue in 1973, depicts the battle in a way rarely seen in other battlefield sculptures.

Two soldiers, with exaggerated extremities, fend off attackers. One, mortally wounded, tries to keep the battle flag upright while the other wields his rifle like a baseball bat.

"Not a lot of monuments show death," Atkinson said. "And this is one of the few at Gettysburg that actually demonstrates that."

The graphic, artistic sculpture features details like the stars on the Mississippi regiment's colors and the wear on the bottom of the soldiers' shoes.

The monument is an illustration of Barksdale's Charge, an afternoon clash on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. General William Barksdale was an "ardent secessionist," Atkinson said.

Just adjacent to the fields was the home of James Warfield, a free black man who had recently moved to the state to operate a blacksmith shop.

The African American community living in the area during the war faced a difficult choice: flee or risk capture, which could lead to being sold into slavery in the south.

Atkinson believes Warfield fled and later returned after fighting concluded.

Still, Warfield's presence near Barksdale's troops exemplifies one of the crucial influences of the American Civil War.

"As this struggle is taking place, there's this very interesting convergence of all these different factors that led to the Civil War literally appearing here in the fields of Gettysburg," Atkinson said.

Bloody page from Gage

Letters to home were common and constant during the Civil War.

But a letter dipped in a dying soldier's blood-- not so much.

The monument for the 11th Mississippi was erected in 2000, marking the approximate location of Pickett's Charge. One of the men in this infantry was Jeremiah Gage.

Gage, 19 years old, was struck by an exploding shell during fighting on July 3. While he was succumbing to his injuries, he penned a letter his mother, sisters and "Miss Mary, you know who."

"This is the last you may ever hear from me," Gage wrote. "I have time to tell you that I died like a man. Bear my loss as best you can."

As the letter went on, Gage's handwriting indicated his impending death. He proceeded to dip the letter in his blood for unknown reasons.

It was not a common practice, Atkinson explained.

Gage's family received his letter, which is housed today at the University of Mississippi.

Unsolved mysteries

"While we know a lot about the Battle of Gettysburg, of course there's some things we'll never know," Atkinson said. "There's always a few mysteries about what happened here."

One of those comes in the form of an artillery tube from the 9th Mississippi battery.

The tube, originally bronze when it was cast in 1863, is now green patina due to natural weathering from the elements. The back of the cannon is labeled with four letters: CORA.

No one knows what these letters mean.

"How that got there, what it stands for, whether or not some soldiers decided that they needed to name this particular artillery tube, we're not 100 percent sure," Atkinson said. "There may have been some documentation at one point, there may have been a letter written home, there may have been a story behind it, but sometimes those stories don't get to travel along with some of the artifacts."

The cannon stands next to a seemingly identical tube, but that one does not have the same mysterious label.

The meaning of CORA may never be revealed, but "never say never," Atkinson said.

"Maybe one day, someone will unearth a treasure, and we might find out what those letters actually mean," she added.

 

This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

Published in Adams County, News

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