08 - Sunday, July 5, 1863

By Joan C. McCulloh

         Sunday, July 5, 1863, was a momentous day for local citizens as it was on that day that wounded Confederate prisoners were brought to town.  Having learned of Lee’s seventeen mile-long wagon train retreating across the Potomac after the Battle of Gettysburg, James O. Carson, a local highly respected merchant, and others feared Confederate stragglers. Therefore, Carson requested that some Union troops be brought to Mercersburg from McConnellsburg.  That morning messengers interrupted church services with the news that Captain Jones and his troops from McConnellsburg would be coming into town and that they and their horses needed to be provided for.  The quiet of the day was broken by the arrival of the Union troops and then later that evening was even more disturbed by the arrival of the Confederate prisoners including, according to Dr. Philip Schaff, seven hundred and forty-seven prisoners, most of whom had been wounded.  These prisoners Captain Jones and his men had captured along with, according to Dr. Schaff, “ three pieces of artillery, about one hundred wagons and three buggies, with four hundred mules, and one hundred horses” near Cunningham’s Crossroads.  Dr. Schaff wrote: “The whole town turned out to see the sight….The wounded Rebels brought the tale of the terrible battles….They left the battlefield on Saturday, the 4th of July, when the battle was still going on though with less violence.”  The Mercersburg Journal noted:  “…and the work of unloading was begun. This lasted all night, even long after daylight.  The scene was painful in the extreme.  The poor sufferers had been without food or water for many hours, many of them dangerously and painfully wounded, hauled in a long, long distance crowded in uncomfortable wagons and terribly jarred and jolted by rapid driving over rough roads….It was a sad, sore sight for many a poor mortal.”

         Despite the Confederate raids during the weeks preceding the Battle of Gettysburg and the action on the Diamond on July 3 local people immediately began to care for the wounded of the enemy.  The Theological Seminary, the basement of the Methodist Church, and Dr. King’s barn were at once opened as hospitals.  Dr. Schaff wrote about those days:  “…charity and curiosity were busy in providing for the prisoners an abundance of food and attention, which seemed to fill them with delight and gratitude….This speaks well for this place, which has suffered such heavy losses during the last few weeks from Rebel guerrillas, and now turns round without a murmur to nurse their sick and wounded.”  The local newspaper, however, noted angrily that a very few citizens had robbed the prisoners.

         On July 9 all those wounded prisoners able to be moved were taken from town.  One of those too ill to be removed was Joseph W. Quaintance, a twenty-three year old member of the Sharpshooters of Culpeper Courthouse in Virginia who had been moved to the home of the Leonard Leidy family on July 6 as the two daughters in that family who had been caring for him in the Methodist Church asked permission to take him into their family home for care.  He remained in their home until his death on August 28.  Three days earlier he had become a member of the local Methodist Church.  In writing to the father of Quaintance to apprise him of the young man‘s death, Leidy noted that he had been in the ambulance, Hancock, captured on the way to the Potomac, that he had been in the Leidy home since July 6, that the Leidys had preserved for the young man’s family a lock of hair and a gold ring belonging to Quaintance, and that “all of the physicians of our village had frequently visited him and my wife and daughters gave him all the care and attention that could have been to one of our own sons had he been in the same condition.”  The body of this young man, who left a wife to whom he had written from camp on June 5, “Give my love to all my inquiring friends and keep a large portion for yourself,” and a daughter, was interred in the local Methodist cemetery but now lies in Fairview Cemetery.

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