Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Letters From Emmitsburg's Past

The Battle of Gettysburg seen from Indian Look -
Sixty People with telescopes watch the this day’s fight

Originally Published in the Emmitsburg Chronicle March 25, 1976

My very dear friend:

I scarce feel this vacation passing by. It seems to pass very quickly. However, this is owing perhaps to the fact that we are kept in almost constant excitement: but the immediate neighborhood is at present in a comparatively quiet state. Occasionally we see a few troopers pass by, but this no longer attracts any attention, except on one occasion when Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry passed. The Army of the Potomac in motion was truly a most beautiful sight. I believe it was even grander than that presented by the "Blairsville Blues" and "Blacklic Greys" in days gone by.

The Army came from Frederick City by the Turnpike and Frederick Mudroads. On the latter most of the wagons, ambulances, cannon etc came which by the way, were coming in from early-dawn till night fall, and I do not know by what time of night they all got in. They encamped around about Emmitsburg. Their campfires as viewed from the college windows almost led one to imagine that this section of country for miles around had received in one shower all the stars of heavens.

We were visited here by single soldiers, officers, groups etc to the amount of some thousands, some for the purpose of seeing old friends and companions, as for example, Mr. O’Leary, Maj. Anderson an old graduate of Mt. St. Mary’s and many old students of this place whom, by the way all hold honorable positions in the army. But most of the privates and many of the officers visited the place to try of Miss Leo’s bread, butter, and milk. Which I am pleased to say were dealt with a liberal hand.

I heard that the 11th Regulars in which I believe the Blairsville Boys are passed, but it was to late that evening to try to hunt up any of our old acquaintances. So the next morning I put off to the camp through a heavy rain, and mud half knee-deep, but before I reached the place they were parading, making ready to march to Gettysburg, so I did not see any of our old friends 0f Blairsville.

Whilst parading and marching out they seemed to present one solid mass of human beings. Interrupted only by Regiments and Brigades of horsemen. Whilst passing here on their way to Gettysburg. French Bugles made our beautiful valley resound with martial music. The country round here sustained little or no damage from their marching through it. Except when the owner was reported to be a rebel, and then pity that place! Unfortunately, Mr. Jno Elder was reported such by some of his malicious neighbors in consequence of which his place, he told me, was almost destroyed. But perhaps you will say what I have already said is of minor importance, and that I should spare some of that talk for describing the battle of Gettysburg as seen by us from Indian Lookout.

Truly we are at that place (Indian Lookout) almost the whole time during the three days battle. We had plenty of glasses viz telescopes, spy, and opera glasses. We had a clear view of the field and could see so as to make the men in their lines, attending cannon, the cannon themselves, making charges, officers riding along about their lines, and in a word the whole scene was spread out to our view.

We could distinctly observe the changes in the position of the armies: sometimes one army would slowly give way, but seeming to dispute every inch of ground with as much energy and determination as if the fate of the Nation depended on its holding or yielding its position again rallying and driving the foe headlong before it for some distance. When the retreating body either reinforced some fresh troops or perhaps reinforced with courage, the battle would become terrific.

On Friday, the 3rd day of battle the hours of 2 o’clock and 5 p.m. it is said it was the hardest contest witnessed during whole war. During that I watched it with intense interest: but I need not to say I for there were 50 or 60 persons present at Indian Lookout for which body all the members of the college, except Fathers John McClosky and Xopie constituted a part during which hours, some of the officers said afterwards they never before witnessed such heavy cannonading.

Flames of fire and volumes of smoke obstructed our view considerably. We have not gone to the battlefield vet, but persons who have been there since the battle say that it presents a most horrible spectacle. They say that some two or three days after the fight dead bodies and the bodies of wounded and dying were to be seen scattered over the field in every direction, and that the stench for miles around is most intolerable. The graves of some thousand are to be seen on the field where they fell.

I am told that where they were not very thickly spread on the ground they were pretty well buried. i.e.. There was enough of earth put on them to cover the entire bodies, but where they fell four or five deep (as in many cases they did before the batteries) the appearance of their graves inspired the beholder with pity.

There are thousands of dollars worth of guns. Wagons, ammunition, and equipage in general, daily carried off by visitors to the field. This is allowed because whenever such things are in the least injured they are rejected (e.g. the guns injured by rust) by the Government. I suppose when you are that far on your road back you will be sighting" ‘round to get hold of something as a relic of the Great Federal victory gained at Gettysburg, Pa. July 1863.

I think it would perhaps be prudent to bring these few lines to a close, but before doing so, I will ask you once more to write to me tell Mr. Kerr to do the same.

If you chance to see him there are thirteen seminarians here yet of whom four expect to go out to vacation soon and about twenty boys.

So then, wishing you all heavens choicest graces and blessings, peace, health and happiness. I remain Dear John, your friend till death.


Have your old letters that tell of Emmitsburg long ago?  
If so, please send us a copy and will scan and post them for all to enjoy.
E-mail us at history@emmitsburg.net 

Read other articles on Emmitsburg in the Civil War