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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

The Porter Guards at Gettysburg

Elwood W. Christ

It's time for the Civil War Heritage Days commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg. For two weeks most visitors delve into the events of four days in 1863, but most of them don't realize that Gettysburg had served as a military encampment prior to the battle.

Eight companies of the newly formed 10th New York Cavalry, the Porter Guards, arrived in Gettysburg by train on Christmas evening 1861 and spent the night in rail cars. Since adequate quarters had not been prepared, the next day the men were billeted in town at several locales. There they remained until their encampment was ready for occupation. During their stay, the Gettysburg Adams Sentinel published several articles commenting on their presence from New Years Day until mid-March 1862.

Recently, the historical society received a transcript of a letter to the editor written by a member of the Porter Guards, which appeared in the January 9, 1862, Gazette & Banner of Courtland, New York.

Twenty-two-year-old John G. Pierce enlisted from Cortland, New York, on Columbus Day, 1861. Originally assigned as a sergeant in Company A, he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant of Company G on December 23. Five days later Pierce wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper which commented on his trip from Elmira to Gettysburg and his experiences with several Adams countians:

"We arrived at Gettysburg at about half past nine in the evening . and slept in the Cars over night . We are now quartered about town in several places, one company in a Hall, another in a Court House, another in a school house, &c. &c."

"One company is pleasantly situated in a ball alley, but destitute of balls. The alley is very comfortable, at one [end?] of which [was] once used as a saloon, we have a fire and write letters (where I am now writing this) on an Eating table under curtains . Yesterday we pitched our tents, but they have been condemned as too cold for the winter season."

"Barracks will soon be finished, though none are yet erected. Our reception has been the most hospitable. Soldiers passing in any part of the town are earnestly invited by the most wealthy citizens to dine with them. I have enjoyed the hospitality of a very worthy gentleman for one lodging and two meals, who was very urgent in his invitation. His name is Witherow, and has two, blooming daughters, a very charming inducement for further entertainment. We are to receive our horses soon. We are fully uniformed otherwise."

Pierce concluded his letter by retelling the untimely death of one of Empire men, John Congden, who that day was returning after a furlough. He leaned out of the rail car to get a better view and was hit by a passing post at a railroad bridge, hurling him onto a rock and instantly killing him.

From Pierce's letter, we now know that Company G was billeted in George W. Schriver's 10-pin bowling saloon on Baltimore Street next door to the home of James Pierce. Residing just up the street was the gentleman and the "blooming daughters": Samuel Witherow, auctioneer, aged 52; Mary R., 20; and Sarah H., 18.

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