Thursday, January 3, 2013

If Walls Could Talk - Part 1

In the Gettysburg Area, we are very fortunate to have so many significant pieces of the battlefield tract available to our personal interests.  With the National Park Service's efforts to return the battle ground to its 1863 appearance, visitors today can truly get an authentic visual experience at Gettysburg.  The initiative not only involves removing timber, but also reestablishing walls and fences...all the little details that truly made an impact or acted as an obstacle to the common soldiers on foot are being restored to their 1863 stature.

Another piece of the preservation puzzle that has really kept on target through the years is the town of Gettysburg itself.  Although there are of course many more structures now in the borough than during the battle, we are fortunate to have over 150 of the original structures still standing.  As you walk the streets of the town you'll notice many buildings with a little plaque on their facade with the text, "Civil War Building - July 1863."  Most, but not all of these structures were standing at the time of the battle.  Indeed many of them served as a refuge during the street fighting, and beyond that housed the thousands of wounded soldiers for many weeks after the battle.

The borough itself is not the only area with original structures though.  In fact, Adams County itself has many buildings that have historical prominence which relates to the Gettysburg Campaign.  For enthusiasts such as myself this provides an endless sea of folklore, exploration and fascinating new details.  For this week's post we'll explore some of the homes and taverns in the outlying areas of Gettysburg that were involved in some way with the campaign.  These important sites are an equally valuable component in our quest for preserving our heritage.

Mary Bruch's Tavern

The tavern of Mary Bruch sits on the Hilltown Road between Old Route 30 (Lincoln Highway) and state Route 30 in Cashtown Pass.  The large home is at the foot of the pass over South Mountain, the gateway used by the Army of Northern Virginia on both their advance and retreat during the Gettysburg Campaign. Mary Bruch's Tavern was established as early as 1846 and operated under a different proprietor just before the start of the Civil War.

On June 26, 1863 after burning Thaddeus Steven's Iron Furnace on the eastern slopes of South Mountain, Jubal Early's Division continued east towards York, PA.  At the top of the pass, Early split his division.  Gordon's Brigade and the division's cavalry escort under the command of Colonel Elijah White continued straight on the Chambersburg/Gettysburg Pike.  Avery, Hays and Smith's Brigades, along with the division artillery, turned left onto the 1747 Pike (present Hilltown Road) and continued towards Mummasburg.  General Early stayed with the latter three brigades and artillery, heading northeast to the bottom of the pass.

At the foot of the pass the Confederate officers and members of their staff stopped in at Mary Bruch's Tavern to take a rest and get some refreshments.  General Early himself stopped in and noticed that behind the bar was a large copy of the 1858 Adams County Map.  Adams County being new to he and his staffers, they did not have many maps on hand and he found this to be the perfect opportunity to get an accurate picture of the areas roads.  He hopped across the bar, drew his knife, and cut out the center of the map, leaving a gaping hole in the once proudly displayed image.

We may never know how useful this "cutout" might have been to "Old Jube," but one thing is for certain.  That is that Mary Bruch never forgot about the incident.  Along with claiming the two horses she had stolen by Rebels, she also included in her damage claim the ruined map behind the bar.  Of course she never received anything for her claim, but she did take care of that hole in her map.

After the first casualty rolls were released for the armies, she procured a number of casualty lists for the Army of Northern Virginia and transformed them into a collage in the "cutout" area of her 1858 Adams County Map behind the bar.  She certainly had the last laugh.

Mary Bruch's Tavern still stands on the north side of Hilltown Road at the foot of the Cashtown Pass, now a private residence.

Willow Springs Tavern

The Willow Springs Tavern was built in 1795, also in the Cashtown Pass.  This tavern stands just up the hill from our previous location.  About 100 yards west of the Hilltown Road/Chambersburg Pike intersection, many a Confederate officer and soldier passed by these doors.  Surely during the campaign it was used by Confederate officers and even possibly to shelter the wounded.  Before Gettysburg on October 11, 1862,the tavern was visited by none other than JEB Stuart during raid and burning of Chambersburg.  It is currently a private residence and a beautiful structure at that.

Blackhorse Tavern (Bream's Tavern)

Few homes with involvement in the Gettysburg Campaign can claim as much history as the Blackhorse Tavern.  The tavern was built in 1812 along what is now the Fairfield/Hagerstown Road (formerly Nichols Gap Road) and Marsh Creek.  In 1843 it was purchased by Francis Bream who became the proprietor of the tavern.  By the time Mr. Bream took over, the tavern had been a well established rest point for travelers and its popularity grew after the road became worn by a stage coach route.

During the Gettysburg campaign it was truly a Grand Central Station for movements by both armies.  On July 1, troops of Biddle's Brigade passed by the tavern on their way to the fighting on McPherson's Ridge.  That evening as General Andrew Humphreys was trying to lead his division to the battlefield, he nearly led them straight into Confederate troops occupying the grounds around the Blackhorse Tavern.  Thanks to his own personal intuition this encounter never took place on the basis of faulty reconnaissance.

On July 2, Lt. General James Longstreet led two of his divisions towards the Emmitsburg Road near the Round Tops when he realized his column was visible to the Federal signal station on Little Round Top.  They were just cresting Breams Hill southeast of the tavern when the discovery was made.  Longstreet was forced to counter-march is men back in the direction from which they came, eating up more valuable time.  In truth, the Federal signal station reported that a strong enemy column was moving to the right, so the value in the entire episode had both positive and negative implications depending upon the perspective.

After the battle, the tavern became a major field hospital for the Confederate 1st Corps (mostly McLaws and Hood's Divisions, some from Pickett's).  The Breams lost almost everything because of the campaign and occupation as a hospital.  Upon their return they found over seventy bodies around the house and barn.  The house was ransacked for anything that could be of use in the care of 100s of wounded soldiers.  They filed a damage claim for nearly $7,000, of which none was ever compensated.

The tavern still stands on the north side of the Fairfield/Hagerstown Road (PA 116) just before it crosses Marsh Creek.  The tavern and home are part of a private residence, but there is a marker and pull-off along the road.  

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