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The Final Battle To Save Camp Letterman Is Being Waged Glen Hayes, Co-chair, Camp Letterman, Archeology Committee
- (November 2007)
On July 22, 1863, Camp Letterman officially opened. In the weeks following the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands of wounded had been sent by rail to permanent hospitals. However, 1,995 Union and 2,922 Confederates were too badly injured to be sent away.
These seriously wounded men were transferred to Camp Letterman. Camp Letterman, as one nurse said, "contained, in truth, the very dregs of battle from two armies."
Letterman would remain in operation until Nov. 20, with over 4,000 soldiers of both sides being treated there. The main rule of the hospital was that there be no difference in the care of the patients, be they Union or Confederate. Even the cemetery made no distinction. Union and Confederates were buried side by side.
Today the site of the historic hospital is in danger of being destroyed by development. www.civilwardiscoverytrail.org
[Editor's Note: William A. Frassanito's Early Photography at Gettysburg (1995, Thomas Publications) features a Tyson Brothers two-plate panorama taken in August 1863 looking eastward toward the town from Seminary Ridge.
[Frassanito identifies all of the featured elements in view 22a, including two clusters of Camp Letterman tents in the background beyond Franklin Street, the railroad and Carlisle Street. According to GBPA the Target store tract is where the tents in the upper left appear and the S&A Homes tract is where the tents are on the far right.]
Although many people believe that much of Letterman was destroyed when the Giant Store was built, and that only a few acres (with a trailer park - which is being removed - and some woods) remain, this is not the case.
Research has revealed that most of Camp Letterman, about 80 percent, still exists. Frank Stoke, a guard at Letterman, said that the hospital was about 80 acres. When the Giant Store was built, about 15 acres of the hospital (the western grove and the first two rows of tents) were destroyed.
There are still 65 acres of the hospital remaining. Of these 65 acres, only 8 acres, the very back part of the hospital that extended onto the Daniel Lady Farm, is preserved by the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Asso-ciation (GBPA). The remaining 57 acres are in danger of being destroyed.
On Aug. 7, Anna Holstein, matron in charge, wrote that there were approximately 3,000 patients in the hospital, with nearly one third being Confederates.
Confirming her statement is the provost marshal report for the same date, Aug. 7, which says there were 1,112 wounded Confederate prisoners at Camp Letterman.
as the transfering of wounded from the various field hospitals was not completed until Aug. 18.
Recently it has been learned that Target Corp. plans to build a store on the 32 acres next to the Giant Store. For two years the GBPA has tried to work with S&A Homes [West Virginia and Pennsylvania home builder] to preserve the 25 acres (out of 190 they plan to develop) on their property that contained the general hospital yard and the tents containing around 3,000 wounded.
In the area where the hospital yard was has been found the July 3 position of Capt. Archibald Graham's Rockbridge Battery. During the bombardment prior to Pickett's Charge, the fire from Graham caused the commander of the Union 11th Corps artillery, Maj. Thomas W. Osborn, to pull three batteries (18 cannon) out of the cemetery to deal with Graham.
It was these 18 guns that Col. E.P. Alexander wrote of in his note telling Pickett to advance saying,"The 18 guns are gone from the cemetery." The site of Graham's Battery and its role in the charge makes it one of the most historic parts of the battlefield.
The GBPA was told if we did not go public about the situation, S&A Homes would work with us to preserve Graham's Battery and Camp Letterman.
We did not go public. Now S&A Homes has told us that they have no interest in preserving any of the site.
Target Corp. will destroy the more famous section of Camp Letterman, the 32 acres next to Giant Store. Where tents containing 1,300 wounded were located, people will be walking down the aisles looking for "bargains," having no clue as to what occurred under their very feet.
All the historic photos showing this section of Camp Letterman, where doctors, nurses, patients wrote letters telling us what we know of the hospital, will be just footnotes to a place that no longer exists.
Gone will be the area where on the evening of Aug. 8, Nurse Cornelia Hancock sat in her tent and wrote in a letter home: "It is now about 9 o'clock, every tent has a light in it, and a lot of groaning sick men ... There are many sights here, but the most melancholy one is to see the wounded come in in a long train of ambulances after nightfall."
Target apparently cares so little about this historic site that not only will they destroy it, they will move the monument marking the location of Camp Letterman to the back of the property.
The reason they want to move the marker placed by the War Department in 1914, when there were still veterans and civilians who had been at Letterman alive, is that it sits where the right of way for the entrance to the store on the York Pike is planned.
An excuse they use is that where the marker sits along the road, it is very difficult for people to view it. What Target fails to realize is that for those of us who care about our history, the main concern is not one of convienience. We want to see the actual locations where historic events occured.
There are many monuments, not only at Gettysburg but around the country, that are difficult to view. The important thing is that they mark the actual site.
It may be that Target figures with the Letterman marker at the back of the property, it will be a case of "out of sight out of mind." Given time, people will forget Camp Letterman was even there.
An author in the early part of the last century, in writing of the Gettysburg Battlefield, said that one would have to have a "sluggish imagination" to view the scenes of conflict and not picture what had occurred there.
To be at Camp Letterman, it would not be hard to visualize hundreds of tents containing the wounded of both sides who, after spending three weeks in a field hospital, would now be spending days, weeks or months in a cot in those tents
Men, most of them in their late teens or early 20s, would spend most of their time looking down where a limb was amputated, and wonder what the rest of their lives would be like.
Apparently in the estimation of S&A Homes, when it comes to Camp Letterman the American public has a ""sluggish imagination." A vice president for S&A Homes, in the event that Letterman was preserved, said, "What would people do? They would look at empty fields for a few minutes and then say,'Let's go to McDonald's.'"
In what has to be the height of insensitivity towards our nation's history and the preservation of that history, the same V.P. said that what S&A Homes could do (after the houses were built where the tents had stood) is to paint on the water tower that stands adjacent to the site, "WELCOME TO CAMP LETTERMAN."
More than 4,000 wounded Union & Confederates were treated in the four months Camp Letterman was in operation. Over 370 of them died. The cemetery, which has not yet been located, may contain 20 Union and Confederate soldiers who were never moved.
In writing to the mother of 21-year-old Samuel Watson of the 5th Texas, Nurse Effie Goldsborough told her his last words to his family were, he "came to be a soldier, did his duty, and died for his country."
Nurse Sophronia Bucklin, talking of a wife with an 18-month-old child who was at her husband's side when he died, wrote, "Broken hearted she returned to the desolate home which should never know the sunlight of pleasure again, while her soldier's body rested under the distant sod on which was spilt an ocean of heroic blood."
Will this site, which saw so much suffering and sorrow be preserved? If the developers have their way, there will be a Target Store and a housing development. And, painted on the water tower, "WELCOME TO CAMP LETTERMAN."
The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association is asking for everyone's help to preserve the site of Camp Letterman, not only for our own but for future generations so that they will know about this often overlooked part of the Battle of Gettysburg.
We ask you contact the developers to ask them not to destroy this site.
Bob Ulrich, CEO
Mail Stop TFS #2 A-X
P.O. Box 9350
Minneapolis MN 55440
Bob Poole, CEO
2121 Old Gatesburg Rd.
State College, PA 16803
To contact the GBPA:
P.O. Box 4087
Gettysburg PA 17325