Collateral Damage: The Weikert Farm’s Controversial Legacy | HistoryNet MENU

Collateral Damage: The Weikert Farm’s Controversial Legacy

By Harry Smeltzer
9/26/2017 • Civil War Times Magazine

A crowd of surgeons and orderlies descended on Jacob Weikert’s farm south of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Elements of the Army of the Potomac’s V  Corps were fighting on Little Round Top, just west of the farm. By the time the last wounded soldier was evacuated or buried at the farm some days later, as many as 950 men had been treated at the V Corps’ 2nd Division hospital on the property, including some Confederates. In the course of that ordeal, the Weikerts had done much to help the sufferers, but some accounts later vilified them for not doing even more.

Jacob Weikert, who was trained as a carpenter, married Sarah Ikes in 1824; they would have 13 children. In 1840 Jacob acquired a 190-acre farm with a large two-story stone house for $3,973.16. By 1863 he had sold off several tracts of his land, leaving him with 115 acres, where he grew wheat, oats, corn and timber.

During the July 1863 battle, two young children and an adult son and his family were living at the farm with Jacob and Sarah. Another married daughter, Hettie, lived close by in Gettysburg, where she and husband George Schriver operated a saloon. George, who was serving with Cole’s Maryland Cavalry in 1863, would die at Andersonville Prison the following year.

About noon on July 1, Hettie decided to take her two children to what she thought would be the relative safety of her parents’ home. She invited her neighbor’s daughter, 15-year-old Matilda “Tillie” Pierce, to accompany her. As a married woman, Tillie Pierce Alleman would later write an account of her experiences: At Gettysburg; or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle.

On arriving at the farm Tillie began carrying water from the spring to the columns of Federal soldiers passing on the Taneytown Road—until the spring ran dry. She then carried water from the well for them until nightfall, resuming her work the next morning. Soldiers started coming under fire west of the farmhouse that day, and as the firing increased the family briefly evacuated their home.

Once the surgeons arrived on the 2nd, workers ransacked the property looking for operating tables and cloth to use as dressings. Casualties started pouring in, and heaps of limbs that had been amputated in an improvised operating room were piled outside a window. That night Brig. Gen. Stephen Weed was carried into a basement room, where he died before morning. The Weikerts had prepared bread and soup in their basement kitchen during the day, feeding the medical staff and wounded men until late in the evening.

Early on July 3, the hospital was relocated farther east, toward the Baltimore Pike. The Weikerts again evacuated that morning, returning later in the day to discover that wounded men—those too sick to move—still filled the house, barn and carriage house. Pierce recalled that by the time she left for home four days later the farm’s furniture and kitchenware had been smashed, walls and floors were bloodstained, and crops and fences had been destroyed.

But despite all the Weikerts went through, Jacob has come down to history as a villain—thanks to one account penned by Lieutenant Ziba Graham of the 16th Michigan. Graham claimed that on July 3 he saw some unattended wounded Confederates near the Weikert Farm complaining of thirst, who told him that the homeowner had removed the well pump crank. According to Graham:

I went into the house, found this man, a mean Dutchman…and his family buried in the bowels of the cellar, they having taken safe refuge from the hail of iron which was bursting in every direction. I ordered him to give up the well crank. He first refused. Just at that time a shell struck his chimney, and the noise and rattle of the falling brick nearly frightened him to death. I threatened to shoot him if he did not give me the crank; this brought it out of its hiding place back of the stairway. I went out, watered the boys, put two of the least wounded in charge of it and then left, receiving the thanks of all.

We know from Tillie’s account that the Weikerts had been more than generous with their water, and their spring was actually drained dry by thirsty soldiers. What’s more, the home’s current owners point out that the well—now used as a supplemental water source—occasionally runs nearly dry in early July. Assuming Graham’s story is not apocryphal, was Weikert’s removal of the pump crank an act of “greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness,” as described by one historian, or should we instead see it as an effort to ensure his family’s survival, and preserve what water he had left for the remaining Union casualties?

Sarah Weikert died in 1877, followed by Jacob in 1878. He had filed three claims, for $186, $1,277, and $2,756, with the War Department for damages incurred in 1863, including the use of his house and carriage house, damages to house and bedding, use of his hay, wheat, oats, corn, rails and timber, and also damage to land, stone walls, clothing and furniture. In the end, Jacob Weikert received a grand total of $45 in compensation.

 

Thanks to Weikert Farm owners Gerry and Beth Hoffman and the Adams County Historical Society for their assistance with this article.

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here

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