The battle of Gettysburg produced many entertaining, startling, and tragic interactions between soldiers and local civilians. In one incident on July 1, 1863, in the midst of the Union retreat from Seminary Ridge, a civilian woman tried to play peacemaker and also helped to preserve a symbol of honor for a captured Union officer. A story of the event appeared in the 1867 volume titled Women’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience.
There’s certainly more research that has been done and could be done about this story, but I think it’s still meaningful to see what one of the earliest published records of it says and how it’s an early layer of Gettysburg civilian memory connected to the battle.
Miss Carrie Sheads, the principal of Oak Ridge Female Seminary, is also deserve of a place in our record for her courage, humanity and true womanly tact….
The Ninety-seventh New York volunteer infantry commanded on that day by Lieutenant-Colonel, afterwards General Charles Wheelock, were surrounded by the enemy in the Seminary grounds, and after repeated attempts to break through the ranks of the enemy, were finally compelled to surrender. Miss Sheads, who had given her pupils a holiday on the previous day, and had suddenly found herself transformed into the lady superintendent of a hospital, for the wounded were brought to the Seminary, at once received Colonel Wheelock and furnished him with the signal for surrender. The rebel commander demanded his sword, but the colonel refused to give it up, as it was a gift from friends.
An altercation ensued and the rebel officer threatened to kill Colonel Wheelock. Mr. Sheads, Miss Carrie’s father, interposed and endeavored to prevent the collision, but was soon pushed out of the way, and the rebel officer again presented his pistol to shoot his prisoner. Miss Sheads now rushed between them and remonstrated with the rebel on his inhumanity, while she urged the colonel to give up his sword. He still refused, and at this moment the entrance of other prisoners attracted the attention of the rebel officer for a few moments, when Miss Sheads unbuckled his sword and concealed it in the folds of her dress unnoticed by the rebel officer. Colonel Wheelock, when the attention of his foe was again turned to him, said that one of his men who had passed out had his sword, and the rebel officer ordered him with the other prisoners to march to the rear.
Five days after the battle the colonel, who had made his escape from the rebels, returned to the Seminary, when Miss Sheads returned his sword, with which he did gallant service subsequently.
Linus Pierpont Brockett and Mary C. Vaughan, Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience (Zeigler, McCurdy & Company: 1867) pages 776-777.