Tillie Pierce and The Battle of Gettysburg

Grave of Matilda “Tillie” (Pierce) Ammerman

“Years have come and gone since the happening of the events narrated in the preceding chapters, but they are as indelibly stamped upon my memory.”  Tillie Pierce

It took much longer to locate the Selinsgrove Lutheran Cemetery than I had planned. The directions I had been emailed added a handful of unneeded turns – I definitely took the scenic drive through Selinsgrove to arrive at the cemetery. Glancing at the old cemetery, I immediately knew the directions I had been sent were for the wrong cemetery. The old stones had been placed on the ground, resting above the graves they marked, except for the large memorial for Governor Simon Snyder that commanded the otherwise plain piece of ground.  Pulling up a map of Selinsgrove, I soon discovered another nearby cemetery and a couple minutes later I was wandering about the grounds of the correct cemetery.

The small historic cemetery known as the New Lutheran Cemetery, is located at the corner of West Spruce and David Streets. At the edge of the cemetery was the grave of the town founder, Captain Anthony Selin – I paused for a moment to take some pictures of the memorial before continuing my wanderings.

Near the rear of the small cemetery I discovered the grave I came in search of – Matilda J. (Pierce) Alleman. Tillie, as she was known by most, was born March 11, 1848 in the house she grew up in, located at the corner of Baltimore and Breckenridge Streets in Gettysburg. She was the youngest daughter of the town butcher, having two older brothers and an older sister.

Tillie grew up enjoying the quiet of a relatively unknown town. In her own words, Tillie wrote: “Gettysburg is my native place…it is most pleasantly located in a healthful region of country, near the southern border of Pennsylvania. Prior to the battle it was comparatively unknown to the outside world, save to those interested in the Lutheran College and Theological Seminary here located. From year to year it pursued the even and quiet tenor of an inland town, with nothing to vary the monotony but the annual exercises of the above-named institutions.”

At the age of fifteen the peaceful town she knew would change forever as Confederate and Union forces clashed in and around the community. The fear that the Rebels would invade was on the minds of town residents for weeks before their actual arrival and Tillie records that many of the shop keepers and store owners had sent away their surplus to areas they felt were safer.

During the events of the first day of the battle, her neighbor Mrs. Schriver approached the family saying she was going to leave town for a safer place. Tillie would join Mrs. Schriver and her two children as they moved to a safer location south of town.

The safer place was the home of Mrs. Schriver’s father, Mr. Jacob Weikert. Little did they know they moved into the midst of the battle’s second day of fighting. Tillie records her duty of getting water for the passing soldiers on the first day and the second morning she resumed those duties. By the afternoon of the second day, she was helping the doctors and nurses who were attending the wounded and dying. The morning of the third day of the battle, she moved farther south to the Two Taverns area along the Baltimore Pike. There she continued helping care for the wounded before returning to the Weikert Farm late in the afternoon.

The scene of horror that she describes is one that no young person should ever have to witness. “Upon reaching the place I fairly shrank back aghast at the awful sight presented. The approaches were crowded with wounded, dying and dead. The air was filled with moanings, and groanings….when we entered the house we found it also completely filled with the wounded. We hardly knew what to do or where to go…as soon as possible, we endeavored to make ourselves useful by rendering assistance in this heartrending state of affairs.”

In 1871, Tillie she married Horace Alleman and they settled in Selinsgrove, where she raised their three children. Despite moving away from Gettysburg, the images of war remained in her memory. She often shared those stories with locals and many encouraged her to write them down. The result was At Gettysburg, Or What A Girl Saw And Heard Of The Battle, published in 1888. The book continues to be republished as it shares Tillie’s first-hand accounts with countless new readers every year as her account presents the horrors of the battle to live through the eyes of a civilian.

Tillie remained in Selinsgrove until her death on March 15, 1914.

I paused as the words Tillie wrote came to mind: “We were all glad that the storm had passed, and that victory was perched upon our banners. But oh! the horror and desolation that remained.”

Note: All quotes from Tillie come from her book At Gettysburg, Or What A Girl Saw And Heard Of The Battle.

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