Family’s Flight From Gettysburg Battle Recounted
EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) – Regarded as a key Civil War event, the Battle of Gettysburg raged during the first three days of July 1863.
The battle’s 150th anniversary has come and gone, but for one Monroe County family’s ancestors whose home was destroyed in the conflict, remembering the lasting impact is just as important.
“My paternal (great-) greatgrandparents spent months rebuilding their farm after the battle,” said Fred Walter of Cresco.
“Years after the war, they sued the U.S. government for farm supplies, household items and other losses suffered, but the government told them they had to prove the damage was caused by the Union Army,” he said. “Since their farm had been destroyed as a result of the Confederate advance, and since the Confederacy was not part of the U.S. government, they had no grounds on which to sue.”
Descendants of settlers who had sailed from Germany to Philadelphia in the 1700s, the Trostle family owned 134 acres of land on which sat their farm ravaged in the Gettysburg battle.
Abraham and Catharine Trostle lived there with their nine children, who were ages 3 to 15 when the Confederate advance forced the family to flee their farm.
Walter’s great-grandmother, Mary Trostle-Walter, was the youngest of the children.
Sold to the government in 1899, the former Trostle farm is now part of a Civil War historical site.
Sitting with his 91-year-old mother in her East Stroudsburg home, Walter read excerpts from his 2009 book, “Lewis and Mary at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
Taking 10 years to research, the book features historical military documents, information from publications on the battle, old pictures and Mary Trostle-Walter’s viewpoint, which she passed down to her descendants.
All are woven into a chronological account of Trostle family life before, during and after the battle.
The 1881 wedding photo of Gettysburg natives Lewis Walter, who was 6 when the battle occurred, and Mary Trostle-Walter, appears on the book’s front cover.
Fred Walter, 68, grew up hearing the stories passed down from his great-grandmother Mary about the family having to leave their farm on July 2, 1863, the battle’s second day.
“George (the oldest of the children) jumped up, and Momma grabbed us kids and started out the door and down the steps to the wagon and horse,” Walter’s book quotes Mary as saying.
“Everything happened so fast. It seemed like a blur. Momma was crying, but was strong at the same time. Off we went in the wagon, bumping up the farm lane toward the woods road.
“All around were soldiers dressed in blue with guns, wagons, cannons and horses,” states Mary’s account.
“Momma swears she saw (Union) soldiers sitting at our table in our house, eating the food she made for us. Big Brother George stayed behind with Papa to take care of the animals.”
Walter looked at pictures in the book, taken shortly after the Confederates were repelled from the area the day after the farm was ruined.
One picture shows the Trostle family’s barn surrounded by dead horses, which the Confederates had shot to prevent the Union soldiers, trapped in the barn, from pulling cannons into defensive positions.
Another picture shows the barn from another angle, where a hole from a Confederate cannonball is visible in one side and remains to this day.
Information from “Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide,” one of several publications the book cites, states: “On July 3, 1863, (the day after the Trostle farm was destroyed), (Confederate General Robert E.) Lee ordered Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett and his all-Virginia division to prepare a most desperate attempt to defeat the Union Army on the far ridge. Forward they went into a chaos of exploding shells that dropped men at almost every step.”
What came to be known as “Pickett’s charge” ended in disaster for the Confederates, who retreated back south afterward.
The book then tells Mary’s account of the family returning home and seeing “bullet holes in the house, outbuildings knocked down.”
“It was July 6, 1863,” Mary says. “In four days, our farm and house went from a general’s headquarters to a battlefield to a hospital. Lewis returned with his twin brothers and his parents. Everybody wanted to help.”
After selling the farm in 1899, the Trostles and some of their descendants stayed nearby while others moved away.
Walter, his mother and three of his four children visited the former farm for the first time about 15 years ago.
“A ranger who lived on the property as an employee of the historical site invited us into the old family house when we introduced ourselves,” said his mother, Mary Jane Easton-Walter, descended from Union Army Capt. Hezekiah Easton.
“We had heard the stories of what happened when the family had to leave during the battle, but to actually be inside the house for the very first time and see the bullet holes still there was a privilege.”
For Fred Walter, “exploring how our family was part of something that had such a significant impact on history, for them, their neighbors and the nation as a whole, gives a sense of appreciation.”