Authors: Lisa Klein
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General, #Historical
Two Girls of Gettysburg
In memory of Jan Reed,
and in gratitude for her son
For the first fifteen years of my life nothing remarkable happened to me, Lizzie Allbauer, a shy, plain girl growing up in the ordinary town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But all that began to change in the fall of 1860 when my cousin Rosanna McGreevey came up from Virginia to live with her widowed sister, Margaret, and her two little children on Baltimore Street. Rosanna was barely sixteen, with masses of curly black hair, flashing blue eyes, and a drawl that could charm a wooden plank, not to mention every boy in town. I set my sights on becoming her best friend.
Then, in November Abraham Lincoln was elected president, and the United States began to pull apart like a too-tight jacket ripping at the seams. South Carolina broke away, followed by Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida. People were saying a war was inevitable between the Union and this new country, the sinister-sounding Confederacy. With a toss of her black curls, Rosanna announced she would go back to Richmond if Virginia seceded. I prayed that wouldn’t happen. I waited anxiously for the rumbling of war to shake the ground and split our town of Gettysburg right in half, sending my pretty cousin southward again.
But that didn’t come to pass, not even after rebels attacked Fort
Sumter in April 1861 and war was declared. My papa, the town’s best butcher, still went to his shop every day, I attended the public school, and Mama kept house. At home I still bickered with my twin brother, Luke, and coddled Ben, who was eleven and still a little boy. In May, Virginia joined the Confederacy, but Rosanna did not go back to Richmond. She said she was too fond of me to even think about leaving. I was both relieved and delighted.
Life in Gettysburg continued on its usual course until a warm day in June 1861, the summer before I turned sixteen. I was lazing in a field near the brickyard with Rosanna, my head pillowed on my book, perfectly contented. Through half-closed eyes, I watched the clouds and sun battle in the sky. First the sun poured its warmth on us; then the wind blew the clouds across the sun, casting shade over us. Rosanna lay on her stomach, propped up on her elbows. In the sun’s brightness, she reminded me of an exotic flower blooming among the cabbages and potatoes of a plain kitchen garden. We seemed to grow happily together side by side, though we were as different as two cousins could be. And even after months of friendship, there was still much about Rosanna that was a mystery to me.
“Rosanna, do you ever miss living in Richmond?”
“Sometimes,” she admitted, tipping her head sideways. “But not when I’m with my favorite cousin.”
I smiled. “If you were back home, what would you be doing on a day like today?”
“I wouldn’t be sitting in view of the town brickyard, reading a book, that’s for certain! I might be strolling in the park, along walkways lined with flowers.” She sounded wistful.
“Then let’s go for a walk,” I suggested. “Evergreen Cemetery is as lovely as any park, with its paths and wrought-iron fencing.”
Rosanna laughed. “It’s a
Lizzie. It’s where
go.” She rolled over and laid her head on my outstretched arm, so that we looked up at the sky together. “You are too serious, my dear cousin. We must liven you up with an adventure.”
“I don’t see many opportunities for adventure here in Gettysburg.”
I felt disloyal saying this, for I was proud of my town. We had ten churches, three newspapers, eight hotels, and two thousand residents. We had a new railroad depot, a new court house, and gas lamps on the main streets. Still, in Rosanna’s presence I felt restless, for I had never traveled farther than the next county. Richmond, Virginia, seemed to me as exotic and distant as London, England.
“Well perhaps we can find you a fellow,” said Rosanna with a sly smile. “That would bring some excitement to your life.”
“No thank you!” I said. I could not imagine what I would even say to a boy. Rosanna, on the other hand, was a skillful flirt. The boys listened avidly to her Virginia accent and eyed her shapely bosom. My own blunt figure and straight, wheat-colored hair would never draw such attention.
“Some day you
thank me, Lizzie Allbauer.” She sat up and began to pluck at a daisy.
I often wondered why Rosanna had come to Gettysburg. Did she miss her sister that much? Did her parents send her? Rosanna’s father hadn’t even written, for he and my mother had fallen out years ago. But when Margaret’s husband, Joseph Roth, had died, Mama insisted on helping with little Jack and Clara, saying that we were all family.
“Don’t you miss your parents sometimes? And your Richmond friends?”
Rosanna pulled the petals from her daisy, one after the other.
“The girls at my old school were insufferable snobs. That’s why I
like you, Lizzie. You’re not at all pretentious. Plainspoken, I would say.” She looked at me with her eyebrows lifted. I had asked enough questions, I decided.
“We’ll be going to the same school this fall,” I said to change the subject. “Papa has agreed to send me to the Ladies’ Seminary so that I can study to become a teacher. You and I can walk to classes together!”
I looked expectantly at Rosanna. In the distance I heard the faint trill of a fife, high-pitched like the call of a bird. Rosanna held up a tiny fluttering petal.
“See?” she said in a triumphant voice.
“I see a piece of a mangled daisy. You’re not listening to me!”
“It’s proof that he cares for me.”
“Who?” I asked, curious despite myself.
“Why Henry Phelps, of course! Come, Lizzie. Let’s walk by the carriage shop. If he is working today, perhaps he will come out and speak to me.” Her blue eyes pleaded with me.
I groaned. “Last time we waited there, it was only the seminary boys passing by who gave you their attention. I could have died in my shoes, such foolish things they said to you.”
“If you’d only smiled, they would have noticed you too, Lizzie,” she said, pulling me to my feet.
Now the sound of the fife was louder, accompanied by the sharp, fast beat of a drum.
“Let’s find out why the band is playing,” I said. “Then we can go in search of your Henry Phelps.”
Rosanna agreed. We followed the sound toward the Diamond, the town square. People were coming out of their houses and shops as if called by the pied piper’s tune. I pulled off a handbill tacked to a fence.
A Call to Arms!
its wide black letters cried. The wind riffled the edges, nearly tearing it from my hands. At the town square, where the
Baltimore Pike intersected the east-west road between Chambersburg and York, a military band played. The gazebo was hung with red, white, and blue bunting. The wind made our skirts billow and threw men’s hats from their heads. A few heavy raindrops plopped into the dirt, even while the sun shone against the metallic gray blue sky.
“It’s a war rally!” cried Rosanna, breathless. “Do you see Henry here?” She balanced on her toes and scanned the crowd. “He would be so handsome in a uniform.”
I pretended to look for Henry Phelps, though I couldn’t understand why she was so wild about the boy. He was just one of my brother Luke’s rowdy friends. He worked, when he felt like it, to support his widowed mother and went to school only occasionally. I didn’t see Henry, but I saw Luke in a tree beside Mr. Swan’s shop, his legs in their too-short trousers dangling from the lower branches. He must have been shooting peas through a narrow reed, because I noticed a large woman rub her arm and look around her, frowning.
“If Papa saw that, he’d haul Luke out of that tree and whip him. He sure could use it,” I muttered.
“Lizzie, you’re always griping about your twin brother.”
“I can’t help it. Mama said we were fighting and kicking each other even before we were born.”
“Maybe you’ll get your wish, Lizzie. I see your father now.”
“It can’t be. He never leaves his shop during the day.”
Papa worked hard every day of the week except Sunday, in order to keep up his reputation. But there he was, standing near the gazebo, wearing a vest over his stained apron as if he had come in a hurry. Seeing him, I felt a surge of pride. Beside him was Amos Whitman, his hired man, who had once been a slave. The muscles in Amos’s arms were thick, his hair coal black. Papa, though he wasn’t yet forty, had gray strands in his hair, which used to be sandy like mine.
“You don’t see Mama, do you?” I asked Rosanna. “I hope she’s at home resting. And Ben is supposed to be doing his chores.” I looked around, but Mama and Ben were not in the crowd.
Mr. Kendlehart, the town council president, climbed the steps of the gazebo. He was followed by the recruits, who wore everything from tattered work clothes to their best suits. Some carried old muskets, swords, or pistols. While Mr. Kendlehart spoke, I watched the men, who didn’t seem to know quite how to react to the cheering crowd. Some waved while others stood motionless. I shivered as the sun disappeared behind a thick bank of clouds.
“Our noble cause, the cause of freedom, will endure. The Union will not be shaken, nor human rights abridged, not by the false claims and the foul wrongs of the secessionists!” Mr. Kendlehart shouted. Then the captain of the company, wearing a brass-buttoned blue coat, began his appeal.
“Step up now! Our company is in need of still more men,” he called. At the wave of his hand, the band played again. The bugler sounded off-key. The crowd moved like something thick stirred in a pot. Mr. Stover, the carpenter, stepped up, along with Samuel Pierpont. His mother owned the Ladies’ Seminary where Rosanna went to school—where I would soon study too.