Nurse at the Battle of Gettysburg
Erected in 1886, this monument to the First Massachusetts Infantry Regiment is south of Gettysburg on the Emmitsburg Road, where the regiment fought during the battle. It depicts a skirmisher stepping over a rail fence with Seminary Ridge in the background. At that time the Peter Rogers house stood just to the south of this monument.
The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in as many as 40,000 deaths, laid waste to the town’s structures, and prompted many of its civilian population of 2,400 to hide in cellars, holes and ditches. Fortunately, several Gettysburg residents remained in the fray to feed the hungry soldiers soon to be engaged in battle and to care for those who had already fallen.
At the time of the battle, the Rogers farm was just south of town on the west side of the Emmitsburg Road, midway between General George Meade‘s line of battle on Cemetery Ridge and General Robert E. Lee‘s line on Seminary Ridge.
There was a one story log farmhouse on the property, which was the home of Peter Rogers, his wife Susan and their granddaughter Josephine Miller, a single woman twenty-three years of age. Peter Rogers is said to have stayed in the house during the battle while his wife Susan took refuge east of the Round Tops. Josephine stayed behind with Peter during the fighting, baking bread and carrying water to the thirsty soldiers.
On July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle, Josephine was in the kitchen baking bread. A Union officer later wrote that he told Josephine to leave home immediately, but she had bread baking in the oven, and said she would stay until it was done. It appears that she continued to bake for the troops until the battle was over.
Troops of the First Massachusetts were stationed around the Rogers farm that hot July day, and they devoured the bread so quickly that Josephine decided to stay and bake another batch. After the fighting was over for the day, she remained at the farm, caring for wounded Union and Confederate soldiers.
Like other farms on Emmitsburg Road, the house was struck by several shells, and dead soldiers covered the ground. It was considered a miracle that she survived the many flying bullets.
The First Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was commanded during the Battle of Gettysburg by Lieutenant Colonel Clark B. Baldwin. It brought 384 men to the field, losing 16 killed, 83 wounded and 21 missing.
A monument to the First Massachusetts Regiment was to be dedicated in Gettysburg in July 1886 on the Peter Rogers farm. When the veterans of that regiment learned that the Rogers couple had passed away, they asked about Josephine. They learned that she had married William Slyder in October 1863 and moved to Ohio.
The veterans insisted that Josephine attend the ceremony and paid her fare both ways. She was introduced to the veterans of the First, who greeted her with three hearty cheers, and presented her with a gold corps badge. Josephine was remembered for her tireless service to their regiment and others by baking bread, carrying water and tending to the wounded.
When the men of the First discovered that stove was still in the house where she had baked bread during the Battle of Gettysburg, they carried the stove from the house and placed it beside the monument, and a photograph were taken of Josephine Miller Slyder standing beside the stove.
In a reunion address at Gettysburg, General Henry Slocum made this statement:
The great artillery duel which shook the earth for miles around did not drive her from her oven. Pickett’s men, who charged past her house, found her quietly baking her bread and distributing it to the hungry. When the battle was over, her house was found to be riddled with shot and shell, and seventeen dead bodies were taken from the house and cellar, the bodies of wounded men who had crawled to the little dwelling for shelter.
Josephine Miller Slyder died on January 9, 1911. Her obituary appeared in the Gettysburg Compiler on January 25, 1911:
Mrs. Josephine Slyder, wife of W. J. Slyder and one of the heroines of the Battle of Gettysburg, died on Monday, January 9, at Troy, Ohio. Death came after an illness of twelve years, caused by rheumatism, during which she was unable to walk. She was aged 74 years.
When the monument was dedicated several years ago by the Veteran Association to whom the work of Josephine Miller at the battle was best known, they brought her here as the guest of honor, in her crippled condition from rheumatism. The interment of Mrs. Slyder was at Troy, Ohio. She is survived by her husband, a daughter and a son, Mrs. Rose O’Conner and Melvin Slyder of Garrett, Indiana.