Mary McAllister

The McAllister sisters, Mary and Martha, were daughters of Daniel and Mary McCullough McAllister. Daniel’s brother James was a farmer and miller, whose anti-slavery sentiments were known in the region. In fact, McAllister’s Mills, near the dam on Rock Creek, were stations on the Underground Railroad, where escaped slaves took refuge on their way to freedom.

the home of Mary McAllister at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg
The home of John and Martha Scott and Martha’s sister Mary McAllister on Chambersburg Street, directly across from the Lutheran Church. Mary volunteered as a nurse at the church, which was being used as a hospital.

At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the McAllister sisters lived in the store at 41 Chambersburg Street that was run by Martha’s husband, John Scott. On the morning of July 1, 1863, forty-one year old Mary McAllister handed out cups of water to Union soldiers as they raced down Chambersburg Street toward the battle.

Later that day, she saw many of those same men staggering back up the street toward town. She had already assisted one wounded officer into the Scott house when a neighbor suggested they go over to the church to assist the growing number of wounded there. She wrote:

I gathered up sheets and water and Mrs. Weikert and I went to the church and we went to work. They carried the wounded in there as fast as they could. We took the cushions off the seats and some officers came in and said, “Lay them in the aisles.” Then we did all we could for the wounded men.

After a while they carried in an awfully wounded one. He was a fine officer. They did not know who he was. I never knew who he was, but he died. Well, I went to doing what they told me to do, wetting cloths and putting them on the wounds and helping.

Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and the arms and threw them out of the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.

There was a boy with seven of his fingers near off. He said, “Lady, would you do something for me?” The surgeon came along and he said, “What is the use doing anything for them?” and he just took his knife and cut off the fingers and they dropped. Well, I was so sorry.

A man sat in a pew and he was young and white (pale from shock). He said, “Lady, come here. Do you know if there is a Mason in town?” I said, “Yes, there is one Harper, a printer, but he has left town and I know no other.” “Oh!” he said, “If only I could get to him!”

But I was too scared. The church was full and just then a shell hit the roof, and they got scared, and I was scared. I wanted to go home. I looked around for Mrs. Weikert. They said, “They are going to shell the church!” Well, they begged me not to go, but I went out, and there the high church steps were full of wounded men, and they begged me not to try to cross the street. Our men were retreating up the street. Many wounded ones who could walk carried the worst wounded ones on their backs. I said, “Oh, I want to go home.” So they let me go at last.

I struggled through the wounded and the dead and forgot the horror in the fright. I was as far up as Buehler’s drug store before I got across the street and got home. When I came to the door, it was standing open, and the step was covered with blood. I could hardly get through, for the dining room was full of soldiers, some lying, some standing. Some ran in to get out of the shooting.

The rebels were sending grapeshot down the street, and everyone who was on the street had to get into the houses or be killed, and that is the way some of these Union men got into our house.”

Colonel Morrow of the 24th Michigan, was in our house. I saw the blood on his face for he had been cut on the head with a sabre, and I said: “Can I do anything for you?” He said, “Yes, if you would just wash this handkerchief out.” I rushed out to get water, and I washed it out and laid it on his head.

There was a young Irishman in there, too. His name was Dennis Burke Dailey, 2nd Wisconsin. He was so mad when he found what a trap they were in. He leaned out of the kitchen window and saw the bayonets of the Rebels bristling in the alley and in the garden. I said, “There is no escape there.” I opened the kitchen door and they were tearing the fence down with their bayonets.

This young Irishman says, “I am not going to be taken prisoner, Colonel!” And he says to me “Where can I hide?” I said, “I don’t know, but you can go upstairs.” “No”‘ he said, “but I will go up the chimney.” “You will not,” said the Colonel. “You must not endanger this family.” So he came back. He was so mad he gritted his teeth. Then he says to me, “Take this sword and keep it at all hazards. This is General Archer’s sword. He surrendered it to me. I will come back for it.”

I ran to the kitchen, got some wood and threw some sticks on top of it. The Iron Brigade was the one that captured General Archer and made him give up his sword. This Dailey was the only officer and General Archer would not give it to a private. So Dailey stepped up and said, “I am next in command!” and he took the sword.

Colonel Morrow says to me “Take my diary. I do not want them to get it.”‘ I did not know where to put it, so I opened my dress and put it in my dress. He said, “That’s the place, they will not get it there.”

Then all those wounded men crowded around and gave me their addresses. Then this Irishman, he belonged to the 2nd Wisconsin, said, “Here is my pocketbook, I wish you would keep it.” Afterward, I did not remember what I did with it, but what I did was to pull the little red cupboard away and put it back of that.

In the meantime, Martha had gone upstairs and brought a coat of John’s. She said, “Here, Colonel, put this coat on.” But he would not take the coat she brought him. He would not stoop to disguise himself, and he gave the others orders that they were to give their right names when they were taken prisoners.

Then, there came a pounding on the door. Colonel Morrow said, “You must open the door. They know we are in here, and they will break it.” By this time, the Rebels came in and they said, “Oh, here is a bird!” He was such a fine looking man. But they just demanded his sword. He had a beautiful sword.

They paroled some. There was a young man there from Michigan, the same as Colonel Morrow. He said, “Do write to my mother. I am slightly wounded, but I guess they will take me prisoner.”

That Irishman [Dennis Burke Dailey], he was so stubborn. He was a Major then. He stood back so very solemn. Then they took him prisoner. He asked them to let him come back into the house. Then he said to us, “Give me a piece of bread.” Martha said, “I have just one piece and that is not good.” He said, “It don’t make any difference, I must have it. I have not had anything to eat for 24 hours.” Then the Rebels took him.

Then the Rebels said, “Those that are not able to walk, we will not take; we will parole them.” But they said to these wounded men, “Now if you ever get to fight you know what we will do.” But the wounded ones did not pay much attention to that. Then they took away as prisoners all that could walk. The next thing then was to get these wounded fixed.

Five surgeons came in and one of them said, “Now if you had anything like a red flag, it would be a great protection to your house, because it would be considered a hospital, and they would have respect.” Well, Martha thought of a red shawl she had. She got it and I got the broom, and we hoisted the front window and were just fixing it on the broom when six or seven Rebels came riding up the street firing and yelling.

Well, we did not know what we were doing. They halted at the church to say something to the wounded men on the high church steps who had gathered themselves out of range of the firing, and in a few minutes, a pistol went off and we saw they had shot a man. He was down then and when we looked, he was lying with his head toward us on the pavement. And those men on the steps said, “Shame! Shame! That was a Chaplain!” Those on horseback said, “He was going to shoot.” But the wounded men said, “He was not armed.” They had a good many words and then they rode off again, shooting as they had come.

A few days after the battle, Mary McAllister was revisited by some of the grateful men who had sheltered in her home on Chambersburg Street. She wrote:

Someone came in and said there was a man on horseback, wanted to see me. Here was (Judge) David Wills with a man on horseback. He said, “Miss Mary, don’t you know me?” I looked at him a little and I said, “No-o! You do look a little like Colonel Morrow, but the Rebels took him.”

“Why,” he said, “God bless you, I am Colonel Morrow, safe and sound, and I called for my diary. I am going on to join the army. They are going on toward Frederick and I want to catch them.” I said, “Tell me how you got away from them.”

Well, they took him to the college and took away his sword and everything, but he said he found a surgeon’s sash and tied it on, and went among the soldiers. He went among the wounded and attended to them. When it came night, he thought he would come to our house, but he got lost and came to the square to the Wills house and they hid him, and after the battle he came to see me.

He said, “Now you know I had no coat and no sword.” “I have a sword here and it belonged to General Archer. You can have that one. It is a pretty sword.” That was a bad way to keep a trust.

“But,” I said, “you must promise me if ever you meet this man [Dennis B. Dailey, who originally captured Archer and took the General’s sword], you must promise to give it to him.” “Yes,” he said, “on the honor of a soldier and a gentleman, I promise to give it to him.” So he buckled on this sword and went away.

(Two days later) here came another man. I did not know him at all. He was carrying a gun and had an old hat on. Martha looked at him and said, “Why look here, you were taken prisoner!” It was Dennis Burke Dailey, 2nd Wisconsin. Well, I was scared. The sword flashed on my mind at once.

He said, “I have come for the sword.” I said, “I thought you were in Libby Prison and maybe they would come back and take me, and I gave it to Colonel Morrow.” Well, he did not seem to blame me, but he looked so disappointed. Then Martha said, “Come in and we will give you something to eat.”

He said, “Yes, I will. I am hungry. I had nothing to eat since that piece of bread you gave me. They took me to the mountain and they all were tired out, and they came around and gave each of the prisoners a little flour, but we had nothing to cook it with, and I took out my piece of bread and ate a little.”

Well, he said he watched the guard and after a while his gun sank down, and the man went to sleep. Dailey said he rolled over once to see how it would work. He said he never heard so many sticks crack in his life. Then he rolled a little more, over rocks and briars. He rolled and rolled until he came to a big log and there scraped up the leaves. He said he would have given anything for water, but he ate a little bread and there, under the leaves, he went to sleep. In the morning, he could hear nothing, but was afraid to move. He laid there all the next day. He knew those troops had gone on, but he first heard firing and then rumbling. That night, he passed further off.

The second day he came to a stream, and there he got water and that was so good. That night, he got into a wheat field and lay there all the next day and was afraid to go out for fear he would be captured, and had nothing to eat but dry bread. He was nearly famished. He said, “I met a man when I got into the country where I could trust people. This man had been wounded and he said our men had all gone toward Frederick to get ahead of the Rebels at the Potomac River.”

After I told Dailey I gave the sword to Colonel Morrow, I said, “What else did you give me?” “I gave you my pocketbook,” he said. “Now, while you are eating, I will hunt for it,” I said, “but I know no more about it than you do.” I hunted until I was worn out.

“Now,” he said, “don’t worry. You will find it, maybe, sometime; and I will come back when the war is over.” Martha went out to the kitchen and pulled the dresser away. The pocketbook was there, all mouldy. Then he got ready and, with that old musket, he started off. In a few days, I got a letter from him. He had got General Archer’s sword from Colonel Morrow.

By the Fourth of July, the two exhausted armies faced each other, and Lee’s army began its slow retreat back to Virginia. Lee had believed that his invasion of the North would relieve the pressure on Vicksburg, the strategic city on the Mississippi River. But during the retreat, Lee was informed that General Pendleton had already surrendered Vicksburg to General U.S. Grant.

McAllisters at Gettysburg

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