Dec 25



The Carrie Sheads House at 331 Buford Avenue was built by Elias Sheads (or his daughter Carrie) to be a residence, and a school for his daughter to instruct young ladies. It has 12 rooms, and during the battle of Gettysburg it served as a hospital. The Gothic structure has an artillery shell sticking out of the bricks near the top of the south wall. This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.

The Adams Sentinel reported on July 18, 1859 that Edward McPherson “sold three acres at the foot of the [Oak Ridge/Seminary] ridge between the Chambersburg Pike and the railroad for $135/acre to Caroline S. Sheads, who intends building thereon.” The Carrie Sheads House was completed in March, 1862 to not only be a residence, but to host the Oak Ridge Seminary for Girls. The home is located at 331 Buford Avenue (Chambersburg Pike during the Civil War) on the foot of the east slope of Seminary Ridge. The Sheads Home has an artillery shell near the top of its south wall, and was the scene of an interesting encounter between Union and Confederate soldiers on July 1, 1863. We photographed the house on an icy Christmas Eve.



The 1860 federal census showed that Elias Sheads was “white,” a Coach Maker, and that he lived in the same dwelling and was part of the same family with Mary Sheads (1825-), born in Pennsylvania; Louisa Sheads (1837-), born in Pennsylvania; David Sheads (1840-), born in Pennsylvania; Elias J. Sheads (1841-1864), born in Pennsylvania; Robert Sheads (1844-), born in Pennsylvania; Jacob Sheads (1846-1864), born in Pennsylvania. Elias Sheads’ real estate did not have a value and his personal estate had a value of $75. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



So it is somewhat interesting to note that Elias Sheads, who on the 1860 census didn’t claim to own any real estate, and who had little personal property by 1862, had built this structure for his daughter. The 1860 tax records for Gettysburg do not show him owning any real estate, or taxable personal property with the exception of one cow, valued at $12.00. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Carrie Sheads did not appear on the 1860 federal census for Gettysburg because at that time she was living in York, Pennsylvania. She was an instructor of music and French in York’s “Cottage Hall College.” This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



One of Carrie Sheads musical students was her cousin, Salome “Sallie” Myers (1842-1922) who would become one of the best known diarists of 1860s Gettysburg. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



On June 25, 1862 Carrie Sheads, the principal at her private school offended Sallie Myers, a teacher at the public High Street School. Sallie wrote, “On that afternoon she used very insulting language to Beckie [Belch] and me, because we happened to be teachers in the public school and dared to defend ourselves and the [school] Directors to the best of our ability from slander and malice.” Carrie told Sallie and Beckie that when it came to hiring practices of teachers in the Gettysburg Public Schools, “quiet, sensible girls that could behave themselves were rejected and flirts and upstarts were retained.” This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



For the rest of the summer Carrie and Sallie rarely spoke, but by September, 1862, Sallie was again taking music lessons from Carrie. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Carrie had four brothers who joined the United States Army. Elias J. Sheads and David Sheads eventually enlisted in Company F of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in 1861. David Sheads would be stricken with what was believed to be tuberculosis while in the service. David Sheads would be discharged in March, 1862, and “came home to die.” Elias J. Sheads would be mortally wounded at the Battle of Monocacy, Maryland. Elias Sheads had “both feet shot off, and died in an ambulance that picked him up on the battlefield.” This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Robert E. Sheads survived the war as a member of Company K, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves (30th Infantry), and of the 190th Pennsylvania. He was discharged after his enlistment was finished in 1864. One source has Robert wounded at White Oak Swamp and being an invalid the rest of his life. Elias Sheads’ youngest son, Jacob James Sheads, wanted to join the army, but Elias wouldn’t let him because he was not old enough. Jacob “ran off” in February, 1864 and joined the 182nd Pennsylvania Infantry where he died in camp of measles that October. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



On June 30, 1863, Carrie Sheads school was in session when word came that Confederates were approaching Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Pike. The students were dismissed and some began to walk towards the town. When they reached the area where the Chambersburg Pike became Chambersburg Street, a small group stopped “to wait and see if the Rebels were really coming.” When some Confederates topped Seminary Ridge, the girls ran east on Chambersburg Street, “never halting for steps, mud or anything else.” They ran into the lobby of the Eagle Hotel at the corner of Chambersburg and Washington Streets for safety. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



To the left of the window near the lattice work is an artillery shell sticking out of the bricks. Confederate pickets were said to have advanced as far as the Sheads house/school. They retreated back to the west on the approach of John Buford’s cavalry. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Some of Buford’s cavalry encamped in the area of the Seminary that night, and on July 1, 1863, Carrie Sheads called off school so that the girls could go into the camps to talk with and assist the tired and hungry troopers. This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Carrie’s school had local students and also boarding students. They stayed in the house for safety when the fighting began, and the wounded began coming into the house. One source states that Carrie went from being the principal of a young ladies seminary to the superintendent of an army hospital. This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



One of the last Union regiments to leave the first day’s battlefield that afternoon was the 97th New York, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wheelock. Wheelock and his men found themselves almost surrounded by Confederates as they entered the grounds of Carrie Sheads’ school. Wheelock stood on the steps with a white handkerchief and attempted to surrender by waving the handkerchief. The Confederates either did not see this signal, or chose to ignore it, and continued to fire on the 97th New York. Wheelock opened the front door, and asked Carrie Sheads for a large white cloth. The Confederates saw this larger cloth and ceased firing. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Wheelock was exhausted and went down to the cellar to rest. A Confederate officer entered the home with a detail of men and declared that he would show the Union prisoners, “Southern grit.” He and his men began to take the Union officers’ side arms. Wheelock was determined to break his sword, but it was too strong, and the Confederates demanded that he hand it over. This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Wheelock declared that he would never surrender his sword to a “traitor” while he lived. The officer drew a revolver, and told Wheelock that if he did not surrender his sword, he would be shot. Wheelock stood straight, tore open his uniform, “bared his bosom” and told the Confederate to shoot, but that Wheelock would guard his sword with his life. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Elias Sheads, Carrie’s father, stepped between the two soldiers, and begged them not to be rash. Elias Sheads was pushed away, and the Confederate officer repeated his threat. Carrie Sheads then stepped in and begged the Confederate not to kill someone who was almost helpless. She stated that enough blood had been shed that day, and wondered why should another defenseless victim be added to the list of casualties. She also turned to Wheelock begging him to surrender his sword and save his life because if he was shot he would lose both, and the government would lose a valuable officer. Still Wheelock refused saying, “This sword was given me by my friends for meritoriuos conduct, and I promised to guard it sacredly, and never surrender or digrace it; and I never will while I live.” This view was taken facing east at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



At that moment, the Confederate officer’s attention was diverted by the entrance into the home of other prisoners. While he was distracted by them, Carrie unclasped Colonel Wheelock’s sword from his belt, and hid it in the folds of her dress. When the southern officer returned, Wheelock told him that he was willing to surrender, and that another Confederate had taken his sword and left the room. The Confederate believed him, and Wheelock fell in with the other Union prisoners to be marched to a holding area. Notice the ice on the tree limbs in this shot. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



As the prisoners were being marched off, Carrie called to the rebel officer and told him that there were 72 wounded soldiers in the house. She asked him to leave her some of the prisoners to look after the wounded. The officer said that he had already left three, but Carrie insisted that three wasn’t enough. The Confederate then told her to select five men, except for commissioned officers. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Asa Hardman of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry, one of the captured Union soldiers who helped nurse the wounded, would later recall that that during the night of July 1st, “Never while I live shall I forget that awful night! To hear a dozen poor fellows calling in God’s name for a drop of water, while at the same instant I held the head of another on myh knee trying to force a few drops down his fast clsoing throat, is a found when once heard can never be forgotten. ‘but it was not thsoe who clamored loudest who received our first attention. We learned to listen for the low, half-smothered groan, the long drawn fluttering sigh, the quick convulsive gasp, followed by the death rattle. The light was too dim to tell the blue from the gray, had we wished to, so both were treated alike.” Hardman would later marrie Carrie’s sister, Louisa Sheads. This view was taken facing south at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



On July 2nd and 3rd, the adults and children attempted to calmly work on the wounded. During the battle, this building was struck by projectiles in more than 60 places, and two artillery shells completely passed through it. After a while the occupants became accustomed to the fighting south of town and during lulls in the battle would walk out to observe the actions in the area of Cemetery Hill. The wounded would remain in this building “for many days” after the battle. Buildings at the Lutheran Theological Seminary are in the right background. This view was taken facing south at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Tim Sheads and his wife Debbie, now own the Carrie Sheads House. Tim’s father was “Colonel” Jacob M. Sheads, who was a Gettysburg High School History teacher. As a National Park Service employee, “Colonel” Sheads took President John F. Kennedy on a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield in March, 1963. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Their Sutler store is behind the house. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



It was closed when we visited Wednesday afternoon. The store carries a variety of clothing and equipment for reenactors. Their website is http://www.ss-sutler.com/. This view was taken facing north at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



As Lieutenant-Colonel Wheelock of the 97th New York was being led away as a prisoner over South Mountain, he escaped and eventually made his way back to Gettysburg. He arrived at the Sheads home on July 8th, and Carrie gave him his sword. Wheelock would be promoted to Colonel and would die of “camp fever” in Washington, D.C. in January, 1865. This view was taken facing south at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Elias Sheads’ wife Mary, and his daughter did not live long after the battle. The family believes that the hard work with the wounded, and the stress or losing family members and having family members disabled by the war finally led to their deaths. Elias Sheads was remembered as “a lonely broken hearted old man.” This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.



Because of the toll that the war took on the family, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens recommended that Carrie Sheads and her sister, “Lizzie,” be given clerkships in Washington, D.C. Lizzie worked in the “dead letter office” where she remained until her death on March 5, 1914. Carrie worked in the Treasury Department where she was the highest salaried female clerk at the time of her death in 1884. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:00 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.

See the following related posts:

Leap Day Friday at the High Street School on February 29, 2008.
Gettysburg Diamond Christmas Lights on December 8, 2008.
Christmas Wreaths in the National Cemetery on December 9, 2008.
Some Christmas Decorations at the Nicholas Codori House on December 17, 2008.
Christmas Decorations at the Alexander Dobbin House on December 18, 2008.
A Couple of Christmas Decorations at the Henry Baugher House on December 19, 2008.
Christmas Decorations at the Gettysburg Academy on December 21, 2008.
Christmas Decorations on the Shriver House on December 22, 2008.
Some James Pierce House (Tillie Pierce House) Christmas Decorations on December 23, 2008.
Sweney House (Farnsworth House) Christmas Decorations on December 24, 2008.


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