The old Methodist Episcopal Church Parsonage is located at 304 Baltimore Street, on the east side of the street. It was purchased in 1857 for $970 by the Methodist Episcopal Church. The structure has a cannonball stuck in its west wall. This view was taken facing east at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
A cannonball is now stuck in what, at the time of the Battle of Gettsyburg, was the old Methodist Episcopal Church Parsonage. Living there at the time of the battle was the Reverend George Berkstresser and his family. The house is on Baltimore Street, across from the James Pierce House.
As we do with many local history questions, we went back to look up an article by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Smith that he wrote for the Adams County Historical Society Journal in 1996. Tim is also a research assistant at the historical society, and his article in that year’s Journal (Volume 2), “A Tour of Gettysburg’s Visual Battle Damage,” presents a good overview of the buildings which we have been featuring over the last couple of weeks. We highly recommend that you pick up a copy at the Adams County Historical Society on Seminary Ridge in Schmucker Hall, or order a copy ($6.95) from the Adams County Historical Society. Click this link for their online giftshop.
This map shows the buildings with visible battle damage that we will be featuring over the next couple of weeks. We have marked the locations with red stars. #1 is the McClean House at 11 Baltimore Street. #2 is the Wills Building at 9 York Street. #3 is the John Kuhn House at 221 North Stratton Street. #4 is the Crass Barbehenn House at 218 North Stratton Street. #5 is the David Troxell House at 221 Chambersburg Street. #6 is the Carrie Sheads House at 331 Buford Avenue. #7 is the Samuel Schmucker House on West Confederate Avenue. #8 is the Gettysburg Academy Building at 66 and 68 West High Street. #9 is the old Methodist Parsonage Building at 304 Baltimore Street. This map was created at approximately 6:00 PM on Sunday, January 4, 2009.
In 1863, the Reverend George Berkstresser (1807-1896) lived here with his wife, Anna Catherine Horn (1818-), his sons Joseph Berkstresser (1841-), Watson Berkstresser (1843-), Quincy Berkstresser (1845-), and his daughters Laura Berkstresser (1850-) and Anna (1853-). This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
George Berkstresser was 55 years old at the time of the battle and was a preacher on the Methodist’s Circuit. He and his family would only stay for a few years in one place. In fact, they were merely at Gettysburg from 1862-1864. He originally joined the ministry from the Baltimore Conference in 1836, and was back at Gettysburg in the East Baltimore Conference near the end of his career. He lived with his son in Dadeville, Alabama, from 1889 until he died in 1896. Of George Berkstresser it was said, “He was as nearly without faults as men get to be.” This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
The Reverend George Berkstresser served at 19 known locations during his career as a Methodist minister:
1. 1836-1837 New Bloomfield
2. 1837-1838 Mifflin
3. 1838-1839 Beaver Meadows
4. 1839-1840 Bellefonte
5. 1840-1842 Danville Circuit
6. 1842-1843 Sunburry
6. 1843-1845 Shrewsbury
8. 1845-1846 Bedford
9. 1846-1848 Warrior’s Mark
10. 1848-1850 Newport
11. 1850-1852 Clearfield
12. 1852-1854 Penn’s Valley
13. 1854-1855 Lewistown Circuit
14. 1855-1857 Cassville
1857 He was a charter member of the East Baltimore Conference
15. 1857-1859 Woodbury
16. 1859-1860 York Springs
17. 1860-1862 Shrewsbury (2nd Time)
18. 1862-1864 Gettysburg
19. 1864-1865 Rainsburg
1865 George Berkstresser retired for the first time
1868 He was a charter member of the Central Pennsylvania Conference
1876-1880 He was officially “on leave”
1880 He retired for the second and final time
The daughter of James Pierce, Matilda Jane “Tillie” Pierce, who lived across the street from the Methodist Parsonage wrote that on July 1, 1863, “a little girl was standing at the second story window of the house opposite ours. She had the shutters bowed, and was looking down into the street at the confusion below. Suddenly a shell struck the wall just beside the shutter, tearing out a large hole, and scattering pieces of brick, mortar and pastering all around the room in which the little girl was standing…” This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
“…It entered and struck some place in the room, rebounded and fell out into the street… The litle girl who had the narrow escape referred to, was Laura Bergstresser (Berkstresser), a daughter of the then Methodist minister at Gettysburg… So terrified was she at what had happened that she ran over to our house for safety…” It should be remembered that Tillie Pierce wrote this account 26 years after the battle. Although she keeps referring to Laura Berkstresser as a “little girl,” Laura was in fact, thirteen years old, two years younger than Tillie was at the time of the battle. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
Tille Pierce’s account continued with Laura Berkstresser at the Pierce’s house: “… The soldiers in the house told her that it was a stray shot and might never happen again. Being assured that she was just as safe at her own home, she ran back to her parents. When this shell struck, a brother of the little girl, lay in a room close by, very low with Typhoid fever. Through the open doors he saw it enter and go out of the building.” This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
One of the Berkstresser sons would later write, “A shell struck the parsonage over the second-story window, throwing quite a quantity of brick and mortar into the room. My sister Laura was standing at the window. The shell rebounded into the street, and is now, I think, cemented in the wall.” This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
We need to make clear that the wall on the front (west) side of the house is not the wall that was here in 1863. The front wall now in place was added around 1910. The new (1910) bricks can easily be distinguished from the original bricks on the home in this photograph. This view was taken facing north at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
So the cannonball/shell was placed in the original wall of the house, and then removed and placed in this new wall. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
This is a Confederate explosive spherical ball that appears to have been defused. It would have been fired from a 12-pounder Napoleon. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
While the Berkstresser account stated that “The shell rebounded into the street, and is now, I think, cemented in the wall,” the Tillie Pierce account is a little different. She stated, “Another ball is now placed in the wall to mark the place where the first one struck.” So Tillie is saying that this is not the same projectile. Both accounts say that the shell was later placed in the wall since the original one bounced out the window. This view was taken facing east at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
The Berkstresser son account stated that “rebel sharpshooters occupied the roof of the parsonage during the battle, thus drawing the fire of the Union forces. Some years after, when balls of carpet rags that were hanging in the garret were unwound, many bullets were found…” This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
The home didn’t suffer too much damage during the battle. When the Methodist Church submitted a damage claim to the government in October, 1863 for this building, the total requested was $12.46. They were reimbursed. This view was taken facing north at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
While we will post other features on homes with battle damage, this is our final post on structures containing artillery shells in the Borough of Gettysburg. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.
We will leave you with Tillie Pierce’s thoughts about artillery shells stuck in Gettysburg’s buildings: “I am here reminded of the fact that many persons while walking or riding past this place, and having their attention called to this shell sticking in the wall, neatly encased in brick and mortar, think that it has been there just as it arrived on the first day of the battle. Shells were not quite so tidy in introducing themselves at that time.” This view was taken facing north at approximately 3:00 PM on Saturday, January 3, 2009.