Elizabeth Salome 'Sallie' Myers was born June 24 1842. She was a school teacher, who still lived with her family when the Battle of Gettysburg began. She was employed by the Gettysburg public school system as an assistant to the principal. Her father was a Justice of the Peace, and they were among the wealthier families of Gettysburg. Her family home on West High Street in Gettysburg was adjacent to the black section of town.
Sallie Myers later authored How A Gettysburg Schoolteacher Spent Her Vacation in 1863, first published in The Sunday Call newspaper in San Francisco, California in the summer of 1903.
Sallie wrote in her diary on July 1, 1863:
While our elders prepared food, we girls stood on the corner near our house and gave refreshments of all kinds to 'our boys' of the First Corps, who were double-quicking down Washington Street to join the troops already engaged in battle west of the town. After the men had all passed, we sat on our doorsteps or stood around in groups, frightened nearly out of our wits but never dreaming of defeat.Sallie had Sgt. Stewart moved to her home, a few doors down the street. She sat up all night in the stifling July heat, fanning her first patient, as his life slowly slipped away. He died on Monday, July 6.
At 10 o'clock that morning I saw the first blood. A horse was led past our house covered with blood. The sight sickened me. Then three men came up the street. The middle one could barely walk. His head had been hastily bandaged and blood was visible. I grew faint with horror. I had never been able to stand the sight of blood, but I was destined to become used to it.
Then came the order: 'Women and children to the cellars; the rebels will shell the town.' We lost little time in obeying the order. My home was on West High Street, near Washington [Street] and in the direct path of the retreat [of the Union Army].
We knelt, shivering, and prayed. The noise above our heads and from the distance, the rattle of musketry, the screeching of shells, and the unearthly cries, mingled with the sobbing of the children shook our hearts. Three soldiers crept down into the cellar, and we concealed and fed them.
After the Rebels had gained full possession of the town, some of our men who had been captured were standing near the cellar window. One of them asked if some of us would take their addresses and the addresses of friends and write to them of their capture. I took thirteen and wrote as they requested. I received answers from all but one, and several of the soldiers revisited the place of their capture and recognized the house and cellar window. While the battle lasted we concealed and fed three men in our cellar.
Before 6 o'clock the firing ceased and we came up from the cellar. They had begun bringing wounded and injured into town. The Catholic and Presbyterian churches, a few doors east of my father's home were taken possession of as hospitals.
Dr. James Fulton [143rd Pennsylvania Volunteers] did splendid work getting things in shape. From that time on we had no rest for weeks. 'Girls,' Dr. Fulton said, 'you must come up to the churches and help us - the boys are suffering terribly! I went to the Catholic church. On pews and floors men lay, the groans of the suffering and dying were heartrending. From that time on we had no rest for weeks.
I knelt beside the first man near the door and asked what I could do. 'Nothing,' he replied, 'I am going to die.' I went outside the church and cried. I returned and spoke to the man - he was wounded in the lungs and spine, and there was not the slightest hope for him. The man was Sgt. Alexander Stewart of the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers. I read a chapter of the Bible to him; it was the last chapter his father had read before he left home.
The sight of blood never again affected me, and I was among wounded and dying men day and night. While the battle lasted and the town was in possession of the Rebels, I went back and forth between my home and the hospitals without fear.Sallie Myers continued to care for patients until they were well enough to be moved to Camp Letterman, the large Union field hospital on the York Road east of Gettysburg.
The soldiers called me brave, but I am afraid the truth was that I did not know enough to be afraid and if I had known enough, I had no time to think of the risk I ran, for my heart and hands were full.
I went daily through the hospitals with my writing materials, reading and answering letters. This work enlisted all my sympathies, and I received many kind and appreciative letters from those who could not come. Besides caring for the wounded, we did all we could for the comfort of friends who came to look after their loved ones.The aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg was in many ways worse than the battle itself. People came out of their homes on Independence Day, the day of victory in 1776, four score and seven years before.
I would not care to live that summer again, yet I would not willingly erase that chapter from my life's experience; and I shall always be thankful that I was permitted to minister to the wants and soothe the last hours of some of the brave men who lay suffering and dying for the dear old flag.
The armies were leaving, but the wounded and dead remained, on fields, in houses, in barns, and in hospital tents. 21,000 wounded, perhaps 10,000 dead. Disinfectant powder was spread over the muddy streets, temporarily turning them white and adding to the smell.
In an attempt to control disease, kerosene was poured on the bodies of horses and mules—3000 to 5000 of them—and they were set ablaze. The odor of burning flesh dissipated after a while, but the smell of rotting carcasses would remain for months. The July days and nights were stiflingly hot, but windows were left closed to keep out the stench.
In late July, Sallie received a letter from Alexander Stewart's younger brother, Henry, who was a minister. The following summer, Henry and his mother came to Gettysburg. A romance developed between Sallie and Henry, and they married in 1867. Their marriage was brief. Henry died in the fall of 1868.
In February 1869, Sallie gave birth to her only child, a son she named Henry Alexander Stewart. He became a doctor and was one of the founders of Gettysburg's Annie Warner Hospital, and was also a local historian. He had the foresight to make typed copies of his mother’s diaries, preserving a wonderful source of the history she lived.
Sallie lived out her days where she grew up. She returned to teaching and supported herself and her infant son. She became involved with the National Association of Army Nurses, and served as its treasurer during the 1880s.
Sallie Myers Stewart died in 1922, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery on Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg.