As Gen. Robert. E. Lee marched the Rebel army back to the South and thousands of dead and wounded littered the fields of Gettysburg, news of the fate of Northampton County's 153rd Pennsylvania infantry regiment was slow to reach home.
The first reports on the great battle appeared in the weekly edition of The Easton Sentinel, published July 9, 1863, six days after the fighting ended, though Gettysburg was just 100 miles away from the 153rd's home county. Under the headline "Cheering News" the paper proclaimed a "glorious victory" for Union forces under Gen. George Meade.
But tucked underneath the accolades came sobering news on Northampton County's own men. Recognizing that "a most intense anxiety prevails throughout the county" to learn what happened to the regiment, the Sentinel published what it acknowledged was an "imperfect list" of casualties suffered July 1-3 at Gettysburg, 150 years ago.
The newspaper said it got the list in a telegraph from "Friday last," which would have been July 3.
It had nine names — four captains and five lieutenants. Killed was "Capt. Harrison Young, Moorsburg." Of the rest, one was missing and six were wounded. And perhaps most agonizing for family and friends was the confusion over the exact identity of the last officer on the list — "Lieut. Arther (likely Capt. Oerter)" — and his unknown fate.
Even more chilling for those awaiting news of loved ones and the fortunes of the regiment was a letter from "young Hayden of this Borough," who reported he and about 80 others were captured during the fighting on Barlow's Knoll just north of Gettysburg, and he does "not give even a guess at the loss the regiment sustained."
A week later, on July 16, The Easton Argus published what it believed to be a complete list of 19 who were killed. Modern historians put the number much higher — they believe 53 from the regiment were killed, though some may not have died until later that month.
As family members eventually learned the fate of their beloved soldiers in the weeks after the battle, some rushed to Gettysburg to tend to the wounded and search for the missing.
George Schlabach, 64, of Bath, got information that his 22-year-old son Benjamin had been wounded and captured by Confederates. He immediately went to Gettysburg, where Benjamin was being treated.
By the end of the month, Benjamin Schlabach was dead, according to research by Center Valley author Jeff Stocker.
While news of Gettysburg was slow to reach home, it was even slower to reach Alfred Pretz of Allentown, a private in the 47th Pennsylvania regiment.
Desperate for news about Gettysburg, Pretz wrote home from Key West, Fla., where his regiment was located.
"How would you like to be without the war news for sixteen days, if the battles to be fought were expected to take place on the soil of your native state?" Pretz wrote on July 18. "We have not heard a whisper of anything that has transpired since July 2. The latest that we know is that two Corps of the Army of the Potomac attacked the rebels outside of Gettysburg and that General Reynolds was killed in the engagement — But we do not know how that battle even ended."
Gettysburg was the last battle for the 153rd, which had left Easton nine months earlier nearly 1,000 strong. It would return home by the end of July 1863 with about half as many men.
The members of the 153rd who survived Gettysburg joined the rest of the 11th Corps in pursuit of Lee's troops. They made it as far as Hagerstown, Md., before being sent home on July 13 because their nine-month enlistment had ended.
In camp at Hagerstown, Col. Leopold von Gilsa bade farewell to his men just 10 days after they played their part in the Army of the Potomac's greatest victory of the war.
Raised almost entirely from Northampton County, the regiment had its baptism of fire at Chancellorsville, Va., where Confederate forces rolled up the Union's flank — including the 153rd's position — in a complete rout that led to the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania.
The invasion ended at Gettysburg, where the 153rd suffered great casualties in some of the earliest fighting outside of the small college town, but never allowed Confederates to break the Union flank.
On July 13, 1863, von Gilsa, who had served in the Prussian army in Europe before emigrating to New York where he played and taught piano, told his men to be proud of their service and to take care of each other.