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Shriver House offers glimpse into Gettysburg history

Gayle Underwood gives visitors a tour of the Shriver House Museum in Gettysburg Tuesday.
Gayle Underwood gives visitors a tour of the Shriver House Museum in Gettysburg Tuesday. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

GETTYSBURG, Pa. - More than 130 years after the Civil War, Nancie Gudmestad walked into a home built in the 1800s that had been empty for 30 years.

She had aspirations of teaching tourists about those who lived in the town during the Civil War. Gudmestad said she had plans to teach a little bit about many of the civilians, but when she discovered the house, plans changed.

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Gudmestad said while the house was being restored, she and her husband picked up a floor board and found six silver bullets, three of which had live ammunition in them. A crime scene investigator sprayed luminol, which is used to find blood, and found two huge pools of blood underneath the openings where brick was taken from the wall.

A mason tapped at the brick with a tool and holes where Confederate sharp shooters pointed their guns from the home were discovered.

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Gudmestad began looking at the Adams County Historical Society for records on the house and family. As she researched, the family's story became fuller and fuller.

Right in downtown Gettysburg George and Hettie Shriver lived with their two daughters, Sadie, 7, and Mollie, 5, during the Civil War.

George Shriver, son of George Lewis Shriver, inherited a farm with a whiskey business at the age of 15 after his father died. He married Henrietta at the age of 18, and by 1860, the couple purchased a home in Gettysburg. George intended to open a bowling alley and saloon from the home.

In April 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 more men to help fight in the Civil War.

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"A few months go by, the business was ready to go, but the war was still waging on," Gudmestad retold.

By the end of the summer in 1861, George enlisted in the war. Years passed, and by June 1863, the town was swirling with rumors of soldiers coming to Gettysburg, she said.

The rumors happened so often that merchants and townspeople stopped paying attention to them, she said. By the end of June, when Union troops rolled into the town by the thousands, for many of the families it was too late to leave. They had two choices: To stay or to try to make it just outside of town.

Hettie Shriver took her neighbor, Tillie Pierce, and her two daughters just outside of town to her parents' home, a farm that sat right below Big Round Top and Little Round Top.

"It was about the worst spot that they could pick," she said.

Later, Pierce wrote her experience in a book called "At Gettysburg, or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle," which Gudmestad said was instrumental in piecing together the Shrivers' story.

During the battle, the noise of the gunfire was so loud the family had to scream just to speak to each other. When the fighting stopped, surgeons set up operating tables around the farm, she said.

After helping the wounded, Hettie decided to go back home with her two daughters and Pierce.

"Fences had disappeared, some buildings were gone, others ruined. The whole landscape had been changed, and I felt as though we were in a strange and blighted land," Pierce wrote in her account.

In the town, there were 7,000 dead men and 5,000 dead horses, Gudmestad said. The stench didn't leave the town until nearly Thanksgiving, and could be smelled all the way from Harrisburg, she said.

The house was trashed when Hettie returned. It was being used by surgeons to help those hurt in the battle.

Before the fighting stopped, Confederate soldiers used the attic to sharp shoot out of holes they made in the brick walls, which Pierce retold in her book. Pierce's father, who stayed behind, saw the sharpshooters outside of his window.

"[It reminds] us that we are on the battlefield. People forget that it is every square inch of this house, this town, this room. We are standing on the battlefield at this very moment," Gudmestad said.

It was several more months before Hettie saw George Shriver again. On Christmas in 1863, George visited the home for four days before he had to report back to duty.

Three days later, he was captured by Confederate troops and sent to Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

His saloon and ten-pin alley never opened, she said.

Gudmestad said that she researched everywhere from the historical society to

to find information out about the Shriver family. While tourists often don't focus on the civilians who lived in Gettysburg at the time of the battle, she said hair raising stories can be found from both accounts.

"I think most people think the military side is more exciting and glamorous," she said. "Nobody ever told the story of the people who lived here."

Years later, when Pierce's account was published, she wrote a conclusion on how Gettysburg had fared in the years after.

"Instead of the clashing tumult of battle, the groans of the wounded and dying, the mangled corpses, the shattered cannon, the lifeless charger and the confusion of arms and accoutrements, a new era of joy and prosperity, harmony and unity prevails," she wrote. "The struggle between human bondage and universal freedom, the desire to destroy this government and dishonor her flag, the cruel hatred of Americans toward each other, no more blurs our fair land."

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