This is a deceptively simple fictional rendering of a story in my family history. It’s meant to be coupled with the “The Littlest Nurse,” and then for further perspectives, you can learn far more at my page on Sadie Bushman. You might wish to read the actual primary sources, as well. It’s worthwhile to think about memory, how we build our own personal stories, what our motivations are, what happens to stories as time and narrators shift, and other such things.
The following are fictional interview notes that could have been taken by Mary Bushman Power Deardorff, granddaughter of Catherine Bushman, for an article published in the Gettysburg Times. The actual article was published in 1938, nearly twenty-five years after Mrs. Bushman’s death. The article was greatly edited.
MD: Tell me about the blanket in your lap.
CB: It is a friendship quilt. It has become one of my most prized possessions. Each patch was made by a different friend, and each wrote her name on it. There are also men’s names on it–people who were close to our family.
MD: It has a hole in it.
CB: Yes, it does. That is part of what makes it so special and part of what I want you to know before I give it to you.
MD: That’s very kind, Grandma.
CB: You were born at the end of our Civil War. And the fame of this town has gone around the world. People forget that the Rebels came through a week before the battle. When they did, they demanded a bounty. We all baked bread, and they took from many homes food stores, cattle, pigs, clothes, and valuables. A few days later, we got word that both armies were near the area and that they might meet at our town. We did not want to give up valuables that we had left. And Mr. Fahnestock, who ran the dry good store where our oldest child clerked, asked us to hide money, dried food, and silks and linens in our house for him.
MD: How did you get ready?
CB: We put things in boxes and put them in the dough trap in the chimney. We hid boxes under the bed ticks. We hid others under things in the cellar. We could not easily leave our house, and it is true that anyone who did wound up having almost everything searched and stripped from their house.
MD: So you stayed through the battle?
CB: It was hard to know what to do. Manuel did not want the children and me to stay. He insisted we go to the Bushman farm past McAllister’s dam, so as the battle was starting, I took all of the kids down the Baltimore Pike. We were just up on Cemetery Hill, and I looked back at our house. There was Manuel looking through an upstairs window by himself, and I just couldn’t bear it–we said in our wedding vows that we would be with each other through good and bad till death do us part. If he were to die during the battle, I wanted to be with him. I sent the older kids on to Grandma’s house and turned back with the younger kids.
MD: Who did you bring with you?
CB: I had all of them when we started out: John Henry, Samuel, Edward, Sarah, William, Joseph, and little Catherine who was about one year old. It was terribly hot, but we had wrapped ourselves in extra clothes so we could carry keepsakes and valuables, which made it worse. On the way back up to the house, I just had the smaller children, and we saw Jennie Wade in front of her sister’s house. Her baptized name was Mary Virginia, but she was always Jennie to us. She told us we were to come inside that instant, but I thanked her and told her we were going back to our house. That was the last time I saw her alive. She was killed while baking bread and is now buried on Cemetery Hill.
MD: Which of the kids went back with you to the house?
CB: Sarah Margaret and the three younger kids.
MD: That’s interesting. Auntie Sarah gave an interview in the Gettysburg Compiler a few years back. She said she walked to Grandma Bushman’s house in the middle of the night and that she took her younger brother with her. I always assumed that was William. But you took her back to the house?
CB: When was that article?
MD: 1892. A decade later, she gave another interview to the Hawarden Independent in Iowa and said that she was alone and that she started out from the house at 3 am.
CB: Well, I don’t know. It’s been forty years now. She and William and little Joseph did wind up being watched by your husband’s grandfather, Mrs. Butt’s father, out at the old Deardorff place near Hanover Road. She got out there somehow, though I don’t quite recall how. The little codgers all helped out at the field hospitals around there, you know. They used to call Sarah the little nurse. She never was bothered much by blood or that sort of thing.
MD: Auntie Sarah said she almost got hit by a cannonball and that a Dr. Lyford helped save her. Then she went with him, and she helped Dr. Lyford amputate a man’s leg.
CB: Dr. Lyford, the embalmer?
MD: I think that’s the same man, yes.
CB: He made an awful lot of money off of the battle, you know. He and a few other fellows were embalming the dead for months after. They got to charge just about anything they wanted. It was kind of a new thing in those times. To embalm the dead, I mean.
MD: Do you think Auntie Sarah really almost got hit by a cannonball?
CB: I don’t know about all that. There were problems for months after the battle with artillery shells. In November around the time Lincoln came to dedicate the national cemetery, the poor Frazer kid was watching someone try to open one when it exploded and cut him in half. Terrible stuff happened like that for a year or more after the battle. Maybe she’s thinking of something like that. I don’t know.
MD: She said it was on her walk down to Grandma Bushman’s farm.
CB: Well, let’s think about that. She and William and Joseph did make it down there. Ah! I think I know how that must have happened. It’s the story of quilt, actually! Or it fits with it anyway.
MD: Yes, sorry. Tell me that.
CB: Well, like I said, I had gone to take the children but decided against it. And we saw Jennie Wade, and then we went back to the house. The fighting got closer until we saw and heard shooting in the town and saw men from both sides running up and down the streets. That was night by then, and the fighting had come into town. There was too much shooting and cannon fire to do anything about it until late, but yes, that’s what we must have done. Because there was a lull way late at night. And it was much quieter, and Manuel and I knew that our men were coming up from the south. So that’s what we must have done.
MD: What’s that?
CB: I got up early to bake. I baked a big batch of bread and some cherry pies. I put them and our potatoes and mush out in the big bake oven in the large outhouse. I must have awakened Sadie and told her to follow the road down past McAllister’s dam to Grandma Bushman’s house. She must have gone with both of her brothers then, William and Joseph, else I don’t know how they would both be there when we met up later.
MD: You think it was two trips then? One taken by the older kids on the first day and one taken by Auntie Sarah and the younger boys?
CB: It has to have been because it got so dangerous after the first day of fighting. And it got really bad the next two days. Of course, I didn’t learn till later that it was as bad or worse south of town. I don’t know. Maybe your auntie did almost get hit by a cannonball. There was a lot of fighting out there. She certainly helped the wounded around Grandma Bushman’s place and around your in-laws’ place.
MD: I see. How does that fit with the quilt?
CB: Oh yes, the quilt. Well, the shooting in the town got very bad. The Rebels came through, and they wanted the bread and pies I had made. They offered to pay. I gave them what I could, and they acted like perfect gentlemen. A lot of people in town hated them, but I just kept thinking about how they were the sons of some poor mothers who were far away. I can understand it, though. Some of them killed poor Jennie, you know. There were sharpshooters over on her street–Breckenridge Street. But of course, she was staying at her sister’s house at the bottom of Cemetery Hill. But I am drifting again.
I don’t remember which day of the battle it was, but at one point, I put little Catherine down for a nap and then I don’t know what came over me. Manuel had bowed all the shutters and raised all the windows, even took some of the windows out–very expensive to replace.
Well, curiosity got the better of me. I went to my bedroom window and I said to myself, “Just one little peep.” That peep was almost my last! I cracked the shutter a smidge, and whack! A bullet hit the cornice just above my head! You would think that would teach me, but no! I opened it a little further and heard the rush of another bullet–how did it miss me!–just past me. And then a shower of bullets hit all around, and as it did, Manuel dragged me to the floor.
MD: Grandpa got you?
CB: Oh it was terrible. He was a big man, your grandfather. Tall as Lincoln. And he was white with rage and fear. He told me that it was bad enough to tempt Providence once, but twice was far too much and I deserved to be spanked. I nearly fainted from having upset him. But he hauled me out of that room and grabbed the baby and took us both to the basement.
MD: That is terribly frightening.
CB: Yes. I could have been the Bushman version of poor Jennie Wade.
MD: Where does the quilt fit in?
CB: Oh yes. Well, that second bullet? Guess where we found it. We found it embedded in the wood of that four-post bed, and it had pinned the pillow, the sheet, and this old quilt to it.
MD: Wow. The bullet that could have killed you.
CB: Yes, my dear. This quilt has always served as a reminder to me of God sparing me, and I say a little prayer of thanks every time I look at it. I do not understand His ways–why He took poor Jennie but left me. But I am thankful that I have lived to give you this quilt, my dear.
MD: Thank you, Grandma.
CB: Even today when I look at this quilt, I feel fainty. Remember, child, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; And a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.”