a day in the life

Lydia Zeigler

The day before Union General John Buford famously climbed the stairs of the Seminary Cupola, a 13-year-old girl gazed out over the western horizon from the same vantage point and saw the Confederate campfires glowing in the distance more than eight miles away. Little did that girl know what the next three days would bring to her town of Gettysburg.

Lydia Catherine Zeigler, who lived in the Seminary’s Schmucker Hall as the daughter of the school’s steward, referred to the spring and summer of 1863 as a time of great anxiety and fear. Rumors ran through the town daily warning of the Confederate invasion. As she wrote in 1900, “the enemy were close at hand.”

Farmers, she writes, would flee with their horses to a place of safety and merchants would either ship their valuable goods away for securely hide them. “So day followed day, each seemed to bring fresh trouble.”

In late June, Zeigler stood on the steps of the Seminary and watched as Confederate soldiers marched along Chambersburg Pike, into Gettysburg and to the Seminary looking for concealed Yankees.

“A more ragged and unkempt set of men would be hard to find,” Lydia wrote.

After learning that the building was a school, “a guard was placed around it, and we felt perfectly safe.” Zeigler recalled that only a few items were destroyed by the Confederate soldiers that day – “a few cars containing government supplies which were burned and also the railroad bridge.”

The next day, the southern troops – or as Lydia calls them, “our unwelcome guests” – left to capture Baltimore or Washington.

Shortly thereafter, “regiment after regiment of our own men” arrived in Gettysburg and set up camp. “We gave them a royal welcome.”

Lydia recalled the morning of July 1, 1863 with great vividness. “The sun shone in all its splendor over the wheatfields which were of a golden hue and ready for the harvest. All nature seemed to be offering praise to God for his manifold blessings.”

The morning’s calm beginning was broken at 8 a.m., Lydia wrote, when an ominous sound – presumably that of the Union soldiers firing upon  the approaching Confederates along the Chambersburg Pike - rattled through the countryside – a call to battle.

Lydia refers to that moment as one that “struck terror to the hearts of all who heard it.”