The Fahnestock Sisters

Samuel and Susan Fahnestock had two daughters and three sons that lived to adulthood. The daughters came first, sandwiched around a brother who passed away in infancy. What we know of their lives is limited to what can be traced in public records, and those are slim, but the evidence shows a close-knit family with sisters who had a particularly tight bond.

Born in 1819, Caroline Elizabeth Fahnestock was the oldest in family, and her patience with and concern for her siblings are clear in the scant records we have of her. Like most of Gettysburg’s residents, the Fahnestocks were swept up in the aftermath of the battle, and the family’s store became the major supply depot of the US Sanitation Commission. The family no doubt played a large role in helping with the storage and dispersal of supplies, and the Fahnestock women almost certainly helped in the various nursing activities required for weeks after the battle until all the wounded were evacuated to Camp Letterman.

In the months following the battle, a number of residents died from ancillary battle effects. In some cases, people accidentally set off unexploded ordinance; in other cases, people became mysteriously ill and died—in the latter cases, residents frequently blamed ongoing exposure to chemicals used in embalming.

We don’t know if such was the case for the unmarried, forty-five-year-old Caroline, but sometime around February or March 1864, she fell ill. In the following months, it must have become clear that her illness would be fatal, for she altered her will. In doing so, she named her brother Edward as executor and bequeathed all her physical belongs to Louisa Catherine, her sister. Further, she named Louisa the beneficiary of any money that might come from her father’s estate upon his passing, and she named Louisa’s son, Edward, as a beneficiary or a portion of money should he outlive Louisa.

On August 31, 1864, Caroline succumbed to her illness. The town’s vital records noted that Caroline passed “[a]fter a sickness of six months which she bore with Christian resignation and cheerfulness.”

The disaster of the battle and the loss of her beloved older sister were hardly the only tragedies Louise Fahnestock Cox endured. Louise was born in 1822, just one year after her older brother was born then passed in infancy. Her older brother was named Louis, and it is likely that Louise was given her name in honor of the sibling she would never know.

In 1844, when Louise was twenty-two, a young doctor from Lancaster joined a medical practice in Gettysburg.

The practice was located just a couple of blocks from the Fahnestock store and home, and soon, Louise and Dr. John A. Cox were seeing each other. In 1847, the couple married, and within a year, their first son arrived. Nodding to the tight-knit Fahnestock family, the couple named the boy Samuel Fahnestock Cox. Another boy would follow in 1850, and he got his father’s name, John. John did not live to adulthood, and the lack of records about him suggests that he may have died very young. In February 1852, Louise gave birth to another son, and in this case, the boy would get her brother’s first name and her husband’s name as a middle name. But in October of the same year, tragedy struck again—young Samuel took ill and passed away.

Starting in 1853, sons Harry, James, and Thomas would follow, one every other year. The family, which had apparently lived for at least some of the years with Louise’s parents, moved to Philadelphia. The young family may have hoped to leave behind painful memories, and Dr. Cox surely hoped to grow his medical practice. Instead, war swept the land, in 1863 Gettysburg was utterly changed, and in 1864, Louise’s beloved sister passed. If that wasn’t difficult enough, eighteen months after the war’s conclusion, Dr. Cox suddenly became ill, deteriorated quickly, and died.

Newly widowed, mourning, and caring for young children, the grieving Louise returned to Gettysburg where she would raise her boys amidst family and friends. Even this would not be without its sorrows, for Louise would outlive all of her children except John.

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