What Is True and Not True about Sadie’s Story

Three Different Versions of Sadie’s Story

Gettysburg Compiler, 1892

In this version of her story, Sadie heads out with her brother and dodges a cannon ball.

Hawarden Independent, 1902

In this version of her story, Sadie leaves by herself at 3 am, and her mother turns back because of the cannon fire on Cemetery Hill. Here, she also dodges the cannon ball.

Gettysburg Times, 1938

In this version, Sadie’s mother Catherine describes leaving in the daytime with all of the children and turning around because of her marriage vows. She sends the older children on and returns home with the younger children. Which group was Sadie in?

Comparing the three articles helps give great insight into the storytellers and their memories. The accounts differ in subtle but significant ways. In one version, Sadie is traveling with her younger brother. In another, she appears to be alone after her mother has turned back. In all of Sadie’s tellings, the roar of battle is everywhere. In her mother’s, they turn back to be together as a family and have a conversation on the way back with Jennie Wade.

What is true? First, it helps to know family background. If you look at this family group sheet, you find that Sadie was the fifth of ten kids and that one of her older siblings died in infancy. Sadie was neither an older child nor a younger child. Her mother noted that she sent the older children on and returned with the younger children. If Sadie went on at that point, she was not by herself and not protecting a younger brother, most likely.

However, notice that her mother also says that Mrs. Butt’s father looked after “Sarah, Margaret, William, and Joseph.” There is no separate Margaret–she means “Sarah Margaret.” Mrs Butt’s father is most likely one of the Deardorffs, and the home may be the John Deardorff house, which was also south of the battlefield. This suggests that Sadie did indeed make it to the southern end of the field. Her mother’s account also confirms that she was at one of the first field hospitals and that she became a “little nurse.” That field hospital is most likely the XII Corps field hospital at the George Bushman Farm.

Did Sadie really almost get hit by an artillery shell? It might help to track the timelines of fighting and to keep in mind that Sadie lived at 312 Baltimore Street–near the heart of town and a half mile north of Cemetery Hill. Studying animated maps and the timing of fighting on day 1, day 2, and day 3 can help you evaluate what Sadie and her mother say.

Sadie lived three miles from the George Bushman Farm–about an hour’s walk away. The only early-morning fighting of the battle was July 1, starting at 7 am, and it was northwest of the city, miles from Sadie. And if Sadie were walking south, she would have been moving away from the fighting of that day. If her mother left that day with the children, she may have indeed encountered Union cannon on Cemetery Hill in the afternoon.

If Sadie went back home with her mother, she may have indeed gone to bed that night and been awakened by her mother in the hours before daylight. Why? Late in the day, fighting took place in the streets and continued past dark until it quieted down before midnight. Could Catherine have brought Sadie back to the house only to change her mind and tell her to leave that night instead? That’s what the short story on this Web site supposes.

If that is what happened, then Sadie’s story of nearly getting hit by a cannonball would have happened between 4 and 5 am on day 2. That is if we believe the way the story is told in the accounts. The problem with that is that major fighting did not restart until nearly 4 pm after Longstreet’s infamous countermarch. Could Sadie have been down at the farm for hours before the shell incident? If it happened at all, that is much more likely.

One other possibility might be from the skirmishing occurring at the East Cavalry Field, ranging from the Rummel Farm to Wolf’s Hill. The first shots in that skirmishing were fired around 7 am on day 2. The distance to the George Bushman Farm is still a long shot, but at least closer.

If Sadie headed south on day 3, once again, fighting would not have commenced until nearly 1 pm.

What to make of these accounts? Is Sadie lying? In the Hawarden article, Sadie says her mother wound up giving birth to her baby sister in the cellar during the battle. This is demonstrably false. Eleanor Catherine was already more than a year old, and Mary Louise was still two years away. How to explain that? The Hawarden article appeared nearly forty years after the battle, and memories dating to our tenth year are notoriously unreliable. But of course, giving birth in the middle of the battle also makes for a better story. And compressing an encounter of an artillery shell with a frightful nighttime hike also makes for a better story.

Of course, fact-checking Sadie’s account against her mother’s might not be the best strategy, either. After all, Catherine’s account appeared in 1938–thirty-four years after her death, and though it is given as her voice, the article is actually written by her granddaughter.

And what to make of the interactions with noted doctor and embalming specialist? We cover Dr. Benjamin Lyford in his own page.

Back to Sadie Bushman from All Angles