“I will never forget the retreat. It was something terrible. No human words can describe it, and no one who was not on the scene can realize it...The orders came at 4 o’clock for everyone to go to the cellars. We stayed in ours for two long hours and I will never forget them. Some of the retreating men went through our house, and the noise above our heads, the rattle of musketry, the screeching of shells and the unearthly yells added to the terror and cries of the women and children, were enough to shake the stoutest heart. Never were there more fervent prayers borne heavenward.” -Sallie Myers, age 21, describing the Union retreat through Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.
This young local citizen tried to describe in words the terror that she and others felt on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, but like she said, “…no one who was not on the scene can realize it…” Much has been written of the military history of that day, but few have explored what it must have been like for the citizens who on that day experienced the raw realities of war on the very streets in front of their homes. We cannot go back in time to truly know what they went through; we now can go through a very realistic encounter with what it was like in a unique one of a kind exhibit at the Adams County Historical Society’s new Beyond the Battle Museum that focuses on the civilian experience of battle. While the Beyond the Battle Museum covers centuries of Adams County history both past and present, the impact of the Civil War on this county and its local citizens cannot be ignored. Here visitors can feel what that impact was like.
As you walk through the museum, you move through Adams County history from pre-historic times to the present. In the midst of it all is this exceptional, immersive multi-media display called “Caught in the Crossfire” that for a thrilling and gripping few moments takes you into the living room of a home in the town of Gettysburg as Confederates troops drive retreating Union soldiers through the streets. This isn’t a display of pictures and written words. In fact, the exhibit displays a disclaimer, “May be disturbing for some visitors.” In that room you can feel the floor shake, hear the yells of fleeing men and those that pursue them, see and hear bullets impact and penetrate the outer walls of the house, listen to artillery shells scream overhead and explode, and overhear a terrified family as they hide in their basement attempting to comfort each other and escape the ravages of war as it passes by their front door.
Andrew Dalton, executive director of the museum and the county historical society, said of the ‘Caught in the Crossfire’ immersion: “We wanted to make it really authentic. … We really felt like we shouldn’t water it down. These people deserve to have their story re-created as close to how we think it actually was."
The Adams County Historical is committed to continue telling the under-told story of civilian life where we live in Adams County as local people did during centuries of native American peoples, European settlement, Revolutionary War, population growth, the Civil War, and modern times. The museum, located at 625 Biglerville Road, Gettysburg, is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is free parking, wheelchair accessibility and a gift shop featuring books, souvenirs, and locally made goods. For ticket information, visit www.achs-pa.org.