Lydia Ziegler was only 13 years old when the Battle of Gettysburg erupted in her backyard. She and her family made their home on the first floor of the brick seminary building where her father, Emmanuel, and mother, Mary, worked as steward and matron, respectively. Decades after witnessing the clash of the two armies firsthand Lydia and her brother Hugh, ten years old in 1863, gave voice to the Ziegler family and their actions before, during, and after the fighting.
Lydia and Hugh initially exhibited curiosity and excitement on July 1. Hugh, enamored by the cavalry soldiers who camped behind the seminary, received permission to ride one of the horses to town for water. Lydia, who “had always desired to see something of a battle,” went to the fields behind the seminary to watch the action until “a bullet flew so near (her) head that [she] could hear the whizzing sound.” Sometime in the early afternoon, the Ziegler family fled Seminary Ridge, seeking refuge with a family member south of the Round Tops.
Following the battle, the Zieglers returned to home to a scene of unimaginable horror. Within the walls of the seminary building, parent and child alike tended to wounded soldiers. Lydia, standing in for an absent mother or sister figure, recalled “(h)ow often did I receive the dying message of a father or husband to send to his loved one whom he would never again meet on earth!” Victorian notions of death called for the individual’s family to be present to witness the final breath. With thousands of soldiers dying many miles from home, it fell upon surrogates, like Lydia, to fill that role. For two and a half months, the Zieglers lived among the wounded, ministering to their needs.
Around this time every year, the Ziegler family’s experiences remain at the forefront of my mind. As we welcome thousands of students who are roughly the ages of Lydia and Hugh in 1863, I can’t help but dwell on what they must have been feeling in the summer and fall of 1863. Their story brings a young person’s perspective to Civil War and provides an opportunity for students to place themselves in the shoes of an individual, their age, who unwillingly experienced a horrific situation. No one can fully comprehend the emotions that Lydia and Hugh experienced in the summer of 1863; however, we all have experience with the emotions of excitement, curiosity, sorrow, and hardship. If we can empathize just a bit with the Zieglers, maybe we can see differently the challenges that others today face.
I invite you to come learn more about the Zieglers. Seminary Ridge Museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and ACLS and YWCA cardholders receive half-price admission every day. Special gallery talks, walking tours, and living history programs take place throughout the week and are free with admission. This summer, we will be conducting free evening walking tours of Seminary Ridge on July 5, Aug. 9, and Sept. 6. Each different tour will look not only at what took place on these grounds, but how it affected the individuals who fought here, lived here, and worked here. Tours begin at 7 p.m. at the Peace Portico on the west side of the museum. Visit our www.seminaryridgemuseum.org for more information.