Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Peach Orchard - Will the Real Joseph Sherfy Please Stand Up?

The Peach Orchard at Gettysburg is understood by military historians to be significant in this particular battle for the Confederate breaking of the Union line. Under General Sickles the Union line had been drawn from the Devils Den, anchored at the Peach Orchard and then drawn up Emmitsburg Road. A map always helps, so here is one courtesy of Wikpedia.

One of the things I appreciate about Gettysburg, so long as I don’t arrive there behind 43 coach loads of boy scouts (!) is the sense you get of what impact the battle had, not just on the soldiers, but the community as well. There is something about the way the battlefield is preserved that engages you, at all sorts of levels. That “something” is assisted by the way the National Parks have attempted to keep things as they were in 1863. So the Wheatfield has an impact born of souls you seem to be able to touch. The Peach Orchard gives you a similar sense, of being on the farm as it was. You take a peach and eat it and keep half an eye on the farm house just in case Joseph Sherfy appears, brandishing his shotgun.

Joseph Sherfy was the owner of the Peach Orchard. Larger then than it is now, Joseph also grew apples and operated a cannery here. A label here from one of his cans.

But Sherfy for me encapsulates all that you wonder about Gettysburg and those who lived on the battlefield. He got his wife and five children away from the place before the shooting started. But in the course of the three days troops ransacked his house, used it as a shield, and thereby drew fire onto it. His fences were destroyed and his barn burned to the ground (where most things head when they burn!). And his fields were covered with dead and dying soldiers.

What on earth did he make of all this? Did the State of Mississippi make good the destruction? Confederate Brig. General William Barksdale had assaulted the Union line there? A naive question of course – but did he get any repatriation from anywhere at all? Did anybody? What did Mrs Sherfy find when she came home? What trauma did the children experience? Did they arrive back home before their fields were clear of the broken and rotting bodies – they bloated pretty quickly in the heat. Did anyone help them repair? What hellish horrors did Joseph find in the ashes of his burned barn?

I can’t seem to find anything about Joseph and his family after the war. They seem to have been fused into the background story of Gettysburg. The war moved on. We remember the heroic and move on as well. Their house is a monument but we don’t enter it with our imagination – just as we don’t really enter all the others that are scattered over the battlefield. A useful marker and that is about all.

One warm afternoon I stood with Andre and ate peaches from The Peach Orchard. It was a still hot day and there were no other visitors on the field. That helped us cast our imagination as far as we dared. I know it has been replanted, and these trees are not those that he tended. But we fancied we were eating Joseph Sherfy’s peaches. And as we ate we looked around the trees and wondered at the soldiers that sniped here, observers that watched here, artillery that blasted here and men that died here - and wondered at the family that was blighted here by those three days in July.

Follow up post on Sherfy family...


marymaddux6272 said...

Though-provoking reflection on the people behind the history. I wonder what did happen to the Sherfys. The impact of such great loss is really incomprehensible.

Ray said...

Joseph Sherfy had one son named Raphael, who too had a son named Raphel, who moved to Washinton, D.C.
and he too had a son my father, who had me Rapheal IV (I go by the III because my Great Grand father died when grandfather was very young.

There are 1607 Sherfys, Sherfeys, and Sherfig (original German) at last count (not all present) at family reunion in Westminster, Md.

I have 3 cousins, 3 sisters, 4 neices and nephews. We visit the Gettysburg location frequently, and Frederic Sherfy lives in nearby Dillsburg, Pa. (google Fred Sherfy Gettysburg Photography)

My impression is there is NO Glory in War, confirmed by Vietnam and the trials we live thru now.

Raphael Sherfy III (IV)

Tom said...

I'm also a great-great grandson of Joe Sherfy, through one of his daughters. Our story is that great-great grandma (Mrs Joe) and great grandma, who was a girl at the time of the battle and later married Benjamin Brumbaugh, gave out bread to the Union troops on the way to the battle on day 1. Great-great grandma supposedly got to sit on the podium with President Lincoln when he gave the Gettysburg address. She was so embarassed about being up there with all the bigwigs, she flipped her apron up over her face. I haven't seen photographic evidence of this though.

Tom Rafetto