Well, the Joseph Sherfy story is starting to piece itself together. The material is a little thin at this point but the Library of Congress has been helpful, so too some resources at
This is by no means definitive or necessarily confirmed in every detail but some of the story is coming together and as it does so I will keep you informed. I am interested in the human story of Joseph and his family and the impact the
Apparently the farm was owned, and the farmhouse built by Joseph’s father, Jacob. A sense of the effort it took to build the place can be gained by understanding that 250 cartloads of stones were used in its construction. The farm originally extended over Little and Big Roundtop. And Jacob’s holding originally included the Rose Farm, some being of the understanding Jacob gave that farm away as a wedding present.
Apparently, before the battle Joseph and others, drove their stock to a point on the south east side of those two hills and successfully hid them from both armies. So not everything was destroyed. However as some of those at militaryhistoryonline.com point out farmers, including Sherfy lost miles of fencing and looking after stock after the battle must have been a challenge.
Apparently Joseph and Mary Sherfy had seven children. Their names were Rafael, Otelia (spelt Ophelia in the 1870 Census), Mary, Anna (Annie in 1870), and John. In 1870 Earnest is added to the family, born in 1861, and Fannie was born in 1866. At least three went on to become teachers. According to the 1860 United States Federal Census Joseph was 48, making him 51 at the time of the battle, and his children’s respective ages 20, 17, 15, 11, 10 and 2. Sherfy himself was one of eleven children, nine of whom survived beyond infancy. It would seem that the family were part of the Brethren faith and, as with many of those congregations up and down the Shenandoah were staunch pacifists.
Some sources hint that Joseph Sherfy was a “Reverend” but I have yet to determine if that is the case. An index of all pastors and ministers in the
In other parts of the country and at later times large numbers of Sherfys appear as Baptist Clergy. And in a war notorious for pitting brother against brother it is interesting to learn that two Tennessee Sherfys were Reverends – one fought for the south and one for the north. Their uniforms sit side by side in a museum in
“Every dwelling and farmyard left behind in the wake of the withdrawal by Longstreet’s troops had been ransacked. Notably Joseph Sherfy’s brick house on the
Joseph and his son returned on the 6th, the rest of the family the following day. It would not be too much of a stretch to guess that the Sherfys came back to find their home was a carnage house, with blood now black and congealed, body parts and gore through the house. “Filth of every description” should probably be read as a polite euphemism for human offal, refuse and other waste. Photos attest to the bloated bodies left in their fields.
To make matters worse the their barn which burned down still contained the charred of those burned alive in there. A member of the 77th NYI Referring to Sherfy’s barn burnt by cannon fire on 3 July 1863: “As we passed the scene of conflict on the left was a scene more than unusually hideous. Blackened remains marked the spot where, on the morning of the 3rd, stood a large barn. It had been used as a hospital. It had taken fire from the shells of the hostile batteries, and had quickly burned to the ground. Those of the wounded not able to help themselves were destroyed by the flames, which in a moment spread through the straw and dry material of the building. The crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies lying half consumed among the heaps of ruins and ashes made up one of the most ghastly pictures ever witnessed, even on the field of war.”
This is all getting a bit morbid I suspect. But imagine these people with their teenage family (and younger) coming home to confront and clean up this mess. We understand the people of Gettysburg, due to stench from the dead animals, men, blood, piles of amputated limbs, carcasses from the animals butchered by soldiers, outhouses and sinks (latrines) filled to capacity “most everyone walk around with a bottle of pennyroyal or mint oil” to alleviate themselves from the noxious odours and that many folks were unable to open their windows until the effects of frost and cold weather arrived (thanks Ed). That gives us some idea of what the Sherfys would have had to tolerate. What impact did this have on the kids?
So imagine if you will the appalling things this family confronted. Bloody quilts. Their clothes and fittings bloodied and scattered in bloody heaps across their yard and through their house. Blood covered floors and walls. Stinking carcasses. Severed limbs. Human offal. Life could hardly ever be the same. There is more to the Peach Orchard than eating those peaches!
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