Civilians in Gettysburg and surrounding area were impacted greatly by the war 150 years ago. Much has been written about Jennie Wade and John Burns, two citizens of Gettysburg, but few know about Charles W. Griest.
Charles W. Griest was a 31 year old Quaker who lived and farmed in Petersburg, what is now York Springs. The following article, which appeared in the Gettysburg Times in December of 1985, describes the important role he played during the Battle of Gettysburg.
ANOTHER CASUALTY BESIDES JENNIE WADE AND JOHN BURNS?
"Legend has it that there were two civilian casualties during the entire battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 ---- Jennie Wade and John Burns.
Recent research, however, has now added the name of a third civilian casualty of this monumental battle. The victim was Charles W. Griest, a dispatch carrier for Governor Andrew Curtin and General Darius Couch, both of whom were in Harrisburg during the days preceding the Battle of Gettysburg.
On the morning of June 30, 1863, Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania sent a dispatch with one of his dispatch carriers to be delivered to the Army's headquarters at Gettysburg. Upon reaching Petersburg, now York Springs, the dispatcher heard the tremendous cannonading and refused to go any further.
Realizing the importance of delivering these dispatches local citizen Charles W. Griest volunteered to take charge of the aborted mission.
Aware of the danger of possible detection, Griest found a hollow cornstalk, inserted the dispatch into the hollow, and closed it with the pith he had removed. If by some chance he came upon marauding Confederates, he could easily throw the stalk without creating suspicion.
Griest arrived in Gettysburg at approximately 3 p m and immediately approached Col. Josiah H. Kellogg, 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, encamped on the grounds of Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) College. Upon his receipt of the dispatch, Kellogg directed Griest to personally deliver the dispatch to General John Buford. After Buford read the dispatch he ordered Griest to remain and help his forces with 'decoy duty' and to serve as a guide for the division. That evening Griest stayed with his long time friend, Col. John H. McClellan, a prominent Gettysburg resident.
Above: Post Civil War photo of Griest mounted on a horse.
The next morning, July 1, 1863, Griest was in the midst of the fighting along with the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, carrying dispatches between Seminary Ridge, Culps Hill and the Alms House Farm (Poor House Farm).
It was at this latter location where his horse was shot and fell on him seriously injuring his left leg and ankle. To his misfortune he would carry the effects of these wounds for the rest of his life. After the Confederates drove the Union Army through town the wounded Griest was seen riding his bloodied horse "Lew" in an attempt to retreat to the safety of his home in York Springs.
At about 10 p m Griest arrived at the residence of Philip Myers, in New Chester approximately eight miles from the battlefield. Myers provided Griest with water and a bandage for the wounded ankle. Myers noticed that Griest's horse was badly injured and bleeding profusely. At this point Griest inquired as to the location of the 'rebels' and the possibility of getting through enemy lines to return to his farm. Myers assured him that there would be no obstacle preventing him from a safe return home.
Charles W. Griest was born on Feb. 2, 1832 outside of York Springs in Latimore Township. Griest a Quaker by birth and a farmer by trade chose not to serve in the military. However, Griest did perform a valuable service as the secretary for the Underground Railroad in his area..."
The Gettysburg Times - December 14, 1985 Bob Cooke
Charles W. Griest’s link to Gettysburg history did not stop there. Prior to attending the National Cemetery dedication ceremony, President Lincoln stayed at the home of prominent Gettysburg resident, David Wills. As a friend of David Wills, Charles was invited to ride to the ceremony with Mr. Wills and the President. After the ceremony concluded, Mr. Wills gave the saddle cover used by Mr. Lincoln to Charles. The Griest family remained in possession of the cover until the 1930’s when it was sold to the Battlefield Museum by his son, Charles J. Griest, who was the owner of Griest Park and Racetrack in York Springs. The cover is now on display at the Wills House on the Square in Gettysburg.
After the war concluded, Mr. Griest applied for a pension due to the injury he sustained during his service to the Union. That application included an affidavit from a veteran of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, 2nd Brigade of Colonel John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division.
Charles W. Griest is the ancestor of Friends of Gettysburg member Carole Williams, currently of Fairmont, WV. Our thanks to Carole for submitting her ancestor to appear on Great Task.