Dec 102012

by William James Satterlee

My first interest in the Civil War was sparked by my grandfather as we worked together on his farm about 150 miles northwest of Gettysburg.  He related how his father, about fourteen at the time, was working in a deep ditch on July 2 and 3, 1863.  He became aware that as he rested his head against the rocks in the side of the ditch he could hear a strange intermittent rumbling sound.  This continued the afternoon and evening of the 2nd, and was considerably louder and constant on the afternoon of the 3rd to the point that he need not place his head against the side of the ditch to hear the rumblings.  Some of the neighbors reported that as they raked wheat stalks and then knelt to tie the bundle resting the rake handle upon their head, that they too had heard this strange rumbling that resembled cannon fire through the wooden rake handle.  Being in the wilds of Jefferson County, it took about five days for the news to reach them that a great battle had been fought at Gettysburg, far away from them.

I always wondered if this story could possibly be true.  As I have studied the Battle of Gettysburg, I have found many accounts given by educated, upstanding citizens that indeed verify this phenomenon.  A group of people having a late supper at the hotel of a Mr. Hay, at the eastern base of Chestnut Ridge in Ligonier Valley, Westmoreland County, could hear the cannonading clearly.  Some reported that as they resumed their journey to Somerset, the sound became even more clear.  A straight line distance to the hotel of Mr Hay from Gettysburg was about 140 miles.

Hundreds of people along the south-eastern border of Westmoreland County reported hearing the battle sounds very distinctly.  This came as no surprise to some of them since they had heard the sounds of the battle of Manassas throughout the same locality.

The mystery is that these folks heard the battle so distinctly, while few people in Chambersburg and Greencastle, only a few miles from the battle, heard any of the battle sounds at all.