A Woman's Courage: Josephine Miller at Gettysburg

by Diana Loski
Josephine Miller near the site where the Rogers home stood,   and the site of the 1st Massachusetts memorial, taken in 1886   (National Park Service)
Josephine Miller near the site where the Rogers home stood, 
and the site of the 1st Massachusetts memorial, taken in 1886 
(National Park Service)

July 2, 1863 was the worst of Gettysburg’s three-days of fighting.  When General Joseph Carr deployed his brigade of six regiments along the Emmitsburg Road according to orders from his corps commander, he was placing his men away from the main Union line and directly in peril.  His men had lost heavily in the recent Battle of Chancellorsville, where they had been positioned at the pivoting hinge of the fight.  On this summer’s day in Gettysburg, history was about to repeat itself with excessive casualties.

General Carr noticed grazing cattle in the open, sloping fields.  Because of earlier sniper fire in the nearby woods, some of the residents of the area south of Gettysburg had already vacated their homes.  Carr was surprised to find a young woman at the Rogers House, situated on the western side of the Emmitsburg Road.  Riding up to her, he implored her to leave.

Josephine Miller, a relative of the aged Peter and Susan Rogers, replied that she had bread in the oven, and as soon as it was baked, she would go. 1

Josephine Miller was born in Adams County on October 9, 1836.  Although the historical record is unclear of her parentage, she was likely the granddaughter of Peter and Susan Rogers.  In the summer of 1863, she was “a robust woman” at 26 years old, unmarried, and living at the Rogers home.  On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, sources differ as to whether the other members of the house vacated the home or remained.  One source related that Susan Rogers assisted Josephine in baking bread in the summer kitchen. 2

Before Josephine could depart, the fighting suddenly began.  Soldiers from Carr’s brigade, notably the veteran 1st Massachusetts Infantry, deployed near the Rogers House.  It was part of their defensive line, and they were ordered to hold their position between the white framed Rogers home and its outbuildings to the Klingle Farm located north and across the road.  From 11:30 a.m. to near dark that night, the men from Boston fought on or near the Rogers’ property.  Before she planned to leave, Josephine gave them the bread of her morning’s labor.  The men ate so voraciously and quickly that she decided to make more for them. 3

The battle progressed as Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade approached from the left and Lane’s Floridians attacked from the right.  In the heat of the day, artillery shells screamed past the home – some reaching their marks in the walls and roof.  Bullets, too, whizzed by Josephine, but she stoically stayed at her post, and continued to bake bread.  Soon she heard the pleas of the wounded.

She was ordered to leave the house a number of times,” one soldier remembered, “and replied that she couldn’t leave when those wounded soldiers were crying for water.” 4

Josephine continued to risk her life all afternoon, as missiles and minie balls flew around her, pummeling the house.  One artillery shell hit the oven door, where she had recently pulled out precious loaves of sustenance.  She spent the afternoon making more bread and carrying water to the wounded.  Soon her clothes became saturated with blood. 5

Miss Miller was remembered by generals as well as the enlisted men for her service that day.  General Slocum remembered that during the fighting, a weary soldier “ tottered onto the yard ” of the Rogers House, and “ sank upon the grass.”  Josephine saw him and came out of the house, where she had been staying for protection.  “ Are you tired ?” she asked him.  “Yes,” the soldier said, “ and hungry.”  Josephine hurried into the house and returned with bread.  “ Here ,” she told him.  “ Eat .”  But, “ the soldier answered not.  She shook his shoulder, and by the motion his face was turned to her.  It was that of a dead man.” 6

In spite of the danger, Josephine never left the Rogers property for the duration of the battle.  As more and more hungry soldiers appeared, she baked bread until she ran out of flour.  A detail of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry offered to get her more.  Confiscating flour, figs, and dates from General Sickles’s commissary, they brought it all to Josephine, along with a sheep they found.  She cooked a fine supper with the supplies, which the soldiers heartily enjoyed. 7

With nightfall, the fight on the Union’s left flank, which included the Emmitsburg Road, ended at last.  Throughout the night, Josephine continued her vigil of aiding and feeding the wounded.  At daylight, there were seventeen bodies in the Rogers House and yard.  “ She continued to the end of the battle ,” one man remembered, “ baking and giving bread to all who came.” 8

On July 3, men from Pickett’s Division charged over the fields that included the vicinity of the Rogers House.  Soldiers from Kemper’s Brigade remembered seeing a woman baking bread in an outdoor oven while they charged.  It was Josephine Miller.  “The great artillery duel which shook the earth for miles around did not drive her from her ove ,” General Slocum recalled. 9

After the battle, Josephine collapsed with exhaustion.  Soon she became ill.  The diagnosis was typhoid fever.  The young woman came close to death’s door again, but amazingly, after weeks of convalescence, she recovered. 01

In October 1863, Josephine Miller married William James Slyder, a long-time Gettysburg resident who lived in the nearby Slyder farm, near the base of Big Round Top, with his parents.  A Civil War veteran, Slyder had enlisted in the fighting alongside other local boys, including George Washington Sandoe, Henry and Levi Spangler, and Raphael Sherfey.  The young Sandoe was killed in the first Confederate invasion a few days before Gettysburg, and is known to history as the first to fall in the Battle of Gettysburg. 11

William Slyder, one of the eldest children of John and Catherine Slyder, was a few months older than Josephine.  He had been previously married, widowed, and had a young son, also named William.  The couple moved soon after their marriage, first to Missouri and then to Ohio.  Three children were born to the couple:  two daughters, Ida and Rosa, and a son, Melvin Augustus. 12

In 1886, the 1st Massachusetts Infantry planned to hold a reunion at Gettysburg.  Like so many regiments, they commissioned a memorial to their many fallen.  On July 2, 1886, the 23rd anniversary of their fight in the Peach Orchard area, their monument was dedicated.  They wanted Josephine to be there with them. They learned that she had married and lived in Troy, Ohio – a town situated just north of Dayton.  Undaunted, they wrote to her, asking that she return to Gettysburg for the dedication.  They paid her fare to travel back to the place she once knew as home. 13

Josephine returned, and was present for the dedication.  She renewed her many friendships with the soldiers she sustained with her care during the battle.  The veterans of the 1st Massachusetts were so grateful to her, that they made Josephine an honorary member of the United States Third Corps.  They presented her with a gold badge, which she was honored to wear. 14

In the summer of 1886, Josephine was nearly fifty years old, and was suffering from rheumatism.  The progressive disease soon crippled her, and for the last 12 years of her life, Mrs. Slyder was unable to do much without help.  Her husband, William, remained by her side; and daughter Ida, who never married, helped her mother until Ida's death in 1910. 15

Josephine died on January 9, 1911 after years of debilitating illness.  Her obituary states that this " heroine of the battle " was unable to walk in her final years.   A lasting testament to her memory was from the soldiers, now aged themselves, who “revered her as one of the bravest women of the great battle.” 16

Josephine’s husband, William, died a few months later.  They had been married 48 years.  Their graves, along with daughter Ida, are in Riverside Cemetery in Troy, Ohio.  Their only surviving child, Melvin Augustus, lived until 1962. 17

The Rogers House no longer stands – the relentless artillery barrages from July 2 and 3 in 1863 had damaged the home considerably.  Additionally, the wooden frame house and outbuildings fell to the ravages of time; although in 1886, at the date of the dedication of the 1st Massachusetts monument, the house and summer kitchen still stood.

Today, only a field remains, and the memory of a brave young woman, who risked her life to help those in need of nourishment and aid – and was fortunate to survive the place called Gettysburg.

The 1st Massachusetts Memorial, Gettysburg
The 1st Massachusetts Memorial, Gettysburg

Sources: Blake, Henry N. Three Years in the Army of the Potomac. Boston, MA: 1865. The Boston Sunday Globe, 27 September, 1896. The Gettysburg Compiler, January 25, 1911. The Gettysburg Star & Sentinel, September 29, 1891. The New York Times, June 30, 1913. Official Report, Colonel Baldwin, August, 1863. Copy, GNMP. Philadelphia Press, July 4, 1888. Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: The Second Day. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Rogers House File, Gettysburg National Military Park (hereafter GNMP). Josephine Miller Slyder Family Tree, Ancestry.com. William James Slyder Draft Registration Record, 16th District, Chambersburg, PA, June 1863. William Slyder Family Tree, Ancestry.com. Storrick, W C. Gettysburg, The Place, the Battle, the Outcome. Harrisburg, PA: 1932. Copy, GNMP. The Troy Daily Record, January 9, 1911. U.S. Census, 1880, 1890, 1910.

End Notes: 

1. Star & Sentinel, Sep. 29, 1891. Blake, p. 206. 

2. The New York Times, June 30, 1913. Josephine Miller Slyder Family Tree, Ancestry.com. Storrick, p. 59. Sources differ as to Josephine’s age during the Battle of Gettysburg. Her obituary and family tree list her birth year as October 1836, which would make her 26 at the time of the battle. 

3. Pfanz, p. 146. OR, Colonel Baldwin account, GNMP. 

4. Blake, p. 207. 

5. The Compiler, Jan, 25, 1911. 

6. The Philadelphia Press, Jul. 4, 1888. 

7. The Boston Sunday Globe, 27 September, 1896. 

8. Star & Sentinel, Sep. 29, 1891. 

9. Rogers House File, GNMP. 

10. The Compiler, January 25, 1911. 

11. Slyder Draft Registration Record, June 1863. 

12. U.S. Census 1880 and 1890. William Slyder Family Tree, Ancestry.com. 

13. Rogers House File, GNMP. 

14. The Boston Sunday Globe, 27 Sep. 1896. The Philadelphia Press, July 4, 1888. 

15. U.S. Census 1910. The Gettysburg Compiler, Jan 25, 1911. 

16. The Troy Daily Record, Jan. 9, 1911. 

17. Josephine Miller Slyder and William James Slyder Family Tree, Ancestry.com. 

In the various newspaper articles about Josephine, some sources incorrectly name her as Josephine Rogers, instead of Miller. Since she was living with her relatives, Peter and Susan Rogers, it is understandable that the writers believed Rogers was her surname. 
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