Edward Woodward was a creative man who came to America from England in the mid-1850s seeking an opportunity to display his creativity. What he found when he and his father arrived in Baltimore was a land of simmering tensions that soon erupted into the Civil War.
On April 19, 1861, a regiment of Massachusetts soldiers was transferring between railroad stations in Baltimore. To do this they had to disembark one train and march through a city filled with Confederate sympathizers to another station where they could board a train to Washington.
The sympathizers attacked the soldiers, blocking the route and throwing bricks and cobblestones at the Union men. The soldiers panicked and fired into the mob, which led to a wild fight involving the soldiers, mob, and Baltimore police. When all was said and done, four soldiers and 12 civilians had been killed. These deaths are considered the first of the Civil War.
Woodward was living in the city at the time, and although it is uncertain whether he saw the melee or heard about it second hand, it affected him.
He was a gunsmith by trade and associates who were Southern sympathizers encouraged him to go South where he would be appointed as the superintendent of a gun manufacturing plant.
His reply was, “I will never go against the flag that waved over me when I crossed the boundless sea to this land of liberty—on it there is no rampant lion to devour nor unicorn to gore. Oh may that flag forever wave until time shall be no more,” according to some of Woodward’s papers still with his family.
At 47 years old, Woodward was not an ideal recruit as a soldier even though he knew his way around a rifle. Instead, he went and joined the Union Relief Association and began caring for sick and wounded soldiers. He went into the hospitals and fed them as he spoke with them.
When the federal government took over Point Lookout, Md., and turned it into a large hospital for Union soldiers and a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers in 1862, Woodward volunteered to go and help. However, his time there was cut short when he was severely injured. Though his injury and how he received it is not known, it was severe enough that he had to return home to recover.
Once he recovered, he still wanted to help care for the soldiers. According to family papers, he “volunteered to go to the battlefield of Gettysburg, which he did and remained, until the closing of the hospitals, never making any charge or receiving any pay for his services.” He came to Gettysburg as a member of the Christian and Sanitary Commissions, but when they moved on, he stayed behind to continue helping the sick, but to also start a new life.
He soon resumed his work as a gunsmith in the town. However, he also started a cottage industry in creating souvenirs from the relics of the battle. Woodward created desk sets that contained pieces of artillery shells and weapons. He also made engraved belt buckles from pieces of artillery shells. Some of these items sell for thousands of dollars today.
His obituary in the Star and Sentinel notes, “He was a man of considerable ability, and was known to nearly every student of Pennsylvania College within 25 years.”
Meanwhile, the Homestead Orphanage opened in 1866 to national fanfare. There was much to admire about the operation at first, but then Rosa Carmichael was hired in 1870 as the matron of the orphanage. Things soon began changing and rumors spread that the children in the orphanage were being mistreated.
A story about two of the orphans, Bella Hunter and Lizzie Hutchison was one of the early warning signs. When the two girls tore their dresses, Carmichael made them wear boys’ clothing for two months. This seemed to be the tip of the iceberg as other stories started coming out.
“All sorts of stories were told,” Mark H. Dunkelman wrote in Gettysburg’s Unknown Soldier. “Mrs. Carmichael was said to have suspended children by their arms in barrels. She had hidden mistreated victims from the prying eyes of inspectors. Most scandalous of all were tales of a dungeon in the Homestead cellar, a black hole eight feet long, five feet deep, and only four feet high, unlit and unventilated, where she shackled children to the wall.”
It was also noticed that the orphans were no longer allowed to decorate the soldiers’ graves in Soldier’s National Cemetery on Memorial Day. It all finally became too much for Woodward who had cared for some of those dead soldiers in their last day.
He expressed his anger in a broadside, simply called “Poem” that he then distributed throughout town. The poem criticized her treatment of Bella and Lizzie, calling her “a modern Borgia” and wrote of the orphans, “They are kept like galley slaves, while strangers decorate their father’s graves.”
He wrote two other poems that have survived. One is titled “Woman’s Sin was a Blessing.” It talks about how Eve should be viewed as a good and gentle woman and not simply as the one who brought about the Fall.
The other poem is called “What Did the Soldiers Endure” and deals with Woodward’s wartime work in hospitals. It reads in part:
“They left their homes surrounded with every pleasure
To defend the flag, their country’s greatest treasure,
The native born American, and the volunteer exile,
Marched to the battlefields in rand and file—
“How cheerfully they marched, no fear, wounded they fell,
Devoted to the flag they admired and loved so well.
On the street you see a man with an empty coat sleeve
And another on crutches, oh! how it makes us grieve.”
Edward Woodward died on January, 28, 1894, at the age of 79. Although he had been in ill health for years, the end came quickly. He fell sick on a Wednesday and died on Sunday from “inflammation of the bowels,” according to the Star and Sentinel. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.