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Gettysburg, the most famous battle of the Civil War, was fought July 1 through 3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the Civil War and is often described as the war's turning point. New Jersey troops were heavily engaged at Gettysburg, while doctors, nurses, and other volunteers were among those who flocked to the battlefield to care for the wounded and dying.

Letter, Henry F. Van Derveer to Mary Van Derveer, Hospital near Gettysburg, July 8, 1863. Henry Ferdinand Van Derveer Papers.

Henry Ferdinand Van Derveer, of Somerville, New Jersey, was a surgeon with the Fifth New Jersey Volunteers. In this letter written on July 3, 1863, two days after the Battle of Gettysburg, he described the carnage to his wife Mary Squier. "I write to say I am well and safe. We have had a terrible battle and the 3rd Corps has suffered severely. Our regiment as usual lost its full proportion. Capt. Berry, my particular friend is sleeping near me. I took off his leg just above the knees a few hours ago. He bears it bravely, but is in a critical condition. Colonel Sewell is wounded. Berry lay three days on the field. I feel as if nobody was left in the 5th N.J. V (olunteers) any more. We have won a victory, a decisive one I should think but it has been at a terrible price to our regiment."

Letter, Robert McAllister to Ellen McAllister and Family, June 30, 1863.

"After long, hard and fatiguing marches, we arrived at this place last evening. We are now within five mile of the Pennsylvania line, heading towards York or Gettysburg…..I don’t know what is before us. But we suppose we will have some fighting to do…."

Helen Gilson photo. Black and Case, photographers. Boston and Newport, Rhode Island, 1865, carte de visite.

Helen Gilson (1836 – 1868), of Boston, Massachusetts, joined the war effort as a nurse in the spring of 1862. Formerly a school teacher and governess. Gilson contracted malaria during the war and never fully recovered. She died on April 2, 1868 in childbirth due to her weakened state.

Letter, Helen Gilson on behalf of Col. McAllister to Mrs. McAllister, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July, 1863.

Robert McAllister’s Eleventh New Jersey came under heavy fire during the second day of fighting at Gettysburg and suffered severe casualties. Luckily for McAllister he was wounded early in the battle. Nurse Helen Gilson wrote encouragingly to his wife in this 1863 letter: "He has two wounds; one in the thigh one in the foot. They are both flesh wounds neither the bone or the artery were injured. Dr. Welling says there is no immediate danger."

Field surgeon's instrument case. Belonged to Dr. Henry F. Van Derveer.