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  • Jake Wynn

A visit to the Stones River battlefield with two Pennsylvania schoolteachers - May 1867

On a Saturday afternoon in May 1867, two young Pennsylvania schoolteachers made a stroll to a battlefield near their freedmen's school in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hannah Streeper and Frances Couch managed the Pottsville Freedmen's School, a schoolhouse for formerly enslaved people funded by residents of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. On their weekends, Streeper and Couch made visits to sites near the school they opened in the winter of 1867.

A Freedmen's School in 1866 (Library of Congress)

In a letter published in the Miners' Journal of Pottsville in June 1867, Streeper described in detail their visit to the Stones River battlefield and the nearby National Cemetery. Her writings provide a brief glimpse into what the battleground looked like more than four years after the struggle there, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers and left another 15,000 wounded:

We visited Stone River battle ground and Cemetery. The Cemetery presents a neat appearance. Five thousand Union soldiers are interred within its limits. All the graves are nicely sodded and made the same size, so that the headboards are in a straight line from one street to another. A large number of them are marked “unknown.”

A great many of the trees on the battleground were pierced with balls, and some had their tops cut off. There were no balls however, to be found in them when we were there, as persons who had visited the spot before us, had secured them. I forgot to mention that the Cemetery is three miles from Murfreesboro.

The pikes leading form the city are in good condition, but there are very few trees, walking along them is by no means pleasant in warm weather, and so we have been compelled to discontinue our long walks on Saturday.

Stones River National Cemetery in 1867. This is exactly how the cemetery looked when the teachers and students of the Pottsville Freedmen’s School visited the battlefield in May 1867. (Library of Congress)

Streeper and Couch continued operating the Pottsville Freedmen's School near Murfreesboro through the end of 1867 and into early 1868.


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