A Local Account of the Battle of Hanover

Joanna Wrentzel: The Girl Who Dodged the Bullet

Joanna Wrentzel (née Thomas) was born on April 8, 1850 in Hanover, Pennsylvania. She was the oldest child of John Thomas (1814-1859) and Mary Magdalena Baseshore/Basehore/Basehoar (1818-1899). Her siblings were John Martin (1853-1858), Isabel (1855-1925), and Uriah (1857-1920).

Wrentzel was thirteen when the civil war came to her town. She was interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper in 1935. Here is her story:

“The night before the battle we were warned to leave town because they were afraid it would be burned down by the rebels. My mother put a lot of things in a sheet and started out across the fields with us children. We were taken in by a farmer named Daniel Bear. We stayed there overnight, but mother took us home the next day.

The morning of the battle I went to the square with a wash basket of bread and a kettle of apple butter and helped feed the soldiers that were coming into Hanover.” She continued, “The soldiers were awful tired and hungry and were glad to get the food people were giving them. The square was full of townspeople with baskets of food. Then word came that General Stuart and his Calvary were coming. General Kilpatrick told us there was going to be fighting and we should all get off the street. I started to run home, but before I could get across the street some of the rebel cavalry came along. The officer halted his men for a moment so we could get by. I ran kept running until I got home. Just as I started through the door of my house a bullet hit a rain spout, glanced off, and grazed my dress. I surely was glad to get in the house.

All that day my mother baked bread and fed the soldiers. She must have used at least a barrel of flour. She had to give the food at the back door because the rebels were across the street. That night we slept in potato bins in the cellar. It was cold down there.

The day after the fight in Hanover the battle started in Gettysburg. That’s about 16 miles west of Hanover. The soldiers kept coming back and bringing the wounded with them. We had some of them in my father’s saddle shop. That’s it right there in the picture, with the sign on it. About 15 of the soldiers who were just resting slept in the front room of our house. They were all pretty young. Some of the girls who carried victuals to the soldiers fell in love with them. I can’t blame them much; the boys did look mighty nice in their uniforms. My, but those were exciting times!”

The Battle of Hanover was fought across the street and down the alley beside Wrentzel’s house. From what was found in an 1876 map of Hanover, the house is believed to be located at 68 York Street. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Wrentzel’s house was made into a hospital. She would tell stories of screaming soldiers having legs and arms amputated and dipped in tar to stop the bleeding. The only anesthesia the soldiers had was to get drunk as possible before surgery.

One of Wrentzel’s homes in Hanover. This one is located at 205 York Street.

After the Battles of Hanover and Gettysburg, Wrentzel and her family got to listen to Abraham Lincoln give his Gettysburg Address. Afterwards, she was able to meet and shake his hand. Following his assassination, Wrentzel always had his portrait proudly displayed in every house she lived in.

Thomas’ tribute to Lincoln at her home on 205 York Street

One of the last remaining possessions of Wrentzel still lives on; her Hosta plants. Her great-great-great-granddaughter, Tiffany Smith (who supplied this story and its pictures) still has those Hostas, “I like to say these plants got to see the Battle of Hanover firsthand!”

The Hostas that saw the battle, now living in Ohio with Wrentzel’s great-great-great Grandaughter, Tiffany Smith.

Special thanks to Tiffany Smith for sharing her family’s story.

Want to learn more about the Battle of Hanover? Spend an afternoon in downtown on the Battle of Hanover Walking tour! To learn more, click here.

This article also appears in the 2018 Discover Hanover. For a digital version, please click here.