As the Confederate attack on July 2, 1863 developed numerous farms situated along the Emmitsburg Road south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania stood in its way. The first farms hit were not heavily damaged owing to weak Union resistance. That would change at the farm belonging to George and Mary Rose.
The Rose family owned a large tract of land along the Emmitsburg Road. The land originally belonged to Jacob Sherfigh but had been split from the farm so it could be sold. The stone farmhouse dates to 1811 and the barn was constructed the following year. Jacob Benner, who had been the legal guardian of the Sherfigh’s grandchildren, bought the farm from them for about $5,000 when Sherfigh died in 1842. The farm contained the house, a 2 story bank barn, several outbuildings, 140 acres of timber and meadow along with apple, peach and pear orchards. Benner had gradually been selling off pieces of the property to neighboring property owners and eventually sold the 230 remaining acres of the farm to George Rose, 49 years of age, in 1858. The Roses lived in Germantown, PA where he was a butcher by trade. George did not move in, instead his brother John moved in at some point probably in 1859 along with his wife Elizabeth and 7 children along with several hired hands. John lived on the farm rent free but paid George 50% of the profits.
Joseph Kershaw’s South Carolinians and Paul Semmes’ Georgians advanced through the Rose farmstead. Kershaw’s men moved to attack Union troops in Joseph Sherfy’s Peach Orchard and in Rose’s woodlot. Semmes’ men followed toward the woodlot. For Semmes, a pre-war lawyer and ardent secessionist, this was a fateful move. Just before the campaign began he had renewed his life insurance policy (set to expire on July 3) and his number came due somewhere near Rose’s woodlot when he took a bullet in his thigh. One has to wonder how much the premiums were as being a Confederate brigadier general was one of the most dangerous jobs during the war. Semmes was helped to the Rose barn for shelter and his men continued on into the Rose’s wheatfield, known forever after as The Wheatfield. Union troops were driven from the Peach Orchard and The Wheatfield changed hands seven times during the afternoon before Union troops were driven back leaving thousands of wounded soldiers, many of whom were taken to the Rose barn (including Semmes) and some spent their last hours on Earth in it. When the Confederate forces evacuated Gettysburg Semmes was taken along but died near Martinsburg, West Virginia during the retreat. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia.
After the Confederates left another group of people arrived, the photographers. Photography was in its infancy but an exhibition done the previous year following the Battle of Antietam in Maryland had proved to be a huge financial success (and a startling wake up call for the public about the horrors of war) and famous early photographers like Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner were back for more. Much of the northern parts of the battlefield had already been cleaned up when they arrived on July 7 but the southern parts of the battlefield, which included the Rose farm had not been touched yet. Gardner set to work and recorded what may be the most famous Civil War photograph taken known as A Harvest of Death while on the Rose Farm.
Following the battle the farm was a mess. Burial records indicated that up to 1,000 dead soldiers were buried on the farm. While Union soldiers were dug up and re interred in the Soldiers National Cemetery their Confederate foes were left in the ground. This posed quite a problem for many local farmers and the Roses were no different. It was not until 1872 that many of the Confederate dead were disinterred and sent south. A damage claim of $7,000 was submitted to the government but like so many others was never paid.
The debt on the farm grew as it was unworkable forcing John to sell his belongings and move back to Philadelphia. The farm was eventually seized when George could not afford mortgage payments any longer and it was sold at sheriff’s auction for $100. George was able to repurchase the farm in 1868 and moved back in and it remained in the family until 1880. The farm remained in private hands until the 1950s when it was purchased by the National Park Service. The barn was struck by lightning in 1910 and burned to the ground and it has not been rebuilt and only the stone foundation remains. The farm is visible from the Peach Orchard and Tour Stop 10 as well as accessible on foot from the Emmittsburg Road. Tour Stop 9 included the Rose’s wheatfield. The location of the Harvest of Death photo is not accessible to the public but can be viewed from another angle from Brooke Avenue.