Lititz answers the call of freedom; becomes a hospital town for Revolutionary War wounded

While no battles were fought here in Lancaster County during the Revolutionary War, Lancaster Riflemen and volunteers fought with distinction. In fact, at the outbreak of the Revolution, these riflemen were among the first to march to Boston. 

As the largest and wealthiest inland town in the colonies, Lancaster’s many influential patriots had a significant impact on the Revolutionary War. Lancastrians played essential roles in creating our new government, as well as helping to feed, supply, and care for troops.

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Lititz hospital by Charles X. Carlson

War Comes to Lititz

On Sunday, December 14, 1777, military surgeon Dr. Samuel Kennedy arrived in the Lititz with orders from General George Washington to quarter sick and wounded soldiers there. At the time of the Revolution, the Moravian church owned the entire town and its many buildings, including the Brothers’ House and the Sisters’ House, which made up most of the main portion of the settlement. The Moravians and their leader Count Zinzendorf were responsible for the founding of the Lititz community, named after a town in Bohemia.

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After an inspection, the Brothers’ House was approved as a hospital and despite local objections ordered vacated. The single men who lived there were forced to find lodging wherever they could. Many found accommodations in the various shops in the village. Others stayed in the congregational store, where most slept on the floor.

Five days later, on December 19 at around noon, the first wagon full of wounded soldiers arrived. By nightfall, 80 sick and injured men from battles in New Jersey and Brandywine were convalescing there. The following day 15 additional wagon loads came. Soon every room was filled with men spilling out into the halls. Most slept on beds of straws. It wasn’t long before the hospital was filled. Additional patients were even cared for elsewhere in the community. Eventually, soldiers had to be turned away. Fortunately, there were other hospitals in Ephrata, Manheim, and Reamstown during the Revolution.

Corporal Ennus Tilghman

One of the hospital’s early patients was Corporal Ennus Tilghman. He had fallen from a tall oak tree 12 miles outside of Exton, where he had been perched as a lookout for British troops. Over the next four days, Tilghman made the arduous journey via wagon towards Lancaster.

Revolutionary War soldier Ennis Tilghman and his nurse outside the Brothers' House in Lititz.
Revolutionary War soldier Ennis Tilghman (portrayed by Bill Oehme) and his nurse (played by Gina Yoder). Oehme told his story from the battlefield to the hospital to the grave.

The nearly 60-mile trip witnessed the death of two of Tilghman’s fellow soldiers. The men received more bad news as they approached Lancaster. The hospital there was full, and they would need to proceed further north to Lititz.

When Tilghman arrived in Lititz, he and his fellow soldiers learned that beds were not yet ready for them. Nevertheless, they were unloaded from the wagon and placed on the cold ground so it could be filled with recuperated soldiers headed for the front lines. However, four days of constant exposure to the elements and extremely rough roads had taken their toll on Tilghman’s health and broken ribs as he lost consciousness.

Tilghman was moved inside the Brothers’ House to warm him and eventually carried upstairs to the third floor. Within a week, Tilghman showed signs of improving. It was then that he began to show symptoms of camp fever, which was running rampant through the hospital.

Injured soldiers under the care of local nurses on the third floor of the Brothers' House.
Injured soldiers under the care of local nurses on the third floor of the Brothers’ House reenacted during the Departed Spirits tour.

Camp Fever

By January of 1778, a putrid fever was raging through the hospital and was designated camp fever. Today, camp ever is known as typhus and is spread by the bite of lice. It was prevalent during the Revolution because of crowded, unsanitary conditions often found in primitive army hospitals where personal hygiene was practically non-existent. Modern germ theory did not yet exist. Due to this, soldiers freely shared blankets and clothing. When men died, their bedding was simply reused—without washing—for the new patient who, in turn, would immediately become infected.

Both military physicians, Dr. Kennedy and Dr. William Brown, fell ill to camp fever. Their place was taken by the village physician Dr. Adolph Meyer until the army could send another doctor.

Dr. William Brown
Dr. William Brown who was called to Lititz by order of General Washington to help treat wounded soldiers.

The misery inside the hospital cannot be described. Seven deaths were reported in ten days, all from the fever. The soldiers were often without medicine. At the height of the epidemic, three to four people were dying daily. More soldiers died of typhus than did from their injuries.

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Coffin on display outside the Brothers’ House during the Departed Spirits tour.

Tilghman was many of the unlucky ones. After 15 days at the Lititz hospital despite his ribs showing signs of healing, he died from camp fever. Tilghman was buried in the only suit of clothing he had, which he had been wearing for weeks. He was placed on a cart and taken to the graveyard. There were no military honors. No flagged draped coffin. No grieving family members or friends. There was only the voice of a Moravian pastor, wind in the background, and then the sound of shovels turning dirt.

The High Price of Freedom

For eight months, Lititz operated as a hospital for Continental Army soldiers. When the facility closed on August 28, 1778, at least 500—but likely closer to 1,000 men—had passed through its doors. Typhus ravaged the establishment much of that time, killing 120 soldiers more than died from injuries.

The Moravian community paid dearly, helping to ensure our freedom. At least 10 civilians died from typhus. Brother John Schick, who preached to the soldiers in the hospital, contracted camp fever and died a few weeks later. Sister Catherina Blickensderger, a mother of nine who helped at the hospital, contracted the disease and died. The disease spread throughout the village and ultimately claimed the lives of seven brothers and three sisters.

The Brothers' House which served as a military hospital for most of 1778.
The Brothers’ House which served as a military hospital for most of 1778.

Gallery

Haunted Spirits Tour

Much of the information for this post came from the Departed Spirits Tour that occurred on October 26 and 27. During the tour, for the first time in 200 years, the third floor of the Brothers’ House was opened to the public. Most of the pictures were taken during the tour. If you would like to see the full tour, here’s a video.

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