Today is the sesquicentennial of a Civil War event that always fascinated me: It was on this day in 1863 that the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story titled “Whose Father Was He?”, describing in detail the ambrotype found clutched in a dead soldier’s hand on the Gettysburg battlefield.
After the battle an unidentified dead soldier was found near the present Gettysburg firehouse. He was found clutching a picture of his three small children. Through the efforts of Dr. J. Francis Bournes, the soldier’s wife was able to identify the children in the image. He was Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers.
Tragically, one aftermath of the Civil War was soldiers’ orphans. People throughout the east became interested in raising money to establish an orphanage in Gettysburg for all children of the men killed in the Civil War. Through the efforts of Dr. Bournes, a two-acre property on Baltimore Street near the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was purchased for the home. The inauguration took place on November 20, 1866. Thirty-five orphan boys and girls were “inmates” at that time.
“Inmates” turned out to be an apt description. The school was run by a cruel headmistress and Dr. Bournes embezzled funds from the school. The poor Humiston kids’ suffering really began with the publication of that famous photo.