As a Gettysburg College student it is impossible to escape the Civil War in my daily life. Surrounded by battlefield, including portions of our own campus, walking on the same ground as the soldiers, and working in buildings that witnessed the tragedy of the Battle of Gettysburg makes the war inescapable. The college’s role in the battle has become famous in campus lore for its use as an observation point and hospital during and after the battle. Still standing Pennsylvania Hall, known as the College Edifice at the time of the battle, once housed the wounded and dying on campus.
On the fateful day of July 1, 1863 Gettysburg College (then Pennsylvania College) students sat in class, trying to ignore the rumbling approach of a major battle. Despite the impending historic moment, Pennsylvania College refused to cancel classes until the fighting actually met campus grounds. When it did, classes were finally suspended and the students were free to watch or join in the fighting surrounding Gettysburg. By the end of the second day, campus itself was under strict Union guard, forcing once free students to identify themselves immediately. Only the day before, the College Edifice housed classes and dorm rooms, but now students watched as it was quickly transformed into first a Confederate lookout, then a Union lookout, and finally a Union hospital. In an attempt to safeguard their belongings from inevitable destruction, students hid their personal possessions in the President’s Office, along with favorite pieces of furniture and carpets from the college. Today the College Edifice stands as an unchanging symbol of the college’s past, but for my peers of 1863, it was a sudden mix of two different worlds.
In the three weeks following the battle, long after the guns had stopped firing, the College Edifice continued to be subjected to the bloody aftermath of war. Academic work was still on hold while classrooms, dorm rooms, and offices alike became the scenes for horrible suffering. One student commented that the building was “impregnated with the peculiar and sickening odor of blood and wounds.” Dorm beds were commandeered from students for soldiers. Hallways were reserved for dressing wounds and surgery. And where today’s students cross the portico for graduation, Civil War doctors once amputated the limbs of soldiers. From that vantage point, limbs were thrown “out back,” on the same lawn that approximately 35 soldiers were interred in. Although the limbs and bodies were eventually moved, the messy aftermath lingered on.
As the hospital finally moved out on July 29th, the medical team took not only the still wounded soldiers, but also the beds of Gettysburg students. Bloodstains marred the wooden floors, the odor of death clung to the walls, and a general atmosphere of disrepair overshadowed the once beautiful campus. A local resident lamented how his “heart sickened at the devastation and ruin that surrounded the college.” A local paper, the Lutheran Observer, estimated that it would take thousands of dollars to repair the physical damage of the battle.
In the months following the Battle of Gettysburg, private citizens raised over $4200 for college repairs, while the college’s president, Reverend Doctor Baugher petitioned the Federal government for $625 in reparations. Though the full sum was given to Pennsylvania College for “the rent thereof and for putting the premises in the same condition – ordinary wear and tear excepted – they were when taken possession of by the United States,” Baugher later petitioned for more, and was flatly denied. Like many other communities during the Civil War, it was the students and faculty of Pennsylvania College who were forced to find the money and supplies for repairs.
Today, the Old Edifice stands tall and proud as a testament to both the courage of the Civil War soldiers and the perseverance of the college community, reminding current students that this college has been home to more than just academics.
Blood, H. B. Letter to Reverend Doctor Baugher. September 3, 1863.
Landrey, Gregory J. A History of the Gettysburg College Campus. Research paper, Gettysburg College, 1977.
Schneider, Craig. The College Hospital: Pennsylvania College and the Battle of Gettysburg. Research paper, Gettysburg College, 2007.
Thomas, Charles. Letter to Captain H. B. Blood. August 29, 1863.