“We will close . . . you know nothing about the lesson anyhow”: Pennsylvania College during the War

By Meg Sutter ’16

Twenty-nine years had passed since the founding of Pennsylvania College by Samuel Simon Schmucker in 1832 when war broke out between the states. Due to the college’s location just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the threat of battle near Gettysburg loomed until in July 1863 it became all too real.

Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North was not completely unexpected, and college life would be drastically impacted by the threat of oncoming Confederate forces. The winter term of 1860-1861 was just ending when war broke out in April of 1861. Many of the townspeople were not in support of slavery at the outbreak of the war, but they also had hoped to avoid a bloody conflict. The Quakers living in central Pennsylvania, specifically in what is called the Quaker Valley today only a few miles from Gettysburg, may have contributed to this sentiment. The majority of the townspeople of Gettysburg, who numbered fewer than the size of Gettysburg College’s current student population of 2600, were carriage makers, tanners, cobblers, and the usual merchants, bankers, and tavern keepers. Gettysburg’s leading industry was that of carriage making, and most of the owners sold to markets south of Gettysburg across the Mason-Dixon Line. The coming war would mean the loss of those consumers. Parents of Pennsylvania College students were also wary of sending their sons to school in a town threatened by invasion.

At the outbreak of war, however, community members as well as college students attended public meetings in the courthouse, churches, and elsewhere in Gettysburg. Students supported the Union cause through many endeavors. By June 1861, students had formed a military company and drilled regularly. On June 29, 1861 they placed a forty-foot flag pole on the cupola of the College edifice displaying the 34-star Union flag—one of those stars represented the state of Kansas, which had just officially entered the Union in January 1861. On July 4, 1861 students participated in a parade through Gettysburg, supporting the Union cause. This initial excitement would fade as the war dragged on. Enrollment suffered as more and more parents refused to send their sons to a college so close to the Mason-Dixon Line, and the number of students from slaveholding states, especially Maryland, decreased. From 1857-61 there were 90 students in attendance, however by 1863 only 66 attended, and by 1864 the number had dropped to 61 students.

The summer term began in May 1863 and was scheduled to end with commencement on August 13. On June 15, 1863, though, 54 students were the first to respond to Governor Andrew G. Curtin’s proclamation calling for able-bodied citizens to defend Pennsylvania. The faculty decided to continue instructing classes even after Governor Curtin issued his proclamation, and while many members of the faculty insisted that those under 18 be given permission by their parents before enlisting, the majority went to Harrisburg anyway and mustered into Company A of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Emergency Militia on June 22. Within a week of their enlistment Company A was directly engaged with Jubal Early’s Confederate cavalry and infantry west and north of Gettysburg at Marsh Creek and Bayly’s Hill. About a hundred members of Company A were captured as prisoners, including some students, while the rest retreated to Harrisburg where they defended the city until they were mustered out on July 31, 1863.

An image of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Regiment memorial statue c. 1920. The statue is located in Gettysburg at the intersection of Chambersburg Street, Buford Avenue, and Springs Avenue. Wikimedia Commons.
An image of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Regiment memorial statue c. 1920. The statue is located in Gettysburg at the intersection of Chambersburg Street, Buford Avenue, and Springs Avenue. Wikimedia Commons.

When the battle reached Gettysburg on July 1, classes had begun as usual at 8:00 in the morning, but they were disrupted when Union signal officers came into the College edifice building. Professor Michael Jacobs led the signal officers to the cupola on top of the College edifice and helped point out the high ground south of town. Later in the day President Baugher (the speaker of the quote above) was forced to close the school as instruction had erupted into disorder. Union troops were forced to retreat south through campus and across the town to the high ground on Cemetery Hill. By late afternoon the Confederates took possession of the College edifice. It and any other large buildings were used immediately as hospitals, including President Baugher’s house, now the Norris-Wachob Alumni House. Faculty and students retreated to homes in town, where many took in wounded Union soldiers while their possessions remained locked away safely in the President’s office. After Pickett’s Charge on July 3, Confederate troops left the College edifice and it was quickly occupied by Union troops.

The rest of the May term was cancelled after the Battle of Gettysburg and the senior class graduated without a formal commencement. The faculty and staff were paid in full for the term, but the college only received $625 as compensation for the damage to the College edifice and Linnaean Hall. Pennsylvania College did receive an additional $1,864 from an appeal issued to the town in the Adams Sentinel. The wounded were finally evacuated from the College edifice on July 29 and classes reopened for the September term.

Pennsylvania College and the town of Gettysburg recovered surprisingly quickly from the battle that took some 6,000 lives and wounded 50,000 more. The Reconstruction era and memory, however, would forever imprint the battle on the lives of Americans everywhere, including those who attend the college today. A monument erected to the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Infantry on September 1, 1892 is located today at the intersection of Chambersburg Street, West Street, and Springs Avenue.


Catalogue of the Officers, Alumni and Students of Pennsylvania College, Gettysburg, PA. Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Glatfelter, Charles H. A Salutary Influence: Gettysburg College, 1832-1985. Mechanicsburg, PA: W&M Printing, 1987.

Petruzzi, J. David and Steven Stanley. “They Came with Barbarian Yells and Smoking Pistols.” Civil War Trust. Accessed March 21, 2015.

2 thoughts on ““We will close . . . you know nothing about the lesson anyhow”: Pennsylvania College during the War”

  1. Nice post Meg. I hiked the Gettysburg battlefields for several days a few years ago, and found it amazing… like so many other Civil War battlefields. I recommend ‘The War That Forged A Nation,’ by James McPherson– a recent book describing the post reconstruction-era (if there is such) implications of the Civil War on modern society. Excellent read.

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