The Legacy of Battle: Pennsylvania College in the Post-Civil War Era

By Meg Sutter ’16

For Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part series, see “The Calm Before the Storm: Pennsylvania College in the Antebellum Period.” and “’We will close . . . you know nothing about the lesson anyhow’: Pennsylvania College during the War”

The war did not end with the Battle of Gettysburg, of course, and Gettysburg and Pennsylvania College were still impacted after the battle and the end of the war. In November 1863, David Wills, an 1851 graduate of Pennsylvania College, invited President Lincoln to give an address dedicating a National Cemetery to those who had died at Gettysburg giving their “last full measure of devotion.” Dr. William E. Barton in Lincoln at Gettysburg described November 18, 1863 as “Gettysburg’s greatest night . . . John Hay and other gay spirits made a festive night of it. They had an oyster supper at the college, other re-freshments elsewhere, and went abroad singing John Brown’s Body and other up-to-date music.” It is known that some of the students followed a procession up to the National Cemetery for President Lincoln’s dedication and his famous Gettysburg Address the next day. One lucky college student who witnessed the Address was Dr. P. M. Bikle, class of 1866. He claims that the college students were “tail-enders” ordered to follow at the end of the procession, but that they were pleasantly surprised when they were ordered to march to the front of the crowd and “halt directly in front of the large platform built for the speakers and other dignitaries.” He provides an accurate statement of the reaction to Lincoln’s Address: “Mr. Lincoln’s speech was simple, appropriate, and right to the point, but I don’t think there was anything remarkable about it.” Many will of course disagree with Dr. Bikle’s statements now because the Gettysburg Address further embedded the name ‘Gettysburg’ into history. Thus, a tradition was begun in which all Gettysburg College students now walk to the National Cemetery during orientation week to hear the Gettysburg Address read.

The next August, Gettysburg would once more be disturbed when Chambersburg was burned just 25 miles down the road. Many students left, but Commencement still occurred on August 11, 1864 with only two of the remaining twelve students in the senior class present. All twelve did receive their diplomas, however. Statistics show that 27 undergraduates and 27 former students of the college served during the Civil War, but this did not include the 54 who joined Company A of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia. Robert Fortenbaugh recorded the total number of former students and current students who served in the war as 950 men, both graduated and matriculated at the College. A total of 116 graduates saw service with 11 killed, six for the Union and five for the Confederacy. Three of them died at Gettysburg. Pennsylvania College was majorly impacted by low enrollment following the battle. By the Fall term of 1864 only 61 non-preparatory students enrolled compared to the average immediately before the war of about 92.

Due to battle damages, the war, and low enrollment, Pennsylvania College suffered a financial crisis in 1868 after President Baugher died and Dr. Valentine took office. In 1861 the tuition had been raised to $45 but by 1868 it was lowered to $39. The College had expanded after 1864, adding two new professorships. A new principal for the Preparatory Department was given a larger salary, all professors’ salaries were increased, and Stevens Hall and a new residence for professors were built. By 1869 the college’s debt was over $25,000 and post-war deflation did not help. The Board met in 1873 and created a new financial program that helped the financial crisis.

A panorama of the college campus taken in 1897 from the position of McKnight Hall. Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students, 1900-1901.
A panorama of the college campus taken in 1897 from the position of McKnight Hall. Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students, 1900-1901.

Stevens Hall was finished in 1868 and housed the Preparatory Department, which had previously been located in the basement of Linnaean Hall. McCreary Gymnasium, no longer standing, was erected in 1872 and named for named for donor John B. McCreary of Philadelphia. (It is interesting to note that today’s McCreary laboratory wing of the Science Center is named after a different McCreary; Ralph W. McCreary, class of 1918, was the chairman of the McCreary Foundation, which provided a matching grant of $700,000 for the wing’s construction, completed in 1969.) Two years later an observatory was built. These building projects would be the beginning of even larger ones to come. The 1880s saw a building program launched under the direction of President McKnight. Between the mid-1880s and 1904 the campus doubled in size, from twenty-one to forty-three acres. The New Recitation Building—later called Glatfelter Hall—was finished in 1889 and the College Edifice was renovated and became a dormitory, later called ‘Old Dorm.’ A year later, Brua Chapel was completed. The building program also included the addition of a heating plant and the renovation of McCreary Gymnasium and Linnaean Hall. The sum of expenses for this project totaled a startling $170,502.75. Even after this tremendous project, the college continued to expand and built South College—later called McKnight Hall—in 1898 as another dormitory.

A photo of what what is labeled as "A Typical College Room" in the 1903 Spectrum yearbook.
A photo of what what is labeled as “A Typical College Room” in the 1903 Spectrum yearbook.

In 1888, Beulah M. Tipton became the first woman to enroll in the college proper. She graduated with Cora E. Hartman and Margaret R. Himes in June 1894. By 1904, about 67 women had enrolled and 17 had received bachelor’s degrees. Like today, studies were not the only occupation of the college student. There were many fraternities at Pennsylvania College including the oldest current fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. Musical groups included a Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Club, Chapel Choir, Phi Gamma Delta Glee Club, and the PreparetoPucker Whistling Club. Athletics included the usual football, baseball, and tennis teams but also a gymnastics club called the Sons of Hercules, a hunting club, a bicycle club, and the hare and hound club. The Gettysburg Y.M.C.A. was also one of the first to be established on an American college campus. In 1895 the college publication Mercury urged the students to write a college song. In 1899 a contest was conducted to choose the College song. “The Orange and the Blue,” written by Louis S. Weaver, class of 1899, and set to the tune of “Annie Laurie” won. It appears, however, that the entry “Our Alma Mater” written by Joseph N. K. Hickman, also class of 1899, and set to the tune of “America” would become the unofficial alma mater.

Pennsylvania College would have a share in the many anniversary celebrations that followed the Battle of Gettysburg, including the 50th Anniversary. In 1913 the State of Pennsylvania chose Pennsylvania College to be its official headquarters during the celebration. The Spectrum yearbook from 1915 said that “The campus was headquarters for prominent men in politics and men of high military ranks from all over the United States. Two hundred of these men were guests of the state of Pennsylvania and including 16 Governors. ‘Old Dorm’ and South College resembled old-time castles being besieged, surrounded as they were by a multitude of tents. The state police occupied the athletic field while state officials were located on the front campus. In the space between ‘Old Dorm’ and the ‘Gym’ was erected a spacious canvas-covered dining-room where skilled waiters served the guests with the best.”

Today students cannot ignore the Civil War if they attend Gettysburg College. Pennsylvania College was renamed in 1921 and forever bears the name associated with the ‘War Between the States.’


Barton, William E. Lincoln at Gettysburg. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, c.1930. Accessed March 24, 2015.

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

Gettysburg College Bulletin, Jan. 1967, p.5.

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

Hefelbower, Samuel Gring. The History of Gettysburg College, 1832-1932. York, PA: The Maple Press Company, 1932.

Spectrum. Gettysburg College Special Collections. Gettysburg College, PA.

3 thoughts on “The Legacy of Battle: Pennsylvania College in the Post-Civil War Era”

  1. I always like learning more about Gettysburg and Adams County. Thanks. BTW, I once wrote about the Lincoln Chair that the college has. The archives there isn’t sure how the college came to have it. Have you ever heard anything about it?

  2. Another nice post, Meg. I found Gettysburg today to be very reliant upon the ‘tourism’ aspects of the War, as distinct from the ‘history’ aspects of the War- a slight yet notable distinction. However, I’ll likely revisit Chambersburg, Gettysburg and other locales again in the near future, just because I’m a Civil War History junkie! Cheers!

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