Abolitionists Day: Why Now?

Olivia Ortman reports on Gettysburg’s first-ever Abolitionists Day, offering her take on the event as a day of coming together.

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This past Saturday, I attended the very first Abolitionists Day here in Gettysburg. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the Seminary Ridge Refectory, but the crowded room seemed like a promising sight to me. When the event started, I was greeted with the words of famous abolitionists—William Loyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—being spoken by reenactors in period garb. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering why now? This was a question I heard echoed by many of the other event goers. Why hold the first Abolitionist Day on March 4, 2017?

Several of the reenactors who attended to commemorate the abolitionists. Photograph by author.

Thankfully one of my professors explained that this day was also Confederate Flag Day. Last year at this time, Gettysburg was home to a Confederate flag rally. Although I was not present at that event, I heard stories about it from friends. Fellow blogger Jeff Lauck compared the event to battle as angry demonstrators turned the day into a hostile debate of whose view of the flag was right. This Abolitionist Day, activity was meant as a response to that Confederate flag event. It was an alternative for people who didn’t want to celebrate the controversial history and separation evoked by that divisive symbol. Continue reading “Abolitionists Day: Why Now?”

The Oatmeal Brigade: Quaker Life During the Civil War

By Annika Jensen ’18

Quakers in the Civil War seems like an inherently contradictory idea; the Society of Friends practices pacifism and nonviolence, and, for many, putting money or resources toward war efforts goes against the faith. But tensions were high in 1861, and deviations from Quakerism were made when Friends, both Northern and Southern, had to choose whether to prioritize the sanctity of union, support abolition, or remain neutral. Each of these decisions had its share of repercussions within the religious community, and the Quakers themselves found their mindsets changing as the tide of the war rolled on, whether they chose to fight, support the war effort, or abstain from involvement.

Friends had to decide which was the greater sin: violence or slavery. Quakerism preached against both, leaving its subjects in opposition to the South’s Peculiar Institution but unwilling to take up arms against the Confederacy. Some, like Daniel Wooton, enlisted for the preservation of the Union and became engaged in the morality of the fight: “We all know the Bible says thou shalt not kill: but what are we to do with those persons that rebell against the law of our country,” the young cavalryman wrote to a friend back home. “Did God set dow[n] and let the Devil take the uppermost seat in heaven when he caused the rebellion there? no Sir!” This appeal to religion serves as justification for Wooton, but it also presents a question: which tenet of Quaker faith was the most important? Continue reading “The Oatmeal Brigade: Quaker Life During the Civil War”

Antebellum Spiritualism and the Civil War

By Kyle Schrader ‘16

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Victorian Séance circles to commune with the dead were popular expressions of Spiritualism. Photo Courtesy
Victorian Séance circles to commune with the dead were popular expressions of Spiritualism. Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Spiritualism in Antebellum America prepared many Americans to actually accept the deaths of loved ones in a superior way. In books such as This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust, Spiritualism and its infusion into American society is seen to have enabled many Americans to come to terms with loved ones’ deaths through the belief that a “Spirit World” existed and that life after death was better. Unlike the other Christian movements of the nineteenth century and earlier, however, the Spiritualist movement guaranteed and, indeed, “proved” the existence of an afterlife to many people (even those as mainstream as President Lincoln).

As a Pohanka intern at Seminary Ridge Museum, Kyle Schrader is spending his summer researching antebellum spiritualism. Photo credit Kyle Schrader.
As a Pohanka intern at Seminary Ridge Museum, Kyle Schrader is spending his summer researching antebellum spiritualism. Photo credit Kyle Schrader.

Though Spiritualism may have had an effect on the Civil War, the War’s effect on Spiritualism was far greater. The War caused the movement to cease many of its activities, reducing its public presence and awareness as the war raged on. When the war ended, people sought comfort in national pride, spiritual unity, and organized religion. Spiritualism was far too unorganized (as the founders wanted) to attract people after being out of the public spotlight for so long. Thus began the recantation movement that damaged Spiritualism’s strength and nearly disbanded the movement altogether. Continue reading “Antebellum Spiritualism and the Civil War”