Senior Reflection: Our Time as Fellows

By Anika Jensen ’18

As Jeff, Jen, and I move ever closer to commencement, we want to take a moment to reflect on our time as Civil War Institute fellows. We have been part of this fellows program for three years and spent countless hours researching topics we are passionate about, engaging with the Civil War community, and creating an active academic atmosphere for our fellow budding historians. Our time at Gettysburg may be coming to an end, but the experiences we have had here will continue to shape our futures. Here is what the CWI fellowship means to us:

My involvement with the CWI began the day after my high school graduation when I attended the Summer Conference as a scholarship student.  Though I was not necessarily a Civil War buff at the time, I knew at that moment that I wanted to get more involved with the Institute.  I began a Fellowship and have enjoyed every minute of it, from researching and writing blogs to becoming the social media coordinator.  Being a CWI Fellow has brought me so many opportunities, not only to enhance my academic experience, but also to meet the wonderful staff at the CWI.  The Civil War Institute has greatly shaped by experience at Gettysburg, and I am so grateful for my time here.Jen Simone

Photo credit: Civil War Institute

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“Be Carefully Taught”: African Americans in Adams County in the 20th Century

By Jennifer Simone ’18

Every year over a million visitors flood Adams County, Pennsylvania to tour the famous, or rather infamous, site of the Battle of Gettysburg. While most visitors primarily come to Gettysburg to learn about the battle, many leave with understandings of the unending impact of the Civil War on race relations. However, for a town that sparks such a progressive mentality in some, Adams County, and specifically Gettysburg, is often criticized for being ‘frozen in time,’ unwilling to keep up with progressive race relations after the battle ended. A panel entitled “Black Experiences in Adams County in the 19th & 20th Centuries” sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society and the Gettysburg College History and Africana Studies departments, addressed the importance of remembering this African American story. The panel included Gettysburg College Professor Scott Hancock, author Peter Levy, and Adams County residents Darryl Jones and Jane Nutter.

black experience adams county
Crowds gather to listen to the panel on February 6, leaving standing room only. Photo credit: Adams County Historical Society

The Great Migration in the early 20th century shaped the nation as six million African Americans moved from the Southern United States to urban cities elsewhere. The experience of African Americans in Northern cities has been highly discussed in recent scholarship, yet often left unattended are rural areas like Adams County. More specifically, within Adams County, there is also a portion of the story left incomplete–the story of the African Americans who lived with the legacy of the Civil War years after the last shots were fired and the Gettysburg Address was delivered. In a town dedicated to preserving history, one will see acres of preserved land, hundreds of plaques, and over one thousand monuments placed throughout town; yet despite all of this preservation, hidden before the visitors’ eyes are the black experiences in Adams County in the years following the war.

The goal of this panel was to paint a picture of what life was like for African Americans in Adams County in the 19th and 20th centuries since so much of it is lost to history with only oral tradition to keep the memories alive. Gettysburg College is dedicated to educating youth, and according to Jane Nutter, this is nothing new. She explained how 49 years ago, in 1969, she was sitting in a lecture by renowned African American anthropologist Dr. Louis E. King in the exact building she was currently speaking in. Growing up, she and other young, poor African Americans would come to the College to expand their understanding about what was going on in the world. She expressed immense gratitude for these opportunities and challenged the audience to use these experiences to become enlightened and then enlighten others as well. Remembering a quote she heard at that lecture 49 years ago, she warned the audience, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

You do have to be carefully taught. In a country where the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection, it seems that all is well. However, upon hearing the testimonies of African American Adams County residents Jones and Nutter, it became clear that the Civil War did not end the struggles within the African American community. Though Jones admits they ‘had it pretty good’ growing up, he and Nutter both recognized the racial inequality that shaped their lives. Segregation marked many aspects of their lives from residency to education.  

Concerning residency, African Americans were restricted to living on certain streets, all in the ‘Third Ward’ of Gettysburg. If attempts were made to live outside of the Third Ward, requests were never granted, and it was no coincidence. Nutter explained that it is painful to know the truth, but so important. The truth is, though African Americans were no longer enslaved, most African Americans in Gettysburg in the 1950s did domestic work for white families. Nutter’s mother did so, but she always made it clear to Jane that “I may be a maid, but I’m not a servant.” African Americans often found themselves having to advocate for themselves and the rights that should be naturally endowed upon them, as for all people. Adams County was one of the last counties in the country to get food stamps, something highly ironic for an agricultural community. Though great quantities of food were produced in the area, it was not accessible to the poorer residents who did not have food stamps. They only received food stamps once someone personally called officials concerning the issue. This delayed effort was largely due to resistance within the white community to food stamps, believing that they would be mostly for African Americans–an inaccurate assumption because most recipients were white.

When it came to education, there was also a delayed effort. York schools were only reintegrated in the 1950s, and though Jones and Nutter went to integrated schools, Civil Rights Era antipathy was evident. From resistance to being admitted into the gifted program to being discouraged from going to college, African Americans were often degraded by teachers and guidance counselors simply because they did not share the same color of skin. One’s heart could not help but ache when hearing Nutter recall a story of high school homecoming. She celebrated, remembering how her friend Missy  was the first black homecoming queen in her high school, but her face turned grim as she recalled that when the photographer came to take a picture of the homecoming queen he said “you?” when he saw Missy. She called upon the audience to imagine Missy being their child and the immense hurt they would feel. While African Americans were no longer enslaved as they once were before the Civil War, they were still enslaved in an unequal society.

The news is filled with stories of protesters fighting for Confederate monuments to stand, something Nutter found troubling since African American schools and churches have often been torn down in silence. It is no secret that the Civil War did not free African Americans from the chains of their past and we cannot change the past; however, by being informed today, we can shape the future. We, as intellectuals and concerned citizens, have a responsibility to take this knowledge with us and use it to shape the world. As Jones explained, this is not some noble mission. It is just being a decent person, and “I’m hoping that because you’re in here [or reading this] that you are that already.”

“The Colored Volunteers”: A Recruiting Tune for the USCT

By Jen Simone ‘18

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

“The Colored Volunteers.” Song sheet. This song, encouraging black men to enlist, makes light the threat posed by Jeff Davis’s Special Order 111. After Fort Pillow, the reality of Confederate policy towards captured USCT became all too clear. Despite Confederate atrocities, black men continued enlisting throughout the war. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Given the dreadful reality of the Civil War, there was little use for songs that accurately reflected the duties and risks of soldiering when it came to recruiting civilians to fight.  The danger involved in the war was high for all men, but black soldiers faced additional, unique threats. The particular hostility of Confederates to armed black men and distrust from their white Union comrades meant that they were especially vulnerable targets of wartime atrocities. Possibly written by a private in Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African American units, “The Colored Volunteers” (also referred to as “Give Us a Flag”) was a song used as recruitment propaganda to encourage black men to enlist during the Civil War.  The song’s lyrics sanitize many very serious issues and threats soldiers faced, offering a romanticized representation of the challenges a black enlistee would face.

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A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

By Jen Simone ’18

I’ll admit it. I was the kid who always protested when my parents suggested watching a show that was in black and white, and I know I’m not the only one. When given the choice of watching a show in color or in black and white, almost everybody will choose. Why? Because it’s more realistic and relatable. For the same reasons, many photographs of the Civil War were colorized both then and now.

Photographs became increasingly popular during the Civil War and were no longer exclusive to the big shots, so many soldiers had their photographs taken for family members. To meet the need, there were an estimated five thousand photographers in the business.

In 1850 Reverend Levi L. Hill was of the first to claim that he could add natural colors to daguerreotypes, but for over five years he kept his process a secret. In the meantime, others were trying to catch onto this trend. Colorizing, though, is a difficult process to master. During the Civil War, color was added to sepia-toned and black and white images to bring them to life. The most common method for applying color to daguerreotypes was with a finely pointed camel-hair brush. One would use this brush to apply a dry powdered pigment to the surface of the photo, and then it would be coated with a solution of isinglass which made a thin, transparent sheet. Photos were hand-tinted, and therefore the process took much time. Results were often uneven, and the addition of colors could often hide the photo’s details, so the most transparent colors were most preferable. Continue reading “A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words”

PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists

By Jen Simone ‘18

Spoilers ahead. 

Warning: This show is probably not enjoyable for those with hemophobia. Also, if you like to view the war as a clear-cut conflict between two distinct ideologies, this show is not for you either. 

I don’t know if it’s just me being cynical about public disinterest in history, but I was shocked to read that the premiere episode of PBS’ Mercy Street, titled “The New Nurse,” got 3.3 million viewers. Are there really that many people interested in Civil War Era history? There is a great chance that many people unintentionally left PBS on after Downton Abbey, but it wouldn’t shock me if they find themselves intentionally keeping it on again next week. The show was compelling and includes everything a drama should—intensity, romance, and controversy. Most importantly, though, I believe this show has the potential to significantly increase public interest in the Civil War and reveal to the public the true nature of the war.

Hannah James as “Emma Green” in Mercy Street. Image Courtesy of Antony Platt/PBS.

The show is about a Civil War hospital operating in a mansion in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. The producers certainly did not make this show to answer common questions about the Civil War, but rather to make people start thinking. No character’s belief in the show was left uncontested and many myths were broken. The topic of the show itself is daring, for it is not about the military history of the war, but rather the medical history mixed with civilian life. Continue reading “PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists”

Letters from the Battlefield: George Washington Beidelman, July 4, 1863

By Jen Simone ’18 and Nicole Hindley ’18

In the second entry in our new series, “Letters from the Battlefield,” Jen Simone ’18 shares a letter from George Washington Beidelman, a Union soldier of the II Corps, written on July 4, 1863 from the Gettysburg battlefield. By July 4th, Beidelman knew that the Union had won a decisive victory… but he got a few facts wrong, even telling his father that General James Longstreet had been captured. Video produced by Nicole Hindley ’18.

From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"

By Jen Simone ’18

In times of intense despair, it can seem impossible to have any hope. All of us get caught up in the tragedies occurring all around us and begin to believe that life is a constant struggle without any good in it. Christmas time, though often a time of mourning for people who have recently lost loved ones, also is a time of restored hope for many.

Christmas carolers may arrive at your door this season offering to sing the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The carol tells of a man who is troubled by the hateful world, but then has hope restored as he is reminded of God’s power. Though two stanzas concerning the Civil War were removed for the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was based on the poem “Christmas Bells” written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1868 with the beard he grew to cover his burn scars. Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

The poem begins with the peacefulness that characterizes Christmas:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Continue reading “From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"”

Letters from the Battlefield: Henry Berkeley, July 2, 1863

By Jen Simone ’18 and Nicole Hindley ’18

In our newest series, “Letters from the Battlefield,” Jen Simone ’18 shares a letter from Henry Robinson Berkeley, a Confederate artilleryman, written on July 2, 1863 from the Gettysburg battlefield. In his letter, Berkeley expresses the horror of finding a line of 79 men North Carolina cut down by a single volley of musketry. Video produced by Nicole Hindley ’18.

GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate

By Jen Simone ’18

Whether you believe ghosts exist or not, I think most visitors would agree that if they did in fact exist, there would be a whole community of them living in Gettysburg.  Upon entering the stores downtown and looking at the merchandise, it becomes very clear that store owners feed this fascination.  Any visitor is bound to see the typical “got ghosts? Gettysburg does” t-shirt or similar merchandise elsewhere in town.  The Gettysburg Tour Center even features a selection of books ranging from The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories to I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg.  Just a few aisles over, next to the “Heritage Not Hate” mugs, there are mouse pads, shot glasses, and even snow globes with “Gettysburg Ghosts” printed all over them.

Some of Gettysburg's public art, found near Steinwehr Avenue. Photograph by the author.
Some of Gettysburg’s public art, found near Steinwehr Avenue. Photograph by the author.

While many historians ardently oppose the ghost tour industry for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and trivialization of atrocities, paranormal tourism remains ubiquitous in Gettysburg. What explains this industry’s success?  I decided to go out into town and ask employees and visitors why they believe it is so successful, for they, not the historians, are the ones fueling it. Continue reading “GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate”

“We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?

By Jen Simone ’18

“I am so sick of hearing about the Civil War every single day.”
“I didn’t expect there to be so many history nerds at this school.”
“I don’t get why so many tourists come to a little place like Gettysburg.”

I hear constant complaints from fellow Gettysburg College students about how tired they get of hearing about the Civil War. What did they expect coming to Gettysburg College, situated in one of the most visited historic towns in America? More importantly, what is so wrong with hearing about the Civil War so often? I decided that I wanted to investigate—why are so many people drawn to this small town in rural Pennsylvania? What draws millions of people to take time out of their busy lives to explore this special place? I’m hoping that my findings will convince college students that it is worth exploring this history-rich town and maybe for once, get them to stop to read the interpretative markers while they’re out jogging on the battlefield instead of simply passing by.

What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.
What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.

I conducted my whole investigation by walking up to random people I met in town and asking them all the same simple question: “Why are you here?” I expected to get very similar answers throughout all of my interviews and was ready to keep a tally of people visiting because they are either history buffs or because they have never been to Gettysburg before and just thought they should visit and see what all of the hype is about. I was shocked, however, for no two responses I received were the same. Continue reading ““We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?”