Central PA's towns and countryside were all affected by the Civil War. Now, 150 years later, beyond the well-trodden fields of Gettysburg, visitors to other parts of the region can feel the marks left by munitions and take tracings of gravestones to viscerally connect with our nation's history.
Pennsylvania's capital city, with its strategic railroad hub where more than 750,000 soldiers passed through, was Robert E. Lee's target in his quest northward.
Make the National Civil War Museum at Reservoir Park in Harrisburg a strategic starting point in unraveling the mission and its motivation. The museum's collection of more than 24,000 artifacts, manuscripts, documents and photographs form interpretive exhibits telling the full, unbiased story of the Civil War and showing the sacrifice made by soldiers, families and communities on both sides of the conflict.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania holds Civil War artifacts such as uniforms, weapons and military equipment in its military history collection. It is also home to paintings of the Battle of Gettysburg by artist Peter Rothermel, most notably his interpretation of Pickett's Charge.
The ornate John Harris and Simon Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg was the home of Cameron, who served as President Lincoln's Secretary of War. A long-time abolitionist, Cameron greeted the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from the front porch at the conclusion of the USCT Grand Review on November 14, 1865. The parade through Harrisburg was led by Grand Marshal Thomas Morris Chester, the only African-American reporter to cover the war for a white newspaper. Whitaker Center now stands on the site of his birth; he is buried in Penbrook at the Lincoln Cemetery.
On the square, on the South Hanover Street side, look up at the Old Courthouse pillars to see the scars of Confederate shelling during the July 1, 1863, Battle of Carlisle, another important skirmish on Pennsylvania's main streets during the Gettysburg Campaign, when Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart shelled Carlisle for several hours.
Carlisle is also home to the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center, which will host numerous Civil War–related events during the five-year sesquicentennial, including a Civil War Photography Conference June 24-26, 2011.
Some historians credit what happened in this town on Sept. 11, 1851, as being the beginning of the Civil War. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was first tested by the resistance/riot that ensued when Maryland slaveowner Edward Gorsuch tried to reclaim his slaves and was killed. The self-guided Christiana Underground Railroad Center at Historic Zercher Hotel helps educate visitors about the event and its aftermath. The Freedom Chapel Dinner Theater also has historical documents and photos, as well as a mural depicting the event.
Raided three times by the Confederate cavalry, Chambersburg was burned to the ground on the third occupation, when Confederate Gen. John McCausland failed to receive a ransom. The Heritage Center on the square helps tell the story through old documents and artifacts. A basement tour of one building that survived the fire, the Franklin County Jail, gives a sense of what prison was like during the war. A museum and genealogical library are now housed here.
Visit Mary Ritner's boarding house to see where John Brown planned his 1859 raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal in an attempt to arm an uprising of slaves to fight for abolition. This house also hosted other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass.
The John Brown Chapel in Mont Alto is believed to be one of the last worship places for Brown before the raid.
The Susquehanna River towns of Wrightsville and Columbia sacrificed the bridge that connected them in June of 1863 to stop the advance of Confederate troops led by Gen. John Gordon. What was once the longest covered bridge in the world was burned to cinders on the orders of Col. Jacob Frick. You can visit a diorama of the burning in Wrightsville.
In Columbia's Zion Hill Cemetery are the headstones of African-American Civil War soldiers. Among them is Robert Loney, a Civil War soldier and conductor on the Underground Railroad, whose own family was among the first group of slaves freed in the early 1800s.
York, the largest Northern town to be occupied by the Confederate army, was home to one of the most active Underground Railroad stationmasters, William C. Goodridge, who used his rail cars to help freedom seekers. A prominent African-American businessman in York, Goodridge often hosted anti-slavery meetings with noted abolitionists. His home, the Goodridge Freedom House and Underground Railroad Museum, is at 123 E. Philadelphia St.
A large open-air mural on West Market Street (between South Penn and Newberry Streets), marks his historic influence on York.
Learn about the roles abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and his housekeeper and companion, Lydia Hamilton Smith, played in securing equal rights for all Americans at the historic site of their home. Preliminary archaeological evidence revels an underground cistern that may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. In keeping with his devotion to equality, Thaddeus Stevens' gravesite is in the Schreiner-Concord cemetery, which was racially diverse. In recognition of his role as an architect of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Acts, more than 20,000 people, half of whom were free Black men, attended his funeral.
Lancaster's Bethel AME Church, founded in 1817, served as an important station along the Underground Railroad. Its "Living the Experience" program allows participants to journey back to the time of the Civil War and experience first-hand the plight and struggle of escaped Africans.
Today, visitors to Mechanicsburg can indulge in all things Civil War at the Civil War and More shop.
On June 28,1863, residents may have wished the war passed them by when they found the town under siege as they came home from Sunday services. Mayor George Hummel kept the town from being burned to the ground by the Confederates led by General Albert Jenkins. Gen. Jenkins moved on and skirmished with Union troops at Sporting Hill on the west side of Camp Hill. The foundation of the McCormick Barn, which the Confederates used as cover, remains.
Camp Hill is also home to earthworks and fortifications known as Fort Couch and Fort Washington, built in June of 1863, a few weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg, under the direction of Union Gen. Darius Couch in response to an expected Confederate attack on Harrisburg.
Hanover became a target for Confederates because of the important transportation and communication crossroad of Hanover Junction Train Station. The cavalry Battle of Hanover led by Confederate Gen J.E.B. Stuart on June 30, 1863, was a prelude to Gettysburg. The station became a major route for transporting wounded soldiers from Gettysburg, and it was also where President Lincoln changed trains on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
For further information:The best clearinghouse for information on all the activities related to the state's 150th commemoration of the Civil War is the extensive PACivilWar150.com website. There are also links to county visitors bureaus and historical organizations. The state's Civil War Trails website, visitpa.com/civil-war-trails, and explorepahistory.com are helpful in planning itineraries.
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