Battle of Gettysburg: County forever bound to history

hhottle@centredaily.comJune 30, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    To schedule a tour with LaRussa or any of the other Gettysburg town tour guides, call 717-339-6161.

  • LOCAL TIES

    •  Andrew Gregg Curtin, a Bellefonte native, was a two-term Pennsylvania governor during the Civil War. He was a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, sat with Lincoln during the ceremony of the Gettysburg Address, and spearheaded the establishment of Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg after the war. Curtin is buried in Union Cemetery along East Howard Street in Bellefonte.

    •  James Addams Beaver, a Bellefonte lawyer, commanded the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, lost a leg during a later battle. He was eventually promoted to brevet brigadier general during the Civil War. Later, he became the president of the Penn State board of trustees and briefly served as university president. He went on to serve as Pennsylvania governor. Beaver Stadium is named for him and, like Curtin, Beaver is also buried in Union Cemetery along East Howard Street in Bellefonte.

    •  Capt. Robert Forster, of State College, led Company C of the 148th Regiment during the Civil War. He was the first postmaster at Farmers High School (Penn State), and he was killed on second day of battle at Gettysburg.

    •  Pvt. George Osman, of State College, was in Company C of the 148th Regiment during the Civil War. He was the first member of the 148th regimen killed at Gettsyburg.

    •  Amos Meyer, of Boalsburg, was killed at Gettysburg. His mother, Elizabeth, was one of three local women who put flowers on graves a year later, a moment often credited with being the first Memorial Day commemoration.

    •  Six of the 10 companies from the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War were raised in Centre County. The 148th Regiment participated in many key moments of the war, including Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. A monument honoring the regiment stands at Gettysburg (west of Ayres Avenue, off Wheatfield Road), and a secondary marker stands on South Hancock Avenue on Cemetery Ridge.

Centre County has several connections to the Battle of Gettysburg, including Bellefonte natives Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin and James A. Beaver, who commanded the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later became Penn State president.

The county’s current connection isn’t quite as decorated, but he is working to keep the memory of his predecessors alive.

Zach Siggins has always loved history. He says that he “caught the history bug pretty young.” But it wasn’t until the Penn State senior took a course on the Civil War that he developed his passion and extensive knowledge for Gettysburg.

“It caught my interest, and I took another course about the Civil War and just gradually began to form a solid interest,” he said.

The State High graduate then decided to apply for an internship through the Penn State George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center.

For the second summer in a row, Siggins is an intern at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Last summer, he was placed in museum services. This summer he’s in the park’s interpretations division, where he’s working to perfect two program presentations: one on the third day of the battle, and another on the national cemetery.

There was a lot of studying at the beginning, but now Siggins spends much of his time with visitors, giving presentations and going on “roves” through the park to answer any visitor questions. He also takes turns working the information desk and hands-on children’s history cart at the visitors center.

“The summer has been great,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic summer job. Every day is a blast.”

But Siggins still fits in some time each day to learn more about the subjects he speaks about in his presentations.

“They won’t ever be perfect, so you’re always continually evaluating and researching and trying to strengthen your program,” he said.

Siggins says that he’s grateful to be a part of the internship program, particularly since this summer is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

“It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been challenging, it’s been busy,” he said. “But it really is a one-time event, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to be here for the 150th. It’s great seeing how many visitors are coming and enjoying the battlefield and enjoying the park.”

And there’s a lot more to Gettysburg than just the battlefield.

Gettysburg town tour guide Jerry LaRussa said that learning the history of the town and the people adds to the experience on the battlefield.

“Once people understand the town and know it’s history and know what the people were like, then the impact of the battle takes on a little bit more significance,” he said.

LaRussa suggests touring the town first then going onto the battlefield.

“It’s kind of when you’re watching a television program and it’s about this quaint town,” he said. “The first thing they do in producing the television show is to let you know all about the people and what the town is like and then the action starts.”

Heather Hottle can be reached at 231-4636. Follow her on Twitter @hmhottle.

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