“Now we are engaged in a great civil war …”
Great moments in history often seem distant, separated from our own lives by both time and space.
But the Battle of Gettysburg, the pivotal moment in a war that dramatically changed our nation, is close enough for us to hear the roar of cannons and experience the emotions inspired by courage and sacrifice.
Here in Centre County, we can all take special pride in our region’s connections to that three-day struggle, where 46,000 soldiers were killed and many more scarred 150 years ago this week.
From the leadership of Andrew Gregg Curtin to the valor of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, we gave much.
“People from right here were involved in Gettysburg,” said Dave Felice, a Civil War re-enactor from State College. “Centre County was not real populated at the time, but it was well represented at Gettysburg in the Union Army.”
It is appropriate that we remember Gettysburg in the days before we celebrate our independence. The Civil War threatened to tear apart a nation and undo what had been won a century earlier.
But the tide turned at Gettysburg, renewing momentum for the abolition of slavery and raising hope for President Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.”
Centre County’s finest fought, and many died, at a place known now as “the Wheatfield” and in a conflict immortalized as “Pickett’s Charge.”
Centre County did much to help realize Lincoln’s dream.
Our industry — at Curtin Village, Centre Furnace and elsewhere — provided the materials used to make critical supplies for the Union troops.
Curtin, Pennsylvania’s governor at the time, hailed from Bellefonte, the son of legendary ironmaster Roland Curtin. He was tasked by Lincoln with recruiting volunteer soldiers across the commonwealth and found 10 companies worth in his home county.
Andrew Curtin chose a Bellefonte attorney and Union colonel, James Beaver, to guide his regiment. Beaver’s name now graces Penn State’s football stadium.
Local ties include Gettysburg casualty Amos Myers, whose mother’s acts of remembrance helped inspire Memorial Day activities in Boalsburg, and local Postmaster Robert Forster, the Company C captain who was killed at the Wheatfield.
Many people living in Centre County today can trace their lineage back to individuals who played roles in the outcome at Gettysburg and beyond.
The roster of 148th Regiment volunteers bears names still common across our region: Weaver, McCartney, Barr, Taylor, Peters, Poorman, Biddle, Harris, Lucas, Watkins, Ellenberger, Bathurst, Garbrick, Kline, Mayes, Musser, Etters, Hoover, Koch, McAllister, Condo, Woodring, Snyder and many, many more.
Duane Harer, of Livonia, Miles Township, is well-versed in his great-great-grandfather’s experiences in the Civil War. Zachariah Truckenmiller was wounded at Gettysburg, and spent nearly a year in the hospital.
Harer is also a re-enactor, and will play his own ancestor during a re-creation at Gettysburg on Friday.
Of the iconic battlefield, Harer said: “I love that place. It’s a big place with so many tales to tell.”
Gettysburg’s legacy of valor belongs to a nation changed by what happened there.
And Centre County can forever claim a special share in that story, a tangible link, forged in the actions and sealed with the blood of our forebears.