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 Preserving the Legacies of Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania     



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Legacy of the Seminary  The Seminary's role in the Civil War, 
Battle of Gettysburg, 
July 1-3, 1863

Gettysburg Seminary’s Role

In a Defining Event

Essay by the Rev. Dr. Fred K. Wentz

“Gettysburg Seminary, albeit unintentionally, has stepped into the nation’s history and enduringly enters into the conversations Americans carry on with their dynamic places of 

It was an accident and a reversal of intentions. Gettysburg Seminary in 1832 was set upon a hill outside a quiet Pennsylvania village to prepare Lutheran clergy in a pleasant, undistracting, environment. But in 1863 the campus and buildings became a center of a violent conflict that reshaped – with the help of  Lincoln’s famous address – the traditions and the guiding principles of American life.

Today students prepare and study in a setting of tour buses and wandering tourists at the single most significant juncture of Lutheranism with the nation’s life. Here both tourists and students can feel the resonant memories that are national traditions; they enter the conversations that swirl around places of reenactment – Civil War scenes and the famous Gettysburg Address.  For Lutherans, Gettysburg means a college and a seminary. For the nation, Gettysburg is a hot-spot for celebrated history and for the search for identity.

Samuel Simon Schmucker, founder of Gettysburg Seminary, was a forceful, even controversial, leader in urging Lutherans actively to serve the public life.  Today the institution he set upon a quiet, rural hill remains in place, but it is at the same time a center for the nation’s public life. Seminary Ridge and the cupola of the Seminary Building are famous sites in American history. From that ridge Pickett launched his famous charge. That cupola was a main observation post for both armies.

Confident and aggressive in 1863, Robert E. Lee led his confederate army into Pennsylvania, targeting Harrisburg and threatening Baltimore and Washington. Union troops were protecting Washington and moving north slowly through Maryland. Lee and his main forces had gotten to Chambersburg, 26 miles west of Gettysburg, with units scattered to the north (Carlisle) and to the east as far as the Susquehanna River. Foraging for shoes, a confederate regiment had encountered advanced units of union cavalry. On enemy territory, Lee decided to draw his troops together at the convenient crossroads of Gettysburg. He was preparing to attack his pursuers.

On the morning of July 1, 1863 the union cavalry commander, General John Buford, climbed to the cupola of the seminary building and saw the sun glinting on rifles to the west as confederate troops approached. He sent for help to the nearest union corps, the First, under the command of General John Reynolds. Then Buford moved the cavalry forward to check the confederate advance. Upon arrival Reynolds deployed his troops along the front of the seminary campus. He also viewed the scene from the cupola and then led his troops westward to engage the enemy on the next small ridge, where he became an early casualty. Both to the west and to the north the fighting was intense. The seminary campus was filled with union troops; soon the wounded and dying were brought to the three buildings – the Seminary Building, the Schmucker house and the Krauth house. Toward evening union troops made a heroic final stand on the campus in the face of a fierce attack by General Pender’s Division, before fleeing through the campus and the town to the heights of Cemetery Ridge. The Seminary Building, the first field hospital, was now occupied by the wounded and dying of two armies.

Through the next two days of severe fighting the seminary was occupied by confederate troops with the Schmucker House standing less than 100 yards from the battle line.

Seminary buildings became a haven for confederate wounded; artillery units occupied its grounds; union cannon hurled shells at the seminary, repeatedly damaging the building; Robert E. Lee directed the confederate forces from his headquarters near the main building and must have used the cupola lookout.

When confederate troops retreated westward in the rain of July 4, their most severely wounded remained and were joined by many union wounded at the Seminary Building which became a major hospital for several months. The burial of horses and men became the urgent necessity of the following days.

The people of the seminary had fled as the battle developed. School was not in sessions and the students had departed, many to volunteer for military service. One student had become the chief officer of a company made up mainly of college and seminary students.

As the leading unit of the first Corps, Cutler’s Brigade, arrived on campus that first hot July morning, Mrs. Schmucker set out buckets of water for the men, but the officers kicked them over so that the soldiers would not break their fast pace to the field of battle.

Samuel Simon Schmucker had been warned to flee because he was a marked man. His activities in the Underground Railroad – he had occasionally sheltered fugitives from southern slave owners – probably were not known, but his advocacy of abolition was well known, so that southern troops would likely have pinpointed his home. Confederate soldiers, usually not given to vandalism, did trash his books and papers. Some of the seminary’s early documents were lost. Several of his books still show the effects of being thrown onto the floor, and out the window, probably trampled by muddy boots.

Tne abused Bible carries this penciled message: “J.G. Bearden of the reel army. . . this is the Holy Biele I pick up out of the . . . and has placed on the case again.”

Schmucker wrote under these words as follows: “this pencil note was written by an illiterate, but I trust pious rebel, during the sacking of my house and library, during the great battle of Gettysburg” (dated September 25, 1870).

The family of the second seminary professor, Charles Philip Krauth, had remained in their home on the campus. Early in the first days fighting wounded union soldiers were brought to their home. Dispossessed, husband, wife, and daughter sheltered in the basement for most of the first day. As victorious confederates approached they were urged to flee. Since the town to the east was in chaos and conflict, they went west through confederate lines to friends living beyond Marsh Creek. Returning after the battle, they found their home despoiled by its use as a hospital, but not vandalized.

Missing, however, was a precious heirloom, a large and handsome silver set of four pieces. It turned up in the possession of the mayor of Waynesboro and was returned

To Mrs. Krauth. During the retreat from Gettysburg a confederate officer had spotted it and left it behind to be returned to its owner. Today it can be seen, somewhat scratched but still beautiful, in the museum of the Adams County Historical Society located in the Seminary Building.

Mortal enemies knew that they were kindred, and officers took time for chivalrous, thoughtful acts in the midst of the most destructive and spirit-sapping events of that war.

Gettysburg was the high water mark for the southern armies and the confederate cause (combined with a union victory in the west at Vicksburg).  Lincoln’s Address that November, better known around the world than the Battle itself, interpreted the nation’s history and identity continue fiercely to this day, but the seminary campus is quiet, a place of remembrance. For Lutherans it is a unique context for learning.

One thoughtful American, Kent Gramm, meditating for long hours on the seminary campus recently, put together the meaning of the seminary’s presence at the national shrine with these words:

 “At the Theological Seminary, students walked quietly along the hill where the Iron Brigade had poured out the last full measure of devotion with fearsome stubbornness.  Here Lee had pointed at the blue crowds on Cemetery Hill, saying, “The enemy is there, and I shall strike him.’’ Where now professors stroll with their hands in their pockets and think about the Maker of the universe and the Lord of history.”


  Visit the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg Website

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