Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CWL --- Walking Gettysburg's Battlefield: The Lutheran Seminary Hospital

The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg, Michael A. Dreese, McFarland Publishing, Illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index, 200 pp, 2002, hardcover $45.00, 2005 paperback $29.95.

“How goes it?” “Well, John. There’s the devil to pay!” The red brick, 19th century building was made popular by the by the film Gettysburg; its cupola was made iconic by Union generals Buford and Reynolds. The Lutheran Seminary building, now named Schmucker Hall, was one of the centers of learning and religion in the Gettysburg of 1863. Luther probably would not have winced at Buford’s declaration; there is much in Luther’s theology that holds that the Devil indeed would ask to be paid war’s wages.

In this book, Michael Dreese pays homage to the building, the lives, and this particular (using Joshua Chamberlain’s words) ‘vision place of souls.’ A stop on the National Park Service’s real and virtual tours, this four story structure from basement to the attic witnessed the agony or death of slightly less than 1,000 souls.

Dreese’s story begins on March 2, 1826 in Hagerstown, Maryland. Carlisle, Gettysburg and Hagerstown made the short list of locations chosen by the ten founding members of the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In the same spirit that possesses local government today, Adams county residents raised $7,000 in subscriptions for a seminary if the location would be Gettysburg; as an added inducement, the free use of the Adams County Academy building until the seminary structure could be completed was offered. Using short, focused chapters, the author sketches community, church and student leadership and their efforts to found, build and maintain a theological seminary.

Samuel Schmucker, 27 years old founder and 64 year old seminary professor and president during battle, is present on almost 20% of the pages. Charles Krauth, selected for the second professorship in 1850, and his family is similarly covered. All three seminary buildings: Schmucker’s house, Krauth’s house, and the classroom and dormitory are literally soaked in blood during the battle and it’s aftermath. Student members of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia have left memoirs that Dreese presents. The McFarland family which lived in the basement of the ‘Old Dorm’ and provided housing, grounds and building maintenance services passed through the battle. As they fled out the front door of the building the Slentz family, tenants of the McPherson farm located to the immediate west of the seminary, ran through the back door and stayed in the Slentz’s apartment.

In detail, the week before and the first day of the battle is covered. Anecdotes of civilians and soldiers reveal seminary students passing through Rebel lines to preach sermons. Henry Jacobs, a student of Pennsylvania (now Gettysburg) College recalls an 1861 dream that is prescient of July 1, 1863. Lt. Jerome, of the Signal Corps and attached to Buford’s cavalry division, recollects his service in the seminary building’s cupola. The building begins to fill with Federal cavalry wounded then infantry wounded. After 6 pm the Rebels pass through the buildings and steal all the Federal First Corps medical implements and medicines, leaving about 700 wounded and their doctors to their agonies and devices.

During the remainder of the book, Dreese presents stories of desperate doctors treating both Federal and Confederate wounded. As limbs pile up outside of the three buildings, graves are dug in the gardens and yards of the seminary. For the months of July, August and September, the seminary is a war hospital; the U.S. Sanitary Committee and the Christian Commission, a forerunners of the Red Cross, provided food, supplies and staff to care for residents. It is not until October that seminary classes resume.

Dreese’s book is an excellent work. Depending largely on personal recollections found in newspapers of the era, personal diaries, letters and reported conversations, Dreese offers a civilian story well balanced with a military story. Readers of Gettysburg Magazine will find familiar, detailed coverage of battle events and, possibly, unfamiliar coverage of civilian events. Priced somewhat high at $30 for a paperback, it is worth every cent. Those smitten by the events at the Seminary may feel compelled to aid the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation (SRHPR).

Currently, the Old Dorm is occupied by the Adams County Historical Society , which is in its first year of fundraising for a new building to be located east of Barlow’s Knoll. Within five years, it is expected, the Society will be moving and the Preservation Foundation will begin work on the restoration of the building. At this time three of the four floors are open for viewing. The attic is closed uto visitors unless they are on an SRHPF tour. Contributors to the foundation may enter the cupola during SRHPF open houses. The view is one of a kind.

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