Gettysburg at 150: Final ceremony and new Civil War interpretation

A Dedication Day ceremony at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg wraps up the sesquicentennial anniversary for the 1863 battle.
Photo: Seminary Ridge Museum

WASHINGTON, October 23, 2013 Commemoration on November 19 of President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” will wrap up this big sesquicentennial anniversary year for the 1863 battle many historians regard as the turning point of the American Civil War.

This year’s Dedication Day ceremony at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg will include recitation of the Lincoln’s address by Lincoln portrayer James Getty and a speech by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and American Civil War historian James McPherson. A Wreath Laying Ceremony at 10 a. m. will launch the formalities that will include candidates taking the U.S. Oath of Citizenship. A $5,000 scholarship also will be awarded to a Pennsylvania student as part of the “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” speech competition. The U.S. Marine Corps Band will provide music.

If you’re in Gettysburg for the annual re-enactment of the “few appropriate remarks” Lincoln spoke to Gettysburg townspeople as he formalized the country’s first national cemetery, consider a visit to Seminary Ridge Museum, the battle’s newest interpreter. It’s housed in the preserved, rehabilitated and adapted Schmucker Hall that dates to 1832. The building was engulfed by the battle, and the new exhibits within explore topics other museums do not: the pivotal first day of the July 1-3, 1863 battle; care of the wounded and human suffering in the s historic hall; and the moral, civic, and spiritual debates of the Civil War era.

It was that July 1st morning when Union cavalry commander General John Buford observed from the cupola high atop Schmucker Hall the lines of Confederates advancing from the west. The building became center of the Union’s defense that day, and like many of the buildings in the town, a hospital. Museum visitors who are 13 years and older may climb the stairs to that cupola where General Buford surveyed the advancing enemy in 1863. And it’s not only an encounter with history they find, but a grand view of Gettysburg and the surrounding countryside. 

Climb this cupola for sweeping Gettysburg views.

 

On the museum floors below the cupola, there are themed exhibits to study, including those illustrating what it took to care for the 600 wounded and dying soldiers in Schmucker Hall, as well as what it was like on the first day of the battle, and the struggles of that era that divided the nation, churches, and families. Visitors learn about the battle’s impact on the building’s occupants when the battle began, and their accounts of the fire and fight.

The museum’s floor about faith issues that boiled over into war include panels about Samuel Simon Schmucker, founder of the Lutheran Theological Seminary. He was an outspoken critic of slavery and an advocate of a broadly evangelical and “American” Protestantism. Yet his wife was from Virginia and brought slaves into the marriage. Interactive displays invite viewers to consider what they would have done had they been in his shoes. Other provocative panels depict passages in the Bible that both pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists used to support their respective views. 

A visit to the Seminary Ridge Museum

 

Museum stories about Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, a free African American from South Carolina who studied on scholarship provided by students at the Gettysburg seminary from 1835 to 1837, give even more perspective on the times. Like many citizens of Adams County, he spoke against slavery, and later became bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1852. Another of his race, James W. C. Pennington, was born into slavery in Virginia, but escaped to Adams County where he found safety and shelter with local residents who sided with abolitionists. He later attended Yale Divinity School, authored a text about slavery, and founded the Union Missionary Society.

Care of wounded at Gettysburg museum

 

Seminary Ridge Museum is a joint venture of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Adams County Historical Society and the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation. It is open six days a week through November 25, 10 to 5. Winter hours through March 25 are 10 to 5 Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Adult admission: $9.

For comprehensive Gettysburg travel information, visit www.gettysburg.travel.

Read more of Ruth Hill’s columns about faith travel in the Washington Times Communities at Contemporary Christian Travel.

 

 


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Ruth Hill

Ruth Hill writes for magazines and newspapers about the business and pleasures of travel. Read more about her views and news of Christian heritage travel around the world at faithtravelfocus.com

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