Lutheran Seminary's Major Role at Gettysburg; Used as Observation Post and Hospital during Battle

Article excerpt


A mong the most recognizable Gettysburg battlefield landmarks is the Lutheran Theological Seminary's Schmucker Hall, formerly known as Old Dorm.

The building's first three floors were constructed in 1831 and 1832, and a fourth floor was added in the 1850s to accommodate an increased student enrollment. The building was renamed in 1976 for the school's first president, the Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker, who served in that capacity until 1864.

The building's most notable and visible feature is the circular cupola. The building and its cupola would play a significant role in the Battle of Gettysburg, in Adams County, Pa., during the first three days of July 1863.

On June 30, 1863, Union cavalry Gen. John Buford observed a large Confederate army moving in the direction of Gettysburg. Surveying the topography near the seminary, he decided to attempt to block the Confederate advance through the town until Union infantry under Gen. John F. Reynolds could reinforce the position.

Buford established successive defensive positions along ridges to the west of Gettysburg, anchored by dismounted cavalry and artillery at Schmucker Hall and along Seminary Ridge.

On July 1, Buford's troops opened fire on advancing troops of Confederate Gen. Henry Heth's division. Heth, under instructions from Gen. Robert E. Lee to avoid a major engagement with the enemy, advanced his forces piecemeal along both sides of the Chambersburg Pike.

Buford and his aides, especially Lt. Aaron B. Jerome, used Schmucker Hall's cupola as an observation post to gauge the tide of battle along Herr Ridge, Willoughby Run, Herbst Woods, the railroad cut, McPherson's Ridge and Oak Ridge and to locate Reynolds' infantry.

The view from the cupola is extraordinary - a close panorama of the fields of the first day's fighting to the west and north and a more distant, general vision of the town and the battle sites of the second and third day to the east and south.

When Reynolds arrived at the seminary, he yelled to Buford, who was in the cupola, What goes, John? Buford replied, There's the devil to pay, but he assured Reynolds that his troops could hold the line until the infantry arrived in force.

Buford's troops held the position until Reynolds' infantry, including the famous Iron Brigade, deployed to the west of the seminary. The fighting swayed back and forth. Reynolds was killed, and the more numerous Confederate forces, attacking from the west and north, gradually pushed Union troops across Willoughby Run, off McPherson's Ridge, off Seminary Ridge, and through the town.

At the end of the first day, Union forces rallied on Cemetery Hill and along the heights of Cemetery Ridge. Schmucker Hall was now in Confederate hands, with the cupola serving as a Confederate observation post. The building also was used as a hospital for the duration of the battle and its aftermath.

Benjamin K. Neely of the Adams County Historical Society estimates that between 600 and 700 injured soldiers - Union and Confederate - were treated at Schmucker Hall during and after the battle, including Confederate Gens. …