“Location, location, location” (and Union Col. Charles S. Wainwright, plus a Confederate general) brought Capt. Greenlief T. Stevens and the 5th Maine Battery to the Gettysburg Theological Seminary campus in late morning on Wednesday, July 1, 1863.
Located on a slight rise not much taller than a wicked big Maine frost heave (we love the term “wicked” up here by the North Pole), the seminary stood between Gettysburg “village” and the ridges rolling west toward South Mountain. Gettysburg was a decent-sized “town” by mid-19th century Maine standards, but many Union officers applied the term “village” to the place.
That slight elevation, part of a larger north-ridge topographical speed bump called Seminary Ridge, and Harry Heth and his Confederate division are why Greenlief T. Stevens et al unlimbered at the theological seminary.
But like the back story to the 5th Maine Battery’s monument on the seminary campus, there is a back story as to why the seminary was built in Gettysburg in the first place.
Let’s go there first.
In the 1820s, the regional part of the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States decided to open a seminary in Maryland/Pennsylvania to train ministers for area churches. The seminary’s development reflected the strong Lutheran influence among the region’s Germanic settlers, collectively dubbed “Dutch” by Johnny Rebs and Billy Yanks alike during the war.
The XI Corps that Oliver Otis Howard of Leeds (just about due west of Augusta in central Maine) brought to Chancellorsville in early May 1863 was around half (perhaps a higher percentage) German in composition.
We all know that Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson smashed XI Corps. Union eyewitnesses and subsequent Northern newspaper art scorned the stampeding soldiers as “Dutch” or “Dutchmen.” After fighting quite well outside the town on July 1, that same corps’ retreat through rabbit-warren Gettysburg would draw caustic “Dutch” comments from non-German Union soldiers.
The attitude existed that no matter how many Germans died defending the United States, they were not good enough, even if born in the United States to German immigrant parents.
So in 1826 Gettysburg competed with Carlisle (Penn.) and Hagerstown (Md.) to host a new Lutheran seminary, “Gettysburg and the people of Adams county, including many from Hanover, offered $7,000” and the former Gettysburg Academy, noted Reverend C.M. Stock.
Gettysburg’s cash topped Hagerstown’s $6,635 offer and Carlisle’s bid of $2,000 and a 10,000-square-foot lot at Dickinson College. Meeting at Hagerstown on March 2, 1826, the seminary directors chose Gettysburg “because it had made the largest money offer” and the town was “the most central to the great body of the Lutheran church,” Stock said.
Money talked, and the Lutheran seminary walked. Gettysburg Theological Seminary opened in the Gettysburg Academy building with 11 students and one professor, Reverend Samuel S. Schmucker, on September 5, 1826.
The seminary relocated to its own campus just west of the town in 1832, after a contractor completed the three-story, red-brick Schmucker Hall, topped by its distinctive cupola. Officially known as the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the school belonged to the General Synod.
A few other buildings, including nice homes for Reverend Schmucker and another teacher, were soon built.
John Buford used the cupola atop Schmucker Hall as a lookout while his 1st Division, Cavalry Corps, fought Heth’s advancing Confederates through the morning of July 1. By the time he showed up with his six bronze 12-pounder Napoleons and his gunners, Stevens viewed Schmucker Hall as just a landmark.
He called the whole place “the Theological Seminary,” but he meant only Schmucker Hall — and within a few hours the 5th Maine Battery reduced the seminary’s building count by one.
Just what that building was, Stevens did not tell.
He started his Wednesday morning near Emmitsburg, the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line, and he had never heard of the Gettysburg Theological Seminary.
Thanks to Harry Heth and the seminary’s location, Stevens soon would.
Next week: Forming the seminary firing line
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.