Visit to Pennsylvania town offers a glimpse of history and how African-Americans played a role in it.
BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
The Civil War has been a hot topic lately. We Floridians are inundated with Confederate history, which is not favorable to African-Americans. But they should travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to learn more about the winning side, whose victory led to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Gettysburg was the site of the most unforgettable and important military conflict of the war and President Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech, “The Gettysburg Address.”
‘A turning point’
Carl Whitehill, director of Communications at Destination Gettysburg, says, “Gettysburg is an important visit for all African-Americans to best get a first-hand look at such an important time in American history.
“While the battle in Gettysburg didn’t end the American Civil War, it was a turning point that that helped bring back together a country so divided. Abraham Lincoln, in his notable speech, reminded us all that our country’s fathers… “brought forth a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Whitehill added.
Battle of Gettysburg
The battle was not just the turning point of the war, but it was the largest and bloodiest military engagement in North America. It began on July 1, 1863, and lasted for two more days.
The Union Army won, and turned the Confederates back south, so badly defeated that they never again ventured north. A visit to Gettysburg wouldn’t be complete without touring Gettysburg National Military Park, where the battle took place. You can tour by car, bicycle or horseback. For more information, go to destinationGettysburg.com.
Contributions and sacrifice
The multi-layered history of Gettysburg does not include African-American soldiers, but many Blacks were wounded or killed in the infamous battle. They worked as cooks, personal servants of officers, ditch diggers and wagon drivers who transported ammunition, food and other essentials – support services that kept the military machine operating.
Their contributions and sacrifice, like other African-Americans of that era, have been omitted from the history books. As for the Blacks who fought in the Civil War, the graves of 30 U.S. “Colored Troop” soldiers can be found in the old Lincoln Cemetery in Gettysburg.
Homes were hospitals
With over 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded, captured or missing, the small town of Gettysburg was left with the staggering task of removing the corpses of men and horses from the battleground, cleaning up, rebuilding and simply surviving.
Many structures, including private homes, were conscripted into serving as field hospitals.
Many free Blacks resided in Gettysburg. You can view the farmhouse of Abraham Brien that still stands on the battlefield. Also, still standing in the city is the home of John Hopkins, a well-respected member of the town’s African-American community and a well-loved employee of Gettysburg College.
Another freeman, Basil Biggs, (also buried in Lincoln Cemetery) worked on the Underground Railroad by hiding escapees on his farm, and then smuggling them further north.
Seminary Ridge Museum
Learn about other Blacks who lived in Adams County (where Gettysburg is located) at Seminary Ridge Museum, which was established in 2013, and focuses on the human toll of the war.
The seminary had been a field hospital, and many of its life-sized dioramas and interactive displays inform visitors of that history. Other displays tell of many important and heroic local African-Americans.
Other historical sites
Most of Gettysburg’s African-American population evacuated ahead of the Confederate Army for fear of capture. After the battle and the Union Army’s victory, they returned to their homes.
To learn more, join the Gettysburg African American History Tour (DestinationGettysburg.com) that includes historical sites close to Gettysburg.
Restaurant with a secret
Don’t miss visiting the Dobbin House Tavern, which is the oldest standing structure in Gettysburg, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The stone façade and white picket fence of this lovely country home appears to have a peaceful history, but that is deceiving.
Although Rev. Alexander Dobbin built it for his family in 1776, the Colonial building is said to have been the first stop of the Underground Railroad on the northern side of the Mason Dixon line.
Where slaves hid
Visitors are invited to view a small exhibition of the history of the house in the attic. While you’re squeezing up a narrow stairway, you’ll come upon a dark, tight opening under the eaves that now holds costumed black mannequins. This, of course, was where the fugitives were hidden.
Today it’s a tavern and restaurant that specializes in succulent Colonial dishes and drinks, like Salmagundi (an 18th-century salad with meat, vegetables and cheese) and Philadelphia Fish House Punch (with rum, brandy, peach brandy and fruit juices first created in Colonial Philly).
The Baladerry Inn was a private home that’s located only one mile from the battlefield, and was conscripted to serving as a field hospital.
The red brick building was constructed in 1812 on the farm of George Bushman. In the 1970s, it was purchased by Carol and Bob O’Gara who turned it into an inn, and named it after an Irish village.
Judy and Kenny Caudill bought the country property in 2010, and brought it into the 21st century without compromising its historical integrity. They often give their guests a tour of the old house. Note that the living and dining rooms held the 1,300 men who were treated after the battle.
As you enter those rooms and understand that not all patients survived, you realize you’re on hallowed ground. Some people have wondered: Is the Baladerry Inn haunted?
Experts have said that it is.
When the Travel Channel visited there, they discovered paranormal activity. Guests and other supernatural groups also have experienced ghostly encounters.
But the Caudills have created a cheerful bed and breakfast that’s focused on making their guests feel comfortable and welcomed. It boggles the mind that you can sleep so close to American history. To learn more about the Baladerry Inn, and to reserve accommodations, visit www.baladerryinn.com.