Witnesses to Battle

Books as Witnesses: Gettysburg College Library Books, 1863

image of Pennsylvania Hall
Pennsylvania College, 1862, from the album of Frank E. Beltzhoover, Class of 1862.

July 1, 1863 marked the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, an event which would forever change the town of Gettysburg. It also changed the small college which called the town home. Gettysburg College, then known as Pennsylvania College, underwent a transformation from a place of learning to a battlefield hospital within a matter of hours. Students and professors looked on as the battle moved through their campus. The books on the shelves of the College libraries, too, witnessed one of the most significant moments in the nation’s history.

At the time of the battle, Pennsylvania College had three libraries. All were located in Pennsylvania Hall, which was then known as the College Edifice. The main College library contained books purchased on recommendations from faculty. The College’s literary and debating societies controlled and maintained the other two. Known as the Philomathaean and Phrenakosmian societies, these two groups were the heart and soul of the intellectual and social life at the college for nearly a century. They disbanded in 1924 as other clubs and organizations gained popularity.

The Pennsylvania Hall 1863 Library Project identifies and highlights the books that were on the shelves of Penn Hall at the time of the battle. Books that survived from the Battle of Gettysburg through the 21st century.