The goal of this project has been to locate and highlight books that were on the shelves of the college libraries on July 1, 1863. The books that witnessed Pennsylvania College’s rapid transformation into a field hospital.

piles of old books on a table with a smiling college student
Laurel Wilson, Class of 2019, cataloging witness books.

This project started in the summer of 2018 after Brian C. Pohanka Intern, Laurel Wilson ’19, was introduced to the so-called “Bloody Book” while working in Gettysburg College’s Special Collections and College Archives. This book is an 1847 U.S. Patent Office Report that contains the signatures of three Confederate soldiers from Mississippi. They were brought to the College Hospital to recover from their wounds. While the book itself is not actually bloody, any books that did actually become bloodstained would have been thrown away, it was present during a bloody period of the College’s history. It is thus deserving of the nickname. The “Bloody Book” was originally part of the Philomathaean Society library, which led Wilson to wonder how many more of these “Witness Books” are currently were within the College’s collection.

Old book, open to the title page where penciled in signatures of Confederate soldiers can be seen scrawled across the page.
CWVFM-014, The “Bloody Book”

This project was continued in the fall of 2019 by Maci Mark ’21, the Special Collections Glatfelter Intern, who continued to help identify the books within the collection, create a website to feature the witness books, and design a bookmark to indicate the witness books when they are on the shelves.

Within the library system all the Penn Hall Library Books have been flagged and can be searched through, as a type of catalog of Penn Hall Library Books


The books that were in Pennsylvania Hall during the battle were in three separate library collections. The methods for verifying which books were present at the time and relatively the same for each library. At the end of the day, however, the only way to truly verify if a book was present or not was to open the book, check it for bookplates and inscriptions, and to cross reference that particular title with contemporary records for the library the book is labeled for.

Gettysburg College

Founded in 1832 Pennsylvania College was created as a Lutheran College, to help young Lutheran men become good citizens and, ideally, go on to seminary. The founder of the college and nearby Lutheran seminary, Reverend Samuel Simon Schmucker, wrote and preached on the immorality of slavery. Charter member of the Board of Trustees, Thaddeus Stevens, was an ardent abolitionist. Gettysburg’s location, 8 miles from the Mason-Dixon Line, meant that Pennsylvania College attracted students from both the North and the South, although the student population was primarily drawn from Pennsylvania and Maryland. In the 1863-64 school year, 114 students were enrolled in the College and its Preparatory Department. Classes were being held on July 1, 1863, but as Henry Louis Baugher, President of the College, told his class, “We will close and see what is going on, for you know nothing about the lesson anyhow.”  Pennsylvania College was renamed Gettysburg College in 1921.

Philomathaean Society Library Books

The Philomathaean Society books were the first group of original College library books to be targeted and flagged as part of the project. The Philo Society compiled and printed copies of their library catalog in 1862. This made it relatively easy to search for the titles from this collection that were definitely here in 1863. This was done using keyword searches in the current library catalog. The one challenge that came with utilizing the 1862 Philo catalog to search for titles was the fact that 1862 catalog lists books only by their spine titles. These spine titles sometimes do not match the longer titles used on the book’s title page, which are the titles that are used in the College’s modern cataloging record.

Pennsylvania College Library Books

The Faculty Meeting Minutes from 1863 ultimately provided the answer to which books from the Main College Library collection were present in July of 1863. Although there is an accession book for the main library, the entries are numbered, but the date they were added to the collection was not recorded. The Faculty Minutes recorded which books were ordered for the library each month. A book that was ordered in April of 1863 and recorded as Edward’s On the Will was the last book that appeared in both the accession book (#5460) and the faculty meeting minutes. This meant that all of the titles with accession numbers lower that #5460 were here during the battle.

Phrenakosmian Society Library Books

The Phrenakosmian Society books were ultimately the greatest challenge to verify. Unlike the Philo Society, they had not printed an updated version of their library catalog since 1852. Their accession records also do not provide any clear sign of which books were accessioned before the battle and which ones likely came after. There is, however, one way to identify books that were likely her during the battle. According to E. S. Briedenbaugh’s The Pennsylvania College Book, the Phrenakosmian Society made ornate bookplates in 1862. The presence of these bookplates, or the evidence that a bookplate had been in the book, are the best way of identifying Phrena books. This method is not completely foolproof, however, as there have been a few instances where books with post-1863 publication dates have these bookplates.


The sources used in this project varied from manuscript collections to books about the college’s history. But all of it came from information that Gettysburg College already had. Here are some of the different resources that were used.

Manuscript Collections:

MS-006: Philomathaean and Phrenakosmian Societies

MS-010 Linnaean Association Papers


A Salutary Influence: Gettysburg College, 1832-1985 by Charles Glatfelter

Gettysburg College Bulletin Vol LIII, No.5, July 1963

The Pennsylvania College Book, 1832-1882 by E.S. Breidenbaugh