Download the PDF for easy reading – 2007 Centre County and the Civil War exhibit
During the American Revolution, the Northern and Southern regions of the United States were united in their fight for independence. That feeling of unity would dissipate in the first half of the 19th century when economic, social, and political differences produced one crisis after another, each resulting in deep-seeded hostility and a growing feeling of separation. This frustration is clearly communicated in an excerpt from an 1851 Alabama newspaper:
We purchase all of our luxuries and necessities from the North. Our slaves are clothed with Northern manufactured goods, have Northern hats and shoes, work with Northern hoes, plows and other implements. The slaveholder dresses in Northern goods, rides in Northern saddles, sports his Northern carriage, reads Northern books. In Northern vessels his products are carried to market, his cotton is ginned with Northern gins, his sugar is crushed and preserved with Northern machinery, his rivers are navigated by Northern steamboats. His son is educated at a Northern college, his daughter receives the finishing polish at a Northern seminary; his doctor graduates at a Northern medical college, his students are furnished with Northern teachers, and he is furnished with Northern inventions.
Many in the South thought that they had become colonized and minimized by the industrialized North. As immigrants poured into the big cities of the Northeast, many white Southerners feared that they would not be adequately represented in government. They envisioned laws that would limit their economic abilities through their cotton trade with Europe; shift the building of roads, railroads and ports strictly to the North; and abolish slavery, an integral ingredient in the Southern agrarian economy. By December of 1860, tensions reached an all time high and South Carolina became the first state to formally secede from the Union.
Centre County, Pennsylvania was also divided. The iron, lumber, and coal industries of the County occupied the land north and east of Nittany Mountain, while Pennsylvania Germans farmed the limestone rich valleys in the five southernmost townships. They faced the same political differences locally as the country did nationally with a Democratic agrarian south feeling exploited by the industrialized Republicans of the north.
When the South fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 anger and indignation spread immediately. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to protect the Capitol from Southern invaders and patriotic Northerners rushed to serve. Centre County mirrored the excitement of the North with news of the aggression spreading across the mountains and valleys affecting patriotic citizens from nearly every walk of life. From the seasoned military man to the young student attending the Farmer’s High School (Penn State) the excitement and desire to squelch this rebellion swelled, and they enlisted as 90 day men who would restore the Union and preserve the Constitution. Predictably, the Southern German townships were not as eager to join the fight and War meetings in that area were far less enthusiastic.
Mistakenly, many Northerners were certain the rebellion could not last for long. Even Pugh, the first president of the Farmer’s High School, warned his students that the war would not be fought out by the 75,000 men just called, that it would not be ended in 90 days, that it would be a struggle for years…Dr. Pugh’s words were prophetic as the Civil War lasted for 4 years and affected the lives of 620,000 soldiers- 360,000 of whom were from Pennsylvania.
While much has been written about Centre County’s military history, such as the 148th Regiment and the Bellefonte Fencibles, it is a part of a larger story, which the Centre County Historical Society explores in this exhibit, Centre County and the Civil War.