Browsing Posts tagged Carlisle

‘Americans Shall Rule America!’ The Know-Nothing Party in Cumberland County (1998)

Free Soil: The Birth of the Republican Party in Cumberland County (Summer 2000)

In Defense of Union and White Supremacy: The Democratic Alternative to Free Soil, 1847 – 1860 (Winter 2000)

In a series of three essays John Wesley Weigel traces the political history of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania between the late 1840s and the Republican victory in the Presidential election of 1860. Weigel’s articles are based in large part on primary sources, in particular three local newspapers: Carlisle (PA) Herald , Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, and the Shippensburg (PA) News. All three articles include extensive endnotes. Weigel’s essay of the rise of the Republican party in Cumberland county includes two maps and a graph related to voter turnout. In addition, Weigel provides two detailed charts that breakdown Cumberland county votes by party between 1839 and 1873.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

John Cantilion

“Southern Sentiments: A Look at Attitudes of Civil War Soldiers” (1990)
Patricia Coolmeyer’s essay explores the different ways that soldiers and residents of southern Pennsylvania saw the South during the Civil War. Coolmeyer uses a wide variety of sources in her account, including letters, diaries, local newspapers, and other nineteenth-century publications.

“From Carlisle and Fort Couch: The War of Corporal John Cantilion” (1993)
James A. Holechek’s article focuses on Corporal John Cantilion’s experiences in central Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863. Cantilion served in the 4th United States Cavalry and was stationed at Carlisle Barracks in early June 1863. This essay includes transcripts of letters that Cantilion wrote from Carlisle Barracks on June 19 and from Fort Couch on June 23. Holechek also provides the transcript of a letter that Cantilion’s wife, Sarah, wrote in early November 1863. However, Cantilion died on November 12, 1863 and never received that letter. In addition, photographs of John and Sarah Cantilion are reproduced in this essay.

This article has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Carlisle Barracks—1854-1855: From the Letters of Lt. Thomas W. Sweeny, 2nd Infantry” contains nine letters to Ellen Sweeny about Lt. Sweeny’s experiences and acquaintances at the Carlisle Barracks. Editor Richard J. Coyer introduces the letters with a biographical sketch of Sweeny, including details about his military service from the Mexican War through Reconstruction. This article includes extensive notes where Coyer indentifies figures and provides context for Sweeny’s letters.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.


Albert Hazlett

“Cumberland County’s Connection to John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry” (2009)

Joseph D. Cress uses reports from several local newspaper to explore the story of Albert Hazlett’s arrest in Chambersburg on October 22, 1859. Hazlett had participated in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, but he managed to escape. The Carlisle American and American Volunteer published reports about Hazlett’s case with contradicting evidence and testimony, which reflected the confusion over Hazlett’s identity. (When local authorities arrested him, Hazlett claimed that he was actually William Harrison). After three trials in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Judge Frederick Watts decided to extradite Harrison to Virginia. Hazlett was executed in Charlestown, Virginia on March 16, 1860.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on March 2, 1872 about his work relating to Santo Domingo. In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant had appointed Douglass to the Commission of Inquiry for the annexation of Santo Domingo the United States of America. Douglass delivered his speech at Rheem’s Hall, which was located behind the Old Court House in Carlisle. Today that location is a parking lot. Reports about the speech did not appear in any national newspapers, but his visit created a local controversy. George Z. Bentz, who was the manager of the Bentz House and a Republican, refused to let Douglass eat his dinner in hotel dining room with the white guests. (The Bentz House stood on what is today the former Wellington Hotel on East High Street). The American Volunteer used the incident to characterize Republicans as hypocritical. “We have in this circumstance positive evidence that the Radicals are just as loath to recognize negro-equality as the Democrats,” as the American Volunteer observed. While the Herald “[found] no fault with” the manager’s decision, the editors argued that policies which denied African Americans entry into a hotel “[were] simply silly and wicked.” In addition, Historic Carlisle recently added a Wayside Maker for Douglass’ visit.

David L. Smith also discusses Douglass’ visit  in his essay “Fredrick Douglass in Carlisle” (2005). Smith provides transcripts of the newspaper articles cited in this blog post.

Location: Bentz House stood on what is today the former Wellington Hotel on East High Street ; Rheem’s Hall, which is a parking lot today, was located behind the Old Court House

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

James Smith Colwell, who worked as a lawyer in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was one of the men who answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Colwell joined the Carlisle Fencibles, a local volunteer company under the command of Robert Henderson, as a first lieutenant. Six weeks later the Fencibles left Carlisle for Camp Wayne in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where they received training and were designated Company A of the 7th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. His wife, Ann, had not been happy with that decision. “You left me without talking about it,” as Ann reminded him. While James admitted that “[he] err[ed] frequently,” he observed that “it [was] nearly always an error of the judgment & not of the heart.” Yet in this case he argued that it was impossible to get out of the army. “I do not see how I could get out of the service without bring[ing] disgrace and dishonour on myself & my little family,” as Colwell explained. Colwell had in mind his four children – two sons and two daughters. Colwell’s oldest daughter, Nannie, was about six years old in December 1861 when she announced in her “first letter” that she “[could] read” and “[sent him] a big kiss.” Colwell was able to return to Carlisle on furlough, but on September 17, 1862 he died during the Battle of Antietam. Local newspapers published obituaries, including the Carlisle (PA) American, which noted that “[Colwell’s] high moral character and exemplary life had made him a bright example in our midst.”When Civil War veterans in Carlisle established a local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic in February 1881, they decided to call it the Captain Colwell Post.

The Colwells are important to Carlisle’s Civil War history.  James Colwell joined the Carlisle Fencibles, one of the military units formed in 1861, and was elected as First Lieutenant, despite being the oldest soldier at age 48.  Shortly after leaving home, he wrote to his wife Annie to explain his motives for enlisting, saying, “I did it from a sense of right and duty…[M]y dear wife, the North is right and the South wrong…[P]osterity and the whole civilized world will so decide.  Of this I have no doubt.”[i]  Although Annie, a southerner from Baltimore, was not happy with his decision to join the army because it left her at home with four young children, she supported her husband and often sent him packages containing chicken, butter, jelly, and whiskey while he was away.  Unfortunately, James was killed at Antietam in 1862.  The couple’s nearly two hundred letters from the war were compiled by their great-grandson David Colwell into a book entitled The Bitter Fruits.

The Colwell family’s house can be seen today at 145 South Pitt Street in Carlisle, PA.


[i] David G. Colwell.   The Bitter Fruits: The Civil War Comes to a Small Town in Pennsylvania  (Carlisle, PA: Cumberland County Historical Society, 1998), 48.

The Shelling of Carlisle Map is a virtual tour of the Confederate shelling that occurred on July 1, 1863. The tour begins with the entrance of Major General Fitzhugh Lee into the town of Carlisle and ends at the burning of the Carlisle Barracks. The map is a great resource for those visiting the area and those who want to discover the historical past of Carlisle. Each marker on the map gives a brief explanation of what happened in 1863 and shows the location in town today. Such locations include the Courthouse downtown, the First Presbyterian Church, buildings on Dickinson College’s campus and the Carlisle Barracks. The purple line indicates the location of the railroad that ran through Carlisle during the Civil War. Using this map visitors can explore the town of Carlisle and view its sights.

For more information on the Shelling of Carlisle, view BlogDivided. The House Divided Search engine can provide additional information on Carlisle from the Civil War. Other maps on various Civil War topics can be found on Google Maps.

Albert Hazlett was among several of John Brown’s raiders who were not with their leader on the morning of October 18, 1859 when US Marines attacked the engine house at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Instead, Hazlett and Osborne Anderson watched the short battle from afar. The two men had left Harpers Ferry undetected late on October 17. After they could not find the five raiders who also escaped, they decided to head north – which eventually brought them into southern Pennsylvania. While Anderson lived to publish a book in 1861 about his experience, Hazlett was arrested in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania on October 22, 1859. Local authorities, however, at first thought that they had in custody “a man supposed to be Capt. Cook.” (John E. Cook was arrested three days later outside of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania). The initial confusion offered an opportunity for Hazlett, who claimed that he was actually William Harrison and had nothing to do with Brown’s raid. On October 29 Hazlett appeared before a judge in Carlisle on a writ of habeas corpus, but Hazlett’s claim that he was the wrong person failed to convince the judge. While “there is no evidence that we have any man in our custody named Albert Hazlett,” the court ruled that “we are satisfied that a monstrous crime has been committed [and] that the prisoner…participated in it.” Hazlett was sent back to Charlestown, Virginia on November 5 for a trial and was executed on March 16, 1860. Historian David Reynolds, who wrote John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, notes that the judge sent Hazlett back to Virginia “even though the evidence linking him to Harpers Ferry was circumstantial.”

The Dickinson College Class of 1860’s graduation marked for many students the beginning of a necessary transition into an divided country. Given that thirteen students hailed from Slave States and eleven from Free States, the transition differed for each student as they returned to their homes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. This dynamic map features several notable alumni that served, and perished, on both sides of the battlefield during the Civil War. While some did not enlist in the military, more than half of the class members noted on this map served either the Confederate or Union armies in some way.

George Baylor, born in Jefferson County, Virginia, entered Dickinson College in 1857 and graduated with the Class of 1860. He initially returned home and became an assistant teacher after graduation, but once the war began he enlisted in the 2nd Virginia Infantry. By 1863 Baylor engaged Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, was taken prisoner, and incurred various battle wounds. His reputation grew as a practical military leader and effective director of Confederate raids through Virginia in 1864. One such raid secured Baylor as a Dickinson legend. While in combat in Trevilan, Virginia, a Union soldier shot Baylor in the chest. Because Baylor wore his Union Philosophical Society badge in battle as a reminder of the organization he belonged to at Dickinson, the bullet did not penetrate his skin and he survived. The war ended soon thereafter, and Baylor sought out a profession in law.

John Henry Grabill followed a similar trajectory, for once the Civil War began he enlisted in the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry centered near his birthplace in Mount Jackson, Virginia. In 1862 Grabill, at the age of twenty-two years old, recruited and trained his own unit of soldiers in the Shenandoah Valley. This unit went on to fight during the retreat to Appomattox Court House in 1865. Grabill fought in several key battles himself including the Battle of Brandy Station and Battle of the Wilderness. He elaborated on these engagements as part of his general service in the army in Diary of a Soldier of the Stonewall Brigade (1909). After the war Grabill entered the field of education as a superintendent in Shenandoah County.

Baylor, Grabill, and their classmates offered several stories that contribute much to one’s understanding of the Civil War and its lasting impact on Dickinson College and the surrounding area of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This dynamic map is one of several projects utilizing modern tools to examine these local and personal responses to the war.