I Go Away to School
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A vivid memory of mine is the presidential campaign of 1856 when General John C. Fremont was the first candidate of the newly formed Republican Party and James Buchanan was the Democratic candidate. For several years there had been a growing sentiment in the North against the extension of slavery into the new Territories. Up to this time, the main issue between the Whigs and Democrats had been the question of tariff, the Whigs favoring tariff and the Democrats in favor of free trade, but now the feeling against the extension of slavery became so strong in the north that the result was the formation of the Republican Party. The two main issues, then, in this campaign of 1856 were the tariff and the extension of slavery. The contest was a bitter one and resulted in the election of James Buchanan as President.
James Buchanan was born seven miles east of McConnellsburg at a point called Stony Batter. This was the old Packers' Path between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. At this point, Stony Batter, a man named Thoms conducted a store and a stopping place for packers trains. James Buchanan's father came from Ireland as a boy. He stopped in Baltimore where he joined a packers train and arriving at Thoms' store he remained as clerk and later became a partner of the man Thoms. His son, James, was born at Stony Batter in a log cabin in the woods, and tradition says that as a little boy his mother would hang a bell around his neck so that she would not fail to find him. It is worthy of note that this James Buchanan became President of the United States while the descendants of the man Thoms remained and died in poverty. Mr. Buchanan frequently spent some time at Bedford Springs, a famous summer resort, traveling there by stagecoach. On one occasion, as they neared a farm house the back wheel on one side of the coach came off; they had lost the burr or cap. Mr. Buchanan borrowed an axe and an augur and removing his boot, cut off the heel in which he bored a hole and using this heel in place of the burr, they resumed their journey. James Buchanan's sister married a Mr. Lane. Her daughter, Harriet Lane, was a schoolmate of Aunt Bell Patterson. She presided over the White House as First Lady of the land during the presidency of her uncle. After his death, she was instrumental in placing a monument at his birthplace.
In the spring of 1859 (I was then about fourteen years old), I was in Chambersburg at the Franklin Hotel run by Daniel Trostle. Coming downstairs in the morning, I found quite a crowd of people in the office, among them two brothers by the name of Logan. One of them was telling of having captured a Lieutenant Cook the night before in the South Mountains. He had escaped from Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where he had participated in John Brown's Raid. Mr. Logan had placed him in the Chambersburg jail. Lieutenant Cook was later returned to the State of Virginia, tried and hanged for treason at Richmond, Virginia.
Militia practice was held annually at some point in the county at which the citizens of the district were given a military drill by some regular army officer. In the year 1858, it was held at Webster Mills. This was the most thrilling day of my childhood -- yes, it was a big day at Webster Mills. First Lieutenant McNulty (Dave McNulty) was the Drill Master and what fired me to the fever point was the sight of Lieutenant McNulty in blue uniform with brass buttons, very high black boots, a cockade hat with a black plume, an elaborate red silk sash passed over his shoulders and round his waist with flowing ends and at his side a magnificent sword! I was just bursting with admiration and the firm resolve to become a Drill Master.
In February, 1860, at the age of fifteen, I was sent to an Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, conducted by Professor Loose, who had two student assistants from the Reformed Theological Seminary which then occupied the site of the present main building of Mercersburg Academy. The names of the two assistants were Carl A. Whitmore and Jacob Kirshner. There were students from Maryland and Virginia as well as Pennsylvania and when the Civil War opened some became Confederate soldiers and some Union men.
Two of my classmates were David Unger of Mercersburg and Peter McCauley Cook of the little Cove, later of Webster Mills. Both of these men became fine physicians of the old school, family doctor type. They rendered their communities services requiring hardships and personal sacrifice such as is unknown today.
I remained at the Academy until June, 1861. On March the 4th of that year, Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States. Somehow, I do not remember much about this, probably because it was just preceding the Civil War which began in April. Partisan feeling was great and I remember the girls all soliciting money and buying materials with which they made flags.
Campbellstown, which is now St. Thomas, was named for the father of Captain Charles Campbell, a graduate of West Point. He fought in the Mexican War where he was made a captain. I saw him in Mercersburg in 1861 when he was raising a regiment. in one of the early engagements of the war, he was badly wounded and taken to the military hospital in Washington. On one of President Lincoln's visits he stopped to speak to Captain Campbell, saying, "My dear sir, you appear to be badly hurt, is there anything I can do for you?" "Yes, Mr. President," replied the captain, "I am badly wounded and shall not recover. For the sake of my children I would like if you could give me a commission of Brigadier General before I die." The President said he would be glad to do so and shortly sent him his commission. Charlie got well!
In September 1861, I entered Westminster College, a United Presbyterian institution located at New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. I entered the freshman class. I remember little of that year, aside from the fact that I joined the Philo Literary Society (there were two rival societies, the Philomathian and the Adelphic). I know I was a very green country boy. The war was in progress but we were not near the border and the excitements of a first year at college filled our young minds. In June, I came home for the summer and Webster Mills being only fourteen miles from the Mason and Dixon Line, I was more impressed with the war news. In the fall of 1862 I returned to Westminster and shortly after school opened, Governor Curtain of Pennsylvania issued a proclamation calling for twenty-five thousand volunteers to protect the borders of Pennsylvania from the invasion of the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee.
Governor Curtain telegraphed President Lincoln, saying, "General Lee with his army is about to cross the Potomac River for the purpose of invading Pennsylvania. Shall I stop him?" The President replied, "By all means, Governor, but I fear the stopper is too small."
The college students formed a company of volunteers, electing Professor George C. Vincent, captain, and two students, Ike Hall and Sam Koons, as first and second lieutenants. Our company joined the 14th Regiment of Pennsylvania Minute Men, commanded by Colonel McCombs of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and one morning the nearby farmers took our company by wagon nine miles to New Castle where we were placed on a canal boat and sent up the Erie Canal to Rochester, Pennsylvania, and from there by freight train to Pittsburgh and on to Harrisburg, arriving in the early morning.
We had answered a call to protect the borders of Pennsylvania, but in Harrisburg we were asked if we were willing to be taken across the border into Maryland to the battlefield of Antietum. We voted unanimously to go and the next morning we arrived in Hagerstown, Maryland, were marched seven miles and halted two miles from Antietum, where a battle was then raging. We encamped at this point in a strip of woods by the country road which led off from the Sharpsburg Turnpike. We named this place "Camp Cavalry Charge". We learned that General Stonewall Jackson with his cavalry would surround General McClellan's army that night (Uncle George Hunter told me General McClellan was a relative). We were formed into a hollow square, ammunition was distributed and guards placed on duty. I was located on guard at the country lane or road leading to Sharpsburg.
A cold September rain was falling, the night was very dark and I felt that the fate of the Union Army depended upon my vigilance. I was keyed to the highest pitch. Captain Hazen of the regular army was officer of the day and my orders were to keep a sharp lookout and at the slightest sound to call "Halt!" three times and then shoot. About one o'clock I heard a step--in an instant, with my gun leveled, I called in quick succession "Halt! Halt! Halt!". With a rush someone caught my arms shouting "Don't shoot!" It was Captain Hazen. Nothing else happened and in the morning it was discovered that the rumor was a false alarm.
At the end of two days, General McClellan having driven General Lee back over the Potomac, we were countermarched to Hagerstown and encamped in a nearby corn field which the boys named "Corn Stalk Plains". At noon the next day I discovered that someone had taken my haversack. Dan Thorn, standing nearby, said to me, "Too bad, Pat, mine is safe, thanks be! Well, Pat, someone stole your haversack, so you go steal one." He stepped away for a moment and I helped myself to his.
We marched that afternoon to Greencastle. This was on Friday. We were to wait here until Monday evening for transportation, so I asked Colonel McCombs for a furlough to go home, only twenty miles away. He took a leaf from his note-book and in pencil wrote the furlough which I still have. I walked to Mercersburg, a distance of nine miles, and there I borrowed a horse from the United Presbyterian minister, Dr. Bruce, and rode the remaining ten miles home. I returned to camp on Monday and that evening we were sent back to college. We had been gone two weeks. This ended my active army experience. I was now in my seventeenth year.
Introduction … by David Hunter Patterson
Chapter 1 … The Valley of the Big Cove
Chapter 2 … The Tall Oaks & Towering Pines of Gallant Little Fulton
Chapter 3 … The Pattersons and the Hunters
Chapter 4 … Concerning Some of my Forbears
Chapter 5 … Childhood Memories
Chapter 6 … Some Church History
Chapter 7 … Boyhood Days
Chapter 8 … I Go Away to School
Chapter 9 … Incidents of the Civil War
Chapter 10 … Springfield - Graduation
Chapter 11 … Your Mother
Chapter 12 … A Quaker Family of Western Pennsylvania
Chapter 13 … From 1870 to 1880
Chapter 14 … Home Again at Webster Mills
Chapter 15 … The Centennial - I Buy a Farm and get into Politics
Chapter 16 … Last Years in the Old Home
Epilogue … by Elizabeth Patterson Neeson
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