August 14, 2011

Lancaster and the Civil War
Through the Lens of Trinity Lutheran Church

Location: 31 S Duke St, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
In my previous post on Trinity Lutheran Church, I mentioned that I wanted to use what I've learned about the church and the Civil War to shine light on four important topics relevant to the Civil War stories of the 79th Pennsylvania and Lancaster County:
  • Lancaster's Timeline of Economic and Ethnic Development
  • Wrestling with Slavery as a Moral Issue
  • The Influence of War Democrats
  • Soldiers' Aid Movements in Lancaster
From Gill Stereoview of S. Duke St., c. 1867 (vws)

Lancaster's Timeline of Economic and Ethnic Development

Here's a simple chronology of Trinity's and Lancaster's history to get a sense of how "old" Lancaster is and when the preferred language changed from German to English for the church.
  • 1730. First record of basic organized religious activities of what would become Trinity Lutheran Church. Lancaster County formed previous year, and borough of Lancaster formed in 1730.
  • 1761-6. Construction of current church building.
  • 1762. Hosted session of an Indian treaty.
  • 1778. Pennsylvania's governor, Thomas Wharton, dies suddenly while in Lancaster (as Philadelphia was then occupied by the British) and is interred under Trinity's floor. The congregation appears to have strongly and materially supported the rebelling colonists in the Revolutionary War.
  • 1794. Steeple completed and stood as tallest building west of Philadelphia.
  • 1815. First English preaching, on alternate Sunday evenings.
  • 1825. English and German preached on alternating Sundays.
  • 1850. Begins cemetery on S. Queen St, which it sold in 1856 to become Woodward Hill Cemetery.
  • 1851. German relegated to Sunday afternoon services and discontinued in 1853.
  • 1853-4. Renovation of church sanctuary. This corresponds with major building boom in Lancaster that saw the completion of the Lancaster County Courthouse, Lancaster's jail, and Fulton Hall.

So, what does this tell me about the world in which the soldiers of the 79th Pennsylvania grew up?
  1. The Civil War generation probably was one of the first generations after the tipping point from German to English in many of Lancaster's social circles of German heritage (except obviously for recent German immigrants). I wonder if this would have affected how many Lancasterians identified (perhaps solidified?) with the new nation, as well.
  2. A strong local economy employing many skilled craftsman complemented very successful agricultural production enabled by Lancaster County's fertile soil.

Wrestling with Slavery as a Moral Issue

Even though it's generally hard to find German Lutherans in Pennsylvania taking an interest in slavery, there are a couple of interesting intersections between the history of Trinity and slavery. While I suspect the Pennsylvania Dutch considered the slave system of production was anathema to ideals of industry and labor that immigrated with the people from Germany, I don't know if there was much interest in connecting with Lancaster's African-American community. The real interesting research question would be if Trinity's numerous Sunday School and mission efforts of the 1850s had any connection to the black community a couple blocks away.

I'm going a little off my memory from reading it five years ago, but Mark Ebersole's article "German religious groups and slavery in Lancaster County prior to the Civil War" (JLCHS, v. 107) points out that some of Trinity's prominent members actually owned small numbers of slaves in late 1700s Lancaster. I believe we have very little supporting social or economic context, so I'll have to go back to check it out.

Anyway, on to what we do know at least a little about. To correspond with the 1861 100th anniversary of the laying of the church's cornerstone, Lancaster was to host the national convention of (at least most of) the Lutheran church in America. The war's outbreak caused the Lutherans, who had yet to say anything meaningful about slavery as group, to postpone it a year in hopes the war would be resolved and the church would have avoided a split.

Even though the war had hardly been resolved, the General Synod met in Lancaster in May 1862 with resolutions on the war and slavery given attention. Although some protested that it was inappropriate to make statements in Southerners' absence and some questioned the role of the Church in making such statements, resolutions denouncing the rebellion and slavery passed and were forwarded to President Lincoln. It took a year of war, but the Lutherans meeting at Trinity finally took a position on slavery--a topic which divided just about every other denomination before the war.  An excerpt from the resolution:       

1. Resolved, That it is the deliberate judgment of this Synod that the rebellion against the constitutional Government of this land is most wicked in its inception, unjustifiable in its cause, unnatural in its character, inhuman in its prosecution, oppressive in its sins, and destructive in its results to the highest interests of morality and religion.

2. Resolved, That in the suppression of this rebellion and in the maintenance of the Constitution and the Union by the sword, we recognize an unavoidable necessity and sacred duty which the Government owes to the nation and to the world, and that therefore, we call upon all our people to lift up holy hands in prayer to the God of battles, without personal wrath against the evildoers on the one hand, and without doubting the righteousness of our cause on the other, that He would give wisdom to the President and his counselors, and success to the army and navy, that our beloved land may speedily be delivered from treason and anarchy.

3. Resolved, That while we recognize this unhappy war as a righteous judgment of God, visited upon us because of the individual and national sins of which we have been guilty, we nevertheless regard this rebellion as more immediately the natural result of the continuance and spread of domestic slavery in our land, and, therefore, hail with unmingled joy the proposition of our Chief Magistrate, which has received the sanction of Congress, to extend aid from the General Government to any State in which slavery exists, which shall deem fit to initiate a system of constitutional emancipation.

One of the most notable Lutheran abolitionists was Samuel Simon Schmucker, founder and president of the Lutheran seminary at Gettysburg. Trinity's pastor from 1861 to 1864, F. W. Conrad had studied under Schmucker and seems to have followed in his footsteps, earning the designation of a being a "political preacher" and earning the censure of Democratic newspapers. In a century full of Trinity pastors whose careers were defined by their time at Trinity, who were beloved by the congregation, and whose final resting place was Woodward Hill Cemetery, one wonders if F. W. Conrad's interest in national affairs left him otherwise unable to meet the congregation's high expectations for shepherding the congregation in more local matters.

Some primary sources related to the 1862 General Synod meeting and F.W. Conrad's preaching career are available here

Meeting of Pennsylvania Ministerium at Trinity, 1866, in a convention similar to the 1862 General Synod meeting. (vws)

The same image as above, transformed to a red-blue 3D image.  Does it work? (vws)

The Influence of War Democrats

Politically, the most important structural development was the alignment of War Democrats with the Republican Party to create the Union Party. Pivotal elections in 1863 and 1864 saw the Union Party help get Andrew Curtin and Abraham Lincoln reelected, helping to solidify commitment to prosecute the war. One of Trinity's prominent vestrymen, Dr. Frederick Augustus Hall Muhlenberg (1795-1867), serves as the Lancaster's prototypical War Democrat in my mind. 

Muhlenberg studied medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush and practiced medicine in Lancaster in addition to engaging in various business enterprises. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1850 (and 1852?) as a Democrat, losing to Thaddeus Stevens 5,701 to 4,069 [LI, 11/5/1850], and appears in newspapers and other publications often as a supporter of James Buchanan in the 1850s. During the war, however, Muhlenberg became a leader of the Union Party and his name appeared regularly in the party's proceedings.

Perhaps it helped that he had two sons commanding artillery batteries in the Union army (Edward D. and Charles P. Muhlenberg), but how he "took strong ground for the Union when the war broke out, although always previously a prominent democrat" seemed to define F. A. Muhlenberg in many descriptions of his life. [Mariettian, 7/13/1867]  Or, as the Lancaster Intelligencer put it, "Of late years he has acted with the Republican Party" [LI, 7/10/1867].

A younger Dr. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg and first wife Elizabeth (1798-1826), painted by Jacob Eichholtz
Sold at auction, 2006 (source)

Soldiers' Aid Movements in Lancaster

Finally, I want to mention Lancaster's extensive soldiers' aid efforts that not only materially helped alleviate suffering of soldiers--Lancasterians and others--but also helped maintain connections between Lancaster and the 79th Pennsylvania while the regiment fought far away from home.

These efforts actually represented a continuation of pre-war aid efforts, such as the "Union Dorcas League," founded in 1850 by the wives of prominent Lancaster citizens, including Mrs. Dr. F. A. Muhlenberg, Mrs. Charles A. Heinitsh, and others connected to Trinity.[source] When the war broke out, the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster formed with many of the same women.

We'll have to see as we follow the 79th Pennsylvania, but their material contribution to the war effort seems to have been nontrivial and the soldiers seemed to greatly appreciate the emotional connection represented by the organization. You can read about the post-Antietam relief trip on behalf of the Patriot Daughters to the Pennsylvania Reserves by Pastor F.W. Conrad and three other men in a previous post.

Any other congregations in Lancaster whose history has Civil War connections are invited to share their stories.  I would be curious to know what if any primary sources exist hidden in church archives that could help better understand an important aspect of Civil War soldiers' lives.  Due to the Church Advocate newspaper, we have actually have a good bit of information about soldiers of the Church of God (Winebrennerian ), and I hope to share about that in the future.  


  1. The red/blue conversion works pretty well. What's the technique?

  2. I recall using a procedure published by NASA (related to Hubble photos, I think) similar to this one:

  3. Vince,

    It appears Schmucker's potential reach into the Shenandoah was much greater than just as the head of the Seminary in Gettysburg. I plan on elaborating in a post sometime this week. Thanks much for the tip.