The U.S. Signal Corps, soon after came into the College... This created considerable noise and aroused suspicions." - Horatio Watkins, Class of 1864
When completed in the fall of 1837, the Edifice, known today as Pennsylvania Hall, became the heart of the campus. It housed all classrooms, meeting rooms, libraries and dormitories, as well as the College's first president and steward. The building comfortably held around 100 students, but by the summer of 1863 very few remained. Attendance dropped with the onset of the Civil War and plummeted further in June 1863 when the Confederate army marched into Pennsylvania, causing 54 students to join a volunteer militia in defense of the state.
On the morning of July 1, 1863. students attended their classes, still unaware that thousands of soldiers were converging on the quiet college town. College President Henry Baugher was in the midst of a lecture when the U.S. Signal Corps entered the Edifice to use its cupola as a vantage point. Order collapsed as the first echoes of cannon fire shook the peaceful campus. The Battle of Gettysburg had begun.
Alarmed and unprepared, students and faculty scattered, many seeking shelter in town. They fled just in time. Within a few hours, the campus became part of the battlefield. That afternoon "shot and shell fell around rather lively" striking the Edifice and the grounds. By nightfall, the agonized cries of hundreds of wounded and dying men filled the corridors and classrooms of the once peaceful Edifice.
Michael Culver, Class of 1863
Michael Culver was on his way to class when fellow student Horatio Watkins called to him from the third floor of the Edifice, asking if Culver heard gunfire. Culver "instantly heard the ominous sounds." Together they went to Seminary Ridge to investigate. "We saw... pickets of both armies exchanging bullets," Culver wrote. Later, from a cabin outside of town, Culver earned "the title of doctor" for his efforts to care for the wounded.
Colver and Watkins observed the skirmishing from the cupola of the nearby Theological Seminary. When a shell whizzed by their ears, they decided they had seen enough.