In a Defining Event
Essay by the Rev. Dr. Fred K. Wentz
“Gettysburg Seminary, albeit unintentionally, has stepped into the nation’s history and enduringly enters into the conversations Americans carry on with their dynamic places of
It was an accident and a reversal of intentions. Gettysburg Seminary in 1832 was set upon a hill outside a quiet Pennsylvania village to prepare Lutheran clergy in a pleasant, undistracting, environment. But in 1863 the campus and buildings became a center of a violent conflict that reshaped – with the help of Lincoln’s famous address – the traditions and the guiding principles of American life.
Today students prepare and study in a setting of tour buses and wandering tourists at the single most significant juncture of Lutheranism with the nation’s life. Here both tourists and students can feel the resonant memories that are national traditions; they enter the conversations that swirl around places of reenactment – Civil War scenes and the famous Gettysburg Address. For Lutherans, Gettysburg means a college and a seminary. For the nation, Gettysburg is a hot-spot for celebrated history and for the search for identity.
Samuel Simon Schmucker, founder of Gettysburg Seminary, was a forceful, even controversial, leader in urging Lutherans actively to serve the public life. Today the institution he set upon a quiet, rural hill remains in place, but it is at the same time a center for the nation’s public life. Seminary Ridge and the cupola of the Seminary Building are famous sites in American history. From that ridge Pickett launched his famous charge. That cupola was a main observation post for both armies.
Confident and aggressive in 1863, Robert E. Lee led his confederate army into Pennsylvania, targeting Harrisburg and threatening Baltimore and Washington. Union troops were protecting Washington and moving north slowly through Maryland. Lee and his main forces had gotten to Chambersburg, 26 miles west of Gettysburg, with units scattered to the north (Carlisle) and to the east as far as the Susquehanna River. Foraging for shoes, a confederate regiment had encountered advanced units of union cavalry. On enemy territory, Lee decided to draw his troops together at the convenient crossroads of Gettysburg. He was preparing to attack his pursuers.
On the morning of July 1, 1863 the union cavalry commander, General John Buford, climbed to the cupola of the seminary building and saw the sun glinting on rifles to the west as confederate troops approached. He sent for help to the nearest union corps, the First, under the command of General John Reynolds. Then Buford moved the cavalry forward to check the confederate advance. Upon arrival Reynolds deployed his troops along the front of the seminary campus. He also viewed the scene from the cupola and then led his troops westward to engage the enemy on the next small ridge, where he became an early casualty. Both to the west and to the north the fighting was intense. The seminary campus was filled with union troops; soon the wounded and dying were brought to the three buildings – the Seminary Building, the Schmucker house and the Krauth house. Toward evening union troops made a heroic final stand on the campus in the face of a fierce attack by General Pender’s Division, before fleeing through the campus and the town to the heights of Cemetery Ridge. The Seminary Building, the first field hospital, was now occupied by the wounded and dying of two armies.
Through the next two days of severe fighting the seminary was occupied by confederate troops with the Schmucker House standing less than 100 yards from the battle line.
Seminary buildings became a haven for confederate wounded; artillery units occupied its grounds; union cannon hurled shells at the seminary, repeatedly damaging the building; Robert E. Lee directed the confederate forces from his headquarters near the main building and must have used the cupola lookout.
When confederate troops retreated westward in the rain of July 4, their most severely wounded remained and were joined by many union wounded at the Seminary Building which became a major hospital for several months. The burial of horses and men became the urgent necessity of the following days.
The people of the seminary had fled as the battle developed. School was not in sessions and the students had departed, many to volunteer for military service. One student had become the chief officer of a company made up mainly of college and seminary students.
As the leading unit of the first Corps, Cutler’s Brigade, arrived on campus that first hot July morning, Mrs. Schmucker set out buckets of water for the men, but the officers kicked them over so that the soldiers would not break their fast pace to the field of battle.
Samuel Simon Schmucker had been warned to flee because he was a marked man. His activities in the Underground Railroad – he had occasionally sheltered fugitives from southern slave owners – probably were not known, but his advocacy of abolition was well known, so that southern troops would likely have pinpointed his home. Confederate soldiers, usually not given to vandalism, did trash his books and papers. Some of the seminary’s early documents were lost. Several of his books still show the effects of being thrown onto the floor, and out the window, probably trampled by muddy boots.
Tne abused Bible carries this penciled message: “J.G. Bearden of the reel army. . . this is the Holy Biele I pick up out of the . . . and has placed on the case again.”
Schmucker wrote under these words as follows: “this pencil note was written by an illiterate, but I trust pious rebel, during the sacking of my house and library, during the great battle of Gettysburg” (dated September 25, 1870).
The family of the second seminary professor, Charles Philip Krauth, had remained in their home on the campus. Early in the first days fighting wounded union soldiers were brought to their home. Dispossessed, husband, wife, and daughter sheltered in the basement for most of the first day. As victorious confederates approached they were urged to flee. Since the town to the east was in chaos and conflict, they went west through confederate lines to friends living beyond Marsh Creek. Returning after the battle, they found their home despoiled by its use as a hospital, but not vandalized.
Missing, however, was a precious heirloom, a large and handsome silver set of four pieces. It turned up in the possession of the mayor of Waynesboro and was returned
To Mrs. Krauth. During the retreat from Gettysburg a confederate officer had spotted it and left it behind to be returned to its owner. Today it can be seen, somewhat scratched but still beautiful, in the museum of the Adams County Historical Society located in the Seminary Building.
Mortal enemies knew that they were kindred, and officers took time for chivalrous, thoughtful acts in the midst of the most destructive and spirit-sapping events of that war.
Gettysburg was the high water mark for the southern armies and the confederate cause (combined with a union victory in the west at Vicksburg). Lincoln’s Address that November, better known around the world than the Battle itself, interpreted the nation’s history and identity continue fiercely to this day, but the seminary campus is quiet, a place of remembrance. For Lutherans it is a unique context for learning.
One thoughtful American, Kent Gramm, meditating for long hours on the seminary campus recently, put together the meaning of the seminary’s presence at the national shrine with these words:
“At the Theological Seminary, students walked quietly along the hill where the Iron Brigade had poured out the last full measure of devotion with fearsome stubbornness. Here Lee had pointed at the blue crowds on Cemetery Hill, saying, “The enemy is there, and I shall strike him.’’ Where now professors stroll with their hands in their pockets and think about the Maker of the universe and the Lord of history.”
Before you begin writing the body of your paper, it is a good idea to create a working introduction which quickly sketches essential background for your thesis, explains what will or will not be covered, and leads to the thesis. Once you have written (or at least carefully outlined) the body of your paper, you should be prepared to compose your full introduction.
Introductions serve an important purpose of familiarizing the reader with the argument to be developed in the body of the paper. Your introduction should therefore include a clear statement of your thesis and the method of your approach (e.g. literary analysis, historical reconstruction, comparison of two texts, theological or exegetical reflection, etc.).
In addition to a straightforward articulation of the content of a paper (i.e. the thesis), an introduction should emphasize the significance of your topic. Why is your specific topic worth studying or your thesis worth considering? Usually, a few well-crafted sentences can contextualize the conversation adequately and pleasantly. Only do not insult the reader’s intelligence by explaining the obvious. The aspects of a topic which may have been overlooked or underappreciated are those which usually deserve attention.
Introducing Papers on Assigned Topics
Introductions to papers on assigned topics are normally brief. They usually useterms from the assignment description to explain the purpose of the paper. Several sentences of background information or definition of key terms may be provided (a longer exposition of background information should be part of the first section of the paper). The purpose of these introductions is to communicate to the professor that you have read and understood the assignment, and to let him know how you have limited and focused the topic. They also lead to a statement of the central point of the essay, which in persuasive writing is a thesis.
Including Background Material in the Introduction
For a paper on a topic you have selected, the introduction can serve the additional function of providing the reader with selective background information necessary for understanding the content and import of the paper. Most questions worthy of research have received more than one answer from various writers. An important part of engaging these sorts of scholarly discussions is knowing where your own articulation fits in the larger conversation and being able to provide a summary of other important perspectives for the intelligent but unacquainted reader.
Stating the Thesis in the Introduction
Students sometimes wonder, “Should I really give away the ending?” There are situations, after all, when the best rhetorical strategy is to withhold clarity from the reader until the proper time. But there are important differences between the purposes for reading a novel and an academic essay. The latter are usually read for the information they contain, and for the purpose of evaluation. While the writer might imagine that he achieves a certain rhetorical ‘punch’ by gradually leading the reader to an “Aha!” moment in which the thesis is finally revealed, the effect of such a circuitous disclosure may to confuse and frustrate. If the goal of the writer is for his readers to understand and appreciate the thesis and the reasoning behind it, it is generally best to be clear and direct up front, stating the thesis at the beginning of the paper.
The writer should not worry that such a candid introduction will lack stylistic appeal; the serious reader who wants to understand will be grateful for accessible information about the author’s intentions. Even if a straightforward statement of the thesis appears mundane or unpolished, such an impression is most likely a symptom of an all-too-common tendency toward puffed-up and empty sophistry. “The present paper argues that…” is a perfectly fine way to proceed.
Delaying the Thesis
In some cases, it is better to leave a full articulation of the thesis until a point later in the work, usually near the end. Some apologetic writing, for example, may take a more indirect approach to persuasion and employ a conversational tone that differs significantly from the argument-proving format of the traditional academic essay. Likewise a preacher might deliberately craft a sermon in order to catch the listening congregation off guard—presenting a key idea where it is strikingly unexpected. However, even in these examples, an intelligible introduction must provide some guidance, usually in the form of a purpose statement, so that the reader (or listener, in the case of a sermon) knows what to expect in the body of the work.
To learn more on developing theses for various Westminster assignments, consult the CTW's Quick Guide to Thesis Statements.
Other "Crafting Your Paper" topics:
The Body of Your Paper: Overview
Writing Your Introduction
Crafting Your Paragraphs
Writing Your Conclusion
Becoming A Better Writer Home