Throughout the long years of war, the Quaker City remained divided. The city’s numerous Democrats voted for Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1864—native son George McClellan—and hoped to make peace with the South. One of the most vocal anti-war men, or “Copperheads,” was pamphleteer William Reed C1822, a former history and English professor at Penn.

In response to anti-war rumblings, pro-Lincoln citizens founded the Union League, which is still active today. It was the brainchild of Judge Clark Hare C1834, and two of its first four presidents were Penn alumni. Among its patriotic activities was the recruiting of soldiers. At the head of the 6th Union League Regiment when it charged near Petersburg, Virginia, was Major Charles McEuen C1853. In a strategy conceived by Gettysburg hero Joshua Chamberlain, Pennsylvanians forded waist-high Gravelly Run in the rain, then faced terrible fire from dug-in Confederates. McEuen was gunned down. A portrait in the Union League clubhouse honors his memory.

In 1864 the League advocated an event akin to a world’s fair to raise money for the US Sanitary Commission, an organization that distributed medical and hygienic supplies to soldiers in the field. Penn trustee John Welsh was put in charge. The name Great Central Fair was coined by top USSC officer Charles Stillé, who was destined to play a crucial role in Penn’s postwar revival.

In a whirlwind effort, 1.5 million feet of lumber was shipped to Logan Square and assembled in just 40 days into a gigantic fairground. More than 3,000 citizens volunteered in organizing the exhibitions, with Philadelphia attorney Horace Howard Furness—an ardent abolitionist, though too deaf to fight—put in charge of refereeing feuds among numerous committee heads. The brother of the architect, Furness was a Penn trustee who would later bequeath his extensive collection of Shakespeare materials to the University.

The fair was a great success, visited by 250,000 people—including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln—during its run in June 1864, and it raised more than $1 million. Stillé, who had earlier penned a popular pamphlet How a Free People Conduct a Long War, of which 500,000 copies were distributed, wrote the Commission’s official history before joining Penn’s faculty as a professor of English and belles lettres.

Meanwhile the war raged on. In fighting in the Valley of Virginia, Confederate forces overran Union positions along Cedar Creek in a dawn attack. Captain Henry du Pont, a Penn student in 1855-56, stood by his artillery until the last possible moment, which earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When Union forces took the town of Lexington, du Pont was ordered to burn Virginia Military Institute, which he reluctantly did. The memory troubled him. Fifty years later, as US Senator from Delaware, he introduced a bill giving the school $100,000 for a new building—an act of repentance honored by a plaque at VMI in 2009.

Grant’s huge army lumbered south into Virginia, a logistical challenge overseen by Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, who attended Penn in 1831-32 prior to West Point. Before the war, the capable Meigs helped build Fort Delaware (later a prison camp for Confederates) as well as the US Capitol dome, the completion of which in 1863 seemed to symbolize the enduring Union.

The armies of Lee and Grant converged at the grinding siege of Petersburg, on Richmond’s doorstep. John Parke, at Penn in 1843-45, was promoted to high command there after a bungled attempt to knock a hole in rebel lines at the Crater. Confederate Brigadier General James Morton C1847, son of the “scientist” who measured  skulls to assess the relative intelligence of the races, was sent to Petersburg to improve the breastworks; earlier he had built the war’s largest fort, Fortress Rosecrans in Tennessee. Studying the lay of the land just before a Union attack, he was shot in the chest and killed. Cecil Clay C1859 received the Congressional Medal of Honor for a charge against Confederate Fort Harrison, where his arm was blown off as he waved the flag. These and many other terrible sacrifices were needed before Petersburg finally fell, in what proved to be a prelude to Appomattox.

Given its many doctors and excellent rail connections, Philadelphia became the nation’s most important center of wartime medical care, 150,000 sick and wounded being treated at more than 20 military hospitals.

Once it became clear that this was going to be a long war, construction of hospitals began in earnest. The largest Army hospital in the world went up amid cow pastures in West Philadelphia, where healthful breezes blew and a steamboat landing stood nearby on the Schuylkill. Opened in June 1862 on 14 acres (just 900 yards southwest of today’s University high-rises), Satterlee Hospital could house 4,500 stricken soldiers. After Gettysburg, it was overflowing.

Considered ultra-modern at the time, Satterlee might strike us as a vision from Hell: amputation victims groaning in long wooden barracks, the air reeking with the stench of maggoty wounds and gangrene. And yet the doctors there were among the finest in the country. Director Isaac Hayes M1853 had been an intrepid Arctic explorer. Joseph Leidy M1844, famed for his use of the microscope to study disease (and as the first expert on dinosaurs), conducted autopsies in the Dead Building and studied the role of houseflies in spreading infection in wounds.

Penn chemistry professor Robert Rogers M1836 designed a huge laundry machine for Satterlee, but in showing a woman how to use it, his right hand got chewed up. Bravely he threw the machine out of gear. As workmen lifted the 800-pound cylinder, it fell and smashed his hand again. Rogers insisted on walking up to his front door lest his wife faint upon seeing him in an ambulance. After the amputation, he taught himself to conduct science experiments with his other hand.

So successful was Satterlee, it was replicated in 1863 at Mower Hospital, 47 buildings arranged like spokes in a wheel along railroad tracks at today’s Wyndmoor, near Chestnut Hill. Amid the salubrious air of that lofty hilltop, more than 20,000 soldiers were treated. Hayes Agnew M1838, later a famous professor of surgery at Penn, rushed through the hallways performing multiple amputations daily, gaining invaluable experience that would make him one of America’s great surgeons. When he retired from teaching at Penn in 1889, he was immortalized in The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins.

Medical men on the Confederate side included Joseph Jones M1856, who wrote a major report about illnesses raging in Georgia’s infamous Andersonville Prison. He was the first person ever to describe the terrifying flesh-eating disease now known as necrotizing fasciitis.

In Richmond, Alexander Garnett M1841 was personal doctor to Jefferson Davis, fleeing the city with him at war’s end. Professor of surgery at the Medical College of Virginia, Charles Gibson M1836 was named surgeon general of the state and ran General Hospital No. 1 on Shockoe Hill. Exhausted by overwork, his heart began to fail, and orderlies had to hold up his arms so he could amputate. He died just days after the war ended and was buried in an unmarked grave. Local citizens finally honored him with a marker 140 years later, in 2005.


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FEATURE: Penn Fights the Civil War by W. Barksdale Maynard
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