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Special week for hallowed grounds In Hanover-Gettysburg-York

Matthew Jackson
Hanover

The week before Thanksgiving is a special, unifying week in the annals of south-central Pennsylvania, so much that it could be annually honored as “New Birth of Freedom Week” or “Hallowed Grounds Week.” 

This year, for the first time, the popular and fun York County Hometown History series airs live at the Hanover Area Arts Guild, 32 Carlisle Street, at 7 p.m. this Thursday. 

Focusing on “The First Civil War Battle on Free Soil,” the Battle of Hanover of June 30, 1863, and hosted by friends Dr. Jamie Noerpel, Dominish Marie Miller and Andrew Smith, as well as the dean of York County history, Jim McClure, this episode is sure to entertain and enlighten. Register for free here.

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Nov. 17 is perfect timing because Nov. 18 is the 159th anniversary of Lincoln’s trek through York County to Hanover and ultimately to Gettysburg. 

As does the Susquehanna Valley, Hanover has a special, even a unique, story to tell, especially each November, the month in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln traveled via the Hanover Railroad from Hanover Junction (Seven Valleys) to Hanover, where he briefly addressed local citizens, then to Gettysburg, where he delivered the world-famous Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19. 

Our 16th president’s brilliant, 272-word, two-minute speech still inspires ongoing quests for human rights, human dignity and a more perfect union. 

Thus, this Saturday, Nov. 19, Gettysburg honors Dedication Day, the 159th anniversary of Lincoln’s immortal speech and dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

The event begins at 10:15 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Monument at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, followed by the program at 10:30 a.m. at the cemetery Rostrum.

From the Gettysburg Foundation website: “This year, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania announced that award-winning author of books on Civil War history Dr. Allen C. Guelzo will deliver the keynote address. Historian Jon Meacham will present the Gettysburg Address with comments. Pre-eminent Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer will introduce Meacham at the podium during the ceremony. The program also features a U.S. Naturalization and Citizenship ceremony, welcoming a group of new citizens.”

Also on Saturday, at 1 p.m., at York’s historically black Lebanon Cemetery in North York, witness the unveiling of new headstones honoring servicemen and women of color by Friends of Lebanon Cemetery. 

Much lesser known than Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but intriguing and haunting is Lincoln’s fraught, dangerous and ultimately deadly (for his valet William Henry Johnson) return train trip to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20. 

On this special week, immerse yourself in unforgettable experiences by learning about the Battle of Hanover Thursday; exploring Main Street Hanover’s Heart of Hanover Trail; acclimating yourself with true stories of valor and service at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, York’s Lebanon Cemetery, Gettysburg’s Lincoln Cemetery and Harrisburg’s Lincoln Cemetery, among others; attending the moving Dedication Day ceremonies in Gettysburg on Saturday; visiting Hanover Junction on the York County Rail Trail; taking an excursion train ride from New Freedom following President Lincoln’s route through York County; and familiarizing yourself with unsung heroes and freedom-fighters Basil Biggs, William C. Goodridge and William Henry Johnson, and so much more. 

These are exciting, propitious times. Our lower Susquehanna Valley always has been unique. Now, we are starting to tell the full spectrum of our riveting and surprising history, human rights challenges and advancements, and resilience and achievement across county lines. 

Now more than ever, the Susquehanna Valley is an accessible, multi-sensory and haunting Freedom Valley, a cross-county Hallowed Grounds to engage, delight and inspire the entire family and all our fellow citizens. 

A few takeaways from the 1863 Battle of Hanover and its era:

1. The Battle of Hanover was the first Civil War battle on free soil and the only Civil War battle in York County. Hanover is in Pennsylvania, which was a free state in the 1850s and at the time of the Battle of Hanover in 1863. Nearby, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Maryland was a slave state. Further, Blacks in Maryland at that time — whether free or enslaved — were denied public education. 

2. The Battle of Hanover prevented Confederate Commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee from having the “eyes and ears” of his army during the first two days at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, a three-day battle.

3. Hanover is the setting of the only known photo of an exhumation of a Civil War soldier in the Gettysburg Campaign and may be the setting of the first photo of an exhumation of a soldier in the entire Civil War. 

4. Hanover is the only town in York County where President Lincoln gave a speech, an extemporaneous one from his Hanover Rail Corp. train resting in the Hanover Commons off of present-day Railroad Street. That speech is commemorated by a Railroad Street plaque recently restored by internationally renowned artisan Steve Roy of New York’s Roy Restorations. 

5. Known as “Old Uncle Sam,” the last known enslaved individual in York County worked at the Forney Farm off of present-day Frederick Street as an enslaved man and later a freeman. Sam died in 1840 in nearby Mudtown, a rural settlement on Frederick Road later known as Pennville.

Matthew Jackson is the editor of the Heart of Hanover Trail, a walking journey of four miles to full-color outdoor storyboards about Hanover history in Hanover Borough and Penn Township.