West Shore Civil War markers hope to connect missing pieces of history

Gettysburg might be the most famous battle of the American Civil War, but how Confederate and Union troops found themselves fighting a crossroads town in Pennsylvania is a less famous story.

The Camp Curtin Historic Society recently placed six historic markers around the West Shore to fill in the blanks and try to explain how and why troops ended up in Gettysburg.

In the spring of 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee started a march north, with the goal of gathering supplies and a northern stronghold. The city he had in mind? Harrisburg.

Lee’s troops ended up all along the West Shore and as close as Camp Hill before retreating back to Gettysburg when Union forces started moving in. Camp Curtin Historical Society founder and President James Schmick said many people aren’t aware that there’s more to the war than one big battle.

“It’s sad, but a lot of people think the Civil War was three days at Gettysburg,” Schmick said.

Because of Lee’s military campaign into Pennsylvania, the Union Army began advancing to thwart the Confederate invasion.

The new markers commemorate six Civil War sites in the West Shore area: Bridgeport Heights, where Union troops were stationed in Lemoyne; Oyster’s Point, a Camp Hill skirmish site; Whitehall Orphan’s School, where soldiers’ orphaned children were educated following the war; the Samuel Albright house, where Confederate troops set up camp; and Sporting Hill in Hampden Township, where two markers commemorate the two days of fighting.

There already are several other Civil War memorials in the area, including one for Fort Couch, a Union stronghold in Lemoyne, and one for Confederate Brigadier Gen. Albert Jenkins, which holds the honor of being the northernmost memorial for a Confederate soldier, according to Schmick.

The markers, which are large boards known as waysides, are meant to fill in some of the missing history, Schmick said. The boards contain photos and facts about how and why troops found themselves in the area.

Confederate troops made their way to Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and Camp Hill in an attempt to take control of Harrisburg. At Oyster’s Point in Camp Hill, a small skirmish was used as a diversion to allow Jenkins time to scout the city.

“Nobody looks at how close Confederates were to the capital of Harrisburg,” he said.

Union troops used various points of defense in Lemoyne, including at Fort Couch and Bridgeport Heights, where they took the high ground to block Confederates from what could be the most useful vantage points to attack Harrisburg.

The skirmishes at Sporting Hill served as a prelude to the fighting at Gettysburg.

“It’s nice to connect the dots,” Schmick said.

The signs cost about $12,000 for all six, and were paid for thanks to a grant from the Cumberland County Visitors Bureau and individual donations. Several of the municipalities put in the markers themselves, which also saved money, Schmick said. Another five are planned for the area, including ones at the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg which was used as a hospital for the Confederate Army and one at the Peace Church in Camp Hill, which was used as an artillery post by Confederates.

Eventually the markers will journey into Harrisburg as well, and highlight other Civil War sites, including stops on the Underground Railroad.

The markers will provide a connection between the Civil War Museum downtown, Cumberland County and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Schmick said it’s the only subject that connects the entire Cumberland Valley, and it’s worth preserving to educate people about the history of the area.

“You can touch the Civil War — you have to go to Europe for World War I or World War II — but the Civil War is here,” Schmick said.

Link to the article on Pennlive: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/06/west_shore_civil_war_markers_h.html