Re-enactors donned top hats and Union Blue uniforms, and carried flags, fifes and drums into the state Capitol rotunda today to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s first battle. Gov. Tom Corbett, House Speaker Sam Smith and other lawmakers–including “Congressman Thaddeus Stevens”–spoke at the ceremony, which kicks off four years of official commemorations and events throughout Pennsylvania.
The commonwealth played a key role in the war, which began in 1861 and ended in 1865. Its defining battle, of course, was fought at Gettysburg. Beyond that, more than 400,000 Pennsylvanians fought in the conflict, including the men who formed some of the first regiments that protected Washington, D.C., in the war’s early days.
More than 30,000 of those Pennsylvanians died on the battlefield. The commonwealth also provided key materials to the Union effort, according to Barbara Franco, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
“It was the supplier of coal. …Pennsylvania’s farms were supplying food. Philadelphia was the center of medical technology and supplies. Uniforms were being sewed in factories in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Munitions and armaments were being produced,” she said.
The commission is leading a four-year effort to commemorate the war, primarily through the Pennsylvania Civil War 150 commission. The group has created a mobile museum that will travel to every Pennsylvania county over the next few years.
“A 53-foot tractor trailer,” Franco explained, “which expands to become a 1,000-square-foot exhibition space. The exhibits are very interactive. There are connections back to the website,” Franco said. “People can share a story and be able to download that.”
The events and ceremonies will peak in 2013, approaching Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary.