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Gettysburg kicks off new series of West Overton Village-hosted Talks

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Steve Nolt

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is the subject of the first in a series of Parlour Talks at West Overton Village.

Steve Nolt, professor of history at Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., will discuss how the battle significantly affected southwestern Pennsylvania at 2 p.m. Nov. 3.

“The fact that Southern forces were able to invade Pennsylvania was potentially threatening to the entire state. Had Confederate forces prevailed, or not encountered Union forces in Adams County, they could very easily have put pressure on Harrisburg and disrupted state government,” Nolt said. “It was also a morale boost for Pennsylvanians. For months, there had been unrelieved bad news for the North. Gettysburg shifted the balance, mentally, and was then followed by the strategic fall of Vicksburg on the Mississippi the next day (July 4, 1863).”

He said that it was a major turning point of the war.

“The battle's outcome also raised questions about Robert E. Lee as a commander. Lee offered to resign after the battle. Confederate President Jefferson Davis refused to accept Lee's resignation, but Davis never again gave Lee complete control of military policy,” Nolt said. “It sounds cliché to say that the Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the war, but it was — it was one of several turning points. Although the North did not achieve an overwhelming victory, and Union commander George Meade did not pursue Lee's retreat as Lincoln may have wanted him to, the fact that a major invasion was turned back was decisive. After Gettysburg, the Confederacy was never seriously able to bring the war into Northern territory, and the destruction would be on Southern soil.”

Nolt said conscientious objectors, including Pennsylvania's Amish and Mennonite communities, began to have legal status.

“The United States did not have well-defined conscientious objection provisions when the war started, so one of the things that emerged during the Civil War in a new way was a political debate and new provisions in conscription law that took conscience into account,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, and particularly in southeastern Pennsylvania, Mennonites were active players with Republican political figures in achieving these provisions. It's also the case that a minority of Mennonite young men also fought in the war, despite their church's religious stance.”

He said the number of casualties — 46,000 resulting in 8,000 deaths — is the main reason that the Battle of Gettysburg should not be forgotten.

Levi Miller, who helped organize this series of Parlour Talks, said Nolt would offer a fresh perspective on the Battle of Gettysburg.

“Because the West Overton Overholts were Mennonites, we thought Nolt could give us a window by which to view the Civil War,” Miller said. “Most Pennsylvania Mennonites, such as the big settlement in Lancaster County, were pacifists, but a number of the Overholt young men entered the Union armies. It's an unusual story. Abraham Overholt even visited the Union troops twice, a most un-Mennonite thing to do. Also, some may remember the abolitionist U.S. legislator Thaddeus Stevens from the movie ‘Lincoln' (played by Tommy Lee Jones), whose district represented Lancaster County and near Gettysburg and his relationship with his constituents.”

Jessica Kadie-Barclay, executive director of West Overton Museums, said the Parlour Talks are an effective way to promote adult education and culture within the community.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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