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Eisenhower in front of one of the camp’s training tanks. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

More than 8,700 Confederate Army veterans lived to attend the 50th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. They camped on the field where General George Pickett and his men had made their brave charge more than mile across an open field into the cannons on the Union Army in July 1863.

 

Veterans of that charge would have been among the old men attending the reunion. They would have looked at the field covered with tents where the veterans camped during the reunion and remembered that the ground had been covered with bodies 50 years earlier. In that desperate charge, many of the unprotected soldiers had been felled by bullets.

Had the veterans returned five years later, they still would have seen tents on the field where so much Confederate blood had been shed. They would have also seen something that would have given them pause, for had Pickett’s men had it in 1863 rumbling across that open field as it was in 1918, Pickett’s Charge would have succeeded.

Tanks in War

Though the idea of a tank had been around since Leonardo da Vinci conceived of an armored wagon, the idea of using a tank in war didn’t come about until 1903, and then, it still took until 1915 to develop a practical model. With the start of World War I and the United States’ entry into the conflict, the U.S. Army began to look for a way to integrate tanks into the service.

The Camp with No Name

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Camp Colt. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

 

An unnamed U.S. Army camp was first established on the Gettysburg battlefield in May 1917. The reason it had no name, according to the 1918 Report of the National Military Park Commission, was because “we believe it is the practice when the location is at a conspicuous place on United States land, notably battle fields, such as Gettysburg.” The initial location was part of the Codori farm and land where the Round Top branch of the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad was located. The railroad was one of the reasons the army chose the location. It made it easy to move men and equipment directly into and out of the camp.

The camp soon grew as more and more soldiers and supplies were shipped to the camp. Each regiment had 15 or 16 wooden barracks that needed to be constructed. These were not insulated barracks or even fully completed. This temporariness of the construction showed that the camp would not be suitable as a winter quarters for men.

Even though the land where General Pickett had charged would soon be trampled by soldiers once again, the U.S. Army was not ignorant of the historical significance of the park land. In a letter to the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, the commander of the 61st U.S. Infantry wrote, “…every effort will be made by myself to see that the enlisted men of the 61st infantry do not molest in any way, the monuments, trees, shrubbery, woods, etc. of the Gettysburg National Park.’”

As the soldiers were shipped into the camp, three regiments of infantry were housed on the east side of Emmitsburg Road and one regiment was on the west side. An additional regiment was housed on the west side of the road along with a bakery, hospital and motor ambulance pool. Two more regiments were housed near where the Gettysburg Recreation Park is located.

Water and sewer lines were constructed to deal with the sanitary issues thousands of men would cause. The number of men at the camp grew to 8,000 at its peak, which was roughly the same population as Gettysburg at the time. The men trained through the summer, but by the end of November only a small detachment of men remained because the camp was not suitable to house soldiers through the cold Pennsylvania winters.

 

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Passing Camp Colt on Emmitsburg Road. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Camp Colt

 

The army camp didn’t stay deserted for too long. It was re-established on March 6, 1918, with Capt. Dwight Eisenhower commanding. However, this wasn’t going to be the same camp that had been run in 1917. It was going to be a training site for America’s newest weapon, the tank.

“The Tank Corps was new. There were no precedents except in basic training and I was the only officer in the command. Now I really began to learn about responsibility,” Eisenhower wrote in At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends.

Running the camp was Eisenhower’s first independent command. He was given the job of training soldiers to run a piece of equipment that hadn’t been tested in battle yet and to make matters worse, he had to conduct this training without any tanks.

The new camp was named for Samuel Colt, the inventor of the Colt Peacemaker, and the camp was called Camp Colt. Equipment for tank training was moved from Camp Meade in Maryland to Gettysburg where Camp Colt occupied 176 acres of the Codori farm, 10 acres of the Smith farm and 6 acres of Bryan House place. Much of the current Colt Park housing development was also part of the camp.

The training program Eisenhower developed had soldiers practicing with machine guns mounted on flatbed trucks instead of tanks. They learned to repair engines and to use Morse Code. “At times, HQ entertained English officers who had early war experience with the first English constructed tanks on French battle fields. They came to advise on training. Then again, a few members of Congress would arrive to get a peep at the one and only tin can of a tank which was used for partial training of tankers, especially those small men, who could easily climb into its interior. A 200-pound man just couldn’t,” recalled George Goshaw in a 1954 Gettysburg Times article. He had served at the camp under Eisenhower.

Each time a call for tankers to join the fighting in Europe came, battalions of men were moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they boarded transports to Europe. There, they joined the fighting climbing inside of real tanks and facing real bullets and mortars.

The camp did manage to get two Renault tanks to use by the time that summer arrived. Over the nine months the camp existed more than 9,000 men were trained to fight in the war.

By October, many of the men had been transferred elsewhere because there were no suitable winter quarters. However, worse than winter happened in the fall of 1918. Spanish Flu swept across the world killing an estimated 50 million people, including 160 at Camp Colt, according to the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel. At one point during the month, the bodies literally began to pile up. The dead soldiers were taken to the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in town until arrangements could be made to ship their bodies home. As each body was taken to the depot, it was given a military escort through Gettysburg.

Closing the Camp

As the flu abated, so did the war. The armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. “When November 11th came upon us, Ike and his entire staff were saddened, knowing full well that they were cheated out of actual battle service,” Goshaw recalled. “From then on, there was a let down on training and the necessary daily duties.”

The orders to close Camp Colt came on November 17. Then remaining men were sent to Camp Dix in New Jersey for their final discharge.

Veterans of the camp soon began organizing reunions in Gettysburg, although there was no longer a camp to visit. The first reunion in the 1940’s was marked with the planting of the large pine tree on the east side of Emmitsburg Road south of the entrance to the old visitor’s center. The tree was planted in remembrance of the tankers’ fallen comrades. You can still see it today along with a commemorative plaque summarizing the history of Camp Colt.

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kumbuka-gorilla-london-zoo-8238252f-05fb-43f2-ac6f-d6d159dcdbf3.jpgThrough much of 1921, many Adams County, Pa., residents practiced “gorilla” warfare.

“Fleeter of foot than Paddock the great California sprinter, more strongly built for endurance than Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion, and far more elusive than a bootlegger to would be captors is the one and only Gorilla,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

That’s right, county residents were hunting an actual gorilla. The first local report appeared in the newspaper on January 20, but it seemed that word might have been circulating already about the creature.

A small group of people first saw the gorilla sitting on a rock near Mount Rock. “When the monstrous animal saw that it was discovered by some Mount Rock citizens, it arose, stretched itself, and disappeared into a nearby wood, according to the report,” the newspaper said.

This first story was met with hearty skepticism. The newspaper quoted a Gettysburg citizen as saying, “It is evident that some of my Mount Rock friends are seeing more peculiar visions now than they did before the advent of the Eighteenth Amendment.”

After the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been ratified in 1919, national prohibition of alcohol production and sale had started at the beginning of the year.

Two days after the initial report, the Gettysburg Times announced in a headline that the gorilla story wasn’t a myth. It stated that the existence of the creature had been verified by authentic sources.

“The animal described by some as a gorilla and by others as a kangaroo was first seen at Snyder’s hill between York Springs and Idaville where a number of men failed in a combined attempt to capture or shoot it,” the newspaper reported.

Fifty armed men had chased the creature trying to capture it without any luck.

It was believed that the gorilla had escaped “from a circus train during a wreck several months ago.” However, the only known circus train wreck in 1920 has been in Canada when the Christy Bros. Circus train wrecked on May 25.

The newspaper reports also noted that no damage had been attributed to the gorilla, although it had been blamed for a smokehouse robbery.

Tensions among county residents rose as they searched for the gorilla. On January 25, the Hanover Evening Sun reported that Abraham Lau of Franklintown had walked out to his backyard to get a bucket of coal when he thought he saw the gorilla. He ran back into the house and grabbed his rifle. When he went back outside, he raised his gun and fired at the mule.

It turns out that he had shot at his neighbor’s mule that had wandered over to his yard. Luckily, the mule wasn’t severely wounded.

The same couldn’t be said for a dog in Rouzerville three days later.

At dusk, the gorilla was seen in an alleyway in Rouzerville. The woman who saw it raised the alarm and the men grabbed their rifles and chased it out of town. They tried to circle the hill where it had run, but it apparently escaped. However, “A black dog running through the underbrush paid the death penalty when an excited hunter mistook it for the ape,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Somehow the gorilla passed the hunters and went back into town where it was seen again causing alarm.

It was then seen the next day in Monterey. Two men thought they saw a man approaching them on all fours. “When they called the animal rose on its hind legs and came toward them making gurgling sounds. The young men did not investigate further,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

On Feb. 5, John Simmons saw the gorilla walking through a field near Pen Mar. He said that since it was broad daylight, he could see that the creature was definitely a gorilla.

Reports of the gorilla then vanished from the newspapers until August when it was seen in Gettysburg on lower York St. The man who saw it ran into his house, grabbed his rifle and shot at it. When it fell to the ground, he thought that he had killed it.

“Thinking he had bagged his game the gunner went toward the fallen animal. When only a few feet away the beast jumped to its hand legs and chased the man into the house,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

More residents grabbed their rifles and chased the gorilla out of town. It was last seen heading toward Biglerville, but it supposedly left behind footprints that were identified as a gorilla’s.

The Gettysburg Times, which had once proclaimed that the gorilla was not a myth now took a more skeptical approach. “One night he is seen cavorting over the hillsides between York Springs and Gardners in northern Adams county. The next night he looms up in Biglerville, then Gettysburg and ere a week flits by he is seen in the hills of Franklin county of Maryland. What an asset to a football coach planning for a successful season would be this never weary animal who flits from mountain top to mountain,” the newspaper reported.

There was at least one more gorilla sighting in 1921. Ray Weikert said that he saw the gorilla crossing a street that he was riding along in late August. Weikert saw it crossing the street, not too far in front of his horse “Not only did the young man see the beast, but the horse as well, and it was with difficulty it was kept from running away,” the Star and Sentinel reported.

The gorilla purportedly leisurely crossed the road walking on its hind legs. It then climbed the fence and walked into the underbrush.

After a black bear was seen in the county in early November, the Gettysburg Times suggested that maybe all of the gorilla sightings were actually people seeing a black bear.

We’ll never know, though. The gorilla was never captured and reports of sightings ended.

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One of the aircraft spotting stations in Adams County during WWII. This one was located in Biglerville, PA. Gettysburg had one station located on the roof of the First National Bank building in downtown Gettysburg.

Early in the morning of June 22, 1943, air raid sirens blared throughout Adams County. People stumbled out of their beds, tripping in the dark because they couldn’t turn on any lights. Within an hour, it was obvious that the county had bombed.

The county hadn’t been bombed. It had bombed as in “failed.”

“If the surprise air raid test early Tuesday morning had been the real thing the amount of damage done in Adams County would have been terrible,” a member of the County Council of Defense told the Gettysburg Times.

Adams County had been staging air raid drills since the United States had entered World War II, but the U.S. Army had taken over running them in mid-June 1943 and within a week, ran its first drill. The army sent the alert at 4:10 a.m. and the yellow alarm was sounded 15 minutes later. In Gettysburg, the alarm was the undulating sound of the siren on the Gettysburg Fire Hall.

Lights should have been doused and blackout shades drawn all around the county. Instead, people stumbled around in a sleepy daze as the siren became an annoying alarm.

“So realistic was the test, the first sprung by the army, that a number of persons were fearful it was a real raid after they had discovered that the test was in progress,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

The blue alarm was sent at 4:35 a.m., though it didn’t sound until 4:42 because of the volume of telephone calls being made. The only operator on duty at the Gettysburg phone exchange began fielding lots of calls from firemen who wanted to know where the fire was. One of the members of the County Council of Defense said, “The magnificent work of the single operator on duty prevented complete collapse of the local system and allowed the air raid calls to go through.”

The hundreds of air raid wardens throughout the county (Gettysburg alone had 179 wardens and 35 highway entrance police) should have been outside by then walking along their streets to make sure no lights could be seen and people had taken cover. Spotters should have been at their station of the roof of the First National Bank looking for enemy aircraft. That wasn’t the case. Only a small portion had heeded the alarm.

“A number of county communities did not receive the alarms apparently because sleeping wardens did not hear their phones or failed to distinguish their ring on the party lines,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Early morning defense workers had to dress in the dark and couldn’t leave their homes in time to get to work.

The all-clear alarm finally sounded at 5:02 a.m., less than an hour after the original alarm had been sounded.

People took a deep breath and began assessing what had happened. New Oxford and McSherrystown hadn’t even staged a blackout. When the army took over the air raid drills, the phrasing of how the drill alerts were made was changed. Though it was supposed to be simpler, it turned out to be confusing and so those communities hadn’t even realized that they were in the midst of an air raid drill. The county switched back to using the original phraseology a few weeks later.

In Gettysburg, Texas Hot Weiners, Dr. Bruce N. Wolff and the Sweetland Plaza Restaurant were all fined $5 and court costs for not adhering to blackout conditions.

“The test was the most unsuccessful held so far in regards to performance, but it was the most successful in revealing flaws in the system,” a Defense Council official told the Gettysburg Times.

Another change that was found to be necessary was a new alarm at the fire hall so that the air raid signals wouldn’t be mistaken for a fire alarm. On the east side of Gettysburg, the alarm had been confused with factory whistles, adding to residents’ confusion.

“That the present differentiation is not distinct enough to make everyone understand immediately that is an air raid alarm was proved all too well this morning. If they raid had been real, the result would have been tragic,” the Defense Council official said.

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I’ve had the chance to be on television three times so far in my writing career. Once was with a local independent station. Once was with a statewide cable network, and the most recent was for C-SPAN. I actively pursued the first two, but the

I actively pursued the first two, but the C-SPAN appearance was a happy turn of events. I was doing a book signing at the Gettysburg Heritage Center for two days during the anniversary weekend, and I volunteered to make a presentation about my book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. Shortly before anniversary weekend rolled around, I was told that C-SPAN would be filming the author presentations for a future broadcast.

I think this shows that if you are an author out there marketing yourself and your books, things will eventually start to happen for you. It may be a hard doing this at first, and hard getting to the point where things happen, but they will start to come together for you.

My only regret is that the presentation wasn’t one of my better ones. Right before I started, I was told that I would need to cut the presentation so that it could end by a certain time. I found myself cutting on the fly, and I felt the presentation was choppy. I also wound up cutting too much out.

Here’s the presentation:

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marines-recruitingA couple years ago, Richard Fulton and I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. It is the only book about the only Marine line-of-duty deaths at Gettysburg, although they weren’t part of the Civil War battle.

Now the Marine Corps League is trying to raise funds to erect a memorial on the site of the airplane crash that killed Capt. George Hamilton and GySgt. George Martin on June 26, 1922.

They have established Go Fund Me page to try and raise funds for the memorial that they hope to dedicate this summer. Take a look, and if you can help out, please do so.

Here’s the description from the back of the book to give you more context to why the Marines were in Gettysburg:

Last To Fall Cover“There’s more than one way to fight the Civil War. The 1863 Battle of Gettysburg resulted in horrific slaughter that ultimately ended the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania. But after the Allied victory of World War I in 1918, people began to wonder what if some of the post-world war military technology had been available to the armies during the American Civil War?

“The Marine officers who were debating these questions had the capability to test their theories. The purpose and results were supposed to be safe. The exercises and associated reenactments were meant to merely serve as being training maneuvers, along with strikingly realistic, horrific battle, by substituting their “modern-day” military equipment for that which had been used during the Civil War.

“On June 19, 1922, more than 5,000 Marines left Quantico, heading north to the battlefield of Gettysburg. They would reach the battlefield on June 26, but their arrival would be marred by the sudden, tragic deaths of two of their numbers, when a de Havilland fighter would crash, resulting in the plane’s pilot and observer being the last U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty on the Gettysburg battlefield.

“But even as a pall, following in the wake of the deaths, descended upon the encampment established on the Codori Farm, the marine mission had to proceed as planned. For ten days, battle would rage once again on the fields and ridges where thousands had perished 59 years prior… climaxing on July 4 when the marines would fight the Battle of Gettysburg… with “modern” weapons and tactics.”

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The WWII POW camp at Gettysburg. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

Gunter Habock was imprisoned in Gettysburg, but rather than considering it a trial, he enjoyed his time here as a prisoner. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that he returned to Gettysburg in 1970 to show his wife and son where he had spent part of World War II.

 

“He was a boy of 15 in 1939 when Hitler’s Brown Shirts demonstrated for possession of the Polish Corridor and remembers the Polish army in the city,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

An 18-year-old Habock was in Danzig in 1943. He was studying architecture when he was drafted into the German Army.

Habock had served in the war as a paratrooper in the German army, but he had been transferred to infantry when the Germans lost all of their planes at St. Lo, Normandy, after the Allies strafed the location. He was sent to fight in July 12, 1944, and captured along with 24 other paratroopers on July 28.

The captured Germans were taken to Le Havre, where 42 ships waited to sail to the U.S. These ships were loaded with 2,000 German prisoners.

The ships docked at New York and the prisoners were off loaded onto trains to be transported to various prisoner of war camps in the U.S. Several hundred were put on a train to Carlisle. At Carlisle, trucks were waiting to take about 100 of the prisoners to Gettysburg.

Gettysburg housed German prisoners of war from May 31, 1944 until February 1945. It was one of hundreds of POW camps throughout the country during the war.

The early POWs had to build their own camp at Gettysburg. They constructed a 400-foot by 600-foot stockade surrounding the camp along Emmitsburg Road next to the old Home Sweet Home Motel. During this construction phase, the prisoners were housed at the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue.

They were primarily put to work supplementing the work force at nearby orchards and canneries. Habock spent a lot of his time working at Peach Glen.

“I ran the cider press and drank lots of apple juice!” Habock told The Gettysburg Times.

Later, he would work at a fertilizer plant in York and loading pulpwood onto trucks and railroad cars in Ortanna.

For their efforts, the prisoners received 80 cents a day. The remaining amount of their daily earnings, which was usually between 50 and 60 cents an hour, was sent to the federal government. According to the National Park Service, the federal government received $138,000 from the Gettysburg POW camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944. On days that a prisoner didn’t work, he received 10 cents a day. The prisoners were paid in coupons, which they could use as cash in the camp exchange.

Habock left Camp Sharpe in February 1946 and was sent to Indiantown Gap, then to Ft. Meade, Md., and finally to Camp Shank, N.Y. From there, he was returned to LaHavre in June 1946 and discharged in Babenhausin, Germany.

He returned to his hometown of Danzig, but found that the Russians had expelled all Germans from it so he and his family had to be relocated to Hanover, Germany.

He earned his degree and became a contractor building apartments and homes. The married in 1947 and went on to have three children.

The Habocks flew into Ontario on vacation and visited Niagara Falls before visiting the sites where Habock had been as prisoner.

“They visited the Peach Glen plant today, where Habock found many changes,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

While in Gettysburg, he met with Eugene Clapper who had also been captured at St. Lo. However, Clapper had been captured by the Germans and sent to a German POW camp. As the two compared notes on their POW experiences, Habock told Clapper, “It was much worse for you than for me. I had enough to eat and the work was not like that.”

At its peak in July 1944, the Gettysburg POW camp held 932 prisoners of war, some of whom, like Habock returned after the war to visit Gettysburg as guests.

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dhtWhile the Founding Fathers were working to build a nation in Philadelphia in 1776, in south-central Pennsylvania (Adams County, Pa. wasn’t created until 1800), Rev. Alexander Dobbin and his parishioners were building a house that, just like the United States, is still standing more than two years later.

Though now surrounded by houses, businesses, hotels and monuments in Gettysburg, when the house was built, it was a 300-acre farm.

The Dobbin Family

Alexander Dobbin was born in Ireland in 1742. After studying the classics in Ireland, Dobbin and his wife, Isabella Gamble, left Ireland to settle in America. In America, Dobbin became pastor of the Rock Creek Presbyterian Church, located one mile north of what is now Gettysburg.

In 1774, the Dobbin purchased 300 acres of land in and around what is now the town of Gettysburg. At one point, he was the second-largest landholder in the area behind Gettysburg founder James Getty.

88402ee4e29f2b779fd470e6e8e56f98The original stone structure was home to Dobbin’s wife, 10 children and 9 step children. Isabella died at a young age and Dobbin married Mary Agnew who had 9 children.

The house also served as a Classical School, which was a combined seminary and liberal arts college. “Dobbin’s school was the first of its kind in America west of the Susquehanna River, an academy which enjoyed an excellent reputation for educating many professional men of renown,” according to the Dobbin House brochure.

Dobbin also worked to establish Adams County as separate from York County. Once it happened, he was appointed one of the two commissioners who helped chose Gettysburg as the county seat of the new county.

The house passed out of the Dobbin family in 1834 and began being passed through a series of owners. Conrad Snyder owned the house during the Civil War.

Dobbin House on the Underground Railroad

slave-hideoutDuring the Battle of Gettysburg, Beamer said, “There was substantial fighting nearby. It was amazing that it didn’t take a cannonball hit.”

The house was also used as an Underground Railroad stop. Slaves were hidden in a crawl space between the first and second floors behind a false wall. The space can still be seen today when touring the house.

The Many Uses of the Dobbin House

The house served as a private residence or apartments until the 1950’s. From the 1950’s until 1975, the building was a museum, gift shop and housed a diorama on the second floor.

The current owners purchased the house in 1975 and opened the Springhouse Tavern in May 1978. That evolved over the years growing into a complex that includes the tavern, a fine-dining restaurant in the actual Dobbin House, a banquet room, gift shop and bed and breakfast that serve more than 200,000 guests each year.

“We strive to serve quality food and offer gracious service,” Beamer said.

It’s all done in the setting of an authentic colonial tavern that offers recipes that have been featured in “Bon Appetit” and “Cuisine” magazines.

The Dobbin House is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, visit the Dobbin House web site.

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