Pennsylvania Stories

“[We] were delighted learning about local heroes and local landmarks from the Civil War era in [our] own back yard.”
– Peters Township Library

“There’s more to the Civil War in Pennsylvania than just Gettysburg.  The truth is, the same questions that would be settled on the battlefield, had been argued in communties all over Pennsylvania, communities just like this one, for decades before anybody put on a uniform.”

Far too often, we treat local history and national history as if they’re two entirely different things.  But the truth is, those local stories in your back yard, are the building blocks that make up the “big” stories of Pennsylania, and of America.

So, I’ve made it a mission of mine to help people see where their local histories fit into the broader fabric of state and national history.  I’ve spoken in communities all over the Commonwealth.  Each time, I’ve started by doing some local research… and every single time, I’ve found a wealth of local stories.  Abolitionists.  Underground Railroad agents.  Activists for women’s rights.  And of course, men who enlisted and fought for the Union Army.

Civil War Stories at

Here are just a few of the stories I’ve learned along the way:

In Harrisburg, I spoke about Camp Curtin, the first and largest training camp in the entire country–and about local abolitionists like Thomas Morris Chester.

In Lancaster County, I spoke about Thaddeus Stevens and James Buchanan–and about the armed uprising in Christiana which was arguably the first shot of the war.

In Franklin County, I spoke about the burning of Chambersburg–and about Martin Delaney, the first African American novelist published in America.

In Butler County, I spoke about Jane Gray Swisshelm, an ordinary schoolteacher who became the first woman ever to sit in the press gallery in the US Senate.

In Washington County, I spoke about Dr. Jon Letterman, who revolutionized military medicine for the next hundred years.

In Wayne County, I spoke about the very first field test of a locomotive in America.  (The engine worked great, but the tracks were made of wood.)

Storytelling at GreatTalesLive.netNear Pittsburgh, I spoke about the fire at the Allegheny Arsenal, the worst civilian disaster of the war–and about an abolitionist attorney who was finally accepted into the Pennsylvania bar more than 100 years after his death.

In Montgomery County, I spoke about Lucretia Mott, who was rejected by the abolitionist community and went on to become one of its most powerful leaders.

In Cambria County, I explored the amazing story of Catherine Foster, who lived through the Battle of Gettysburg and the Johnstown Flood.

In Delaware County, I learned about David Porter, and why the attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter failed.

What can I learn in your community?

Civil War stories at