Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Eagle Hotel and Christ Lutheran Church

The Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg.

The Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg.

Part of a Series.

Contrary to popular belief, Old Dorm (also known as Schmucker Hall) at the Lutheran Theological Seminary was not Brigadier General John Buford’s headquarters on the night before the battle of Gettysburg. Buford actually stayed in downtown Gettysburg at the Eagle Hotel. Opened for business in 1834, the Eagle Hotel was a large three story hotel, which lasted until 1960. The hotel gave Buford a more central location for his brigade commanders to contact him, and was much more comfortable than the Seminary building would have been.

As the 1st and 11th Corps fell back through town, fighting erupted in the block around the Eagle Hotel.  Captain Francis Irsch, with four companies of the 45th New York, fell back through grounds of Pennsylvania College (today Gettysburg College). With Confederates filling the streets Irsch ordered his men to take up residency in the buildings along Chambersburg Street, he was going to make a perfect fort of the buildings.

As Confederates approached they quickly realized that flushing out Irsch would be a bloody task. They sent forward a flag of truce and Irsch came out and was given a short tour of the Chambersburg Street area. Common sense prevailed and Irsch returned to his command and told them they were to surrender, but before they did they were to dump all equipment into the wells around the hotel. After doing so the men surrendered. Irsch was offered parole but refused. He was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond. In 1864 he managed to escape, but was recaptured. He then was sent to a few other prisons, in all he escaped prisons four times, and was recaptured four times.  He was exchanged in 1864, and survived the war, dying in 1906. For his actions along the Mummasburg Road and in the town of Gettysburg Captain Irsch was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg. Photo by Dave Roth; Blue and Gray Magazine

Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg. Photo by Dave Roth; Blue and Gray Magazine

Christ Lutheran Church sits caddie corner to where the Eagle Hotel once sat on Chambersburg Street. The church was used as a hospital during and after the battle. On the steps of the church is an open book atop a podium. This monument is to Chaplain Horatio Howell of the 90th Pennsylvania, who was shot dead by Confederates on the evening of July 1st. One account states he was aiding the wounded and was shot in cold blood, another states that the Chaplin pickup a rifle and aimed it at the oncoming Confederates. Either way the chaplain was killed on the steps of the church. Some local civilians witnessed the action from a window across the street.

To reach these spots make your way down Chambersburg Street from the town square. A half block down on the left is the church. A half a block farther down on the right is a 7-11, this is the site of the Eagle Hotel. Feel free to stop in and have a John Buford Memorial Slurpee or head across the street to Ernie’s Hot Texas Lunch. They have great hot dogs and the building was used as a morgue after the battle; insert joke………here.

Eagle Hotel Map

About Kristopher D. White

Civil War author and historian.
This entry was posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Common Soldier and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Eagle Hotel and Christ Lutheran Church

  1. If I recall correctly, there was some suspicion that the owners of the Eagle Hotel during 1863 may not have been the most “loyal of Union citizens.” There was later reason to suspect that Confederate spies had been in the vicinity during the spring and had stayed at the hotel – during the Gettysburg campaign, they returned and openly (in CSA uniform) revealed their previous acquaintance with the owners!

  2. Rob Orrison says:

    Love the story about how the tavern keeper at the Eagle Hotel supposedly recognized a few of the Confederates that came through there on July 1st. Makes one wonder if Lee had scouts/spies in Gettysburg before the armies were there.

    • Rob, I wanted to let you know that I double checked the story I mentioned in “Firestorm at Gettysburg: Civilian Voices” by Jim Slade and John Alexander. The incident with the spies was at the Globe Inn. The owner of the Globe Inn was known to have Democratic sympathies and he later admitted that he suspected CSA spies stayed at his establishment. Where the story really gets crazy is on June 26, when a staff officer with Early tells the owners he stayed there 3 weeks earlier. Hmm….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s