One of the many informative and absorbing talks given at the grand opening of the Adams County Historical Society’s new building and museum, “Beyond the Battle,” on April 15 and 16, was shared by Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President and Mrs. Eisenhower. She mentioned a fact that often escapes many students of the late president’s life. The young Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915 and was sent to Gettysburg’s Camp Colt a few years later to oversee the operations of the camp where the United States Army was training soldiers to use a newly developed weapon of war: the tank. The War Department awarded the then 27-year-old Eisenhower the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership and for displaying “unusual zeal, foresight, and marked administrative ability” while in command during the devasting Spanish flu pandemic that devastated Camp Colt and the nation from 1918 to 1920.
“Pandemic” is a word quite familiar to us today, having lived through one in our own time. In 1918, with no preventions and few treatment options, places like Camp Colt, where troops lived close together in barracks, had very high cases of the Spanish flu. About 3,300 soldiers of the approximately 10,000 troops stationed there contracted this virulent influenza, and around 150 died. The young Eisenhower’s first enemy encounter was at Gettysburg with an invisible enemy, not a foreign power. As he would repeatedly do in his career, he rose to the occasion. Eisenhower ordered the entire camp to be disinfected daily, restricted the soldiers from entering the town or even attending church, and forbade local citizens from entering the camp. Worse cases were put in isolation in Xavier Hall, which the St. Francis Xavier Church in Gettysburg offered Eisenhower for use. It was 55 years earlier that this same church housed wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg. By the end of 1918, Americans who lost their lives in combat numbered 53,402, but about 45,000 additional soldiers lost their lives to the Spanish flu and related pneumonia.
Over 1,000 men from Adams County served in the military during World War I. Of these, 342 men saw combat, 57 were wounded, 32 suffered from exposure to poisonous gas, and 53 men died. Twelve women from Adams County volunteered as nurses, and seven of them served overseas. Local citizens also contributed to the war effort by knitting hundreds of sweaters, making bandages, gathering clothes for war refugees, and assisting the families of soldiers who had gone overseas or suffered from the Spanish flu. Care packages for troops had lots of Adams County apples.
The “war to end all wars” and the Spanish flu epidemic underscored the need for enhanced local medical resources in the area. A civic-minded local contractor from Gettysburg named John M. Warner and his wife Annie stepped forward to help their community. They donated six acres of land and $25,000 to build a permanent hospital in town. Named for Annie (Bream) Warner, the new hospital opened in 1921 just south of town. The total cost of the new building and equipment was $67,000. The hospital began with two day shift nurses and one night shift nurse. Local doctors worked on-call for a month at a time. The Annie M. Warner Hospital expanded over the years with the help of the local community organizations and individuals, such as the charitable foundations of the C. H. Musselman family, who were Adams County fruit growers. Multiple additions and modernizations to accommodate community needs grew to what has become today’s Gettysburg Hospital. Satellite locations were also added around the area. Today the Gettysburg Hospital is part of the WellSpan Health system serving south central Pennsylvania.
The Adams County Historical Society’s new facility at 625 Biglerville Road in Gettysburg, housing unique and fascinating artifacts of Adams County’s history, is now open to the public Thursday through Monday with free on-site parking. The Beyond the Battle Museum has a display devoted to President and Mrs. Eisenhower, who made Adams County their home. Come and visit.
Howard F. Burrell is an Adams County Historical Society trustee.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.