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Basil Biggs

Basil Biggs lived during a time of great conflict and struggle. Yet through it all, he turned himself into a success story and helped other African Americans in their quest for freedom. This roadtrip guides you to Civil War museums, history-making sites, and destinations that commemorate the times of Basil Biggs.

Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg

Founded in 1826, this is the oldest continuing Lutheran seminary in the Americas. In 1832, the Seminary moved from modest quarters in the center of town to its present location on a ridge overlooking the borough from the west. On July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the seminary campus became a battleground and then the center of the Confederate line for two days. The cupola of the Old Dorm served as an observation tower and the rest of the building served as a hospital for the wounded from both sides. Daniel Alexander Payne, born free in South Carolina, was the first African American to graduate from this seminary school. As attested by PHMC markers, this dynamic newcomer had a huge impact on the Black population of Gettysburg during the two years he spent here, fomenting their religious and educational development. He set out to pave the way for the first AME church in town, and taught at Pennsylvania College later renamed Gettysburg College. Payne became a powerful voice against slavery. He was ordained bishop in the AME church and served as president of Wilberforce University until his death in 1893. After you visit the seminary, check out Payne’s house and office just off the historic circle, and the church he founded near Lincoln Cemetery.

Lincoln Cemetery – Gettysburg

When African American Civil War veterans were denied the honor of being buried in the National Cemetery, Basil Biggs started an organization, The Sons of Good Will, which worked to create a cemetery for Gettysburg’s Black veterans and citizens. Eventually, that cemetery became Lincoln Cemetery. Basil Biggs lies here, as well as some thirty members of the US Colored Troops who fought for freedom and the Union, yet were segregated in death. Among them you can find, Sergeant Lloyd Watts who helped defend Washington, DC, and Isaac Buckmaster from the 8th US Colored Troops who was present at General Lee’s surrender. Today they rest with honor and dignity at Lincoln Cemetery. You too can honor their memory with a visit to these peaceful and historic grounds.

The David Wills House – Gettysburg

From the time that Lincoln set out to his inauguration until well after his famous Gettysburg Address, his constant traveling companion was his African American butler and personal valet, Mr. Henry Johnson. Many historians believe Johnson was among the first to hear the address as Lincoln practiced it in the rail car where the two were the lone travelers. No visit to Gettysburg is complete without a visit to the David Wills House, the only site where you can experience President Abraham Lincoln's immortal Gettysburg Address in the place in which it’s final draft was crafted. Johnson also stayed with Lincoln at the David Wills house silently keeping watch as Lincoln worked through the night on the address. The Wills’ House is located on the diamond downtown. This is the former home of post-war recovery agent David Wills and a new National Park Service museum dedicated to the memory of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. This museum illustrates life with the Wills family as the Battle of Gettysburg threatened their home and how a simple invitation from David Wills resulted in the most famous speech in American history—the Gettysburg Address. See the second-story bedroom where Lincoln honed the final words of the Address. The David Wills House features five museum galleries and two recreated rooms, the David Wills Law Office and the Lincoln Bedroom. The museum will guide you through the days, weeks and months after the battle of Gettysburg. It illustrates President Lincoln’s historic visit to the devastated town, the immortal words of the Gettysburg Address and the legacy of hope and healing that they brought, and continue to bring, to our nation.

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Thousands of wounded and dying soldiers were left in the wake of the battles in Pennsylvania. Many of whom were buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Basil Biggs was recruited to find a final resting place for those who had fallen in combat. Biggs was reportedly paid $1.25 for each body he buried. And with well over 3,000 bodies buried, Mr. Biggs earned a considerable amount of money for the times he lived in. This cemetery was dedicated on the same day that Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. Over 6,000 soldiers from several American wars were laid to rest on this plot of land. In 1870, the remains of Confederate soldiers were removed from the cemetery, most of them reburied in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Be sure to visit the graves of Charles Parker and Henry Gooden, the only African American Civil War soldiers buried in the National Cemetery.

Eat Here
Pub & Restaurant - Gettysburg

After a long day on the Civil War Trails, every good Roadtrip General deserves a good burger and a beverage. The Pub & Restaurant does both well and offers a scenic view of Gettysburg historic Lincoln Square.

Sleep Here
Battlefield Bed & Breakfast – Gettysburg

A beautiful 8-room Civil War fieldstone farmhouse circa 1809 that is located on 30 privately held acres of the famous Gettysburg Battlefield.

Fort Hunter and Gravesites – Harrisburg

Fort Hunter Park commands a magnificent view of the Susquehanna River and Blue Mountains beyond. This site was originally settled in 1725 by Benjamin Chambers, who later founded Chambersburg. Located in the woods east of Fort Hunter Park near Harrisburg, and largely hidden from view, this small nineteenth century cemetery stands as a reminder of the long struggle for freedom and equality faced by generations of African Americans, both locally and throughout the nation. Once a part of the Fort Hunter estate, the cemetery is now on privately owned land. Buried there are the descendants of enslaved Africans who lived and worked at Fort Hunter from the late 1700s to the 1840s. At that time the wealthy McAllister family owned the property and were among the last to keep enslaved Africans in the area. This beautiful 40-acre park invites visitors to relax and explore Pennsylvania history. Guided tours available.

National Civil War Museum – Harrisburg

The National Civil War Museum sits majestically atop Harrisburg's highest point. Once you step out of your car, you’ll see the beautiful hillsides of Cumberland where Civil War soldiers clashed. Take a stroll around the building and see just how close the Confederates came to conquering Harrisburg. The museum holds collections of artifacts, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and other printed artifacts. The Museum itself sits at the head of the Cumberland Valley; the same lands that Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army entered as he invaded Pennsylvania. The National Civil War Museum is the largest in the world solely dedicated to the American Civil War, and it proudly provides an unbiased and humanistic look at the war from both Northern and Southern viewpoints equally balanced and without bias. The drama, The Peculiar Institution - American Slavery, presents the institution of slavery as seen by 19th-century Americans, including a dramatic depiction of an auction of enslaved Africans. Hear the words of those who supported and opposed the "peculiar institution" and see rare artifacts from the everyday life of those held in bondage. Outside the museum, the Walk Of Valor, an arc of red bricks featuring the etched names of those who served, paints a picture of not just the bloodshed but the breadth of the contribution across the country.

Blair County Historical Society – Altoona

Basil Biggs also had an impact on the Western part of Pennsylvania. His role in the Underground Railroad connected him to locations such as Altoona and Bedford. Basil Biggs sent many freedom seekers down this freedom trail in the 1850s and 1860s. The Blair County Historical Society is an official Discover Appalachia site housed in the historic Baker Mansion. It features a research library, exhibits on local history and holds a collection of nearly 100,000 artifacts. Inside, you’ll find a wealth of information on local and regional history from 1850 through the 1920's. Visitors can see period rooms depicting the Baker family's lifestyle, as well as exhibits on the early iron industry, transportation, medicine, military history, toys, geology, and education. There’s even a special exhibit featuring the artifacts from the Logan Hotel where Union governors met for the Governors’ Conference in 1862.

Old Bedford Village - Bedford

A trip into Bedford is like stepping back into the 18th century. You’re first greeted with a journey through the stunning Claycomb covered bridge. The village itself holds over 36 period workshops and log cabins. You’ll find men and women walking through town wearing clothing inspired by Bedford’s past. You can learn about the lifestyle of families in this historic town through their Civil War retreats, schools for re-enactors, and family learning programs. Or you could just take a leisurely stroll through town or hop on a horse and buggy ride.

Eat Here
Allegro – Altoona

Homemade pastas, sauces, soups and so much more, all prepared with the freshest ingredients. Served in a gracious atmosphere that invites you to relax and savor the good times.

Sleep Here
Courtyard by Marriott – Altoona

Relax and get ready for the day ahead. This hotel, connected to the Blair County Convention Center, features a breakfast buffet, swimming pool, whirlpool and exercise room.