Gettysburg is – was – a modern, progressive, small town, though with nearly 2,400 souls as the war started the census counted it as a city. The houses were brick, mostly, spacious fenced yards behind each, with a vegetable garden, perhaps chickens, a cow, a shed, and the privy. The town took pride in its College, the Lutheran Seminary, and all the benefits educational institutions bestowed. It had three weekly newspapers: one Democratic, the Compiler, and two Republican, the Adams Sentinel and the Star & Banner. They were all highly partisan, but then so were most newspapers throughout the United States. During elections the area tended to divide evenly between the two parties.
Politics provided one of the most important and at times all-absorbing cultural activities, religion provided the other. Gettysburg had eight churches with nine congregations, with Lutherans and Presbyterians predominating. It had a new rural burial ground on Cemetery Hill. The schools were public: Pennsylvania required public education and, as one would expect in a college town Gettysburg had good schools, including two private ones for girls, and many private instructors. The town had gaslight and some paved sidewalks, but its streets were alternatively dusty or muddy. The seat of government for Adams County, it had a beautiful new courthouse, built in 1859, close to the central square, “the Diamond,” as the locals called it. It had new warehouses around a railroad station, also newly built in 1859, right after that modern mode of transportation had arrived in town.