WC History: 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment
First posted October 6, 2014; updated March 4, 2015 | Malcolm Johnstone
West Chester PA -- As the Civil War Sesquicentennial continues to recognize the valor of those who fought in America's bloodiest conflict, it is of particular interest to note the Borough's tallest and perhaps most impressive war monument -- The 50-foot tall obelisk honoring the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It occupies the highest point in the Borough at the southwest corner of Marshall Square park.
The 97th was organized in West Chester in 1861 where it initially recruited over a thousand soldiers motivated by patriotism and adventure. It participated in several campaigns from North Carolina to Florida as part of the Anaconda Plan to eventually control the Mississippi River and deprive the southern states of supplies. By the end of the war, the regiment had lost 136 men in battle and 186 men to disease. Three soldiers were executed by firing squad for desertion.
Two enlisted men and three officers from the regiment received the Medal of Honor, including Galusha Pennypacker, who at the age of 17 was commissioned a captain and by the age of 20 became the youngest colonel ever to command a regiment of the Regular Army. This recognition came from his efforts in January 1865, when he commanded an attack during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher at Wilmington, North Carolina. Despite being severely wounded, he and his company were able to take the fort. It took him eight months to recover from his wounds but he was able to continue his career in the army, retiring to Philadelphia in 1887 where he died in 1916.
It is Pennypacker's image that some believe is on the statue, but that is not the case, although there is a statue dedicated to Pennypacker at Logan Square in Philadelphia. Rather, the statue represents no particular likeness; it is meant to honor The Union Soldier -- all Union Soldiers -- who made a commitment to sacrifice life and limb for the cause to preserve the nation.
Plans to erect a West Chester monument dedicated to the 97th began soon after the Civil War. But it took 23 years to raise funds for its completion. Finally, on October 29, 1887, the monument was dedicated where it now stands. It included four cannons made of granite plus landscaping providing pathways, both of which have now disappeared.
Re-dedication of the Civil War monument, sponsored by State Senator Andy Dinniman, took place October 5, 2014, to insure that the gallantry and sacrifices provided by the group of local boys and men will not be forgotten.