James Addams Beaver | Pennsylvania Civil War 150
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Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Soldiers

James Addams Beaver

Is it possible for a man to stand taller after losing one of his legs?

James A. Beaver was one of four generals who went on to serve as governor of Pennsylvania. In his case, he performed those duties with a chest unadorned by medals, his proof of service evidenced more tangibly by a missing leg. When asked how he preferred to be addressed, he would slap his stump and reply " 'General,' because that office cost me the most."

A lifelong devotee to God and Country and interested in military affairs, Beaver helped organize a local militia company, the Bellefonte Fencibles, in 1858 and became their second lieutenant. At the outbreak of the Civil War, when President Lincoln requested the states to furnish 75,000 volunteer militia that Beaver recognized the opportunity to fight on the front lines and in turn rallied the Fencibles to the cause.

However, it wasn't until 1862, when commanding his third regiment, the 148th Pennsylvania, that Beaver saw combat action. The 148th fought with the Army of the Potomac in a number of bloody battles in Virginia in 1863 and 1864.

Boyish and slight of build, Beaver proved his courage to his troops by conspicuously exposing himself to danger in battle, gaining a reputation for bravery under fire. In the process he was wounded five times, including taking a bullet through his right thigh that shattered the bone. His leg was amputated just below the hip and the shock to his system almost and should have killed him. From his hospital bed he wrote in his journal that he had "commenced to die."

Remarkably, he recovered from his injuries, though his amputation was so high that he could not be fitted with a prosthetic and he had to rely on crutches to move about. For the rest of James Beaver's life, his war wound and use of crutches became an integral part of his identity and public image. Much to his credit, he did not allow his disability to become a liability, but instead used it to his advantage.

Beaver's post-military career included an active business and civic life, leading a law practice in Centre County, and playing a pivotal role in founding the state and local chapters of the Young Men's Christian Association, more commonly known as the YMCA.

However, his advocacy on behalf of Penn State is where Beaver left his most lasting mark. A generous supporter of the college's athletic programs, few fans probably realize that the current 110,000 seat football stadium was named in honor of General James Beaver, a Civil War hero.

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Information for this section was contributed by Bob Hill.

Image Courtesy of Pennsylvania State Archives

Primary Sources
  • Pennsylvania State Archives. Manuscript Group 389. James A. Beaver Collection.

Secondary Sources
  • Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Publisher, 1869.
  • Frank A. Burr, Life and Achievements of James Addams Beaver, Philadelphia, Ferguson Bros. & Co., Printers, 1882.
  • Joseph W. Mufly, The Story of Our Regiment: A History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Written by the Comrades, Desmoines: Kenyon Printing & Manufacturing Company, 1904.

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