The Confederate who came to dinner: The story of James Francis Crocker

An article by Prof. Allen Guelzo for the Gettysburg Magazine in winter 2012

Gettysburg College sent 207 alumni into the Civil War—a considerable number given that the entire host of alumni in 1865 totaled around 900. Only 99, however, were in actual combat service. The rest served in non-combatant roles such as surgeons or chaplains, in temporary militia service, or as civilians with agencies like the U.S. Christian Commission.

More surprising still is that 14 alumni served in the armies of the Confederacy. But the biggest surprise of all came when one of those rebel alumni not only marched into Gettysburg with the Army of Northern Virginia on July 3, 1863, but also participated in Pickett’s Charge, was wounded and captured, and then performed the ultimate act of alumni chutzpah by wandering cheerfully around the town with a pass, dropping in on his old professors, and sitting down to dinner with his former instructor, College President Henry Baugher.

He was James Francis Crocker, born in 1828 and a member of the Class of 1850. He came to Gettysburg as an 18-year-old because elite families of the Old South loved sending their sons to high-profile Northern colleges. Southern institutions of higher education were often small and poorly funded, so families who could afford it dispatched their fair-haired boys to mingle with the North’s best and brightest. One of Robert E. Lee’s sons went to Harvard; Confederate President Jefferson Davis was an honorary member of Whig Hall at Princeton; Davis’s Secretary of the Treasury was a Yalie. So it made sense to “Frank” Crocker’s family, a social fixture of Virginia’s Isle of Wight County since the 17th century, to send their youngest child to what was then Pennsylvania College.

Read More