Monday marks the first solar eclipse visible in the US since 2017. As all things astronomy are at the forefront, another celestial event from the Civil War comes to mind.  


The Great Comet of 1861 was a long-period comet that was visible to the naked eye for approximately 3 months.It was categorized as one of the eight greatest comets of the 19th century.

Making its appearance in early July, Private Charles F. Johnson of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry had been at war for a month.

Johnson kept a journal of his wartime life, illuminating his reflections and happenings during the time. In his entry on July 18, 1861 he contemplates the night sky, the comet, and his place amid the tumultuous American Civil War.

“I watched the comet, wondering if that mysterious little visitor was not perhaps at the same time watched by eyes that would beam gladly into mine; and I composed quite a number of beginnings of addresses to the curious thing, or whatever it may be. But the comet is not tired of his visit to these regions of space, or disgusted it may be with the appearance of things on this side of our planet, for he is now leaving in seemingly greater haste than he came, with his tail between his legs, for the unknown regions out yonder. Well, good-by and fare thee well, Stranger. And I fervently hope that thou mayst see the face of the Earth beaming with smiles where now her frowns are lowering, on thy next visit, if that should be while this little world is still in existence.”

The comet’s disappearance coincided with the Battle of Bull Run, the first major military engagement of the Civil War (and a shocking Union defeat). The public contemplated astronomical signs as possible foreshadowing of the war.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) says most of the Commonwealth lies within the 90 percent covering range and the eclipse will begin in our area around 2:00 p.m., reaching its peak between 3:15 p.m. and 3:20 p.m., ending around 4:30 p.m


About Author

Jessica Dean

Born and raised in Adams County, Pennsylvania, Jessica and her husband, Troy, created Celebrate Gettysburg magazine in 2007. Before starting the publication, Jessica was the art director for Frederick Magazine, a successful regional publication based in Frederick, Maryland. She was the president for the AIGA Blue Ridge chapter and has won numerous awards for her graphic design. Always eager to give back to the community, Jessica has helped to promote many local activities and has volunteered her design services to a variety of regional nonprofit organizations. She lives in downtown Gettysburg with her family.

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