James Hamilton, Jr., founder of the Hamilton Library and Historical Association, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 16, 1793, the only son of Judge James Hamilton (born 1752 in Belfast, Ireland, died February 13, 1819) and his wife Sarah Thomson, daughter of Rev. William and Susanna Ross Thomson.
Captain William E. Miller was one of the few Cumberland County residents who won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. However, Miller may be the most distinctive honoree for winning his medal by going against his orders.
Miller was born to a farming family in West Hill, Cumberland County, one mile west of Plainfield in West Pennsboro Township. As a young man, Miller ran his father’s farm and was establishing a small family of his own, when his life was interrupted by the call to war in 1861. With other local men, Miller enlisted as a private in Company H of the 3rd PA Cavalry nicknamed the “Big Spring Adamantine Guard.” Upon joining, Miller left behind two small daughters by his first wife, Elizabeth Ann Hocker, who had recently died of typhoid fever. Only Carrie survived to adulthood; his youngest, Elizabeth, died in 1862, while Miller was still at war.1
Company H took part in the Peninsula Campaign, prepared for the capture of Richmond, and fought in battle at Antietam. For his bravery at Antietam, Miller was promoted to Captain. In 1863, his regiment took part in many battles, most notably the Battle of Gettysburg. Here, on July 3, Capt. Miller had been ordered to hold a position in the woods and prevent Confederate cavalry from breaking through. A large force under Major General Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee approached and was poised to break through at a spot well past Miller’s position. Capt. Miller said to his Lieutenant, “I have been ordered to hold this position, but if you will back me up in case I am court-martialed for disobedience, I will order a charge.” Miller’s squadron charged out of the woods, successfully forcing the Confederates back.2 Not only was Miller never court-martialed, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action in 1897.3
Another of Miller’s prizes from the Civil War was a horse named “Old Bill,” who had been taken from a Confederate surgeon. Old Bill was well-known for his exploits in the Civil War, and his death was reported in newspapers as far away as Philadelphia. One of the horse’s preserved hooves is in the Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) museum.4
After the war, Miller married again, to Anna Depui Bush, and set his mind to business and community activities. For many years he had a hardware store on North Hanover Street in Carlisle, then later sold fire insurance. Miller was a member of the Second Presbyterian Church and active in politics as a Democrat. He held a number of local posts, including Chief Burgess of Carlisle, and in 1898 was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate. Miller was a leader in local organizations, being the first commander of the Carlisle Grand Army of the Republic post. He was an active member of the Hamilton Library, and his exhibit of Civil War relics helped lead to the founding of the CCHS museum.