More than a few football fans probably think Penn State
University’s home field is named for the furry, flat-tailed critter famous
for damming streams.
But 107,200-plus-seat Beaver Stadium is the namesake of a Pennsylvania
governor who lost his leg — and nearly his life — in the Civil War.
James Addams Beaver was also a president of the Penn State Board of Trustees
and acting president of the university.
|James Addams Beaver was thrice
wounded before a Confederate rifle round smashed his limb, necessitating
|Image: Wikimedia Commons|
Beaver, colonel of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, was thrice wounded
before a Confederate rifle round smashed his limb, necessitating amputation. He
was “a gallant soldier, statesman, jurist and Christian citizen,”
according to the 1898 Commemorative Biographical Record of Central
Beaver hailed from Bellefonte, Pa., “the proud home of governors
and distinguished men” whose names and deeds cast “an illustrious
halo o’er a finished century,” the old book says. A stone and bronze
monument to Beaver stands outside the huge concrete and steel arena on the Penn
State campus at State College, Pa., near Bellefonte. The Beaver Stadium
memorial is silent about his Civil War service.
From lawyer to soldier
Born near Millerstown, Pa., in 1837, Beaver was a Bellefonte lawyer when
America’s bloodiest conflict began in 1861.
“The nation must be preserved,” he wrote to his mother,
according to the Commemorative Biographical Record. “And who can
mistake his duty in this emergency? I have prayed for direction, guidance, and
clear revelation of duty, and I cannot now doubt where the path of duty lies.
If required, I will march in it, trusting in God for the result.”
Beaver marched off to war as second lieutenant of the “Bellefonte
Fencibles,” a militia company whose commander, Capt. Andrew G. Curtin,
soon left to become governor. Beaver shortly resigned from the Fencibles to
help recruit the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry. He wound up the regiment’s
lieutenant colonel, or second in command.
Beaver received his baptism of fire in action around Hilton Head and
Port Royal, S.C., in late 1861. In 1862, he became colonel and commander of the
new 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, dubbed the “Centre County Regiment,”
and helped recruit the troops. “He had by this time developed high
qualities as a disciplinarian, and his men made it their boast that they were
often mistaken for regulars,” according to Appletons’ Cyclopaedia
of American Biography.
The 148th Pennsylvania Infantry first saw combat in May 1863, during the
Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., a Confederate victory. Beaver suffered his
first combat wound.
“He gallantly led his command into hand-to-hand conflict with the
Confederates, where he fell, as was then believed, mortally wounded,” the
April 1913 Penn State Alumni Quarterly reported. “The ball passed
clear through his body, but skillful surgical treatment brought him
His wound kept him out of the decisive Union triumph at the Battle of
Gettysburg, Pa., in July. But he was back in action during the bloody
Wilderness campaign in Virginia in 1864. He was wounded twice more — at
the Battles of Cold Harbor and Petersburg, also in Virginia.
At Cold Harbor, he assumed temporary leadership of his brigade after its
commanding general was wounded. He was still brigade commander when he helped
lead the first assault against the Confederate works at heavily fortified
Amputation ends military service
Beaver’s Petersburg wound was not yet fully healed when he returned
to his regiment, which went into battle at Ream’s Station, Va., near
Petersburg on Aug. 25, 1864. “He rode to the battle-field of Ream’s
Station in an ambulance, and had scarcely reached the front and assumed command
at the advanced line when his right leg was shattered by a rifle-ball,”
according to the Cyclopaedia.
The bullet hit Beaver in the thigh. A surgeon removed the leg at the hip
joint, according to Officers of the Volunteer Army and Navy who Served in
the Civil War, a book published in 1893.
In the days following the operation, Beaver suspected his life was
ebbing away. “Commenced to die,” he reportedly managed to write in
his diary. “… Although his life was saved, he was no longer capable
of active military service,” the Cyclopaedia explains.
The bravery of Beaver, 26 years old at the time, did not go unnoticed.
He earned a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers “for
highly meritorious and distinguished conduct throughout the campaign,
particularly for valuable services at Cold Harbor, while commanding a
brigade,” according to Officers of the Volunteer Army.
Nonetheless, Beaver resigned in December, “refusing to remain in
the army on light duty as he was urged to do,” the Cyclopaedia
explains. “He repeatedly declined promotion that would have taken him away
from his own regiment, feeling bound to remain with the men whom he had
Back in Bellefonte, Beaver resumed his law practice, became active in
the Presbyterian Church, Republican politics and the Grand Army of the
Republic, a Union veterans’ organization. In 1874, he was elected to the
Pennsylvania State College Board of Trustees, and he served as its president
Beaver was elected governor in 1886 and was in office from 1887 to 1891.
He was named one of the first justices of the state Superior Court in 1895 and
remained on the bench until his death and burial in Bellefonte in 1914.
Penn State legacy
Meanwhile, Beaver returned to the Penn State Board, again as its
president, from 1897 to 1914; he was acting college president from 1906 to
While Beaver was president, he set aside 18 acres for building a new
football field that was supposed to be “the best equipped, most compact
athletic plant in the college world,” according to Penn State. Beaver
Field, which boasted 500 seats, opened in 1910 as the Nittany Lions’ first
home. Before, the team played on a grassy campus lawn.
Beaver Stadium opened elsewhere on campus in 1960. Expanded through the
years, it is now the second largest college football arena in the country.
Nearby Beaver Hall, which is part of the university, and Beaver Avenue
are also named for the old soldier.