One hundred and fifty years ago, in September of 1862, Altoona was the scene of a Civil War event that was to prove as crucial to the Union's victory as any battle fought on the blood-stained soil of the land.
The war had not been going well for the North in the first year and a half of fighting.
Confederate victories on a score of battlefields had led many to believe that the North was incapable of coercing the Confederate states back into the Union.
Northern Democrats threatened to sweep the fall congressional elections and were campaigning on a platform of ending the bloodshed and stopping the war.
The Republican Party was divided, with radical Republican governors threatening to withhold men and arms from the national forces if the Lincoln administration did not change the object of the war from the mere reinstatement of the Southern states to a crusade to free the slaves.
At this time, one of the darkest for the North, Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew G. Curtin stepped forward to assume a prominent role of leadership in national affairs. Curtin was a friend to Lincoln and his policies, and he sought a way to garner support for both.
Curtin called for a conference of loyal governors to be held at the Logan House, a luxurious hotel built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona, in hopes that the governors could be brought together in solidarity for supporting Lincoln's administration and the war effort.
Ten governors, and representatives from several other state executives who could not attend, arrived in Altoona on Sept. 23, with the conference taking place the following day.
Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, and much of the conversation between the governors centered around this important change in the course of the war.
When the conferees met at the Logan House, an early air of cooperation and unity was disrupted by factional differences that threatened to drive a wedge between the governors instead of gaining their solidarity for the cause.
During a break in the proceedings, Curtin was quite effective in diplomatically smoothing over many of these differences, and by the time the governors sat down to the table again the earlier feeling of cooperation had been restored.
The governors drafted an address to Lincoln, praising him for his Emancipation Proclamation and promising the unqualified support of the governors for his war policies. It also urged the president to make a call for 100,000 additional volunteers for the army to put down the rebellion.
By officially recognizing Lincoln as the constitutional head - not only of the government, but of the military as well - the governors had ensured that it would be political suicide for any of them to threaten the withholding of men or means as had been done in the past.
Lincoln could now proceed with the war free from the fear of disunion from within the Northern states.
Though many of the results of the Altoona War Governor's Conference were subtle, it is certain that the outcome of the war would have been drastically altered if it had not occurred.
Many historians rate the event second only to the Emancipation Proclamation in importance for civil or political actions taken during the war.
Rhode Island Gov. William Sprague said, "There are unnumbered reasons, as facts, to show that the meeting or its effects, made it possible for the Union armies to win."
So there you have it.
Altoona's contribution to the Union effort in the Civil War was as important as any action that took place during those four years of conflict, and the people of Altoona can take pride in the fact that their town was as responsible for turning the tide of defeat as was Gettysburg, less than a year later.
Robert P. Broadwater has written 29 books and more than 100 magazine articles on American military history, primarily focusing on the Civil War and the American Revolution. Broadwater's work has been nominated for the Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman Award and the George Washington Book Award. In 2009, he was inducted into the Blair County Arts Hall of Fame for contributions in the field of literature. Broadwater resides in Bellwood and is the general manager of Perkins Family Restaurant in Altoona.