Portrait, Courtesy Brian Kennell, from Notable People, Evergreen Cemetery; www.evergreencemetery.org, July 24, 2007.
David McConaughy was born on July 23, 1823, the son of John and Margaret (Patterson) McConaughy of Adams County. Reared by his uncle from age four (after his father died), McConaughy attended Gettysburg College, through 1838, and transferred to Washington College, where his uncle served as president. He graduated in 1840; accepted a position as a school principal in Maryland; returned to Pennsylvania to study law under Thaddeus Stevens; joined the bar in 1844, and opened a private practice. The Senator helped establish the Gettysburg chapter of the YMCA, 1853; became president and director of the board of Evergreen Cemetery and supported Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 Republican Convention.
In 1861, Capt. McConaughy organized a number of his law clients into the “Adams Rifles,” a paramilitary ranger company that later served the Union as an important reconnaissance unit. His company also functioned as an indispensable intelligence outfit during the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns, earning the praise of Governor Curtin, Major Granville O’Haller, Maj. Gen. Darius Couch, and Maj. Gen. George Meade for communicating valuable information regarding Confederate cavalry and infantry movement into Maryland and Pennsylvania.
After the Battle of Antietam (1862), McConaughy spearheaded a campaign to create a Gettysburg soldiers cemetery just north of Evergreen, meeting resistance from local politicians and fellow attorney David Wills, who hoped to secure the grounds for the Commonwealth. He furthermore found indifference from the public, who wondered if there were enough deceased soldiers from the area to warrant such a project. McConaughy, nevertheless, purchased an adjacent 17 acres on Cemetery Hill with personal funds, aided by veteran and active-duty contributors. A fruitful effort, the Senator’s national cemetery received its informal dedication on November 19, 1863 by President Lincoln, with the delivery of the Gettysburg Address.
McConaughy’s major contribution, however, was the purchase of property that comprised the battlefield and its preservation as one of the country’s solemn national treasures. He resigned his position with Evergreen, dedicating himself to the establishment of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, serving 10 years as president and working tirelessly the remainder of his life as the key figure behind the battlefield’s preservation and its eventual acceptance as a United States National Military Park, one that presently attracts nearly two-million visitors per year. In 1864, David served as a Federal Elector for Lincoln; represented Adams and Franklin counties in the state Senate, 1867-1868; commissioned Peter F. Rothermel’s famous portrait of the Battle of Gettysburg (now housed in the State Museum); and took the first steps to plan the national battlefield in 1869, organizing a reunion of Gettysburg veterans, who identified specific, historic battlefield sites, and offered personal accounts of the engagement. David McConaughy died in January 1902, interred in Evergreen Cemetery.
Bio: The Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania, vol I (Chicago: H.C. Cooper, 1903), 159; (Top Lt.).