Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Best known — in Pennsylvania at least — as the artist of the colossal painting depicting Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817–1895) was born and raised in Nescopeck, Luzerne County. Following a public school education he moved to Philadelphia where he worked as a sign painter. He briefly studied drawing before enrolling in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Rothermel launched his art career painting portraits but soon shifted to landscapes. He achieved his greatest success combining portraiture and scenes in his many historical and narrative genre paintings. Although his work was somewhat dismissed as provincial in New York’s art circles, Rothermel was well regarded in Philadelphia and achieved great success. He was especially noted for his distinctive and effective use of color.

Not long after the end of the American Civil War, Governor Andrew Curtin charged a legislative committee to explore commemorating the horrific three-day battle by commissioning an epic painting. After discussion about whether or not to limit the choice to a Pennsylvania artist, the committee settled on Rothermel, by that time an established artist as well as a Pennsylvanian. In 1866 the committee agreed to pay the artist twenty-five thousand dollars for his work. The final product consisted of five paintings, Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge, measuring 32 feet by 16 feet, and four smaller canvases depicting engagements during the battle. Pickett’s Charge is recognized as the largest Civil War battle scene painted on a single canvas. Rothermel completed the epic painting in late 1870 and the “side series” in early 1872.

Rothermel spent nearly three years researching the paintings. He interviewed numerous veterans and spent countless hours touring the battleground. In an attempt to create the most accurate rendering of the action, he studied testimony of both Union and Confederate soldiers. He uncovered many conflicting accounts, even among soldiers who fought for the same side.

Upon completion of the largest painting Rothermel was prepared to turn it over to the Commonwealth for display at the State Capitol, but there was no space large enough to accommodate it. He requested permission to retain possession of the painting and to arrange for its exhibition elsewhere. Although some in the legislature opposed his proposal, it was agreed that Rothermel could keep the painting until an appropriate exhibit space in Harrisburg could be arranged. Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge was unveiled in December 1870 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. From 1873 through 1876 all five works were shown in a temporary exhibit space in Fairmount Park and were moved to the park’s Memorial Hall for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. The paintings toured the country, stopping in Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. They were installed in the newly built Library and Executive Building in Harrisburg in 1894, remaining there until they were transferred to The State Museum of Pennsylvania (originally the William Penn Memorial Museum) in 1965. Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge dominates the museum’s Civil War gallery and is the centerpiece of a recently opened exhibition entitled Objects of Valor: Commemorating the Civil War in Pennsylvania.


Karen Galle joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) in 1995. Following ten years as office manager of the agency’s former Commonwealth Conservation Center, in 1995 she began coordinating the State Historical Marker Program, assigned to PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.