If you’ve ever walked or driven around the city of Erie, chances are you’ve noticed the name “Strong Vincent” emblazoned somewhere on a building, bridge or bench.
Well that raises a question – just who is this Strong Vincent, and why is he everywhere in the city?
If we start from the top, Vincent was born in Waterford, Pa. He completed his education at Trinity College and Harvard University. After graduation in 1859, he moved to Erie to practice law.
Never one to miss an opportunity for adventure and the chance to serve his country, Vincent volunteered right when the Civil War began. From there, he jumped the ranks from first lieutenant to lieutenant colonel to brigade commander. He was even later offered the position of Judge Advocate for the Army, but refused the post citing his purpose of being: to fight for country.
Before he left for his epic travels – and on the very day he enlisted in the army – Vincent married his young love Elizabeth H. Carter. He assured Carter, who was pregnant with their first child, that if he fell in battle: “Remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”
One of Vincent’s most notable contributions to the war came from taking responsibility for the active mistake of another commanding officer. Vincent made the decision to take his brigade into the position of defending the region lost by the other officer’s mistake. He went so far as to operate a reconnaissance mission in Confederate territory: Little Round Top.
While his brigade did not receive the majority of the credit for this defense (as well as most of his other accomplishments), he was not disheartened. This strategic defense was absolutely crucial to victory in the war.
After Vincent’s death from a gunshot wound to the thigh, he was recommended for promotion to brigadier general – though he never got to hear the promotion himself.
After all of his efforts and brave decision-making skill, he was buried in prominent standing in Erie Cemetery. If you’ve ever visited the Blasco Library down on the Bayfront, you may have seen Vincent’s valiant statue. Vincent stands nearly 10 feet tall holding his riding crop over his head, overseeing the activity of the library and the ships docked in the harbor.
Elsewhere in the city sits Strong Vincent High School, opened originally in the 1930s. The building was initially named West High School, but was later changed to honor the late Strong Vincent himself for his work in law here in Erie as well as his valiant efforts in the war.
For more information on Erie’s rich history and members of the community who make it great, check out our last installment of our Erie History Mystery series. (Or, come to our campus to see for yourself!)