Pennsylvania in the Civil War

Virtue ~ Liberty ~ Independence

"Poor is the nation having no heroes; shameful the one that having them forgets"

Andrew G. Curtin
Governor, 1861-1867

The Coming Storm

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5th West Virginia Cavalry

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Reams Station
,
August 25, 1864

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When the Regiment Came Back

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"All the uniforms were blue, all the swords were bright and new
When the regiment went marching down the street.
All the men were hale and strong as they proudly marched along,
Through the cheers that drowned the music of their feet,
Oh, the music of the feet keeping time to drums that beat,
Oh, the splendor and the glitter of the sight.
As with swords and rifles new and in uniforms of blue,
The regiment went marching to the fight.

When the regiment came back, all the guns and swords were black
And the uniforms had faded out to gray.
And the faces of the men who marched through that street again
Seemed like faces of the dead who lose their way.
For the dead who lose their way cannot look more wan and gray
Oh, the sorrow and the pity of the sight.
Oh, the weary lagging feet, out of step with drums that beat,
As the regiment comes marching from the fight.


Pennsylvania played a key role during the Civil War. Our industrial enterprise and natural resources were essential factors in the economic strength of the northern cause. Our railroad system, iron and steel industry, and agricultural wealth were vital to the war effort. The shipbuilders of Pennsylvania, led by the famous Cramp Yards, contributed to the strength of the navy and merchant marine, including the Civil War's first submarine, Alligator, was built at the Neafie & Levy Shipyard in 1861-1862. Thomas Scott, as Assistant Secretary of War, directed telegraph and railway services. Engineer Herman Haupt directed railroad movement of troops. Jay Cooke helped finance the Union cause, and Thaddeus Stevens was an important congressional leader.

Administration of military affairs during the war was directed by two Pennsylvanians: first by Simon Cameron, who resigned his seat in the U. S. Senate to become President Lincoln's first Secretary of War; he was succeeded by Edwin M. Stanton of Pittsburgh.

A total of 427,286 Pennsylvanians served in the Union forces, including 8,600 African-American volunteers.  This number includes enlistees responding to President Lincoln's calls for Volunteers for the Union army, recruits, drafted men, substitutes, and recruits for the regular U. S. Army for a total of 362,284 men. Adding the 25,000 Pennsylvania militia men who were called out in 1862, brings the grand total to 387,284 men, who served in 270 regiments and several detached companies of the Volunteer Army. Adding the 40,002 Pennsylvanians who enlisted in the United States Navy raises the total to 427,286.

Three days after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling out the militia of several States. Later that same day, Governor Andrew G. Curtin received a telegram from the Secretary of War requesting that Pennsylvania provide 16 regiments, and 2 regiments were wanted within 3 days. A sudden dash upon the Capital was strongly threatened, and the city was entirely unprotected. Five militia companies were called up and sent immediately to Washington. These companies later became known as "The First Defenders" because they were the first military units to reach the Nation's Capitol.

President Lincoln's initial call for 16 regiments of volunteers was answered by 25 regiments. In May 1861, the Assembly, at Governor Andrew G. Curtin's suggestion, created the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps of 15 regiments enlisted for three years' service. They were mustered into the Army of the Potomac after the first Battle of Bull Run, and thousands of other Pennsylvanians followed them. Camp Curtin at Harrisburg was one of the major troop concentration centers of the war. Admiral David D. Porter opened the Mississippi and Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren made innovations in ordnance which greatly improved naval fire power. Army leaders from Pennsylvania were numerous and able, including such outstanding officers as George B. McClellan, George G. Meade, John F. Reynolds, Winfield S. Hancock, Andrew A. Humphreys, John White Geary, David McMurtrie Gregg, and John F. Hartranft.

Pennsylvania had forty-eight general officers and fourteen commanders of armies and corps, namely:  George Gordon Meade, George B. McClellan, Winfield Scott Hancock, John F. Reynolds, Andrew A. Humphreys, David B. Birney, John Gibbon, John Grubb Parke, Henry Morris Naglee, Charles Franklin Smith, Goerge Cadwalader, Samuel G. Crawford, Samuel Peter Heintzelman, and William Buel Franklin. Generals David McMurtrie Gregg and Benjamin H. Grierson were distinguished cavalry commanders, Washington L. Elliott was chief of cavalry in the Army of the Cumberland, and commanded a department. Admiral David D. Porter, the heroic naval commander, was a native of Chester. Galusha Pennypacker, of Chester County, was the youngest general in either army during the war. Born June 1, 1844, he was only 20 when appointed Brevet Brigadier General U. S. Volunteers on January 15, 1865; Brigadier General U. S. Volunteers on February 18, 1865; and Brevet Major General U. S. Volunteers on March 13, 1865. He led the assault on Fort Fisher and was wounded seven times in eight months.

Private Richard Montgomery of the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers was the last enlisted man killed in the fighting in Virginia. He was killed at Farmville, on the morning of April 9, 1865, shortly before General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant.

Oliver Wilcox Norton of the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, a Brigade bugler, assisted General Daniel Butterfield modify the Infantry bugle call for Lights Out, thereby creating the hauntingly beautiful "Taps".

Pvt. William Henry Christman, Company G, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, was the first military service man interred in Arlington National Cemetery on May 13, 1864. Pvt. William Blatt, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry, was the first battle casualty interred at Arlington on Saturday, May 14, 1864.   Pvt. William H. McKinney, age 17, of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry was also interred on Friday, May 13, 1864. He was the first soldier to have family present at his funeral.

Seven commissioned officers of Company C of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers were killed in the line of duty---more than any other company in the Union Army.

The 6th United States Colored Troops, recruited in Pennsylvania and trained at Camp William Penn, lost 62 percent of its men during an assault on New Market Heights near Richmond in 1864. Two of its members received the Medal of Honor for gallantry.*

The 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the "Bucktail Regiment,"was recruited in the timbering counties of northwestern Pennsylvania. The Bucktails sported white-tailed deer tails on their caps as a symbol of their skilled markmanship.*

In the western theater, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, assigned to the Army of the Cumberland, was the only eastern cavalry participating in Sherman's March to the Sea.*

Sources:

Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65. Harrisburg: 1868-1871.

Fox, William F., Lt. Col., U.S. Volunteers. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865. Albany, NY: Albany Publishing Company, 1889.

Godcharles, Frederic A. , L.H.D. (Former State Librarian and Director Museum).  Pennsylvania Political, Governmental, Military and Civil:  Military Volume.  New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1933.

*Weeks, Jim. "Pennsylvania in the Civil War" on the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission web page.

Pennsylvania State Archives. Various documents.

 

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Read my book:   The 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers: The Story of Company I,
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