A Brief History of the Organization known as the Pollock Guards

The Pollock Guards were assigned Company H, 5th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserves.

Shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter, citizens both north and south were ablaze with patriotic fervor and gallant sentiments of marching off to war to subdue traitors and invaders alike.  Such sentiments were manifested in what many referred to as, “War Meetings.”  These sporadic gatherings were rallies held in nearly every community where local civic leaders would step into the limelight to deliver patriotic addresses which would send the crowds into wild cheers of applause, and stir up every youthful (and not-so youthful) heart to serve his or her Government to preserve and/or protect whatever cause was at stake.

One such war meeting was held on April 19 at the Academy Hall in the borough of Milton, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.  The key discussion was in regards to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops to quell the rebellion, which was issued the day prior.  A quota was given to each northern state that still considered itself part of the Union; Pennsylvania was asked to fill fourteen regiments to serve for a period of three months.  Martial music rent the air, along with prayers offered by local clergymen – among the keynote speakers of this meeting was a former Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, James Pollock.  Pollock served as Governor from 1855 to 1858 and was affiliated with the Whigs and Republicans.  It is Pollock who is responsible for the phrase “In God We Trust” which is minted on currency we still use today.  Presiding over the meeting, Pollock, fifty-years-of-age, although failing in health at this point – was largely in support of offering to the Government whatever aid Milton and the county to which it belonged could give in order to preserve the Union.  Although obviously still wrestling to compose himself though still very much unwell, it was remembered that “His ardor in the noble cause, which now fills every heart, for the preservation of the Glorious Union of States would not permit him to remain at home, although the effect might result in the sacrifice of life.”

A resolution passed during this war meeting made clear that “… we heartily approve of the action of our Legislature in pledging ’the faith, credit and resources of Pennsylvania, in both men and money, to any amount and to every extent which the Federal Government may demand, to subdue the rebellion; to punish treason; to enforce the laws; to protect the lives, the liberties and the property and to maintain inviolate the constitution and the sovereignty of the nation.’”

While the crowd stirred in every part of Academy Hall, small groups of men were huddled in corners engaged in quiet conversations; “…the ‘Milton Silver Cornet Band,’ a patriotic set of young men, were present and in their more than usual exquisite style, played the “Star Spangled Banner,” “Yankee Doodle”, “Hail Columbia,” and other patriotic and National airs.”  It was decided by the presiding body to present “…an invitation…to all who desired to assist their country in this, its hour of trial, and to give their lives if need be in the preservation of its purity, to some forward and give their names to the roll of volunteers now forming in this borough…”

A roll book was placed on a large bass drum belonging to the Cornet Band and thrown open.  Quickly a line was formed and the “…young, noble and patriotic men came forward and upon the head of the drum signed their names, pledging their lives and their sacred honors to go forth in defense…” of the Union.  It was noted that over one hundred names filled the roll book.  In addition to this company of volunteers being raised,  “…a fund of about $3000 was subscribed for the support of the families of [said] Volunteers.”  

The minimum number of men for each company that State Authorities could accept was seventy-seven officers and men.  The number of men named in the roll book grossly exceeded that requisite.  The day following the war meeting, a dispatch was immediately forwarded to the present Governor’s Office, Andrew G. Curtin, tendering the services of this organization from Milton, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Former Pennsylvania Governor James Pollock

A reply from Harrisburg in response to Pollock’s dispatch tendering the services of the Milton company had been promptly received, bearing the news that the company had been accepted.  The bad news was that they would only accept 77 officers and men.

Pollock sent a wire back to Harrisburg that read “…Your dispatch saying that the company…would be accepted was rec’d, the men expected that the regulations would not permit more than 77 to be rec’d.  They have on their roll 120 able bodied men + all wishing to serve their country.”  in the same dispatch in the post script, Pollock added that “The company is called the ‘Pollock Guards.’”

Another wire was sent by James Pollock the following day on the 24th of April, stating that the enrollment of the Pollock Guards had now grown to 150 men.  He explained that if two companies could be accepted from Milton, that they would form another company with the excess, as all were eager to go and defend the Union.  Though it is not clear what the answer from Harrisburg was in relation to this query, this large body of volunteers did in fact break apart into two separate companies.  It was obvious that the state was not going to allow any more than 77 officers and men for the Pollock Guards, so another company, the “Lawson Guards” was formed.

Although bearing no intention of joining the war effort in the rank and file, Pollock saw himself as the caretaker of this group of volunteers from Milton.  He frequently wrote to the Executive Office in Harrisburg in hopes of determining who was responsible for ensuring that this company was properly organized, armed and equipped for what lay ahead.  In spite of still being in a frail condition, he took it upon himself to exercise his influence to see that this company was accepted by the State with as few hiccups as possible.

On April 26, the Pollock Guards held an election, which resulted in the following officers to lead the company:

  • William P. Douglas, Captain
  • First Lieutenant Samuel Shadman, First Lieutenant
  • Second Lieutenant John H. McCleery
  • Third Lieutenant Joseph Irwin
  • First Sergeant Joseph Lebard

Shortly after this election was held, James Pollock drafted another dispatch to Gov. Curtin, “The ‘Pollock Guards’ are anxious to march.  Will they be received at Harrisburg if they leave here on Saturday or Monday morning?  If not [when] will they be ordered to Harrisburg?”  

Whatever the reply, it must have been vague, as a flurry of similar questions from Pollock followed as the days went on.  The truth of the matter was that Harrisburg could not allow any more companies into Camp Curtin, because they already had more than enough volunteers on hand to meet its quota levied upon it by Lincoln’s Administration.   The Pollock Guards, although “accepted,” would not go forth in the first wave of volunteers sent on by Pennsylvania to Washington.  The waiting game was on.

Like the Pollock Guards, there had been a large number of volunteer companies that were raised throughout the Commonwealth that, although promised acceptance into the service, did not actually get absorbed into the original call for 3-month men.  Many of those companies disbanded, and the men composing those groups either went home, or began their search for other opportunities to get “into the service.”

The volunteers that composed the Pollock Guards, were mostly laborers, farmers, etc., their age averaging about 24 years – were temporarily quartered in various hotels in the town of Milton, which were generously donated by the innkeepers.  In these hotels they spent their time waiting for the orders to move to the Camp of Instruction, at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg.  Uniforms for the Guards were being made, paid for by the subscription of the citizens of Milton.  

As April ended, the 79 officers and men that made up the Pollock Guards began to realize that they were probably not going anywhere.  Attrition began to affect the company as many of its members began to leave to search elsewhere for a chance to get into the service.

On May 11, or shortly prior to this date, the Pollock Guards disbanded and its volunteers dispersed.  Those who had faith, remained and helped reorganize the same company under new leadership.  Of the 79 officers and men reported on April 26, only approximately 18 of the original number were present in the reorganization.  The effort manifested in reorganizing the company appears to have been under the nephew of Ex-Governor James Pollock,  John H. McCleery, who it appears was recognized as its Captain – though no evidence has surfaced to suggest that an election had been held for him to hold this seat.

Though not quite full, the Pollock Guards decided to personally travel to Harrisburg, where they would present themselves ready for duty at the gates of Camp Curtin.  On May 15, in company with – and escorted by the Milton Cornet Band, the Pollock Guards traveled by canal boat south to Harrisburg.1  An editor at the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph in the state capitol took note of the arrival of the Guards the day following, and published in its columns on the 17th that they “arrived here last night, to take a look at matters and things in general, [t]he services of the company have [previously] been accepted by the Governor…”

On the very day the Pollock Guards departed Milton, the Pennsylvania Legislature had passed the Act authorizing for the organization of the Reserve Volunteer Corps of the Commonwealth, which would be composed of fifteen regiments – twelve of infantry, one each of artillery and cavalry.  This organization would act as a unified body of troops under control of the state, which was to be entirely funded by a loan bill totalling 3 million dollars.  The only caveat was that, unlike the first wave of volunteers who enlisted for 3 months – this new organization was only accepting volunteers for 3 years or the war, should it end sooner. 

While they were in Harrisburg, they were informed of this Legislative Act, by which the Pollock Guards would be accepted into the Reserve Corps, if they agreed to the new terms of enlistment.  This change in terms of enlistment was a large pill to swallow, from 3 months as originally thought, to three years – unless the war ended sooner.  It was probably believed, as widely was the case, that the war wouldn’t last long at all.  It was under this Act, that the Pollock Guards were informed they would be accepted into.  With this information, they departed Harrisburg on the morning of May 17, and returned home to Milton.

John H. McNally was one of the original members of the Pollock Guards dating back to their first organization. A resident of Clinton County, Pennsylvania, he was appointed Third Sergeant in the company and eventually attained the rank of Second Lieutenant, as seen here. Pennsylvania State Archives.

Another agonizing two weeks would pass, still quartered in various hotels throughout Milton, awaiting word from Harrisburg.  Finally on May 31, orders were received, instructing the Pollock Guards to ready themselves to move!  They were ordered to report the following day to the Northern Central Railroad in Sunbury to take the railway to Harrisburg.  The agent at the NCR received a wire from Harrisburg stating:  “Furnish transportation for Capt. McCleery + company 77 men, from Sunbury to Harrisburg in connection with Phila + Erie, on State Gov’t service on Saturday.”

Much fanfare was had as the volunteers of the Pollock Guards were finally leaving Milton!  On the morning of the first day of June, they made their way to Sunbury, and awaited the cars to take them to Harrisburg.  It was noted here by the editor of the Sunbury American, that “The Milton Company of volunteers passed through this place … [was] on their way to Camp Curtin.  The company was not full, but additional recruits are expected to join the at Harrisburg.  This company had offered its services several times before they were accepted.”

They departed that morning from Sunbury, and made good time getting to Harrisburg.  It was printed in the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph in Harrisburg that:  “The Pollock Guard, of Milton, accepted as part of the reserve corps, arrived here this afternoon, accompanied by an excellent silver cornet band, and went into quarters at Camp Curtin.”

The Guards were now assigned quarters in Camp, and here they would remain.  Shortly after their arrival, Captain McCleery returned home to Milton, for the purpose of recruiting more men.  As noted as they passed through Sunbury, the company was not not full, seventy-seven officers and men were required to be mustered into service, so McCleery went back to add additional recruits to his organization.

Upon McCleery’s return to Harrisburg, the following notice was printed in the newspapers:  “Pollock Guard. – This is among the best companies now in Camp Curtin.  Capt. McCleary is a nephew of Ex Governor Pollock, after who the company is named, and two of his sons belong to the rank and file.  The Captain arrived from Milton this afternoon with a number of recruits, and the ranks are now full.  The Guard will go into the reserve corps to serve for three years.”

On June 7, the men under McCleery underwent a medical inspection, to ensure they were healthy enough to endure the hardships of a soldier’s life.  Aftwards, they company was sworn into State Service by an aid to Major General George A. McCall, who commanded the state’s Reserve Corps.  After they were sworn in – they were ordered by McCall’s aid to hold an official election for officers.  Up until this point, the rank structure of the Pollock Guards was not entirely recognized by the State of Pennsylvania.  Therefore after they were mustered into actual state service, they were instructed to elect officers which would be officially recognized, and results of said election be ratified by state authority.

The results of the election:  “At an election held at the Headquarters of the “Pollock Guards” now Company H, 2nd Regiment P. R. C. On the 7th day of June 1861 – the following officers were unanimously elected, viz:

  • John McCleery, Captain
  • Samuel Shadman, 1st Lieutenant
  • Thaddeus G. Bogle, 2nd Lieutenant 

We hereby certify the above is correct.
Joseph Lebard.
W. F. Blair 

It will be noted here that historically, the reference to the “2nd Regiment” is actually a reference to the 5th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserves.  Early in this regiments organization, it was initially referred to as the 2nd Regiment, but for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article, was later redesignated as the 5th Regiment.

Captain John McCleery was twenty-four years of age at this time, he stood 5’ 8 ½”, with brown hair, gray eyes and noted as having a fair complexion.  When he enlisted, he was working as an attorney in the town of Milton when he set that life aside to serve in the army. 

First Lieutenant Samuel Shadman was twenty-eight, and was one of the tallest men in the company – the average solder in the Pollock Guards being somewhere between 5’ 6” to 5’ 9”.  Shadman was recorded as being 6’ 1”, with dark eyes, brown hair and having a fair complexion.  He gave his residence merely as Northumberland County, which does not really tie him down to any particular locality within those borders.  He worked in the steelworkers trade, specifically as a moulder.  

Second Lieutenant Thaddeus G. Bogle was the youngest of the three officers elected at age twenty-two.  Like Shadman, he only gave his residence as being “Northumberland County” where he worked as a merchant.  He was recorded similarly to Shadman as having dark eyes, brown hair with a fair complexion – standing 5’ 9”.

With the officers elected, it was next their duty to appoint the non-commissioned officers – Sergeants, Corporals, etc.  The most senior NCO was the Orderly Sergeant, or First Sergeant – which role was assigned to Joseph Lebard, a thirty-eight year old veteran of the Mexican American War.  Lebard was from Union County, a carpenter by trade who had been residing in Milton with his family at the time of the Civil War.

On June 12, after some time in Camp Curtin, William Strine, Jr., who had been appointed Corporal in Company H, wrote home to the people of Milton.  “Dear Miltonian –  Since we have been here we have been enjoying ourselves exceedingly well.  The health of the company has been good without one or two exceptions.  Two of our men have been in the hospital, but they are well now….Our living here is the best the country can produce.  We have no “pound cakes, strawberries and cream,” &c, &c, but we have good, substantial and wholesome food of all kinds.”

John McKinley Rhoads, an original member of the Pollock Guards dating back to the original conception. Rhoads began as a Private in this Company, eventually attaining the rank of First Lieutenant, as seen here. Pennsylvania State Archives.

When the volunteers left their homes – they left behind everything – their family, their friends, their jobs, their businesses, everything.  Many of these men were the sole providers for those they left behind.  Such was the case of First Sergeant Joseph Lebard, who had been with the Pollock Guards since the day they were first organized in April.  Word had reached him at Camp Curtin on or about the 14th of June, informing him that a fire had tore through the house where his family he left behind was residing at the time.  It took no time at all for Sergeant Lebard to drop everything at Camp Curtin, and travel as quickly as he could to get to his family.  Fortunately there were no injuries – at least none that were publicly reported – much of the furniture had been saved from the house before it was entirely engulfed, and the fire was kept from spreading to a nearby barn.  It was noted by the Miltonian on ___ that “Mr. Lebard was home on account of the burning of the house occupied by his family, last Friday.”

Looking back upon their arduous journey since the day they originally organized in April, a member of the company expressed the gratitude of not only himself, but of the entire company when he wrote: “I wish, on behalf of the Pollock Guards to return the thanks, both of themselves and officers to the citizens of Milton for the kindness and hospitality shown them while quartered at the various hotels of the town.  A letter to the company by one who described herself, “A Young Lady Friend of the Company,” was an assurance that the young ladies of the town wished us a God-speed in our military career.”

From this point, the Pollock Guards, along with their regiment were the first troops in the field belonging to the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps.  They were sent in July 1861 to Bedford County, Pennsylvania and from there, to Cumberland, Maryland.  They began the journey to Washington, D.C. where they would participate in three years of bloody warfare – and then some, for those who reenlisted.

City Letter Carrier at USPS | augustmarchetti1980@gmail.com | Website | + posts

Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.

  1. The Milton Corent Band were eventually absorbed into the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves as it’s Regimental Band. See their muster roll.