Washington, April 15th, 1861

Washington, D.C. –
A Proclamation.

Whereas, The laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and are now, opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law.

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress the said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. The details for this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of the popular government, and to redress the wrongs already long enough endured.

I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to repossess the forts, places and property which have been seized from the Union, and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.

And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid, to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days of this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both houses of Congress. The Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers at twelve o’clock, noon, on Thursday, the 4th of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.

In witness thereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this 15th day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the independence of the United States, the eighty-fifth.

(Signed) Abraham Lincoln.
By the President.

Wm. H. Seward,
Secretary of State.


To Gov. Curtin, of Pennsylvania – Sir: Under the act of Congress for calling out the militia to execute the laws of the Union and suppress insurrections, repel invasions, &c., approved Feb 20, 1795, I have the honor to request your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your State the quota designated in the table below, to serve as infantry or riflemen, for a period of three months, unless sooner discharged.

Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time at or about which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as practicable by an officer or officers, to muster it into the service and pay of the United States. At the same time the oath of fidelity to the United States will be administered to every man. The mustering officers will be instructed to receive no man under the rank of commissioned officer who is in years apparently over forty-five or under eighteen, or who is not in physical strength and vigor. The quota for each State is as follows:

…Pennsylvania – sixteen regiments.. . . It is ordered that each regiment shall consist, in the aggregate, officers and men, of seven hundred and eighty. The total thus to be called out is seventy-three thousand three hundred and ninety-one. The remainder to constitute the seventy-five thousand, under the President’s proclamation, will be composed of troops of the District of Columbia.


Long before Lincoln’s proclamation was issued, Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin was made privy to its contents. He and Alexander McClure, Chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, traveled through the night in response to a presidential summons, arriving at the capital city in the early hours of that fateful Monday morning. They met in East Room of the White House, the site of glittering state dinners and gala affairs of high society. Only a few steps from the portico, the unusual backdrop for a meeting of such gravity was chosen to accommodate the fourth attendee, the aged and infirmed General-in-Chief, Winfield Scott. Years afterward, McClure recalled the details of the small conference that filled him with gloom and foreboding.

“The ability of the government to protect its own life when wanton war was inaugurated by the Southern Confederacy may well be illustrated by an interview between the President, General Winfield Scott, Governor Curtin, and myself immediately after the surrender of Sumter. 

“The President telegraphed to Governor Curtin and to me as Chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate to come to Washington as speedily as possible for consultation as to the attitude Pennsylvania should assume in the civil conflict that had been inaugurated. Pennsylvania was the most exposed of all the border States, and, being the second State of the Union in population, wealth, and military power, it was of the utmost importance that she should lead in defining the attitude of the loyal States. Sumter was surrendered on Saturday evening, the 13th of April, 1861, and on Monday morning Governor Curtin and I were at the White House to meet the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the armies at ten o’clock in the morning.

“I had never before met General Scott. I had read of him with all the enthusiasm of a boy, as he was a major-general before I was born, had noted with pride his brilliant campaign in Mexico, and remembered that he was accepted by all Americans as the Great Captain of the Age. I assumed, of course, that he was infallible in all matters pertaining to war, and when I met him it was with a degree of reverence that I had seldom felt for any other mortal.”1

“When we were ushered into the President’s room the practical work of our mission was soon determined. The question had been fully considered by the President and the Secretary of War, who was a Pennsylvanian. Governor Curtin speedily perfected and heartily approved of the programme they had marked out, and we had little to do beyond informing them how speedily it could be executed. How quickly Pennsylvania responded to the request of the government will be understood when I state that in a single day a bill embracing all the features desired was passed by both branches and approved by Governor Curtin.

“It was only after the work of Pennsylvania had been defined and disposed of that I began to get some insight into the utterly hopeless condition of the government. I found General Scott disposed to talk rather freely about the situation, and I ventured to question him as to the condition of the capital and his ability to defend it in case of an attack by General Beauregard. The answer to the first question I ventured was very assuring, coming from one whom I supposed to know all about war, and to one who knew just about nothing at all about it. 

“I asked General Scott whether the capital was in danger. His answer was, ‘No, sir, the capital is not in danger, the capital is not in danger.’

“Knowing that General Scott could not have a large force at his command, knowing also that General Beauregard had a formidable force at his command at Charleston, and that the transportation of an army from Charleston to Washington would be the work of only a few days, I for the first time began to inquire in my own mind whether this great Chieftain was, after all, equal to the exceptional necessities of the occasion. 

“I said to him that, if it was a proper question for him to answer, I would like to know how many men he had in Washington for its defense. His prompt answer was, ‘Fifteen hundred, sir; fifteen hundred men and two batteries.’ I then inquired whether Washington was a defensible city. This inquiry cast a shadow over the old veteran’s face as he answered, ‘No, sir; Washington is not a defensible city.’

“He then seemed to consider it necessary to emphasize his assertions of the safety of the capital, and he pointed to the Potomac, that was visible from the President’s window. Said he: ‘You see that vessel? A sloop of war, sir, a sloop of war.’ I looked out and saw the vessel, but I could not help but thinking, as I looked beyond to Arlington Heights, that one or two batteries, even of the ineffective class of those days, would knock the sloop of war to pieces in half an hour.

“As Johnson, Cooper, and a number of other able soldiers had left the army but a short time before, I felt some anxiety to know who were commanding the forces under General Scott in Washington. He gave me their names, and within three days thereafter I saw that two of them had resigned and were already in Richmond and enlisted in the Confederate service. My doubts multiplied, and a great idol was shattered before I left the White House that morning. I could not resist the conviction that General Scott was past all usefulness; that he had no adequate conception of the contest before us; and that he rested in confidence in Washington when there was not a soldier of average intelligence in that city who did not know that Beauregard could capture it at any time within a week.

“My anxiety deepened with my doubts, and I continued my inquiries with the old warrior by asking how many men General Beauregard had at Charleston. The old chieftain’s head dropped almost upon his breast at this question, and a trace of despair was visible as he answered in tremulous tones: ‘General Beauregard commands more men at Charleston than I command on the continent east of the frontier.’ I asked him how long it would require Beauregard to transport his army to Washington. He answered that it might be done in three or four days. I then repeated the question, ‘General, is not Washington in great danger?’

“The old warrior was at once aroused, straightened himself up in his chair with a degree of dignity that was crushing, and answered – ‘No, sir, the capital can’t be taken; the capital can’t be taken, sir.’

“President Lincoln listened to the conversation with evident interest, but said nothing. He sat intently gazing at General Scott, and whirling his spectacles around in his fingers.”

By the time President Lincoln met with the two Pennsylvanians on the morning of April 15th, he already had ample reason to distrust General Scott’s counsels. Since his March 4 inauguration, the top priority question facing the new administration regarded what to do about Fort Sumter. It was a crisis with no palatable resolution: abandoning the fort to South Carolina was an option so unfavorable in the north as to possibly invite impeachment, while reinforcing it guaranteed war. As late as March 18, Lincoln “inclined towards an early evacuation,” cited historian Allan Nevins, although his “secretaries tell us that he was at heart for holding Sumter, and that only the bulk of adverse opinion had shaken his resolve.” Throughout the month Lincoln and his cabinet fought continually over the matter; when the issue at last came to a head, General Scott played a dubious role.

The loudest voice of “adverse opinion” came from Secretary of State, William Seward – whom Nevins states was attempting “to seize the rod of authority from Lincoln.” To further his cause for surrendering the fort, Seward enlisted the help of – which is to say, manipulated – his friend, General Scott. The old general and former Whig presidential candidate was long renowned as an intriguer, both in the army and in Washington, and in whom Seward found a willing and influential ally. On the evening of March 28, following a state dinner denoting the adjournment of a Special Session of the Senate, Lincoln herded his cabinet (minus the absent Simon Cameron, another Seward ally) “into a separate room, shut the door, and with evident emotion told them that Scott that day had advised evacuating Fort Pickens at Pensacola as well as Sumter.” 

The President’s announcement brought stunned silence to the room. “Everyone knew that Seward had prompted Scott. The hush was broken by Blair’s impassioned denunciation of the old general – in effect a denunciation of Seward. As it was common knowledge that Pickens could be held indefinitely, Scott’s advice was obviously given on political, not military grounds.” Nevins deduced that “Lincoln unquestionably felt a sense of betrayal…”

As the president silently watched the exchange between McClure and Scott, he may well have been taking measure of the General, the Virginian, attempting to divine if yet another and larger betrayal was afoot.

“When General Scott gave the final answer that the capital could not be taken, Lincoln, in his quaint way, said to General Scott, ‘It does seem to me, general, that if I were Beauregard I would take Washington.’ 

“This expression from the President electrified the old war-lion again, and he answered with increased emphasis, ‘Mr. President, the capital can’t be taken, sir; it can’t be taken.’

“There was but one conclusion that could be accepted as the result of this interview, and that was that the great Chieftain of two wars and the worshiped Captain of the Age was in his dotage and utterly unequal to the great duty of meeting the impending conflict. Governor Curtin and I left profoundly impressed that the incompetency of Scott was one of the most serious of the multiplied perils which then confronted the Republic.”

It was probably at this point in the meeting that Pennsylvania’s quota for volunteers was appended: would the governor be so good as to send two of those regiments within three day’s time?


General Scott was undoubtedly not the only person Lincoln took measure of that morning. Although the President and Governor Curtin were by this time “old friends,” (which, in the ever-shifting political landscape of the era, meant their aspirations had been hitched to one another for a full year), it was probably no accident that the meeting took place before the proclamation was issued. 

It was no secret to the meeting’s participants that Maryland and Virginia would probably soon after quit the Union. Washington would be surrounded by enemies of the Lincoln government, leaving Pennsylvania as the closest loyal state. The contingency was thoroughly discussed only two weeks earlier when the governors of Indiana, Ohio, Maine and Pennsylvania (Republicans, all) met at Washington in response to a summons by their President. One result of the meeting was carefully leaked to the Washington correspondent of the New York Herald, which on April 11th reported a warning to the region’s secessionists: “It is understood that Governor Curtin will order out Pennsylvania volunteers for the occupation of the capital upon the first sign of danger.” The moment they discussed on April 6 was now at hand; one last time, Lincoln wanted an assurance of fealty from Governor Curtin.

Lincoln had no reason to doubt the loyalty of Pennsylvania’s new governor – that day marked the three-month anniversary of Curtin’s inauguration – but had many reasons to worry as to how the proclamation would be received in the state’s largest, and nearest population center: Philadelphia.

During the preceding fifteen years of tumult, an era of impassioned sectional politics, Philadelphia “was far from being united on the problems of the time.” The city had many reasons for not wishing to wage war on the South, most all of them economic. 

“Philadelphia merchants were . . . by virtue of location and direct rail and water connection, driven to foster their traffic with the South and West Indies, and to shrink from whatever circumstance might endanger it,” wrote local historian, Frank Taylor. In his 1913 work, Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Taylor carefully outlined how the city’s economic prosperity was bound to southern markets. 

“The completion, in 1838, of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad . . . provided another strong bond uniting Philadelphia to the South. The tonnage rates from this port to all southern points were far below those of New York and Boston. The South . . . was Philadelphia’s best customer. The extensive jobbing houses arrayed along Market, Chestnut and the river front carried, as a rule, profitable lines of slave-state accounts.”

“Every Southern belle considered Philadelphia made boots as a necessity, while Philadelphia household furnishings were to be found in every southern store. Southern side-boards were inevitably provided with Philadelphia ales. This city, in turn, was a great consumer of the products of the South. Lumber and turpentine were especially required by our industries, and our mills were large users of Southern cotton.”

“The New York Tribune of May 1, 1857, stated that ‘Philadelphia has at least twenty manufactories of textile fabrics where New York has one, and her superiority in the fabrication of metals, though less decided, is still undeniable’.” 

“Our medical colleges constantly graduated southern students, and many of the remedial preparations, as well as the medical books then in use all over the South, were made here.” “Southern printers obtained their type from this city, and here also were made the Bibles and school books for the southern trade.”

“Between 1845 and 1857” Pennsylvania coal sent through “Port Richmond largely exceeded in number and capacity the whole foreign tonnage of the city of New York.” 

Philadelphia merchandise were key components to the South’s infrastructure. “Baldwin locomotives were in use upon every southern railroad. Philadelphia wagons and carriages were common all over the South.”

In 1858, Philadelphia boasted of twenty-five millionaires – a surprising feat of posterity for the era – many of whom owed a large portion of their good fortune to trade with the South. Thus, “politically, the Philadelphia vote was almost uniformly of a shade agreeable to the watchful southern people.”

Valid though Lincoln’s concerns may have been, Governor Curtin assured him the Federal government could count on Pennsylvania’s full military and economic support. A demonstration of this vow was soon in hand. Washington correspondents reported that dispatches began to arrive, as though cued to give weight to the governor’s words. 

“The Philadelphia banks have tendered to Gov. Curtin, who is now in this city, all the money the State may need for war. A similar communication from the banks of Pittsburg has just been handed him by a distinguished capitalist of that city.” Even as the meeting was in progress, another timely dispatch arrived across the lawn at the War Department: “Secretary Cameron this morning accepted the services of the Washington Brigade of Philadelphia, commanded by Gen. William F. Small.”

Amid the gloom that hung over the White House on the morning of April 15th, there was at least one ray of hope: Pennsylvania, it seemed, was for the Union, first and last.


Overtures of fealty were all well and good, but Pennsylvania’s ability to put an armed force into the field was an entirely different matter – and one, undoubtedly, discussed at great length on the morning of April 15th.

When Curtin took office, the Adjutant-General of the State of Pennsylvania reported the organized militia force to be 56,500 men; but the number of arms that could be furnished to those men was listed as only 12,080 muskets, many of which were antiquated flintlocks, 4,706 rifles and 60 six-pound bronze cannon. In spite of the discrepancy between men and weapons, Pennsylvania seemed, on paper, able to arm the entire quota levied against it, 12,480 volunteers (On the 16th, the quota was adjusted downward to fourteen regiments: 10,920 men). But Curtin knew many of the arms referred to in the report were unfit for service, and to meet its obligation in the current emergency, the state would require considerable assistance from the federal government.

In truth, Pennsylvania’s militia organization was all but derelict in its want for materiel, and in many parts of the commonwealth militia companies existed in name only. Years of economic prosperity in the Keystone State proved of no consequence to its military arm – and for which circumstance, writers of the era universally blamed Quaker influences in the legislature. Laws regarding the militia witnessed little change since 1822, although a halfhearted effort to upgrade the system was made in 1858. In April of 1861, when the state militia was yanked from its grave and dusted off, it was found entirely inadequate to the crisis at hand. “The effort to summon, muster and forward emergency militia through the operation of this antique machinery was largely responsible for the friction which now and then occurred between the officials at the State Capital and the military officers at Philadelphia,” wrote Taylor. 

Pennsylvania’s militia system was so dysfunctional that state authorities could not put their hands on many of the old muskets accounted for on the ledger. By the end of the week, announcements like the one found in the Lancaster Express on April 20, appeared in newspapers across the state:

“Old Muskets. There are said to be many old muskets belonging to the State in various places through the county. Any person knowing where there are such, will confer a great favor by giving information to B.F. Cox, Brigade Inspector, who will then take means to gather them up and have them altered so as to be used by our military. We trust every reader of the Weekly Express will aid Mr. Cox in this important matter.” 

Ultimately, “the State had but 4200 effective arms,” a mere third of what was needed. It is not certain whether that glum number was known at the time of the April 15th meeting, or proved to be the end result when the stampede to enlist in three-month regiments was over. Either way, when Curtin and McClure left the White House that morning, they had the assurance the federal government could arm the entire contingent.

How Pennsylvania volunteers were to receive the arms, evidently, was not thoroughly worked out. 

The rush to protect Washington from capture quickly bogged down in a near-lethal entanglement of protocols and communication failures. From the very start it was painfully clear that little communication took place between the War Department and the White House; or, more precisely, Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, and General-in-Chief Scott. In the immediate days that followed, the confusing spate of communications issued by civil and military officials at Washington (at times, conflicting) was such that Governor Curtin was uncertain as to who, if anyone, was truly calling the tune at the nation’s capital.  

When the service of Philadelphia’s Washington Brigade was tendered and accepted that morning, General Small was reportedly informed by Cameron himself that his men could obtain arms at the Frankford Arsenal at nearby Bladensburg (now incorporated within Philadelphia’s city limits). There, Cameron believed, a stand of nearly 20,000 rifles and muskets were stored, along with all the other necessary equipments of soldiers in the field: cartridge boxes, haversacks and blankets. Small wasted no time in making the trek upriver, only to be rebuffed. The arsenal’s commandant informed Small he had no authority to relinquish weapons to men not yet officially mustered into federal service. Besides, he was told, the arsenal housed only 1500 muskets of doubtful quality. The remainder had been shipped to Washington in January.

The troops that gathered at Harrisburg during the next three days were presumably told the same thing. The arsenal there, too, did not open its doors to volunteers arriving at the state capital. All pleas to authorities at Washington went unanswered. The Pennsylvania volunteers, so desperately needed to save the capital from the enemies that surrounded it, would have to go there to receive the arms with which to protect it. 

Andrew Curtin shuddered at the folly of it all. Had it occurred to anyone at Washington that his men might need those weapons before they get there?

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The late Justin Sanders (1957-2016) hailed from Astoria, New York. Long time Civil War enthusiast whose focus has been sighted in on the History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps.

  1. McClure, Alexander K. Abraham Lincoln & Men of War Times, pp. 65-66.