April 30, 1861 — Tuesday.
The frantic scramble to prop up the first Republican Party government by force of arms succeeded. The military presence at Washington grew stronger each day until the capital was, for the moment, presumed to be out of immediate danger. Pennsylvania was caught wholly unprepared for the emergency in terms of materiel, able to render only a fraction of the aid expected from it; but the garrisoning of the capital bought a small amount of time, and Andrew Curtin was determined not to squander the opportunity – given enough time, he would make the rebellion feel the weight of the Keystone State’s vast resources and manpower.
The state capitol building swarmed back to life after nearly two weeks of dormancy. Ten days earlier the governor summoned the legislature to convene on this day, cutting short spring recess for an emergency session addressing Pennsylvania’s role in the national crisis. A written message would be delivered to the lawmakers, bringing them up to date on the existing state of affairs, and unveiling a long-term strategy in preparation for the distinct possibility the rebellion would not be ended in the near weeks or months. It was the first true test of his young administration. Implementing his recommendations required substantial appropriation; how it was received would speak much about the level of cooperation he could expect in prosecuting the war effort.
The special session was brought to order at the stroke of noon. The roll was called and a prayer given. At half past twelve the governor’s message was delivered to the chamber and read to the assembly.
“Gentlemen: The present unparalleled exigency in the affairs of our country, has induced me to call you together at this time. With an actual and armed rebellion in some of the States of the Union, momentous questions have been thrust upon us which call for your deliberation, and that you should devise means by legislation for the maintenance of the authority of the General Government, the honor and dignity of our State, the protection of our citizens, and the early establishment of peace and order throughout the land.”
“The unexampled promptness and enthusiasm with which Pennsylvania and the other loyal States have responded to the call of the President, and the entire unanimity with which our people demand that the integrity of the Government shall be preserved, illustrate the duty of the several State and National Governments with a distinctness that cannot be disregarded. The slaughter of Northern troops in the city of Baltimore, for the pretended offence of marching at the call of the Federal Government, peaceably, over soil admittedly in the Union, and with the ultimate object of defending our common Capital against an armed and rebellious invasion, together with the obstruction of our Pennsylvania troops when despatched on the same patriotic mission, impose new duties and responsibilities upon our State administration. At last advices the General Government had military possession of the route to Washington through Annapolis; but the transit of troops had been greatly endangered and delayed, and the safety of Washington itself immediately threatened. This cannot be submitted to. Whether Maryland may profess to be loyal to the Union or otherwise, there can be permitted no hostile soil, no obstructed thoroughfare, between the States that undoubtedly are loyal and their national seat of government. There is reason to hope that the route through Baltimore may be no longer closed against the peaceable passage of our people armed and in the service of the Federal Government. But we must be fully assured of this, and have the uninterrupted enjoyment of a passage to the Capital by any and every route essential to the purposes of the Government. This must be obtained, peaceably if possible, but by force of arms if not accorded.
“The time is past for temporizing or forbearing with this rebellion; the most causeless in history. The North has not invaded, nor has she sought to invade a single guaranteed right of the South. On the contrary all political parties and all administrations have fully recognized the binding force of every provision of the great compact between the States, and regardless of our views of State policy, our people have respected them. To predicate a rebellion, therefore, upon any alleged wrong inflicted or sought to be inflicted upon the South is to offer falsehood as an apology for treason. So will the civilized world and history judge this mad effort to overthrow the most beneficent structure of human government ever devised by man.”
“The insurrection must now be met by force of arms; and to re-establish the Government upon an enduring basis by asserting its entire supremacy, to re-possess the forts and other government property so unlawfully seized and held; to ensure personal freedom and safety to the people and commerce of the Union in every section, the people of the loyal States demand, as with one voice, and will contend for, as with one heart; and a quarter of a million of Pennsylvania’s sons will answer the call to arms, if need be, to wrest us from a reign of anarchy and plunder, and secure for themselves and their children, for ages to come, the perpetuity of this Government and its beneficent institutions.
“Entertaining these views and anticipating that more troops would be required than the number originally called for, I continued to receive companies until we had raised twenty-three regiments in Pennsylvania, all of which have been mustered into the service of the United States. In this anticipation I was not mistaken. On Saturday last, an additional requisition was made upon me for twenty-five regiments of infantry and one regiment of cavalry; and there have been already more companies tendered than will make up the entire complement.
“Before the regiments could be clothed, three of them were ordered by the National Government to proceed from this point to Philadelphia. I cannot too highly commend the patriotism and devotion of the men who, at a moment’s warning, and without any preparation, obeyed the order. Three of the regiments, under similar circumstances, by direction of, and accompanied by officers of the United States army, were transported to Cockeysville, near Baltimore, at which point they remained for two days, and until by directions of the General Government they were ordered back and went into camp at York, where there are now five regiments. Three regiments mustered into service are now encamped at Chambersburg, under orders from the General Government; and five regiments are now in camp at this place, and seven have been organized and mustered into service at Philadelphia.
“The regiments at this place are still supplied by the Commissary Department of the State. Their quarters are as comfortable as could be expected, their supply of provisions abundant, and, under the instruction of competent officers, they are rapidly improving in military knowledge and skill. I have made arrangements to clothe all our regiments with the utmost dispatch consistent with a proper economy, and am most happy to say that before the close of the present week all our people now under arms will be abundantly supplied with good and appropriate uniforms, blankets and other clothing.
“Four hundred and sixty of our volunteers, the first to reach Washington from any of the States, are now in that city; these are now provided for by the General Government; but I design to send them clothing at the earliest possible opportunity. I am glad to be able to state that these men, in their progress to the National Capital, received no bodily injury, although they were subjected to insult in the city of Baltimore. . . . A large body of unarmed men, who were not at the time organized as a portion of the militia of this Commonwealth, under the command of officers without commissions, attempted under the call of the National Government, as I understand, to reach Washington, and were assaulted by armed men in the city of Baltimore; many of their number were seriously wounded, and four were killed. The larger part of this body returned directly to Philadelphia; but many of them were forcibly detained in Baltimore; some of them were thrust into prison, and others have not yet reached their homes.
“I have the honor to say that the officers and men behaved with the utmost gallantry. This body is now organized into a regiment, and the officers are commissioned; they have been accepted into the service, and will go to Washington by any route indicated by the Federal Government.
“I have established a camp at Pittsburg, at which the troops from Western Pennsylvania will be mustered into service, and organized and disciplined by skillful and experienced officers.
“I communicate to you with great satisfaction, the fact that the banks of the Commonwealth have voluntarily tendered any amount of money that may be necessary for the common defence and general welfare of the State and the Nation in this emergency; and the temporary loan of five hundred thousand dollars authorized by the Act of the General Assembly of the 17th April, 1861, was promptly taken at par. The money is not yet exhausted; as it has been impossible to have the accounts properly audited and settled with the accounting and paying officers of the government as required by law, an account of this expenditure cannot now be furnished. The Auditor General and State Treasurer have established a system of settlement and payment, of which I entirely approve, that provides amply for the protection of the State, and to which all parties having claims will be obliged to conform.
“A much larger sum will be required than has been distinctively appropriated; but I could not receive nor make engagements for money without authority of law, and I have called you together, not only to provide for a complete re-organization of the militia of the State, but also, that you may give me authority to pledge the faith of the Commonwealth to borrow such sums of money as you may, in your discretion, deem necessary for these extraordinary requirements.
“It is impossible to predict the lengths to which ‘the madness that rules the hour’ in the rebellious States shall lead us, or when the calamities which threaten our hitherto happy country shall terminate. We know that many of our people have already left the State in the service of the General Government, and that many must more follow. We have a long line of border on States seriously disaffected, which should be protected. To furnish ready support to those who have gone out, and to protect our borders we should have a well regulated military force.
“I, therefore, recommend the immediate organization, disciplining and arming of at least fifteen regiments of cavalry and infantry, exclusive of those called into the service of the United States; as we already have ample warning of the necessity of being prepared for any exigency that may arise. I cannot too much impress this upon you.
“I cannot refrain from alluding to the generous manner in which people of all parts of the State have, from their private means, provided for the families of those of our citizens who are now under arms. In many parts of the Commonwealth, grand juries, and courts and municipal corporations have recommended the appropriations of moneys from their public funds, for the same commendable purpose. I would recommend the passage of an act legalizing and authorizing such appropriations and expenditures.
“It may be expected that, in the present derangement of trade and commerce, and the withdrawal of so much industry from its ordinary and productive channels, the setting of value of property generally will be depreciated, and a large portion of our citizens deprived of the ordinary means of meeting engagements. Although much forbearance may be expected from a generous and magnanimous people, yet I feel it is my duty to recommend the passage of a judicious law to prevent the sacrifice of property by forced sales in the collection of debts.
“You meet together at this special session, surrounded by circumstances involving the most solemn responsibilities; the recollections of the glories of the past, the reflections of the gloomy present, and the uncertainty of the future, all alike call upon you to discharge your duty in a spirit of patriotic courage, comprehensive wisdom and firm resolution. Never in the history of our peace loving Commonwealth have the hearts of our people been so stirred in their depths as at the present moment. And, I feel, that I need hardly to say to you, that in the performance of your duties on this occasion, and in providing the ways and means for the maintenance of our country’s glory and our integrity as a nation, you should be inspired by feelings of self-sacrifice, kindred to those which animate the brave men who have devoted their lives to the perils of the battle field, in defence of our nation’s flag.
“Gentlemen, I place the honor of the State in your hands. And I pray that the Almighty God, who protected our fathers in their efforts to establish this our great constitutional liberty, who has controlled the growth of civilization and Christianity in our midst, may not now forsake us; that he may watch over your counsels, and may, in His providence, lead those who have left the path of duty, and are acting in open rebellion to the Government, back again to perfect loyalty, and restore peace, harmony, and fraternity to our distracted country.”
It was to Andrew Curtin’s immense relief when word was received from Alexander McClure that his address had been favorably received, and that the lawmakers were already getting down to business. In time he should have everything he asked for.
Much of the business conducted on that final day of the month was out of the governor’s immediate control, and to which he could only await results – a daylong test of patience that was a taxing ordeal for a man possessed of nervous energy. He also awaited replies to correspondence sent out the previous day. One of those dispatches was received early that morning. Troops shipping out of Camp Curtin allowed him to begin bringing forward the first units of the second wave of volunteers; as promised, the first companies he sent for were the Tioga men who had been marooned at Troy for a week. Transportation arrangements were made with the various railroad companies involved, and orders were wired to send the men of the Thirteenth District forward. He received word from Troy that the volunteers were now on their way, having departed that morning for Harrisburg.
So, too, did he await the reply of an aide dispatched to Washington bearing a questionnaire composed for Secretary of War, Simon Cameron. The query was in essence a checklist regarding field accoutrements; the Secretary was to denote which items were to be furnished by the state and those that would be supplied by Federal quartermasters. Cameron’s response would have much bearing on the legislative session now in progress at Harrisburg, a framework for awarding contracts to manufacturers. The first item on the questionnaire prefaced all that followed, but was worded in such a generic manner as to have possibly been mistaken by the Secretary as merely inquisitive: “Can the quota from Pennsylvania be increased, and to what amount?”
Andrew Curtin was harboring some doubt as to the legality of General Patterson’s recent requisition.
The question may have been prompted by the dissolution of the military department General Patterson commanded at the time the requisition was made – he was then military commander of all territory on a line from Washington to Lake Erie. On the same day Patterson’s call for additional troops was received at Harrisburg, orders were issued by General Scott returning the Military Department of Washington to its normal boundaries. Patterson’s realm was reduced to Pennsylvania, Delaware and northern Maryland; General Butler was installed as commander of a new department, encompassing a forty mile swath between Annapolis and Bladensburg. In addition to the War Department and the General-in-chief, Curtin was receiving direct correspondence from the department commanders, dispatches that at times carried contradictory information and recommendations. From his view of things, Washington’s emergence from isolation was producing confusion as to policy and the chain of command – it was becoming difficult to know who answered to whom, and if any one person, short of the president, was the ultimate authority regarding the rebellion crisis. On the eve of flinging open the floodgates to some twenty thousand volunteers, the governor wanted a written and signed assurance from the War Department that Patterson’s call was condoned.
But the communication he waited most anxiously for was from General Patterson himself. A strange bit of business took place the previous evening at Philadelphia, and to which the governor made an immediate move to resolve. On the morning of the 30th he had still received no response from the general; as the day grew longer, the governor’s patience wore thin. When the reply finally came that evening, the governor had plenty of justification to entertain suspicion over the call for additional troops, and that the Lincoln administration was indeed in a very confused state.
Even as Curtin began probing the legality of the requisition on the previous day, its author was given reason to question the wisdom of having issued it. Telegraphic communication between Washington and Philadelphia was restored by the 29th and General Scott wasted no time to hash out a plan with Patterson for the subjugation of Baltimore. Almost as an afterthought, Scott informed the commander of a change of phase in Northern preparations for waging civil war: “The Cabinet have under consideration a plan for volunteers of [a] long period of service. Please, therefore, to withdraw your request addressed to the governor of Pennsylvania to increase his quota of three months’ men.” Patterson was evidently at a loss as to how best to broach this news to the tempestuous governor, the man to whom his future as a militia commander was owed. He mulled the matter over, but made no immediate move to countermand the requisition.
Late in the day, however, the issue was forced when Colonel Max Einstein appeared at Patterson’s headquarters to report for duty with his newly formed regiment. The general informed him he could not accept the men, offering little or no explanation as to why. Einstein’s orders had come directly from the governor, and to whom he sent a dispatch that evening apprising the chief executive of the strange development. Curtin responded by firing off a sharply worded dispatch to Patterson, demanding an explanation for refusing the regiment; unless a good reason was in the offing, the general was directed to muster the men into service. Not only did the general fail to promptly comply on the 29th, he kept the governor waiting all day of the 30th before replying that evening: “Have no authority to receive Colonel Einstein’s regiment. The contingent called for by the General Government has already been exceeded, and I can take no more.”
Curtin could scarcely believe what he was reading. He wanted further confirmation. “Your letter of twenty-sixth April distinctly requires twenty-five additional regiments of infantry and one of cavalry. Your dispatch to-night seems to conflict with it. Please explain this evening.” The answer he received was no more informative than the first dispatch: “Government requires no more three months’ men at present. I write by mail to-day.”
With what appeared to be aloof indifference, Patterson nonchalantly informed the governor that the great exodus of Pennsylvania volunteers he himself set in motion, now needed to be stopped. Moreover, had the general responded to the governor’s query the previous evening, the address that went before the state legislature at midday could have been amended, and the Tioga troops ordered to stand down. Devout patriots though Patterson and Scott may be, for the second time in a fortnight Andrew Curtin was dealt a jaw-dropping shock by a general he considered a doddering relic of a former generation.
This was no way to run a war – the enraged governor had cause to believe the Lincoln administration might not possess the tools, or acumen to save the Union. He certainly was not going to sit idly and await a further, dilatory explanation from Patterson; he would bypass the military channels that appeared to be a morass of confusion. His status in the Lincoln cabinet, the most important head of government remaining loyal to the Union, should merit considerable influence, and which clout he proposed to test via the War Department.
But this avenue for relief held a potential pitfall; his relationship with Simon Cameron could best be described as something akin to a blood feud. For more than a decade the two men were renowned combatants in the ever changing landscape and shifting tides of Pennsylvania politics. In soliciting Cameron’s help to stem the political disaster he now faced, Curtin could only hope to appeal to his higher sense loyalty to the Union cause and, hopefully, the commonwealth. Swallowing his pride he penned a letter to Cameron enclosing copies of Patterson’s correspondence. After laying out the circumstances in his introduction, he wrote:
“Shortly after receiving the above telegram Captain Simmons informed me that he had been instructed by Major Porter to stop mustering troops, having more than called for. On referring to the copy of General Patterson’s letter of the 26th of April, 1861, herewith sent, you will note that I was called upon distinctly for ‘twenty-five regiments of infantry and one regiment of cavalry.’ In pursuance of this call preparations have been made to raise the additional regiments. The companies are ready to march; many of them are on their way, and heavy expenses have been incurred by the people of the State. To publish this order of Major Porter will create intense excitement throughout the State and materially injure the cause, and destroy the public confidence in the Administration. I therefore respectfully protest against this act of Major Porter, and rely on an immediate order being sent to General Patterson, instructing him to receive the twenty-five additional regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, as per his letter of the 26th of April.”
An aide was detailed to carry the correspondence to Washington and remonstrate against what appeared to be slapdash, whimsical policy making by Federal authority. With a little bit luck, the highhanded appeal to his arch-rival would produce the result hoped for, or perhaps a compromise. In the meantime Andrew Curtin had some political juggling to do.
Camp Curtin –
It was shortly after midnight when a train of the Northern Central line pulled abreast of the grounds of Camp Curtin. More than six hundred stiff legged Tioga County men clamored down off the cars, wearied by a long day of stop and go travel. They had left their homes a full week before, and most of them doubted this moment would ever come to pass. Without fanfare or greeting, they straggled through the gates of the sleeping camp and were led to a long row of wooden shacks that would serve as their temporary quarters. To the last man it was believed that, by the coming weekend, they would be manning the defenses of Washington. The aggravating pattern of disappointment and setbacks that had dogged them since the 20th was now behind them it seemed, and the men happily dropped down into straw bunks. They had no inkling of the “madness that ruled the hour” at Harrisburg, or that the current state of confusion would impact them more directly than any of Pennsylvania’s thousands of volunteers.
The unknowing first members of the soon-to-be-born Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, had arrived at Harrisburg.
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.