By August Marchetti
The Adams Infantry adds a wonderfully unique history to the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps that many Gettysburg enthusiasts are already familiar with. They gained the notoriety of being the only company of soldiers to have actually fought at that battle, who were from the area. “The Boys Who Fought At Home” was the title of a history written about the company by one of its own members decades after the war ended. While it is true that several of the members of the company were from Gettysburg proper, the vast majority of the company hailed from nearby towns in Adams County, primarily York Springs and Petersburg.
In Adams County, Pennsylvania shortly after Lincoln’s call to defend the Union, the countryside was set ablaze with the most robust patriotic enthusiasm that had ever been seen. Businesses closed while people rallied in the streets as bands played. Evenings were spent with men, young and old gathered at various venues to hear local orators give their opinions and views on the coming war. As a result of these war meetings as they came to be known, several volunteer companies were organized throughout the county, and sent to Harrisburg in shortly after Lincoln’s request for volunteers. The response across the state was so magnificent that the quota levied against Pennsylvania was filled in a matter of days, and the gates at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg shuttered to any further recruits.
The following month on May 15, the Bill authorizing the Reserve Corps of the Commonwealth passed the house and senate, and each county in the state was requested to contribute a particular number of companies to fill it. Based on the size of it’s populace, Adams County was permitted to raise and contribute one company of the Reserve Corps. On May 28, Governor Andrew Curtin sent a telegraph to Edward McPherson, who at the time was congressman representing that part of the state, asking “What company from Adams county do you recommend for acceptance?”
Like any politician of his time, McPherson saw opportunity in this simplistic query. At this time it was abundantly clear that volunteer companies were experiencing great difficulty in getting into the service, but those that did were hailed by the local tabloids as heroes off to war to defend the union. Although he had no previous intentions of raising a company of troops for the war effort, it appears that perhaps the temptation of the publicity for future campaigns was enough to elicit action on his part. McPherson postponed a reply to the Governor’s question, and immediately went to work patching together a company of men he intended to lead into the service.
McPherson was 30 years old at the time, living in Gettysburg on a farm west of town which he inherited from his late father. He was an 1848 valedictory graduate of Pennsylvania College who had an intense interest in politics and journalism. He dabbled somewhat as an editor for various whig-leaning newspapers, and at one time briefly studied law under the Honorable Thaddeus Stevens in Lancaster. He was elected to the thirty-sixth congress in 1858, and re-elected again in 1860, both times representing the sixteenth district which comprised Adams, Franklin, Fulton, Bedford and Juniata Counties.
McPherson quickly went to work, organizing a series of war meetings in which he delivered patriotic speeches and orations. He found two men who agreed to serve under him as executive officers, these were Joseph Findley Bailey, who was the Prothonotary, and local attorney James J. Herron, both of Gettysburg. Herron had already been enrolled as a Lieutenant in another volunteer company of home guards in Gettysburg before being plucked from their ranks by McPherson with promises of being accepted by the Governor sooner then if he stayed with the home guards.
War meetings were held at Fairfield on May 28th, Littlestown on May 29th, East Berlin on May 30th and finally Petersburg on May 31st. When the enrollment books were opened, names were consistently added to its pages from the 28th of May till the company left Gettysburg for camp of instruction on June 8, 1861.
On the last day of May, McPherson apologetically got around to replying to Governor Curtin, along with his personal suggestion as to which company he’d recommend for acceptance: “In reply to your dispatch rec’d today, as I was absent and unable to reply, that I recommend the acceptance of The Adams Infantry, which organized today. Myself Captain, J. Finley Baily 1st Lieut, John J. Herron, 2nd Lt.”
The members of the Adams Infantry would remain at home for roughly a week, waiting for orders to move while McPherson and his lieutenants continued to recruit to fill up the ranks. Orders were received sometime mid-week that the company would be moving to a camp of instruction at West Chester. On the morning of June 8th, a Saturday, the company organized itself into a marching column and were escorted to the train depot by a company of zouaves under Captain Sumwalt. Here they bid farewell to their family and friends, and as the cars began to pull out of the station, Capt. Sumwalt had his company of zouaves fire a parting salute to the Adams Infantry as they headed eastward to West Chester.
Later that evening, the train carrying the Adams Infantry rolled into the Market Street Station in West Chester blaring its steam whistle as it slowly grinned to a halt. As all motion stopped, the steam let out an exasperated hiss and the doors flung open on the cars. As if in unison, men of the Adams Infantry, about seventy-six in number, leaped down onto the platform and formed into a marching column, and soon were on their way to Camp Wayne.
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.