By August Marchetti
*Note: This excerpt only covers a brief historical accounting of the Biddle Rifles up until they reached Camp Curtin in Harrisburg.
The story of the Biddle Rifles of Perry County begins in a thriving Susquehanna river town called Liverpool. In the spring of 1861, this town was a prosperous place that was alive with bustling activity due to its proximity to the nearby river, and also to the Pennsylvania Canal which forged a watery thoroughfare through the town itself. These trade routes, which boosted commerce and trade in Liverpool as it had in other towns and villages situated along these waterways, enabled the town to flourish. In antebellum America, Liverpool was said to, “…[afford] at all seasons the best of markets for all kinds of produce,” as it benefited greatly from the trade which operated up and down both canal and river. Industries prospering in Liverpool around this time were its ironworks, foundries, tanneries, and an extensive brick plant that was in operation.
The earliest accounts of the Biddle Rifles that can be found, trace back to May 4, 1861, when the company was organized by 36-year-old George Keller Scholl, who identified himself by trade as a painter. Originally born in Landisburg in July of 1824, Scholl was living in Liverpool with his wife Jane and daughter Maria when Fort Sumter fell. Scholl seems to have been the driving force behind raising and organizing this company of soldiers from Liverpool, and with his background, one could certainly see why. Scholl was no stranger to army life, as he had a great deal of military experience under his belt by the time of the Civil War.
In his early twenties, Scholl had served in the U. S. Marines during the Mexican-American War. In September 1847 at the Battle of Chapultepec, he was wounded in his leg and was later at the fall of the City of Mexico when it surrendered. After the war, he returned home and in late 1849 he was elected Brigade Inspector of the Pennsylvania Militia’s 3rd Brigade, 15th Division, a position which he maintained for a number of years. His physical appearance was described as being a “..tall, thin, erect man” standing 5’ 10”, with black hair and blue eyes.
Of the men Scholl recruited for his company, naturally most of them came from Liverpool proper, but there were many others who hailed from nearby Montgomery’s Ferry and Millersburg, which was on the eastern shore of the river.
One of these men Scholl brought into the company was a Mr. John Jameson, who would play a significant role in this organization. It is unclear where Jameson called home at this time, but he is found residing in the Liverpool area from the mid-to-late 1850s. When he enrolled himself in Scholl’s company, he described himself as a 28-year-old merchant from Philadelphia. After researching Jameson’s later life, it appears that he never really settled down in one location for an extended period of time. Rather, he gives one the impression that he resided as a tenant wherever he could find honest work.
Born in Dryden, New York on July 24, 1832, Jameson spent his early life there working on his family farm till he reached his late teens and decided he needed a change in his life. He took what belongings he had and bid farewell to his family and went off to find his way in the world. He found himself in Pennsylvania in 1852, and “…took whatever presented itself to earn an honest penny.” He is found in tax records in Liverpool, Perry County from 1855 to 1858, and in 1859 in Buffalo Township, located south of Liverpool. It is assumed he was still residing in this area when the Civil War began, since he enrolled in Scholl’s company in Liverpool.
It’s unclear what association existed between Scholl and Jameson prior to the war, if any, but nevertheless it bode well for the company. Scholl had ideal military experience and know-how to get this company recruited, while Jameson on the other hand had the connections, and finances to help get the company “accepted into the service.”
As the driving force behind this company’s organization, Scholl gained the moniker of “Captain”, though in no official capacity.
Scholl’s company was officially organized on May 4, 1861 and shortly thereafter he reported to state authorities that the company was full and ready to proceed to a camp of instruction.
As weeks passed with no word from Harrisburg, it became increasingly difficult for Scholl to keep his company together as morale began to decline. Out of patience with state officials in Harrisburg, Scholl sent a telegraph to the Executive Office in Harrisburg on May 20, informing them that he intended to bring his company to Camp Curtin. The risk of remaining idle while hearing nothing from Harrisburg would have brought decay and deterioration to the ranks of the company as men would leave to seek enlistments elsewhere. Scholl’s message prompted a curt reply by the Governor himself, Andrew G. Curtin. “Capt. George K. Scholl: Don’t attempt to move your men until ordered. No directions to report. – A. G. Curtin.”
Curtin’s reply did little to discourage Scholl from seeking out transportation to get his men from Liverpool to Harrisburg, and on the following day (May 21), transportation to Harrisburg was obtained in the form of “a boat.” Given through a financial statement made by John Jameson a few months later, the company left Liverpool by canal boat southward towards Mongomery’s Ferry, where they crossed the river to Dauphin County, and continued along the Pennsylvania Canal after which they marched to Camp Curtin, the bulk of the journey paid for at Jameson’s expense.
Though Scholl received no formal invitation from state authorities to take his company to Camp Curtin, it appears there may have been some influence pulled with the Adjutant General E. M. Biddle through John Jameson to have the company permitted to enter the camp.Two days after they presented themselves at Camp Curtin, an article appeared on the 23rd, reading: “The Biddle Guards: Capt. George K. Sch[ol]l, recently organized at Liverpool, have tendered their services to the Governor and been accepted.”
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.