The Origin of the Myerstown Rifles and Iron Artillerists of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.

Note: This article describes the origin of these two companies from the time they were organized until they reached a camp of instruction, Camp Curtin. Further detail is revealed in a more elaborate history of the organization, to be published at a later date.

By August Marchetti

In the borough of Lebanon, Lebanon County – news of the events in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina reached the populace.  Its effect on its citizens was much the same as it was in other parts of the commonwealth.  Four days after Ft. Sumter’s fall on April 18, a war meeting was held at the local Court House in the borough of Lebanon of citizens from all over the county.  In fact, so many were in attendance that the court house was easily filled, leaving the majority of its anxious townspeople still standing outside.  The latest events were discussed, as was President Lincoln’s call for troops.  It was resolved that Lebanon County would support the federal government under these unfortunate circumstances and do what they could to see that the Union be preserved.

As a result of these war meetings, a few companies of volunteers were patched together quickly, services tendered to the State and marched off to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg to join three-month regiments.  As these companies left Lebanon, there were two additional organizations remaining in the county itself, belonging to the Second Brigade, Fifth Division of the Pennsylvania Militia (hereafter referred to as PSM.)  These were the Jonestown Rifles (later known as the Iron Artillerists), and the Myerstown Rifles, the latter commanded by Captain Elijah Gates Lantz, and the former by Captain Jerome Myers.  

Central Square in Lebanon, 1895

These two companies were operating under the direction of Brig.-Gen. William Ulrich, who commanded  the second brigade to which they belonged.  While other volunteer companies were being sent to Harrisburg both the Myerstown Rifles and Jonestown Rifles were initially delayed in tendering their services to the Governor presumably because they needed more time in reactivating their units, which until this time had most likely been a militia unit on paper only.

The Jonestown Rifles remained the borough of Lebanon in a camp which was established at the Fairgrounds; the men christened it “Camp Ironsides.”  It was also here that they adopted their new alias, the Iron Artillerists.  The Myerstown Rifles remained in Myerstown, seven miles distant from Camp Ironsides patiently waiting for their call to arms.  

Waiting was something they easily grew tired of, and soon Capt. Jerome Myers decided to move his Myerstown Rifles to Harrisburg, where they would offer their services to the Government in person.  The Lebanon Courier gave the following account:  “On Friday last [May 10,] the Myerstown Rifles…Capt. Jerome Myers, accompanied by the National Brass Band and a number of citizens of Myerstown, preceded to Harrisburg to offer their services to Gov. Curtin.  They were received into Camp Curtin.  There was a very large assemblage of people at the Myerstown Depot to see the company off.”

A week later on May 17, the Iron Artillerists received word that they had been accepted for three years’ service under state’s the new legislation enacting the Reserve Corps of the Commonwealth.  Credit is due to the efforts of Brigadier General William Ulrich, of whose brigade Captains Lantz’s and Myers’ companies belonged to in the PSM.  He had apparently lobbied hard in Harrisburg to get both companies from his brigade accepted into the service.

The organization as it was when they reached Camp Curtin, were as follows:

Captain Elijah G. Lantz, Jonestown, Lebanon County
First Lieutenant Elias Livengood, Myerstown, Lebanon County
Second Lieutenant James Van Staren, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County

Captain Jerome Myers, Myerstown, Lebanon County
First Lieutenant William Oakes
Second Lieutenant Joseph G. Holmes, Berks County

On arriving at Camp Curtin a couple days after departing from Lebanon, Lieutenant Van Staren of the Iron Artillerists wrote home to the editors of the Lebanon Courier to let those in the town from which they came know of their condition.  

“Camp Curtin, May 30, 1861.

Mr. Editor – Thinking that the kind citizens of Lebanon would like to hear from us, I have ventured to write to let you know how we are getting along.  We arrived here safely and were marched to camp immediately.  The quarters assigned us are not so good as those we left, but we were afforded every facility by the officer Commanding, Quartermaster and Commissary, to make ourselves comfortable, and I am happy to bear testimony to the gentlemanly kindness and efficiency of those officers.  The troops encamped here have plenty of good, wholesome food of all kinds, with plenty of coverings, &c.  The men are getting along in their drill very well under the command of Lieut. E. Livengood, who is just in his element and every inch a soldier.

For the Committee of Ladies who so kindly furnished us with every thing while encamped at the Fair Ground, we send our respects, one and all, and assure them that no matter where we may be placed throughout the career we have chosen, their kindness shall never be effaced from our memories, and if there is a spot on God’s green earth that we may turn our thoughts to in the hour of danger and of trouble, Little Lebanon will loom up from before us as the home of a gallant and kind people.

I have no very great facility for writing, as the orderly Serg’t. is about making out his report, consequently I shall have to vamoose and conclude.

Respectfully, J.V.”

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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.