Pennsylvania Emergency Troops of 1863

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Battle of Gettysburg
36th and 51st Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Regiments

One month after the southern victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863, the United States War Department informed the governors of northern states that Lee's massive army had moved into the Shenandoah Valley, obviously intent on a northern raid. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin was rightly concerned over the threat. In early June, the War Department divided his state into two military departments and appointed military commanders for both. The "Department of the Susquehanna" (the eastern department), was placed under the command of General Darius Couch, a veteran officer from the Army of the Potomac. General Couch only had a handful of troops and equipment at his disposal and used his authority to issue orders for volunteers to immediately enlist for the state's defense. Governor Curtin followed with a proclamation on June 12th asking for able bodied men to volunteer for military service in "emergency" militia regiments. Three days later, President Lincoln called for 100,000 men from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia to serve for a period of six months or as long as necessary during the emergency.

Pennsylvania was asked to provide half of the president's quota and by mid-July the commonwealth had raised nearly forty regiments of militia (most were under strengthened) and all were unprepared to be soldiers. Additional time was necessary to gather these newly organized regiments into one location and be placed where they could do some good. As individual companies of 80 to 100 men slowly filtered into Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, they were immediately put to work building fortifications around the city. Barely two weeks later, some of these first "emergency troops" from Pennsylvania and New York experienced combat in June when a mounted Confederate force under General Albert Jenkins raided Chambersburg, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and threatened Harrisburg. Two skirmishes near Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, which lies on the Susquehanna River opposite Harrisburg, slowed Jenkins' advance while the newly constructed earthworks and fort could be manned.

The 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia was the only organized emergency regiment to see battle in the Gettysburg area, which occurred on June 26. General Jubal Early's troops were marching from the Cashtown area toward Gettysburg when his cavalry force, the 35th Virginia Battalion, stumbled upon the green Pennsylvania troops that had been marched out of Gettysburg to stop the southern advance. The 26th's commander, Colonel William Jennings, knew that his men were without training and could not stand up against any veteran force, so he ordered an orderly withdrawal that soon became a rout. The undisciplined troops turned into a mob, clogging the narrow road as they fled with the 35th Virginia hot on their heels- nabbing over 175 officers and men as prisoners of war. Another force scattered a handful of new militiamen in Gettysburg and killed Private George Sandoe of the 21st Pennsylvania Emergency Cavalry as he tried to escape. The poor showing of these untried troops only added confidence to the Confederates who continued the march with little or no additional harassment.

Battle of Gettysburg Map
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Cavalry at Battle of Gettysburg

It was not until the Battle of Gettysburg had ended when the majority of the emergency regiments in Pennsylvania were finally organized and mustered into service. Most of these regiments were sent to guard railroads, bridges and fords over major rivers, and to protect state and Federal property located throughout Pennsylvania. Two regiments of militia were sent to Adams County after the battle to help with the recovery process. Colonel H. C. Alleman, commanding the 36th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia, was appointed Military Governor of the district that embraced the battlefield area and all of the hospital sites in the county. They were soon joined by the 51st Pennsylvania Emergency Militia, under Colonel Oliver Hopkinson, which camped on East Cemetery Hill. Soldiers were divided into details and given daily assignments including the priority of recovering government property. Soldiers scoured the fields and farms for abandoned equipment. They even entered private homes because many civilians had taken military equipment from the battlefield as souvenirs. Before the 36th regiment left Gettysburg on August 8, Colonel Alleman reported that his troops collected "Twenty-six thousand six hundred and sixty-four muskets, nine thousand two hundred and fifty bayonets, one thousands five hundred cartridge boxes, two hundred and four sabres, fourteen thousands rounds of small arms ammunition, twenty six artillery wheels, seven hundred and two blankets, forty wagon loads of clothing, sixty saddles, sixty bridles, five wagons, five hundred and ten horses and mules, and six wagon loads of knapsacks and haversacks." All of the gathered stores were transported to the Washington Arsenal for repair and cleaning.

The militia also supervised the removal of wounded to Camp Letterman and then to permanent hospitals via the railroad. 12,061 wounded Union soldiers were sent from field hospitals to hospitals in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and other northern cities. 6,197 Confederate prisoners were also sent to northern hospitals before transfer to prisoner of war camps. Additionally, 1,637 "stragglers" were also detained and sent to military authorities for return to the army.

Though it was two great armies that fought and decided the Battle of Gettysburg, it was the Emergency Troops that restored order to the state. See also Pennsylvania Civil War History.

Sources: Gettysburg National Military Park; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; National Park Service

Recommended Reading: Damn Dutch: Pennsylvania Germans at Gettysburg, by David L. Valuska (Author), Christian B. Keller (Author), Don Yoder (Foreword), Scott Hartwig (Contributor), Martin Oefele (Contributor) (Hardcover). Review: This is the first work to highlight the contributions of regiments of the Pennsylvania Dutch and the post 1820 immigrant Germans at the Battle of Gettysburg. On the first day, the 1st Corps, in which many of the Pennsylvania Dutch regiments served, and the half-German 11th Corps, which was composed of five regiments of either variety, bought, with their blood, enough time for the federals to adequately prepare the high ground, which proved critical in the end for the Union victory. On the second day, they participated in beating back Confederate attacks that threatened to crack the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill and in other strategic locations. Continued below...

About the Authors: David L. Valuska is Freyberger professor of Pennsylvania German studies at Kutztown University and executive director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center. Christian B. Keller is assistant professor of American history at Dickinson College. Scott Hartwig has been an interpretive park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park since 1980. Martin Oefele is a former professor of American history at the University of Munich.

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Recommended Reading: The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War's Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863. Description: For cavalry and/or Gettysburg enthusiasts, this book is a must; for other Civil War buffs, it possesses the qualities sought by students of the conflict. It bristles with analysis, details, judgements, personality profiles, and evaluations and combat descriptions, even down to the squadron and company levels. The mounted operations of the campaign from organizational, strategic, and tactical viewpoints are examined thoroughly. Continued below...

The author's graphic recountings of the Virginia fights at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, the Pennsylvania encounters at Hanover, Hunterstown, Gettysburg, and Fairfield, and finally the retreat to Virginia, are the finest this reviewer has read under a single cover. For those who enjoy the thunder of hoofbeats, the clang of sabers, and the crack of pistols and carbines, this book has all of it. Generals and privates share the pages, as the mounted opponents parry and thrust across hundreds of miles of territory from June 9 to July 14, 1863.


Recommended Reading: Lincoln's Cavalrymen: A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865 (Hardcover). Description: Well known in Civil War circles, author Longacre (The Cavalry at Gettysburg, etc.) has written a major work on the Union cavalry of the North's primary field army in Virginia. Having mined more than 300 manuscript collections as well as numerous primary sources and secondary studies, Longacre has crafted a carefully written, well-researched tome. From the beginning of the war to Appomattox Court House, he examines the Regular Army's prewar mounted troops, then follows the genesis of the volunteer cavalry, a process that was painfully slow, especially given 1861 predictions that put the war's duration at three months. Continued below...

A perceptive chapter on arms, mounts, equipment and drill provides a fresh look at the problems inherent in raising and equipping volunteers on horseback. Included are capsule biographies and critical assessments of the cavalry's leaders, men like George Stoneman, John Buford, Alfred Pleasonton, George A. Custer and Phil Sheridan. Throughout, the author details the skirmishes, battles and raids conducted by Union cavalry without quite resorting to blow-by-blows. The focus is rather on the cavalry's role in the broader context of the war in the east and its many campaigns. Within this framework, Longacre succeeds brilliantly in showing us a crucial, much-tested force and he includes numerous photos and maps.


Recommended Reading: General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. Review: You cannot say that University of North Carolina professor Glatthaar (Partners in Command) did not do his homework in this massive examination of the Civil War–era lives of the men in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Glatthaar spent nearly 20 years examining and ordering primary source material to ferret out why Lee's men fought, how they lived during the war, how they came close to winning, and why they lost. Glatthaar marshals convincing evidence to challenge the often-expressed notion that the war in the South was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight and that support for slavery was concentrated among the Southern upper class. Continued below...

Lee's army included the rich, poor and middle-class, according to the author, who contends that there was broad support for the war in all economic strata of Confederate society. He also challenges the myth that because Union forces outnumbered and materially outmatched the Confederates, the rebel cause was lost, and articulates Lee and his army's acumen and achievements in the face of this overwhelming opposition. This well-written work provides much food for thought for all Civil War buffs.


Recommended Reading: Last Chance For Victory: Robert E. Lee And The Gettysburg Campaign. Description: Long after nearly fifty thousand soldiers shed their blood there, serious misunderstandings persist about Robert E. Lee's generalship at Gettysburg. What were Lee's choices before, during, and after the battle? What did he know that caused him to act as he did? Last Chance for Victory addresses these issues by studying Lee's decisions and the military intelligence he possessed when each was made.

Packed with new information and original research, Last Chance for Victory draws alarming conclusions to complex issues with precision and clarity. Readers will never look at Robert E. Lee and Gettysburg the same way again.


Recommended Reading: The Gettysburg Companion: A Guide to the Most Famous Battle of the Civil War (Hardcover). Description: There have been many books about Gettysburg, but never one to rival this in scale or authority. Based on extensive research, The Gettysburg Companion describes the battle in detail, drawing on firsthand accounts of participants on all sides in order to give the reader a vivid sense of what it was like to experience the carnage at Gettysburg in early July 1863. The many full-color maps--all specially commissioned for the book--and the numerous photographs, charts, and diagrams make this book a feast for the eyes and a collector's dream. Includes a massive library of 500 color illustrations.


Recommended Reading: Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, by James M. Mcpherson (Crown Journeys) (Hardcover). Review From Publishers Weekly: The country's most distinguished Civil War historian, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for Battle Cry of Freedom) and professor at Princeton, offers this compact and incisive study of the Battle of Gettysburg. In narrating "the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere," McPherson walks readers over its presently hallowed ground, with monuments numbering into the hundreds, many of which work to structure the narrative. They range from the equestrian monument to Union general John Reynolds to Amos Humiston, a New Yorker identified several months after the battle when family daguerreotypes found on his body were recognized by his widow. Indeed, while McPherson does the expected fine job of narrating the battle, in a manner suitable for the almost complete tyro in military history, he also skillfully hands out kudos and criticism each time he comes to a memorial. Continued below...

He praises Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, but also the 140th New York and its colonel, who died leading his regiment on the other Union flank in an equally desperate action. The cover is effective and moving: the quiet clean battlefield park above, the strewn bodies below. The author's knack for knocking myths on the head without jargon or insult is on display throughout: he gently points out that North Carolinians think that their General Pettigrew ought to share credit for Pickett's charge; that General Lee's possible illness is no excuse for the butchery that charge led to; that African-Americans were left out of the veterans' reunions; and that the kidnapping of African-Americans by the Confederates has been excised from most history books.


Recommended Reading: The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg (Key People, Places, and Events) (Key People, Places, and Events). Description: While most history books are dry monologues of people, places, events and dates, The History Buff's Guide is ingeniously written and full of not only first-person accounts but crafty prose. For example, in introducing the major commanders, the authors basically call Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell a chicken literally. 'Bald, bug-eyed, beak-nosed Dick Stoddard Ewell had all the aesthetic charm of a flightless foul.' To balance things back out a few pages later, they say federal Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade looked like a 'brooding gargoyle with an intense cold stare, an image in perfect step with his nature.' Continued below...

Although it's called a guide to Gettysburg, in my opinion, it's an authoritative guide to the Civil War. Any history buff or Civil War enthusiast or even that casual reader should pick it up.

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