Article 73

The Civil War in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was trampled. Many northerners equated certain words with overt acts of treason against the Union cause, and the northern government believed that dissent provided "aid and comfort" to the rebellion. As such, the Union government arrested numerous civilians for "disloyal speech." Many believed that protecting the Union was more important than preserving individual liberties. Thus, judges often defined treason as consisting of the mere expression of certain opinions. Judge John J. Pearson of Harrisburg argued that "at a time like this, when the struggle is for national existence, words become things, and evil counsel cannot be lightly overlooked, or mildly dealt with." The U.S. military arrested numerous Pennsylvania citizens and newspaper editors who spoke out against the war, draft, or emancipation. But most citizens opposed these limitations on free speech and many spoke out against the suspension of habeas corpus and arbitrary arrests.

A total of 427,286 Pennsylvanians served in the Union forces, including 8,600 Negro volunteers. This number includes enlistees responding to President Lincoln's calls for Volunteers for the Union army, recruits, drafted men, substitutes, and recruits for the regular U. S. Army for a total of 362,284 men. Adding the 25,000 Pennsylvania militia men who were called out in 1862, brings the grand total to 387,284 men, who served in 270 regiments and several detached companies of the Volunteer Army. Adding the 40,002 Pennsylvanians who enlisted in the United States Navy raises the total to 427,286.

Three days after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling out the militia of several States. Later that same day, Governor Andrew G. Curtin received a telegram from the Secretary of War requesting that Pennsylvania provide 16 regiments, and 2 regiments were wanted within 3 days. A sudden dash upon the Capital was strongly threatened, and the city was entirely unprotected. Five militia companies were called up and sent immediately to Washington. These companies later became known as "The First Defenders" because they were the first military units to reach the Nation's Capitol.

President Lincoln's initial call for 16 regiments of volunteers was answered by 25 regiments. In May 1861, the Assembly, at Governor Andrew G. Curtin's suggestion, created the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps of 15 regiments enlisted for three years' service. They were mustered into the Army of the Potomac after the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), and thousands of other Pennsylvanians followed them. Camp Curtin at Harrisburg was one of the major troop concentration centers of the war.

As a result of its vital role as a Federal raw material source and its proximity to the Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania was the target of several raids by the Confederate States Army. These included cavalry raids in 1862 and 1863 by J.E.B. Stuart, in 1863 by John Imboden, and in 1864 by John McCausland in which his troopers burned the city of Chambersburg.[5] Fears were raised in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1863 when Morgan's Raid approached Pennsylvania before it was thwarted in neighboring Ohio.

Many historians consider Gettysburg to be a major turning point of the War. A number of smaller engagements were also fought in the Keystone State, including the Battle of Hanover, Battle of Carlisle, Battle of Hunterstown, and the Battle of Fairfield, all during the Gettysburg Campaign. The city of York, Pennsylvania, became the largest Northern city to be occupied by Confederate troops when Jubal A. Early's division took control of the town in late June 1863 and extracted a ransom.

The State Archives in Harrisburg preserves the military records of the state's emergency militia, as well as material on the state's volunteer regiments and batteries. It also houses microfilmed records of the damage claims from individuals in several counties, delineating losses of their personal property and possessions to the opposing armies during the Gettysburg Campaign. The Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee maintains and preserves 390 battleflags from various Pennsylvania units. The State Museum of Pennsylvania houses an extensive general collection of Civil War artifacts, as well as Peter Rothermel's massive painting of the Battle of Gettysburg.

In 1869, the official commonwealth historian Samuel Penniman Bates wrote the monumental five-volume History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 which remains the standard reference for the commonwealth's regimental histories and unit rosters. The pattern seen elsewhere regarding Civil War records is really manifest in Pennsylania. When an early historian wrote, describing the actions of the regiments in flowery terms, there tends to be fewer later regimental histories which treat the regiments' sevice through the tempored objective of history. Consequently there is less material overall on the individual soldiers and the impact of the war on their lives and families.


Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65. Harrisburg: 1868-1871.
Blair, William (Editor) and William Pencak (Editor). Pennsylvania's Civil War: Making and Remaking Fox, William F., Lt. Col., U.S. Volunteers. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865. Albany, NY: Albany Publishing Company, 1889.
Godcharles, Frederic A. , L.H.D. (Former State Librarian and Director Museum). Pennsylvania Political, Governmental, Military and Civil: Military Volume. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1933.
*Weeks, Jim. "Pennsylvania in the Civil War" on the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission web page.
Pennsylvania State Archives. Various documents.
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Page last modified on September 21, 2014