"Union City: Philadelphia and the Battle of Gettysburg"
John Reid Seitter.
Reprinted from Gettysburg
ISSUE NUMBER 21
the American Civil War entered its third year in the spring of 1863, the
people of Philadelphia witnessed a series of setbacks on the battlfields
and election polls. The elections of 1862 had decided several governorships
as well as numerous state and federal legislative seats. This vote was
seen as a referendum, as to how successful the Lincoln administration had
been in its conduct of the war. In the end, these elections were a major
setback for the Republican party and its policies. In the nation's capitol,
Republicans lost 35 congressional seats. The governors of New York and
New Jersey were now Democrats. In Pennsylvania, the lower house of the
state legislature was also in Democratic hands as well as several key state
offices formerly held by Republicans. 1
It was in Philadelphia where the Democracy suffered one of its few setbacks
of the election. 2Mayor Alexander Henry was reelected by a comfortable
margin and of the city's five congressional seats, four were occupied by
Republicans. In general, however, the Democratic party, on state and national
levels had shown that the Lincoln administration had lost the confidence
of the majority of the nation's electorate. The national resurgence of
the Democratic party in the elections of 1862 gave a promise of new life
to Philadelphia's pro-Southern Democrats. 3
Military defeats at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville placed the national
and Philadelphia Republican party in jeopardy of not only losing upcoming
elections but also the will of the people to continue the war. Unpopular
political decisions, such as the Conscription Act of 1862, as well as numerous
military defeats and mounting casualties had caused "The War" to lose the
popular support of the electorate. The armies of the Confederate States
of America, especially the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Robert
E. Lee, seemed invincible in the face of the ineptitude of various Northern
commanders. Further military failures would doom the Republicans in the
gubernatorial elections of October 1863 and possibly the presidential race
the following year. 4
Soon after the Battle of Chancellorsville, in May of 1863, it was expected
by some Philadelphian's that General Joseph Hooker would soon embark on
a new campaign into Virginia. Just two days after the retreat of the Army
of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River, businessman George Fahnestock
wrote, "I presume that offensive operations will soon be resumed." 5
What Mr. Fahnestock did not realize was that a summer campaign was indeed
about to begin. It would not, however, be the Army of the Potomac on the
By May 26th, the groundwork had been laid, in Richmond, by Confederate
President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee for a second invasion
of the North. This time the goals were more far reaching then the recruiting
of loyalist Marylanders, as was the case in September of 1862. At Chancellorsville,
Lee had defeated Hooker with an army only half as large as his opponent's.
The Army of the Northern Virginia had gained psychologically with this
success and the army's confidence in its military prowess had "soared to
new heights" under the command of R. E. Lee. Due to a deteriorating strategic
situation in the West (Grant's siege of Vicksburg) it was felt that it
would be best to put Lee's superb army on the offensive into Pennsylvania,
in an attempt to relieve pressure on The Confederacy's western forces.
Whatever else he might accomplish, he wanted above all to spend the
summer in lower Pennsylvania maneuvering his forces so as to pose threats
to the vital centers of Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 7
This was not the first time that Philadelphia had been considered a strategic
objective of the Army of Northern Virginia. In the winter of 1862-63, Lee
and Stonewall Jackson had an engineer draw up a map for a military operation
which had included Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It was Lee's desire to
catch the Army of the Potomac in a disadvantageous position and defeat
it soundly. The sincere wish of Confederate officials was that an overwhelming
military defeat of the Union forces would cause pro-Southern Democrats
to intensify their protests and force the North into a negotiated peace
settlement. In October there would be a gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania.
Lee's 75,000 man army foraging on the fertile plains of the Cumberland
Valley or summering in Philadelphia would surely cost Governor Andrew Curtin
his reelection. In all probability this event would also have doomed the
administration of Abraham Lincoln to defeat in 1864.
A critical moment in the conflict had been reached. An armed force of
well trained, expertly led rebel troops was on the verge of invading the
state of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, the resurgent Democratic party
was about to see how successful their recent campaign against the continuation
of the war and the Republican party had been. The state government would
be forced to call for militia in the event of an invasion. How would Philadelphians
answer this call to arms? Would they sit back while their commonwealth
was overrun by the Army of Northern Virginia? Would the legacy of being
a "border town" steeped in the Jeffersonian democratic tradition inspire
their actions? Or would the men and women of the city draw their determination
from the knowledge that their hometown was the birthplace of the nation
and its federal government?
During the last week of May 1863, Mr. Fahnestock wrote of the increased
activities of the city's Democratic party.
The traitor Vallandingham from Dayton O., from accounts this afternoon
has been sent South, and will be handed over to General Bragg. It is a
pity that they do not send Wm. B. Reed, J. W. Wall, and a few score such
from this city and New York. These rebel sympathizers are growing so bold
as to talk openly of a military dictatorship, seizing the reins of government
and assassinating the president. Forbearance should be short with such
Ten days later, on June 1st, members of the Democracy staged a huge rally
in Independence Square. Its purpose was to protest the arrest and subsequent
exile of the North's most virulent Copperhead, Ohio ex-congressman Clement
Vallandingham. The end results of this gathering were a group of resolutions
condemning the administration's laws restricting personal liberties. 9
This very well may have been the "high water mark" of Philadelphia's Democratic
party. At this point in the conflict even the staunchest supporters of
the War and its motives were questioning the abilities of their president
and his administration. 10
There was, however, a growing suspicion by some Philadelphians of the
methods and motives of the local Democratic party. Their calls for violent
overthrow of the government and mob violence ran counter to the population’s
perception of law and public order. 11 There was also growing concern
that public opposition to the War effort was in and of itself disloyal.
Philadelphia's Democracy was treading a fine line between its role as the
opposition party to the Republicans and an organization of traitors.
12 During this time of Democratic resurgence the most outspoken opponents
of the war were members of Philadelphia's social elite. The majority of
anti-administration editorials printed in the Age, the city’s only
Democratic newspaper, were authored by names such as Biddle, Reed and Ingersoll.
It was becoming apparent to an increasing number of citizens that the frantic
appeals of the Democratic party to end the war were attempts to maintain
both their social and economic status, both of which were threatened by
the military defeat of the South and the electoral victories of the Republicans.
One of the reasons that the Democracy was unable to persuade a majority
of the electorate during the American Civil War was the sheer hypocrisy
of their writings and public speeches.
These same Democrats are now making an outcry about liberty of speech,
of which, under the protection of that same Mayor, they are in the full
enjoyment, and which they are using to destroy that very same government
by which they do enjoy this and other rights. 14
They claimed that President Lincoln had violated the Constitution by pursuing
an aggressive policy against the South, while Democratic leaders were threatening
to overthrow a duly elected government. George Fahnestock was one Philadelphian
appalled at the actions of his fellow citizens.
The "Peace" Democracy are holding meetings to encourage their brethren
in the South. These traitors are growing bolder every day; denouncing our
government in the most unmeasured terms. A civil war in the North may not
be far off. 15
The people of Philadelphia were in no mood to support a political organization
that courted mob violence as a means of carrying out its agenda. 16 Sidney
George Fisher wrote about the Democratic rally held on June 1st.
. . .People who have sons & brothers & friends in the army
are indignant at the abominable clique who persistently denounce the war,
abuse the soldiers & government, attempt to create discord among the
people, & to divide opinion & thus encourage the enemy. . . .17
It is hard to visualize the citizenry of Philadelphia, many of whom had
family and friends in the Union Armies, being sympathetic to or encouraged
by military defeats at the hands of secessionist forces. The point here
is simple, the leadership of Philadelphia's Democratic party, while claiming
a role as spokesman for the common good, actually spoke for no one but
themselves and their own agenda.
Sometime during the day, on Tuesday June 9th 1863, 2,400 Confederate
prisoners from Vicksburg arrived in the city of Philadelphia, subsequent
to their removal to Fort Delaware. It was said that the train bearing these
men was the longest train of passenger cars ever to enter the city. 18
Had the people been aware, they would have been far more interested and
alarmed at another event that was transpiring on that warm June day. Early
that same morning, as most of the citizens of Philadelphia lay asleep in
their beds, 10,000 Union cavalry troopers splashed across Virginia’s Rappahannock
River to give battle to Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart's horsemen. The
battle of Brandy Station marked the opening of the Gettysburg Campaign
and the subsequent invasion of Pennsylvania. 18
On the evening of June 14th General Darius Couch, commanding officer
of the Department of the Susquehanna, received a telegram from Edwin M.
Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War. 20
. . .the enemy has appeared at Winchester, [Virginia] and also at Martinsburg.
[near the Virginia-Maryland border] There is no doubt that a general movement
is being made toward Pennsylvania, and no efforts should be spared to resist
him. Hooker is being moved up. 21
The next day, President Lincoln made a proclamation calling for 100,000
militia for the defense of states threatened by the invasion including:
Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Keystone state's quota
for this emergency was 50,000 men. Governor Curtin soon amplified the President's
call for men by making his own personal plea to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
. . .I now appeal to all the citizens of Pennsylvania who love liberty
and are mindful of the history and traditions of their revolutionary fathers,
and who feel that it is a sacred duty to guard and maintain the free institutions
of our country, who hate treason and its abettors, and who are willing
to defend their homes and their firesides. . . .It is now to be determined
by deeds not words alone, who are for us and who are against us. . . .Our
only dependence rests upon the determined action of the citizens of our
free Commonwealth. 23
The reaction of the city of Philadelphia to the news of invasion was swift
and decisive. Within hours of newspapers being published and the posting
of proclamations, recruiting booths sprung up all over the city. Independence
Square which a few short days earlier had been a haven for the Democratic
party now took on the attributes of an armed camp. The response of Philadelphians
to this crisis was not, however, as universal as it had been in the spring
Unhappily, so strong has grown the feeling of opposition to the present
administration, that many men are pleased with the prospect of invasion,
carnage, blood and smoking ruins! They walk our streets today, radiant
with joy, led on by W. B. Reed, Charles Ingersoll, Wharton and a horde
of worn out old Peace Democrats. Nothing would rejoice them more than our
whole government laid to ashes! 24
Nevertheless, Philadelphians began to organize and send troops to Harrisburg.
The Susquehanna River was the only large natural obstacle between the state's
capital and Philadelphia. It had been decided by General Couch that the
east bank of the river was a logical place to rendezvous his command and
a location with the attributes of a strong defensive position for his untrained
militia forces. By the evening of June 18th, only three days after the
President's proclamation, Philadelphia had sent one regiment of infantry
and three independent militia companies, including the famed First Troop
Philadelphia City Cavalry, to aid in the defense of the state, 1,269 men
in all. 25
By Tuesday June 16th, as Lee's forces prepared to cross the Potomac
River into Maryland, the citizens of Philadelphia began to realize the
threat posed by the Rebel invasion. The newspapers and diary accounts present
a rare picture in our nation's history, an American city threatened with
occupation by an enemy army. George Fahnestock wrote on the night of the
. . . Harrisburg is threatened Philadelphia is not considered safe,
and a thousand excited rumors are filling the air! Unexcitable as I am
I certainly see grounds for alarm. . .Unless a vigorous and well directed
resistance is offered, there is nothing to hinder their marching along
the fertile plains of Lancaster and Chester Counties and regaling themselves
Philadelphia . . . As I write in the silence of the night, with nearly
all the family abed, I hear the recruiting drums, and bells of locomotives,
or their hoarse whistle as trains arrive and depart. Doubtless many thousand
troops will be in Harrisburg by tomorrow. 26
The Philadelphia Inquirer, after reporting the latest intelligence
of the invasion and remarking on the proclamations of the President and
Governor went on to comment that,
It is hard to discriminate in the conflict and confusion of the news
which is the true view of the case. One statement speaks of the enemy being
"ten thousand strong," and another of a force "advancing in six columns,"
which conveys an idea of even larger numbers. To-day will probably clear
up some of the causes of doubt and apprehension. Let us all, however, rally
promptly to the aid of the State and for the good of the great cause. And
above all things, let us avoid panic. 27
Henry Benners took a less sublime view of events, when he wrote,
Memorable for a great Panic, Curtin calls for troops in squads to
go to Harrisburg. State archives moved, Rebels burning and destroying property
in Chambersburg. 28
The Age, after printing the latest news, went on to editorialize
that the coming invasion was caused by the inadequacy of both the state
and federal administrations. The paper's feeble, half-hearted call for
defense of the city and state was overshadowed by articles concerning the
Democratic party's state convention convening the next day in Harrisburg.
It is worthwhile noting that while Pennsylvania prepared to repel invaders
from her borders that an article in the Age remarked.
From letter received from Harrisburg, we learn that the intense interest
manifested in the deliberations of the Democratic State Convention has
already crowded that city with an enthusiastic Democrats. The convention
will undoubtedly be the largest ever met in Pennsylvania. . . Individual
preference must all give way to the common good . . .We believe that the
fate of the nation hangs in a great degree, upon the result of the next
election in this Commonwealth. Imbued with this belief, we have not permitted
ourselves to be led away by any personal preferences, the attainment of
which might, in any manner, place in jeopardy the success of our party.
The seeming indifference of the Democratic party to the invasion of Pennsylvania
was commented on by a rival newspaper. It was recommended, by the editors
of the Public Ledger, that immediately upon gathering for their
state convention Democrats should, en mass, offer their services in defense
of Pennsylvania. Needless to say, there was no reply to this proposal.
On the 17th of the month, the Inquirer ran 30 ads in its classified
section advertising militia organizations seeking members. 31 The
Union League of Philadelphia, formed in the winter of 1862 to combat the
growing influence of the Democratic party, began to drill with other raw
militia, in case they were needed to defend their homes. 32 Businesses
were closed after a half day to allow their employees to drill. 33
A company made up of police officers was formed and sent to the front.
The city's district attorney turned a courtroom into a recruiting station
and had 130 men enrolled before lunchtime. A cash bounty and promise of
employment upon return were promised to employees of the Philadelphia Gas
Works who volunteered. Members of the Corn Exchange and Coal Traders Association
went about the business of raising infantry regiments. The two federal
arsenals, in the city, while satisfying the needs of local military organizations,
were ordered to supply equipment to Couch's command and state militia being
raised in Pittsburgh. 34 By Thursday the 18th, it appeared that the
city would have no problem raising its 7, 718 man quota. 35
In every quarter of the city, during yesterday, the greatest activity
in military matters prevailed. Drums and fifes could be heard in almost
every direction . . . Large companies of men could be seen marching in
every direction, at the tap of the drum, and there appeared to be the greatest
enthusiasm pervading the entire community. The recruiting was lively, and
large accessions were made to the ranks of the various regiments. 36
This initial outburst of enthusiasm, on the part of Philadelphia's residents
would, however, wane as the month of June wore on and Lee's forces moved
deeper into the state. The blame for this sudden reversal of popular support
rests squarely upon the shoulders of one man, Secretary of War Edwin M.
Stanton. It was a fairly simple thing, really. Stanton had informed the
governors of the states and the effected military commanders in the region
that no militia could be mustered into the service of the United States
unless it was for a period of 6 months or until the end of the present
emergency. 37 The problem was, that federal officials were to decide
when the emergency was over. Any troops that did not muster in under these
circumstances would not be accepted into Federal service and the state
would not be compensated for their pay or equipage. By the 25th of June
enlistments had dwindled to a trickle. One Regiment of Philadelphia volunteers
had been left cooling their heels in Harrisburg from the 18th to the 26th
of June because they had refused to sign-up under those terms. 38
Large groups of men just went home rather then being forced to serve after
the Rebels had been driven from the state. 39 Newspapers were inundated
with letters from men perfectly willing to see the invaders driven from
their home state but unwilling to serve at the whim of the Federal Government.
A member of Philadelphia's militia wrote to the Inquirer.
We are not mustered into the service of the United States but still
remain outside of Harrisburg in our original position. The determination
of the authorities not to accept us as State militia for thirty, sixty
or ninety days, has placed a large number of gentlemen in a situation at
once humiliating and embarrassing . . . leaving on twenty-four hours notice,
little could be done before starting, but their loyalty and patriotism,
and love of state, were stronger than any selfish considerations . . .others
left situations, responsible and important ones whose employers gave leave
of absence for a short time, with positive instructions not to be mustered
in . . . Six month, the emergency, or go home are the only terms. 40
By Friday the 26th, the situation had become desperate and an embarrassment
to the city. Both George Fahnestock and S. G. Fisher were amazed at the
number of men idling in the streets while the threat of invasion was imminent.41
The fact that most of the city's businesses had closed along with government's
inability to properly utilize its manpower seems to have been lost to these
The loyalty of Philadelphia to the cause of the preservation of the
Union cannot be questioned. By the summer of 1863 over 30,000 men had volunteered
for military duty, by the end of the war that number had reached almost
100,000.42 On June 30th 1863, just two days before the battle
of Gettysburg, there were 54 regiments and artillery batteries, in the
Army of the Potomac, with a respectable percentage of their men from the
city. 43 Many of the males still residing in Philadelphia in 1863
were supporting their own household's as well as those of family's and
friends then in the service. What also seems to have been ignored was that
many of the men not in the service were employed either shipping or manufacturing
material and their loss for up to six months would have been a serious
blow to the war effort.44
The bulk of R. E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia entered Chambersburg
on the 27th of June, 1863. At the same time a force of Rebels under the
command of General Richard Ewell was threatening Harrisburg. Governor Andrew
Curtin, seeing the absurdity and the desperation of the situation, proclaimed
on the 26th that Pennsylvania would, from that point on, accept volunteers
for 90 days, "but will be required to serve only so much of the period
of muster as the safety of our people and the honor of our State may require."
45 It has been estimated that from the first notification of the
invasion until Curtin's second call for militia that only 3,500 Philadelphians
had volunteered for duty under federal guidelines. 46 Dating from
June 26th until July 13th almost 7000 men were organized and sent to the
defense of Harrisburg.
Curtin's call for state militia coincided with a growing fear, throughout
the city and government, that Philadelphia was in imminent peril of attack.
While the Army of Northern Virginia was marching north through Hagerstown
Maryland, several confederate officers were overheard claiming they were
going to Philadelphia.47 In his diary, Philadelphian Lewis
In town yesterday [the 29th] and today, returning in the afternoon.
Dreadful excitement in the community and fear of the advance of Lees army
on Philadelphia. The banks and other institutions preparing to send off
The day before this entry his wife Mary commented.
We find that Lee's army is within 4 miles of Harrisburg with every
prospect of advancing on Phila. The call for troops is most urgent. The
only hope for us is that there will be a resolved stand made at Harrisburg
. . . Great is the alarm in Phila: people are trying to get away . . .49
It seems that even the Secretary of War was worried about the safety of
the city. On June 29th, he sent this telegram to the officer in Charge
of Philadelphia, General Dana.
It is very important that machinery for manufacturing arms should
not fall into the hands of the enemy . . . In case of imminent danger to
the works of Alfred Jenks & Son, of Philadelphia, who are manufacturing
arms for the Government, you are authorized and directed to impress steam
tugs, barges, or any description of vessel to remove the gun-manufacturing
machines from beyond the reach of the enemy.50
Unbeknownst to many, the Army of the Potomac, now under the command of
Philadelphia native George Gordon Meade, had collided with Lee's forces
just west of Gettysburg Pa., on the morning of July 1st. Governor Curtin,
still unsatisfied with the city's response to the crisis took the initiative
early that same afternoon and proceeded by special train to Philadelphia.
That evening, from a balcony of the Continental Hotel, he made what some
considered the most stirring speech of the War.51 Perhaps it
was just a fortunate coincidence but within twenty four hours of Curtin's
impromptu address the quota for the city' militia had been raised, by the
following week it had been surpassed as the state's forces aided in the
pursuit of the defeated Confederate army. 52
It would be hard to underestimate the vital role played by Philadelphia's
Union League during the spring and summer of 1863. Upon receiving the Governor's
call for state militia, the League went about the business of forming not
one regiment but three, two of which were mustered into service on July
1st. It was also in this time period that the League was the lynch pin
in the recruiting of and organizing of Black troops for the federal service.
53 George Fahnestock summed the attitude of the city in his diary
entry dated July 1st 1863.
Nothing but drum and fife is heard, and companies are forming and
marching in every direction. The Union League expects to raise an entire
battalion of three regiments, and provide handsomely for their families.
The people are aroused at last, and I hope it may not be too late. Their
seems to be no end to the number of military organizations in progress
in the city.54
And what of Philadelphia's Democratic party during this time of turmoil?
Henry Benners, summed up how the majority of people felt about the Democracy
after Curtin's speech of July 1st. "Curtin addresses the people at the
Continental Hotel. Only one party now." 55 In the days and weeks
leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the Democratic party contributed
little to the city's efforts at self defense. The Daily Age, spent
the better part of two weeks focusing on the Democratic state convention
which had convened on the 16th of June. The invasion of the state by Rebel
forces seemed to be a minor concern.
The Democratic State Convention assembled in the State Capitol at
Harrisburg, yesterday morning at 10 o'clock. The proceedings, as far as
they have been received, will be found in our columns today; and it will
be seen that the greatest harmony and good feeling prevailed among the
delegates. The Convention was full; and the presence of so large a number
of delegates in the midst of the excitement existing on account of the
threatened invasion of our State, is an indication of the intense interest
manifested by the Democratic masses. 56
The paper printed calls for volunteers on two occasions then proceeded
to ignore the subject for the remainder of the invasion. Most of the Age's
editorials repeatedly blamed Republican officials for the current state
of affairs.57 Party leader William Reed was said to have publicly
expressed his hopes for a Confederate victory. 58 The nomination
of George Woodward as gubernatorial candidate was a move of questionable
political value. His hard line stance towards the South, its institution
of chattel slavery and against the Federal administration was sure to alienate
moderate Democrats who were supporting the war.59 Charles Ingersoll
made his party's position clear, "the people should vote Democratic if
they wanted the war ended." 60 Ingersoll and his associates failed
to realize that the invasion of their home state had alienated the majority
of Philadelphian's towards the ideals of the Democracy. They would now
support the war effort until the South was defeated and forced to return
to the Union. The lack of enthusiasm displayed by Philadelphia's Democratic
party during the invasion of 1863 would come back to haunt them in the
elections of 1863, 1864 and beyond.
One of the first military organizations to respond to the governments
plea for men was a company of Negro men raised in the city of Philadelphia.
Octavious Catto, a spokesman and activist in Philadelphia's Black community,
organized a company of 100 men soon after Governor Curtin's first call
for volunteers. After electing white officers and receiving arms from one
of the city arsenals, the men marched to a waiting train and set off with
one of the first groups of militia raised in Philadelphia. Once in Harrisburg,
General Couch, who was proving to be a stickler for details, refused to
accept the detachment on the grounds that he was unable to muster in Black
troops for any less than the federally mandated 3-years. Considering his
refusal to accept white militia on anything other than government terms,
his actions are not surprising and should not be taken out of context.
Since the onset of hostilities there had been a reluctance on the part
of Philadelphians to accept the idea of Negro troops. Frederick Douglas
had remarked on the city's inhospitable attitude towards Blacks in 1862,
"There is not perhaps anywhere to be found a city in which prejudice against
color is more rampant than in Philadelphia."62 The strong bias
apparently exhibited by the white population of the city was, no doubt,
fostered by the racist attitudes of Philadelphia's social and economic
leaders, many of whom, coincidentally were members of the Democratic party.
The Confederate invasion into Pennsylvania seemed to alter the negative
attitudes of many to the idea of Negro troops. On June 30th, as Black recruits
marched through the streets of Philadelphia on their way to Camp William
Penn, George Fahnestock made this observation
I saw several hundred colored men in procession march up sixth to
Chestnut, and up Chestnut St. They were not uniformed nor armed, but they
were a good looking body of men. 63
Earlier that same month Fahnestock, upon hearing of the bravery exhibited
by Black troops in an attack against Confederate forces, commented,
Negro regiments are mentioned in the engagement at Port Hudson, as
having fought desperately. I only wish we had two hundred thousand in our
army to save the valuable lives of our white men.64
With Lee's forces crossing the Pennsylvania border it must have become
apparent that the
defeat of the Confederacy could only be accomplished by gathering all
the forces that the Union could muster. 65 Except for the incessant
grumbling of the Democrats and their mouthpiece the Age, there seems
to have been little dispute over the utilization of Black troops in the
war against the South. 66
The time has come when the Republic can forego the services of no
one able to carry a musket, and willing to fight the good fight against
anarchy and barbarism. . .as long as it was considered doubtful, even by
dispassionate men, whether the Negro could be trusted to stand fire, there
was a natural hesitation . . .of calling upon our colored population to
take part in the struggle in which their race is so deeply interested.
This hesitation can exist no longer . . . The valor of the colored race
has been attested at Port Hudson, at Milliken's Bend, and Pocotaligo. Besides
this, we have evidence that Negro soldiers are thoroughly amenable to discipline.
. . All the objection are thus removed, and the sooner we put in the field
an active force of colored troops the better.67
Just two days after the return of Catto's company of militia, they were
notified that a regiment of Blacks would be raised and mustered into the
service of the United States. By July 24, 1863 a full regiment had been
raised, outside of Philadelphia at Camp William Penn, and recruiting for
a second regiment was proceeding. The spark that had initiated the acceptance
of Black soldiers was the invasion of Lee's army in 1863.
On July 2nd 1863, citizens of Philadelphia awoke to discover that the
Army of the Potomac had finally come to grips with Lee's forces at a little
crossroads town in southeastern Pennsylvania. The battle of Gettysburg
had begun. As the fighting intensified, news of the struggle began to filter
into the city. The death of Pennsylvanian, Major General John Fulton Reynolds,
was reported in one of the first dispatches from the field. Ironically,
just a few days prior to the battle, the Philadelphia Inquirer had
printed a highly complimentary profile of the native of Lancaster.
Possessed of administrative abilities seldom accorded to the many;
ever cool, calm and collected upon the battlefield, brave and active, at
such times ever at the head of his command, now the First Corps de Armee,
with all the intrepidity and dash of KEARNEY, but with more prudence. These
with other excellent qualities, have acquired for him a glorious name,
second to none in the army. 68
Shot from his saddle while leading his men into the opening phase of the
battle his body was taken to Baltimore where it was placed on a train bound
for Philadelphia. Upon arriving in the city his aides took the body to
his sister's residence located at 1829 Spruce Street, where the general
lay in state until transportation could be arranged to his hometown, where
John Reynolds was interred on July 4, 1863. Philadelphia had seen its first
household in mourning due to the Battle of Gettysburg. It would be far
from the last.
On July 2nd and 3rd, the city remained a beehive of activity as droves
of men enlisted, under Governor Curtin's terms, to defend their homes.
Onlookers jammed the streets to witness the spectacle and perhaps discover
the latest news from the front. The population had been aroused to the
danger and thanks to their governor, were now able to oppose it in acceptable
terms. As quickly as companies and regiments were formed, they were rushed
off by train to Harrisburg. General Dana and Mayor Alexander Henry, with
a labor force of over 700 men, went about the business of fortifying the
city. Veterans from the War of 1812 drilled in the shadow of Independence
Hall. Businesses and factories, many of which had been operating for only
a half day during the crisis shut down completely. The city stock exchange,
obviously effected by the invasion, took on the air of a recruiting center.
The past week has been one of unprecedented excitement among the mercantile
community, and business in many departments has been suspended. The counting
houses have generally been closed after two o'clock and the merchants are
busy enrolling and equipping troops for the defense of the state and city.
Today there was a feeling of painful suspense in relation to the battle
of Gettysburg, and trade was brought to a stand. 69
For now, all eyes were glued to the Army of the Potomac as it remained
in its death grasp with the Army of Northern Virginia amongst the rolling
hills of the Pennsylvania countryside.
It somehow seems fitting that the first news of Philadelphian George
Meade's victory over the Army of Northern Virginia was received on the
87th birthday of the United States of America, July 4, 1863. That year's
July Fourth, unlike the many that had passed before it, was not celebrated
with the parties and extravaganzas associated with the anniversary of the
signing of the Declaration of Independence. That Saturday morning had dawned
warm and humid. The city's streets, which under normal circumstances would
have been jammed with residents preparing for a variety of festivities,
were the scene of a city going about the grim business of war. Parades
and speech making had been replaced by the roll of the recruiter’s drum
and haranguing of officers organizing their units. Church bells rang throughout
the city calling congregations to prayer for the salvation of their city,
state and nation. 70
The public celebrations announced to take place on the Fourth having
been dispensed with, the day passed off in a very ordinary manner. Beyond
the ringing of the bells of the morning, the firing of salutes and the
discharge of firearms and fireworks there was not anything to mark the
day . . . At noon, General Meade's official dispatch in relation to the
battle on Friday was issued in extras, and occasioned much enthusiasm.
Crowds would surround the fortunate possessor of a paper, and the reading
aloud of the dispatch was received with cheers. The whole character of
the celebration of the day changed and the hillarity was commensurate with
the previous anxiety. 71
News of the Army of the Potomac's spectacular victory settled the question
once and for all that Philadelphia was indeed a "Union City." There would
be no doubt that the War would be supported fully until it had been brought
to its proper conclusion, the reunification of the country and the death
of chattel slavery. The people grasped the military triumph as if it were
their own. Henry Benners, exclaimed in his diary.
News glorious, Rebels whipped at all points, Gen'l Armistead, and
8,000 prisoners captured, president announces this, and says it is a decided
Impromptu celebrations erupted throughout the city. A fireworks display
was ignited in front of the St. Louis Hotel on Chestnut Street. Many fire
companies paraded up and down the streets. Crowds of people thronged to
Independence Square to be a part of the spectacle as well as listen to
the latest bulletins. At 9 p.m., an unknown gentleman announced to a cheering
crowd, from a balcony of the Continental Hotel, that Governor Curtin had
sent a dispatch claiming that a huge number of prisoners had been captured
and that Lee's forces were on the run. 73 Later on that evening,
the membership of the Union League, along with a crowd of well wishers
and a band, marched to Pine Street to serenade the wife of the victorious
commanding general, Mrs. George Gordon Meade.
The band performed the Star Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, and other
national airs, and just as Yankee Doodle died away, Mayor Henry and Morton
McMichael appeared upon the steps of Mrs. Meade's residence, and formally
presented her the congratulations and good wishes of the citizens of Philadelphia.
They were greeted by loud and enthusiastic cheering. Mrs. Meade then very
briefly acknowledged the courtesy and retired amid deafening applause and
cheers for herself and her husband the victor of Gettysburg. 74
Even as the citizenry reveled in their salvation, courtesy of the Army
of the Potomac, incoming trains began to arrive, filled with wounded. On
July 4th, 500 men, including Norristown native Major General Winfield Scott
Hancock, were the first of 10,000 casualties from the battle of Gettysburg
that would be treated and hospitalized in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia
had responded vigorously when it was called upon by its Governor. It had
temporarily put aside its racial bias in the hopes of ultimate victory.
Now, it would be called upon to succor and tend to the needs of the men
who had defended its people.
The invasion of 1863 had given the citizens of Philadelphia a chance
to reaffirm their loyalty to a government that had been born in their city.
Their actions during the rest of the War would clearly demonstrate their
support of President Abraham Lincoln's efforts to reunite the nation.
1. Philip Shaw Paludin, A People’s Contest: The Union
and the Civil War (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), p. 100. Erwin
Bradley, The Triumph of Militant Republicanism: A Study of Pennsylvanian
and Presidential Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1964), p. 157-58.
2. Members of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party
often referred to their organization as the Democracy
3. Russell Weigley, “A Peaceful City: Public
Order in Philadelphia from Consolidation Through the Civil War,” in The
Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower Class Life,
1790-1940, ed. Allen F. Davis and Mark Haller (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1973), p. 165.
4. Stanton Ling Davis, “Pennsylvania
Politics, 1860-1863,” (Ph.D. diss, Western Reserve University, 1935), p.
5. Fahnstock, George W., Diary, Historical
Society of Pennsylvania, May 8, 1863.
6. Edwin Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign:
A Study in Command (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1968), p. 6.
7. Coddington, Gettysburg Campaign, p.9.
8. Fahnestock Diary, May 22, 1863.
9. Irwin Greenberg, "Charles Ingersoll: The
Aristocrat as a Copperhead,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,
10. William Dusinberre, Civil War Issue
in Philadelphia, 1861-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania,
1965), p. 159-160.
11. Greenberg, “Charles Ingersoll,” p. 190.
12. Nicholas A. Wainwright, “Loyal Opposition
in Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,
13. Greenberg, “Charles Ingersoll,” p. 215.
14. Nicholas B. Wainwright, ed., A Philadelphia
Perspecitve: The Diary of Sidney George Fisher Covering the Years 1834-1871,
June 1, 1863. Hereafter cited as Fisher Diary.
15. Fahnestock Diary, June 4, 1863.
16. Weigley, “Peaceful City,” p. 166-67.
17. Fisher Diary, June 1, 1863.
18. John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott,
History of Philadelphia: 1609-1884 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1884)
19. Coddington, Gettysburg Campaign,
20. Patricia L. Faust, ed., Encyclopedia
of the Civil War (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 737.
21. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation
of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 parts
in 70 Vols and atlas, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officie, 1880-1901).
XXVII, part 3, p. 113. Hereafter cited as O.R. All references
are to Series I.
22. O.R., XXVII, part 3, p. 137.
23. O.R., XXVII, part 3, p. 145.
24. Fahnestock Diary, June 15, 1863.
25. Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the
Civil War: 1861-1865 (Philadelphia: The City of Philadelphia, 1913),
26. Fahnestock Diary, June 16, 1863.
27. Philadelphia Inquirer, June 16,
28. Henry Benners, Diary. Historical
Society of Pennsylvania, June 16, 1863.
29. The Daily Age (Philadelphia),
June 16, 1863.
30. Philadelphia Public Ledger, June 16,
31. Inquirer, June 16, 1863.
32. Maxwell Whiteman, Gentlemen in Crisis:
The First Century of the Union League of Philadelphia, 1862-1962 (Philadelphia,
1975), p. 43.
33. Fahnestock Diary, June 17, 1863; Age, June
17, 1863; Public Ledger, June 26, 1863; Gallman, Mastering Wartime,
34. O.R. XXVII, part 3, p. 132-134; Inquirer,
June 30, 1863.
35. Public Ledger,
June 18, 1863.
36. Inquirer, June 18, 1863
37. O.R. XXVII, part 3, p. 141.
38. Taylor, Philadelphia and the Civil
War, p. 249.
39. Public Ledger, June 19, 1863.
40. Inquirer, June 29, 1863
41. Fahnestock Diary, June 27, 1863;
Fisher Diary, June 29, 1863.
42. J. Matthew Gallman, Mastering Wartime:
A Social History of Philadelphia during the Civil War (New York: Cambridge
University, 1990), p. 35.
43. Edmund J. Raus, A Generation on the
March: The Union Army at Gettysburg (Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, 1987),
44. Taylor, Philadelphia and the Civil
War, p. 244.
45. O.R. XXVII, part 3, p. 347-348.
46. Taylor, Philadelphia and the Civil
War, p. 242.
47. O.R. XXVII, part 1, p. 65.
48. Lewis Ashurst, Diary, Historical Society
of Pennsylvania, June 30, 1863.
49. Mary Ashurst, Diary, Historical Society
of Pennsylvania, June 29, 1863.
50. O.R. XXVII, part 3, p. 408.
51. Whiteman, Gentlemen in Crisis,
52. Taylor, Philadelphia and the Civil
War, p. 247-51.
53. Taylor, Philadelphia and the Civil
War, p. 247-51.
54. Fahnestock Diary, July 1, 1863.
55. Benners, Diary, July 1, 1863.
56. Age, June 18, 1863.
57. Age, June 16, 17, 18, 20, 25,
58. Arnold Shankman, “William B. Reed and
the Civil War,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
98 (1972), p. 466.
59. Dusinberre, Civil War Issues,
60. Greenberg, “Charles Ingersoll,” p. 197.
61. James M. Paradis, “Strike the Blow: Study
of the Sixth Regiment of United States Colored Infantry”
(Ph. D. diss., Temple University, 1995), p. 16-17.
62. Paradis, “Strike the Blow,” p. 12.
63. Fahnestock Diary, June 30, 1863.
64. Fahnestock Diary, June 6, 1863.
65. Paradis, “Strike the Blow,” p. 16.
66. Public Ledger, July 4, 1863.
67. Inquirer, June 26, 1863.
68. Inquirer, June 29, 1863.
69. Inquirer, July 3, 1863
70. Public Ledger, July 6, 1863.
71. Public Ledger, July 4, 1863.
72. Benners, Diary, July 4, 1863.
73. Public Ledger, July 6, 1863.
74. Inquirer, July 6, 1863