Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 12
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1963 Volume 12 Number 3, Pages 46–58
Chester County and the Civil War
If we consider the Civil War in the perspective of Bruce Catton's observation that "without slavery, the problems between the various sections (of the United States) could have been worked out probably by the ordinary give-and- take of politics; with slavery, they became insoluble," Chester County and Chester Countians were involved in events and activities related to the Civil War long before 1861 and the period whose centennial we are now commemorating.
For many years the Society of Friends had strongly protested against "the traffick of men body", as slavery was described by the Germantown Meeting in 1668, and many County residents were active in the organization and affairs of abolitionist groups. One of the first of these was the "Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Abolition, the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race", established in Philadelphia in 1780. (With a name like that, its objectives could hardly have been more imposing!) In their History of Chester County, Cope and Futhey list eighty-eight sometime residents of Chester County who were active members of this Society in the first thirty-six years after its reorganization in 1784. The list includes many of Chester County's more prominent citizens of the period.
One of them was Enoch Lewis, who was born in Radnor in 1776 when it was still a part of Chester County and who on two separate occasions taught mathematics at Westtown School and for many years lived in New Garden. Beginning in 1827 he was also the editor of a publication called The African Observer. In his editorial columns he proposed that the national government set up a fund to pay for and free all slaves at an appraised value, the money to be apportioned among the various states for this purpose on the basis of the value of their slave property.
Lewis estimated that such a program would cost from eight to ten hundred million dollars, and that "the great evil, which so darkens the prospects of our republic, could not be destroyed more easily, or at less cost." Had his proposition been adopted, our program tonight might perhaps have been nonexistent; in any event, as Cope observed, "The wisdom of the proposition, it is unnecessary to say, has been fully provided by the events which have since occurred."
In addition to this "Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Abolition," abolition societies were formed within Chester County. James Fulton, a well-known whig and leader from East Fallowfield Township, was a leader in organizing the East Fallowfield Society, which held its first meeting in August, 1835, in Taylor's schoolhouse near Newlin's Mills. An Anti-slavery Society of Chester County was also formed; Elijah F. Pennypacker of Phoenixville was an early president of it, as well as being president of the state society at one time.
Among the more prominent national figures who attended and spoke at abolitionist meetings in West Chester or elsewhere in Chester County during this period were William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Mrs. Lucretia Mott.
A whole evening's program and other papers could be devoted to the part played in Chester County in the success of the Underground Railway. The homes of many leading citizens were "stations" on this freedom road for slaves heading from the south to Canada. Dr. Robert Smedley, in his studies of the Underground Railroad, has traced several major routes by which the fugitives traversed the county.*
From the mid-1820's, Chester County was represented in the United States Congress by men of anti-slavery views in all but four years. This is not to suggest, however, that on the eve of the Civil War Chester County was unanimous in its Whig, Republican, or abolitionist views. Some indication of the opposing viewpoint can be found in editorials from the Jeffersonian, the lone Democratic newspaper (of four) in West Chester at this time.
"The people are thoroughly sick of the incessant negro agitation," the editorial columns in April, 1854, for example, proclaimed, "and were it not for the political aspirants and office seekers for places of profit by playing the harlequin to other men's consciences, we should have less of it."
Or, in another editorial in October, 1859, it was stated that the abolitionists "taught the blackest treason year after year in the very streets and assembly rooms of West Chester. They have denounced the purest patriots that ever lived, from the immortal Washington down."
In the election of 1860, though, Lincoln and Hamlin carried Chester County with 7,732 ballots to 5,022 for Breckenridge. The national events following the election of Honest Abe, the Railsplitter, are well known. In December, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed soon by other southern states. In January the "Star of the West", attempting to resupply Fort Sumter, was fired on and driven off. In April Fort Sumter itself was bombarded; it capitulated the next day. Three days later President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militiamen for three months' service. The country, and Chester County, would soon be at war.
The raising of the Union armies at the start of the Civil War was done in a manner quite different from that used today. After the President had issued his call for troops, quotas were assigned to each state. The state governor would then issue a proclamation asking for volunteers and specifying the details of organization, the time and place to which to report. Local citizens would respond by raising companies, which elected their officers and proceeded to the designated state camp. At the camp, the troops were then formed into regiments provided with regular officers,and turned over to the federal government for the period for which they had volunteered.
Posters and advertisements in the local newspapers proclaimed "RECRUITS WANTED" and "RALLY TO THE FLAG", "CHARGE! CHESTER! CHARGE!" and "RIFLEMEN, RALLY! DEFEND YOUR COUNTRY & FLAG" as local citizens organized companies of volunteers. Within ten days of the President's call for volunteers, four companies of militiamen were recruited at West Chester.
A training camp was also established in West Chester, to which the Ninth Regiment was sent early in May. As the Village Record of May 4, 1861, commented on the new camp: "Several gentlemen from West Chester visited Harrisburg... and ascertained that a camp would be located in Chester County. The Managers of the Agricultural Society offered the fair ground and buildings to the Government for this purpose, and it was understood that the offer was accepted, and one or two regiments would be sent here at an early day. The shedding of the fair grounds was fitted up on Wednesday and Thursday, a large number of mechanics and laborers volunteering for that purpose. The farmers of the vicinity volunteered to bring in a sufficient quantity of hay and straw for the troops to lie upon; and the troops will be made as comfortable as camp life will allow."
Some $20,000 was expended altogether in preparing the camp site, which was located at the northwest corner of what is now Church Street and Rosedale Avenue. The camp was named Camp Wayne, after General Anthony Wayne, the hero of Brandywine, Paoli, and Stony Point, though there were some who advocated calling it Camp Hickman, to honor John Hickman, of Pocopson Township, the county's representative in Congress since the election of 1854. His antislavery course, after a break with the Democratic party, brought him so prominently before the nation that he was a leading candidate for the Vice-Presidency when Lincoln was nominated for President in Chicago in 1860.
No sooner had Camp Wayne been organized than critics from other areas expressed dissatisfaction with its location and pointed out that it was considered valueless as a strategic point by military men. Other advantages for the site, pointed out by the local press, however, included its nearly level terrain with good drainage, its heavy sward (as opposed to other camps that had recently been ploughed), its fifteen-acre size, its shade as accommodations for the officers and men, its good water from two wells (which later proved inadequate), and the exhibition hall that served as a hospital for the sick.
The Ninth Regiment, with about 800 troops, including three Chester County companies, arrived on May 4, 1861. Since the grounds at Camp Wayne were not fully fitted for the reception of troops, though, the men were temporarily quartered in the Court House, at the depot, and in Horticultural Hall.
An idea of the reception given the troops arriving at Camp Wayne is shown by this item from the Village Record:
"(The Sumner Rifles) paraded through our streets, keeping time to the music of a violin. They were much admired, and crowds followed them, cheering lustily. They are great favorites with the ladies."
Or perhaps this insertion in the Village Record by the Latrobe Light Guards, of the 11th Regiment, which arrived a few days later, gives an even better picture of West Chester's feeling about the troops:
"Resolved, that we tender our sincere thanks to the citizens of West Chester and vicinity for the courtesy and attention which has at all times been shown to us since our sojurn among them. Their hospitality has been boundless – everything the tenderest heart could suggest, has been done for our comfort and our welfare, and we assure them that we not only appreciate their kindness, but that it shall ever find a grateful place in our memory."
A similar resolution some months later, inserted by Company C of the 97th Regiment, P. V., was more specific:
"Resolved, that we tender our sincere thanks to the Ladies of East Goshen for the elegant repast so kindly provided by them" ...it stated in part. Our culinary skills apparently long antedated the Chester County Cook Book!
What sort of men were these volunteers? The Village Record reported:
"A high spirit of courage and patriotism animates the volunteers at Camp Wayne. Men of wealth, position, science and mechanical skill are among the volunteers. They have not been forced into service; but with lofty sentiments of duty have rushed forth to support the honor of the flag. All these men want to make the best soldiers in the world, is a few weeks of wise and judicious instruction from officers who are not only competent but untiring in drilling them."
And, while camp life at first may have been rather monotonous to some of the soldiers, Camp Wayne soon became a "Camp of Instruction", one trainee reporting that "from the early roll of the dawn in the morning until the setting of the sun, there is one continuous drill."
The General Orders give some idea of the daily schedule. Reveille and roll call were held at 6 A.M., with breakfast at 6.45. Morning reports were filed at 7.15, followed by company drill from 7.30 to 8.45. At 9 o'clock guard mount was held, with more company drill, during which "captains will sedulously devote their time to instructing their respective commands in the school of the soldier and company", from 10.00
to 11.45. Dinner was served at noon, with regimental drill from 1.30 to 3.30. Drummers' call and roll call were held at 4.00, retreat at 4.30, and supper at 5.00 p.m. Tattoo and roll call were scheduled for 9.00 p.m., with the day ended by three taps on the drum at 9.30.
Yet life at Camp Wayne also had its amusements. "During the leisure hours," a contemporary report stated, "playing, singing, jokes, and individual characteristics may be seen in every quarter – leap frog, corner ball, gymnastic exercises, dancing, tussling – singing hymns, playing at all fours, forming the wide contrast."
A side light on this aspect of the volunteers' activities is found in the names which they gave their individual huts or encampments - some sentimental, some patriotic, many with a broad humor: Private's Nest, Dental Office, American Heroes, Abode of Innocence, 71,000 Coffins Wanted for Jeff Davis, Sojer's Den, Harriet Lane, and Sweet Sally's Home are a few examples. Others included Jeff Davis Terror, The Seven Good Boys, The Home of the Righteous, The Quaker Boys, Hornet's Nest, Ladies Guard, and, for some reason, Peaches and Cream, for a few more.
"The camp," another report stated, "is an attractive place at night, fires are made of straw and blazing logs, around which the soldiers cluster and sing negro-songs, sometimes accompanied by the fifer or by a banjo, which some erstwhile celebrity in the burnt-cork business has brought with him."
It would appear the troops ate well – if we overlook the possible shortcomings of the mess sergeant. A week's rations for 1,480 men included 1,330 pounds of bread, 8,220 pounds of beef, 770 pounds of ham, 2,800 pounds of pickled pork, 1,410 pounds of sugar, 650 pounds of coffee, 364 pounds of salt, 1,057 pounds of rice, 60 pounds of pepper, 30 gallons of vinegar, 24 bushels of beans, and 75 bushels of potatoes, plus 450 pounds of soap and 132 pounds of candles.
The 9th and 11th regiments were at Camp Wayne for about a month, and the camp was occupied off and on by various units throughout the balance of 1861. Governor Curtin was a visitor at the camp on July 4th of that year.
On January 18, 1862, the Village Record reported:"The attempt to set fire to Camp Wayne and the fear that it will be burnt down by the enemies of the government has induced Governor Curtin to order it taken down. The work of demolition will be at once commenced." Four months later it was reported that the lumber from the camp had been sold. Yet there are references to the camp at West Chester in July, 1862, and to Camp Wayne as a training site for drafted soldiers in October of that year.
While in the early months of the war there were many volunteers, when it appeared that the war would last for a longer time than originally anticipated, enthusiasm lessened. Soon the posters and advertisements offered bounties: " $25- BOUNTY - IN ADVANCE", "MEN TO THE RESCUE---$150 BOUNTY! AND $15 PAY IN ADVANCE", "CAVALRY! CAVALRY! $100 BOUNTY", or "RECRUITS WANTED – PAY $13 PER MONTH, FOOD AND CLOTHING FOUND, and $100 BOUNTY". (In 1864, in a meeting in Horticulture Hall, the Chester County Convention to Promote Volunteering recommended a $400 bounty!)
By the Fall of 1862 it was necessary to resort to a draft to fill quotas from Chester County. In the library of the Society are the original books listing the persons in the county eligible for the draft. The names are listed by township, in alphabetical order, followed by the age, occupation, and space for a record of military service and remarks. Some of the remarks are quite illuminating. Of course, notation is made of any physical disabilities: "strained back" "toes all off one foot" "hard of hearing" and so forth. But what pictures remarks such as these evoke: "very small"; "claims to be a mail contractor"; "claims to live in Delaware County"; "delicate young man"; "good soldier, ought to go"; " would make a good soldier, left western Virginia to escape the draft and tried hard to escape enrollment here"; or finally, "but Bible evidently altered – not more than 40"!
The first draft of soldiers in Chester County took place on October 16, 1862, William McCormiok, the commissioner being blindfolded and drawing the names. A total of 1,159 men were drafted, with Henry Benner, of North Coventry Township, the first drafted militiaman in the county. Service could be avoided by providing a substitute, or by paying a commutation of $300.
Perhaps the best comment on the draft is a note in the front of one of the draft books for Chester County; apparently made, shortly after the completion of the draft, by one of the officials who had been in charge, "The operation of the draft in this book," the note reads, "belongs now to history – nobody cares a dam for it – the draft I mean – not the history."
A second army camp was almost established in Chester County. In the early summer of 1863 a Captain Elder came to West Chester to select a site for an encampment to be used as an enlisting point for colored troops. The camp, located near what is now Westtown, at Oakdale Station on the West Chester and Philadelphia Railway, was later named Camp Elder, though it was never used for its original purpose.
Following the battle of Gettysburg it became a camp for Union soldiers captured at Gettysburg, but paroled back to the Union army under a pledge not to take up arms against the Confederacy until properly exchanged. Some 2,000 men were sent to Camp Elder, where they worked on neighboring farms or in the camp for about three months, pending the formal exchange. After the exchange was completed, they were rearmed and reassigned to units at the front.
Nearby residents reported that they thought their arrival was an invasion by the "Johnnies" until it was observed that they were unarmed. Confederate troops never did reach Chester County, but the threat of invasion, or at least of raiding parties, was always present, especially since the DuPont mills just a few miles to the south along the Brandywine Creek were producing some four million pounds of black powder for the Union armies, or almost half of the total used during the war.
The fear of invasion, of course, reached its height with General Lee's advance into Pennsylvania culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg. As a precautionary measure, the president of the Octoraro Bank at Oxford, Samuel Dickey, had a special railroad train standing by on a siding to take the gold and silver from the bank's vault for safekeeping to Philadelphia or even further should the Confederate army advance into this area.
Altogether it is estimated that some 6,500 men from Chester County, including 500 Negro troops, served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
The Ninety-Seventh Regiment, recruited at Camp Wayne in the late summer of 1861 by Colonel Henry R. Guss, was perhaps the largest concentration of Chester County troops in one unit, seven of its ten companies being recruited in the county. Included in the 97th Regiment were the Guss Fencibles, recruited from the Phoenixville area by Galusha Pennypacker; the Chester County Grays (uniforms of blue for the Union Army and gray for the Confederate troops were not yet standard), recruited by William B. McCoy from
the Parkesburg-Kennet area; the Paoli Guards, recruited by Isaiah Price from Paoli-Chester Valley region; the Mulligan Guards, recruited by Irish-born, naturalized William McConnell largely from other Irish-born, naturalized citizens living in the county; the National Guards, recruited by De Witt Clinton Lewis of West Chester; the Greble Guards, raised from the Honey Brook- Conestoga Valley area by Charles Mc- Ilvaine; and the Wayne Guards, organized from various localities in the county by William Wayne of Easttown, a descendant of Mad Anthony of Revolutionary War fame.
Galusha Pennypacker, incidentally, who organized Company A or the Guss Fencibles, received five promotions within one year and was the youngest general officer in the Union army during the Civil War, being confirmed a brigadier-general and a brevet major-general at the age of 22. He was also wounded seven times in eight months in combat.
The record of the 97th Regiment was summed up in November, 1865, by Dr. Wilbur Worthington, one of West Chester's leading citizens and a State Senator:
"The services of the 97th Regiment, he said, "are a part of the history of the nation. It has endured privations and dangers which have covered both officers and men with distinguished honors. Amidst the malarial swamps of a southern climate they have shared the perils of disease ...," (he was a prominent physician , which may be why he mentioned this first, though two and a half times as many Union soldiers died from diseases as from battle wounds during the war)"... and on picket and skirmishing service, as well-as on the hard contested battle fields in general engagements, or storming the best constructed and ably defended forts of the enemy, it has never failed in duty."
But Chester Countians served in many outfits in all sections of our country. Letters from them, printed in the Village Record and in the files of the Society, chronicle their feelings as they traveled far from home, the wonders of new sights seen, their experiences in combat, their boredom in the waiting and routine that followed each engagement, from Bull Run and at Ball's Bluff, from Murfreesboro and New Bern, at the peach orchard at Shiloh and the wheat field at Gettysburg, at Antietam, around Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Richmond, and many obscure hamlets whose names became indelibly impressed in our history.
The contributions of Chester County to the Civil War were not confined to manpower alone; however from the mills along the Brandywine, such as those of Joseph Dean & Sons at Laurel, for example, came cloth and textiles used for tents, blankets, and uniforms.
In March, 1862, the Monitor and the Virginia (nee the Merrimac) fought at Hampton Roads. According to the Guide to the Keystone State, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and the University of Pennsylvania, the iron plate for the Monitor was fabricated at the Laurel Forge, about four miles south of Coatesville. Its ruins can still be traced. (In fairness, though, this is one of several places alleged to have been the site of the manufacture of the Monitor's plate. J. Stewart Huston, in an article entitled "Seven Score Years of Rolling Mill Progress", attributed it to the Coates Mills at Locust Point, Maryland. Since George W.P. Coates was a former clerk at the Brandywine Iron Works, the predecessor of Lukens Steel, and a nephew of Rebecca Lukens, though this would still be Chester County oriented.)
In the same article, incidentally, Mr. Huston pointed out that "although the Civil War brought business to the... Lukens Rolling Mill, the firm refused to manufacture any plate for war material." This stand, of course, was not based on any lack of patriotism, however; it "was purely living up to the principles of the Society of Friends, to which Dr. Huston and his wife, Isabella Lukens (Rebecca Lukens' daughter) belonged."
From the Phoenix Iron Company in Phoenixville came the Griffen gun, or Griffen cannon, as it is sometimes called. It is said that the first shots at Gettysburg were fired by Calef's Battery A, Second U.S. Artillery, from a Griffen gun. Some 1,400 of these guns were ordered from the Phoenix Iron Company at a cost of $300 to $350 each. The gun was perfected by John Griffen, superintendent of the Phoenix Iron Company from 1856 to 1862, and was named after him. Made of wrought iron, it was capable of firing a charge of six pounds of powder and six balls, as compared with a charge of two pounds of powder and one ball that was standard for the heavier bronze gun of the same calibre.
Mention should also be made of John Fritz, a native of Londonderry Township, and a pioneer in the development of the steel industry. The Civil War has been described as the first "railway" war, and the "three high roll system" which he developed while Superintendent (from 1854 to 1860) of what later became the Cambria Iron Works became a contrivance for the manufacture of railroad rails that has never been improved upon. At the start of the war he was the
superintendent of the Bethlehem Iron Works, and in 1864 he was drafted by the government to construct a rolling mill at Chattanooga, Tennessee, to remedy the damage done by Confederate raiders who tore and twisted rails on important lines of communication in the border region.
Meanwhile, the Jeffersonian continued its outspoken criticism of the Lincoln administration and the prosecution of the war, its sympathy for the South, and its open defiance to the North. For its stand, its offices were sacked and destroyed by a mob in August, 1861. The general feeling of the population was reflected in an editorial in the Village Record which reported on August 19th: "We are not surprised ... the plot is forming.. for uniting our State with the Southern Confederacy. It has its advocates in Chester County.. its presses, and its orators." Four days later, William Millward, the U. S. Marshal, closed what was left of the newspaper's office "upon authority of the President of the United States." Refusing to sign an abatement that he "believed the only way to put down the rebellion and restore the union is by war", John Hodgson, the editor, successfully brought suit before the U. S. Circuit Court in Philadelphia in early October to recover his property, and the seizure was voided. (In this action, incidentally, Hodgson and the Jeffersonian were represented by William B. Reed and George Biddle, Reed later being counsel for Jefferson Davis in his trial in Richmond in 1865).
Hodgson then instituted a suit against Millward, et al., for armed trespass, stating that the seizure had been illegal. In what the Court stated it considered a case of major constitutional importance because of its relation to the freedom of the press and the powers of the government in wartime, it awarded the verdict to Hodgson, with slightly over $500 damages. Throughout the remainder of the war the Jeffersonian continued its attacks on the war effort and President Lincoln personally.
But the Union side, too, had its Chester County spokesman. For many years, a part of every schoolboy's repertoire was "Sheridan's Ride", by Thomas Buchanan Read, of Corner Ketch:
"Hurrah! Hurrah for Sheridan! Hurrah! Hurrah for horse and man! And when their statues are placed on high, Under the dome of the Union sky, The American soldier's Temple of Fame, There, with the glorious general's name, Be it said in letters both bold and bright: Here is the steed that saved the day By carrying Sheridan into the fight, From Winchester – twenty miles away!"
It did much to stir enthusiasm and promote confidence in the Union army, and the Union cavalry in particular, at a time when popular support was most helpful.
Not long ago I also came across a poem by Kennett's Bayard Taylor (whose brother, Charles Frederick Taylor, incidentally, was a lieutenant colonel in the "Bucktail" or 42nd Regiment, and was killed at Gettysburg) in The Lincoln and Johnson Union Campaign Songster, for the re-election of President Lincoln in 1864. Its sarcastic references to the "Peace" planks of the Democrats reflected the determination to see the conflict through to a restoration of the Union.
But perhaps more basic to Northern morale was news from the front. The Civil War was the first in which the people at home were accurately informed of the progress of the war; it saw the development of the war correspondent and the emphasis on war news. One of these pioneer war correspondents was the Philadelphia Inquirer's Uriah Hunt Painter, a native of West Chester.
Painter was an enterprising newspaperman. By by-passing Washington to file his story, he was the first by 24 hours to report the Northern reverse at the first Battle of Bull Run. At Harper's Ferry, he actually entered the town in advance of the federal troops under Colonel Stone; Stone thereupon had him arrested, held in custody for twelve hours, and released with the admonition "not to get caught in the criminal act of being a correspondent" again, on pain of being hanged if he were found in Colonel Stone's lines again.
When Painter, based on interviews with stragglers and prisoners, reported after the battle of Chantilly that General Lee intended to invade Maryland, Secretary of State Seward accused him of treason and of abetting the Southern cause by spreading propaganda aimed at securing European recognition of the Confederacy. Only after the War Department sent out special scouts to check the information was Painter's report verified on the next day.
In many ways Chester Countians served the cause of the Union.
In summary, as Cope and Futhey reported it not long after the war was over and while the memories were still fresh: "The grand and noble history of this county in the memorable conflict of 1861-65 has an imperishable record, perpetuating the deeds of valor that attended its citizen soldiery through the fire of many battles unto brilliant victories and the final triumph of liberty, union, and peace."
And it was Bayard Taylor who wrote, in words as meaningful today as when he addressed them to the survivors of the war:
"This, soldiers, be your future fate: Your fame that longest shall endure, "Tis noble thus to save a State, But nobler still to keep it pure."
Appreciation is expressed to Bart Anderson, Dorothy Lapp, and others on the staff at the Chester County Historical Society, for their help in digging out from the files of the Society material for use in this talk. You'd be amazed at the amount of material available.
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