Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reading, PA Responds to the Emergency

In September of 1862, Louis Richards was a Private in the "5th Ward Guards" from Reading, PA.  Eventually his unit would be sworn into state service as Company G, 2nd Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  Writing some twenty years after the events of '62, Richards offers us a comical, if not somewhat innocent, view into the ranks of a "green" militia unit, as well as the excitement, patriotism, and fervor that was bubbling over in the streets of Reading, PA.

"The night was one of much activity and excitement.  Drilling was done in Penn Square to the inspiring accompaniment of fife and drum, which gave the town a decidedly warlike appearance.  This exercise was continued daily and nightly until the militia had marched, and at no period during the entire war did military enthusiasm of the people reach a greater height.

In the instruction of the troops, the manual of arms had to be omitted, for there were no guns.  Officers had been hastily selected, and the commands in most cases given to experienced soldiers, whose services were in sudden and great demand.  The fidelity of the men was accepted without any suggestion to the test of an oath.  The companies recruited rapidly, and were not long in filling up to the standard.  Their evolutions, which were conducted to a large extent in the open square, under the cover of darkness, were at times edifying to witness.  As the battalions marched with sturdy tread up and down on either side of the central market-houses, collisions would now and then derange the symmetry of the forces.  Frequent resort to unmilitary language on the part of the commanders was necessary to bring up the laggard platoons, and movements were habitually executed for which no precedent could have been found in either Scott or Hardee [military drill manuals].  But it was patriotism and not tactics that was uppermost in the minds of all, and trifling imperfections of military discipline were, for the moment at least, sunk out of sight in the sense of common danger."

Photograph of Penn Square in Reading, Pennsylvania, ca. 1870.
Historical Society of Berks County

Gayley, Alice J. "Histories of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments," accessed 26 June 2011; available from; Internet.

"Penn Street through the years," accessed 26 June 2011; available from; Internet.

Richards, Louis. Eleven Days in the Militia During the War of the Rebellion; Being a Journal of the "Emergency" Campaign of 1862. Philadelphia: Collins, Printer, 1883.

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