Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Some of the men...were walking armories of miscellaneous weapons"

Louis Richards, a Private in Co. G, 2nd Pennsylvania Emergency Militia, wrote in 1883 of his experiences in September 1862.  Among his many recollections, Lewis gives us an interesting picture of how Emergency Militia of 1862 were supplied and outfitted.

On September 10, 1862, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called upon all organized militias to report to Harrisburg for the defense of the Commonwealth.  Louis noted:
The companies were directed to be filled in accordance with the army standards of the United States, and as it was stated that the call might be sudden, the officers and men were required to provide themselves with the best arms they could procure, with at least sixty rounds of suitable ammunition, good stout clothing, uniform or otherwise; boots, blankets, and haversacks.

While still organizing in Reading, prior to taking the train to the capital, Louis describes his company’s supplies situation:
Arms of all kinds were in urgent demand.  Rifles and shot-guns, single and double-barreled, old and new; pistols of all designs, long and short, ancient and modern, together with some other unclassified implements of war, were brought out from their hiding-places, hastily cleaned and put in working order.  Some of the men, when equipped for the march, were walking armories of miscellaneous weapons.  The hardware stores were invaded in search of powder, shot, and ball.  A gum blanket, with which in most cases an army blanket, or in default thereof, a pair of ordinary red blankets, were rolled up; a haversack of canvas or oil-cloth, hastily put together at the saddler’s, a tin cup, knife and fork and spoon, made up the rest of the equipment.

After arriving in Harrisburg, Louis’ company received a welcomed surprise:
We were much relieved to find that we were to be furnished with arms and equipments by the State, as our force was far from effective in its present shape.  At the State Arsenal, on the Capitol grounds, we were supplied with Springfield muskets, knapsacks, haversacks, and canteens.  Delivered up our old guns to be returned home.  The muskets and bayonets, on first introduction, were handled with some curiosity.  As there were no scabbards provided for the latter, the bayonets had to be carried fixed to the pieces.  Of ammunition there was none on hand at present, but it was stated that a supply would be sent after us. 

Among the Governor’s call for militia to organize, was the strong suggestion for the troops to supply their own rations, for which Louis was very grateful after arriving in Harrisburg:
My haversack had been bountifully stocked by my good landlady at home, Mrs. B., whose liberality as a provider and kindness of heart will always be held in grateful remembrance by her guests.  The foresight of the Governor in mentioning in his proclamation the subject of rations, was generally commended, as little or nothing eatable seemed to be obtainable in this town since its occupation as a militia camp.

After leaving Harrisburg, and traveling south along the Cumberland Valley Railroad, the 2nd PA Emergency Militia camped just outside Chambersburg.  While there, Louis watched as more companies arrived, with one well equipped unit making a lasting impression:
Regiments were continually arriving from the railroad, and the shrieks of the steam-whistles, the blasts of bugles, clatter of drums, and the cheering of the troops enlivened the day.  Among the accessions were the Blue Reserves, of Philadelphia, a uniformed organization, which made a handsome appearance.

On September 19, the men of the 2nd were in position just outside Hagerstown, MD, when a report of “a considerable body of rebels” nearby spread through the ranks.  Though they were about to march into battle (as far as they knew), they were still lacking important equipment of war:
We were now supplied with sixty rounds of ammunition per man – the first we had received – and loaded our guns, which looked like business.  In default of the usual appliances [cartridge boxes] for that purpose, the cartridges were deposited in our overcoat pockets.  Thus ballasted, we were marched down the road…

Finally, in Maryland, Louis made a comical observation of one of his fellow soldiers, who had supplied himself with a beacon for ridicule:
J. H. F. [Jacob H. Forney], an ex-country justice of the peace, enjoys the distinction of being the only man in the company in regimentals, having donned a uniform made for him some years ago, when he was an orderly sergeant of a company which belonged to the Kutztown battalion.  His avoirdupois [weight] has greatly increased since the garments were made, and his harness is so tight that he finds marching very uncomfortable.  He stands upright a large part of the time from force of circumstances, and sits down with caution.

Illustration from Harper's Weekly showing the variety of the civilian "uniforms" of the militia

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

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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