Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"The road to Pennsylvania lies invitingly open"

In the late summer of 1862, after a string of impressive successes against the Union armies in the East, General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were riding a large wave of momentum and high morale.  Lee decided that it was, "...the most propitious time since the commencement of the war to enter Maryland."  One of Lee's objectives for commencing the Maryland Campaign, and moving northward, was to relocate the seat of war out of Northern Virginia, and allow that region, which saw nearly constant fighting and occupation for more than a year, a chance to recuperate.  After widespread loss and destruction of agriculture and private property, the region could no longer support his hungry army.    

The Confederate population was also feeling the rejuvenating momentum gained by Lee's army.  They believed strongly in the invincibility of their Southern legions, and understandably so.  Throughout most of the summer they had read colorful newspaper accounts of the withdrawal of Gen. George McClellan's army from the outskirts of Richmond, and of the thrashing of Gen. John Pope's force at 2nd Bull Run.  The citizens also began to express a growing anger and resentment toward the North, specifically toward Pope's treatment of Confederate civilians and their property.  For many in Virginia, these feelings, coupled with Lee's push into Northern territory, had grown into a fevered demand for ruthless retaliation.  This can be plainly seen in the following editorial, which was printed in the Richmond Dispatch on September 17, 1862. 

"The road to Pennsylvania lies invitingly open.  There are no regular soldiers on the route, and it would be a task of little difficulty to disperse the rabble of [Emergency] militia that might be brought to oppose them.

The country is enormously rich.  It abounds in fat cattle, cereals, horses, and mules.  Our troops would live on the very fat of the land.  They would find an opportunity, moreover, to teach the Dutch farmers and graziers, who have been clamorous for this war, what invasion really is.  If once compelled to take his own physic, which is a great deal more than he ever bargained for, Mynheer will cry aloud for peace in a very short time.  For our own part, we trust the first proclamation of Pope, and the manner in which his army carried it out, will not be forgotten.  We hope the troops will turn the whole country into a desert, as the Yankees did the Piedmont country of Virginia.

Let not a blade of grass, or a stalk of corn, or a barrel of flour, or a bushel of meal, or a sack of salt, or a horse, or a cow, or a hog, or a sheep, be left wherever they move along.  Let vengeance be taken for all that has been done, until retribution itself shall stand aghast.  This is the country of the smooth-spoken, would-be gentleman McClellan.  He caused a loss to us, in Virginia, of at least thirty thousand negroes, the most valuable property that a Virginian can own.  They have no negroes in Pennsylvania.  Retaliation must therefore fall upon something else, and let it fall upon every thing that constitutes property.  A Dutch farmer has no negroes, but he has horses that can be seized, grain that can be confiscated, cattle that can be killed, and housed that can be burnt.  He can be taken prisoner and sent to Libby's Warehouse, as our friends in Fauquier and Loudon, Culpeper, and the peninsula have been sent to Lincoln's dungeons in the North.  Let retaliation be complete, that the Yankees may learn that two can play at the game they have themselves commenced. 

By advancing into Pennsylvania with rapidity, our army can easily get possesion of the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, and break it down so thoroughly that it cannot be repaired in six months.  They have already possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the York River Railroad.  By breaking down these and the railroad from Philadelphia to Baltimore, they will completely isolate both Washington and Baltimore.  No reenforcements can reach them from either North or West, except by the Potomac and the bay."

Although it was printed on the same day that Lee's campaign reached a dramatic climax at the terrible Battle of Antietam, the article's frightful tone and description of a potential Rebel invasion of Pennsylvania does allow us to understand the fear and anxiety that must have been felt by the citizens of the Keystone state during the Emergency.  What they feared in Pennsylvania was what many in the South were hoping for.  Whether or not Lee ever anticipated invading as far north as Pennsylvania, by September 19, the Rebel army had retreated back across the Potomac River and into Virginia.  The campaign was over.

[It is also worthwhile to point out that the war was not just being played out in Southern newspapers.  On September 13, 1862, the Shippensburg News, in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley, had just as harsh words when it printed, "The rebel who hopes to have an easy conquest of this valley will in due time wake up to a 'welcome with bloody hands to hospital graves'.  A free people thus aroused - fighting upon their own soil - for their own firesides, for their own alters, for their freedom, and for truth and rights, will put to flight the ruthless invader and send to their last account the slave minions who fight for death of human freedom and the perpetuity of human slavery."]

Harsh, Joseph L., Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1999.

Moore, Frank, ed. The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. Vol. 5, New York: G. P. Putnam, 1863.

Shippensburg News, September 13, 1862

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