September Edition, Emmitsburg News Journal
On June 15th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 100,000 militiamen to help defend Pennsylvania and Maryland during the Confederate invasion. Lincoln had asked for men from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to serve for a period of six months, unless the threat ended sooner. However, this call would not be answered by the many able bodied men in those states. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin both appealed to New York State Governor Horatio Seymour to mobilize 20,000 soldiers of the New York State National Guard. The governor of New Jersey was also asked to send troops from its militia.
During the last two weeks of June, New York had mobilized 14,000 soldiers from twenty-six National Guard regiments. The majority of those would protect or work on the defenses of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while other units would serve near Baltimore, Maryland. The first to leave their home state of New York was the famous 7th New York State National Guard, where they would serve under the Middle Department. Upon arriving at Philadelphia, they were ordered to Baltimore, Maryland. The 8th New York and the 71st New York Regiments of the National Guard were the first New York soldiers to ender into Harrisburg.
Upon arriving at Harrisburg, the New Yorkers were amazed to see so many able men who had not enlisted into the militia, answering Lincoln’s call for manpower. One New Yorker recalled “The people of Harrisburg did not seem prepared or inclined to act on the defensive.” Another soldier recalled “Hundreds of strong men in the prime of life loitered in the public thoroughfares, and gaped at our passing columns as indifferently as if we had come as conquerors, to take possession of the city.”
While in downtown Harrisburg, many of the New Yorkers noticed the cool reception they had with the inhabitants of the city. The people there seemed to dislike the New Yorkers event though they were there to protect them during this troubled time. The people of Harrisburg also failed to notice that for this two week period, the eyes of the entire northern population looked upon this city as if they were the Confederate target. This did not sit well with the New York National Guardsmen.
Not only did the New Yorkers receive a cold shoulder, but many of the New Yorkers were upset that most of the stores and businesses were closed. Other New Yorkers were dismayed with the inflated prices of goods that the businesses were charging the soldiers for their merchandise. The New Yorkers felt a bit betrayed since they were there to do their duty and to protect the citizens of this great city.
As many of the New Yorkers entered into Camp Curtin, they were disappointed with the living conditions. Many wrote about the foul smells that arose from the camp. Camp Curtin was the Federal training ground for many of Pennsylvania’s regiments that had participated in several major battles. No sooner had the New Yorkers made camp, many were ordered out of Harrisburg to guard and picket the various fords along the Susquehanna River.
The 8th and 71st Regiments of the New York National Guard were ordered to Franklin County. They arrived at Shippensburg by rail and marched toward Chambersburg. These two New York regiments operated in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Militia and were ordered to stall the advancing Confederate force, but not to engage in a full-fledged battle. In other words, they were to buy Harrisburg time for the defenses to be completed.
Many of the New York National Guardsmen were ordered to drop their rifles and pick up axes, picks, and shovels to prepare to create the defenses of Harrisburg. Two major fortifications in Harrisburg would be constructed, and then came the improvements in case the Confederate army would make its way there. Forts Washington and Couch were located across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. Other New Yorkers were ordered out to obstruct major roadways leading into the city via the Cumberland Valley.
While many of the New York National Guardsmen were stationed in the fortifications at Harrisburg, tempers began to flare. Several of the Pennsylvania Militiamen began noticing the New Yorkers attitude. The New Yorkers had a sort of cockiness to them. The Pennsylvania Militiamen felt as if the New Yorkers looked down upon them. These feelings may have come from the fact that many of the New Yorkers came from a higher society and social status in Brooklyn and New York city itself. They were well drilled, well trained, and well equipped. Some had seen combat and some had not. Either way, the Pennsylvania Militiamen did not appreciate the New Yorkers.
Several regiments of the New York State National Guard skirmished with the lead elements of the Confederate army during the last week of June. Each skirmish bought valuable time for the defenses of Harrisburg to be completed. Skirmishes near Greencastle, Shippensburg, Carlisle, Kingston, Oyster Point, and finally Sporting Hill all helped to delay the advancing Confederate forces as they approached Harrisburg. By June 30th, only the Confederate rear guard remained, as orders came for the Confederate concentration at Gettysburg. This forced General Richard Ewell’s corps to begin marching to rejoin the main Confederate army. Harrisburg was no longer a target.
Further to the south in Maryland, the 7th New York State National Guard had a much more pleasant experience. Other New York National Guard regiments would also trickle into Baltimore. For the next two weeks, the 17th, 47th, 55th, 69th, and the 84th Regiments, New York State National Guard would be attached to the Middle Department under the command of General Robert Schenck ,as they departed New York.
Baltimore was a divided city with regard to loyalty to the preservation of the Union. During the early days of the Pennsylvania Campaign, when the Confederate army was marching into the Cumberland Valley, no one knew what their intentions were. Was it Philadelphia or Harrisburg in Pennsylvania? Or would the Confederate army turn south for a possible attack on Baltimore? Either way, the defenses of these cities was important. The 7th New York State National Guard was ordered to serve in the various fortifications surrounding Baltimore.
The 7th New York State National Guard arrived in Baltimore on June 18th. Each company was detailed to serve various duties. Just like those units in Harrisburg, the 7th New York State National Guard would garrison Fort Federal Hill and Fort Marshall. The gray clad New Yorkers also barricaded the streets leading into the country side from the city. Many put their rifles down and picked up axes, shovels, and picks and began to build entrenchments. As Confederate prisoners arrived from the Western Theater, various detachments of the 7th New York State National Guard would escort those Confederates to Fort McHenry, as well as Fort Delaware. The 7th New York State National Guard also served as the Provost for the city.
On June 20th, the 7th New York State National Guard commander Colonel Marshall Lefferts assumed command of Fort Federal Hill. There was no time for relaxation, and the regiment itself was busy performing their various duties. The 7th New York State National Guard had operated in this area a year before in 1862. They knew about the Southern sympathizers who lived in the city. As Provost, the 7th New York State National Guard searched and seized several arms, and arrested those who were trying to aide the Confederate Army.
On June 28th, there were major changes that occurred in both the Union and Confederate armies. In the Army of the Potomac, General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command, and General George Meade was appointed as the new commander. He ordered the concentration of his army to Frederick, Maryland and from there, early next morning, he would order his army northward toward the Mason Dixon Line. For the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee had learned about the layout of the Union army and the change of command. He issued orders for a concentration of his army east of South Mountain via Gettysburg. Two of his corps under General Longstreet and Hill was spread out from Cashtown to Chambersburg. At the same time, General Ewell’s Corps was spread out from Carlisle to Wrightsville in Pennsylvania. By June 29th, his army began its movements to Gettysburg.
By June 29th, it looked as if Harrisburg was no longer a Confederate target. With the Confederate movements to the east, this caused panic in Baltimore, while easing the minds of Harrisburg citizens. City wide drills in Baltimore were held. In comparison to Harrisburg, Baltimore was ready for a possible attack. But as July 1st dawned, the citizens and the military that were ready for an attack began to breath easier as the Battle of Gettysburg unfolded.