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The rebel army had no sooner achieved its triumph in the second battle of Bull Run, then it hastened northward, and commenced crossing the Potomac. The southern border of Pennsylvania lay in close proximity, all unprotected, and by its rich harvests invited invasion. The Reserve Corps which was originally organized for the State defense, had been called away to the succor of the hard pressed army of M'Clellan upon the Peninsula, and was now upon the weary march, with ranks sadly thinned in the hard fought battles of Mechanicsville, Gaine's Mill, Charles City Cross Roads, and the second Bull Run, to again meet the foe, but powerless to avert the threatened danger. The result of the struggle on the plains of Manassas, was no sooner known, than the helpless condition of the State, which had been apparent from the first, became a subject of alarm. On the 4th of September, Governor Curtin issued a proclamation, calling on the people to arm, and prepare for defense. He recommended the immediate formation of companies and regiments throughout the Commonwealth, and, for the purpose of drill and instruction, that after three P.M., of each day, all business houses be closed. On the 10th, the danger having become imminent, the enemy being already in Maryland, he issued a general order, calling on all able bodied men to enroll immediately for the defense of the State, and to hold themselves in readiness to march upon an hour's notice; to select officers; to provide themselves with such arms as could be obtained, with sixty rounds of ammunition to the man, tendering arms to such as had none, and promising that they should be held for service, for such time only as the pressing exigency for the State defense should continue. On the following day, acting under the authority of the President of the United States, the Governor called for fifty thousand men, directing them to report by telegraph for orders to move, and adding that further calls would be made as the exigencies should require. The people everywhere flew to arms, moved promptly to the State Capital. One regiment and eight companies were sent forward during the night of the 12th and others followed as fast as they could be organized. On the 14th, the head of the Army of the Potomac met the enemy at South Mountain, and hurled them back through it passes, and on the evening of the 16th, and day of the 17th, a fierce battle was fought at Antietam. In the meantime, the militia had rapidly concentrated at Hagerstown and Chambersburg, and General John F. Reynolds, who was at the time commanding a corps in the Army of the Potomac, had assumed command. Fifteen thousand men were pushed forward to Hagerstown and Boonsboro, and a portion of them stood in line of battle in close proximity to the field, in readiness to advance, while the fierce fighting was in progress. Ten thousand more were posted in the vicinity of Greencastle and Chambersburg, and "about twenty-five thousand , says Governor Curtain, in his annual message, "were at Harrisburg, on their way to Harrisburg, or in readiness and waiting for transportation to proceed thither." The Twenty-fifth regiment, under the command of Colonel Dechert, at the request of General Halleck, was sent to the State of Delaware to guard the Dupont Powder Mills, whence the National armies were principally supplied. But the enemy was defeated at Antietam, and retreated in confusion across the Potomac. The emergency having passed, the militia regiments were ordered to return to Harrisburg, and in accordance with the conditions on which they had been called into service, they were, on the 24th, mustered out and disbanded. The train on which the Twentieth regiment was returning over the Cumberland Valley Road, collided, when nearing Harrisburg, with one passing in the opposite direction, by which four men were killed and thirty injured.

In a letter addressed to Governor Curtain, by General M'Clellan, thanking him for his energetic action in calling out the militia, and placing them in the field, the General adds: "Fortunately, circumstances rendered it impossible for the enemy to set foot upon the soil of Pennsylvania, but the moral support rendered to my army by your action, was none the less mighty. In the name of my army, and for myself, I again tender to your our acknowledgements for your patriotic course. The manner in which the people of Pennsylvania responded to your call, and hastened to the defense of their frontier, no doubt exercised a great influence upon the enemy. In an order issued by Governor Bradford, of Maryland, soon after the battle, he says: "To Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, and the militia of his state, who rallied with such alacrity at the first symptoms of invasion, our warmest thanks are also due. The readiness with which they crossed the border, and took their stand beside the Maryland brigade, show that the border is, in all respects, but an ideal line, and that in such a causes as not unites is, Pennsylvania and Maryland are but one."

History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5
Prepared in compliance with acts of the Legislature, by Samuel P. Bates, member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Harrisburg: B. Singerly State Printer. 1871
Broadfoolt Publishing Company, Wilmington, North Carolina 1994

Volume X, pages 1147-1148

 

 Last update 18 April, 2003

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