August 1, 2011

8/1/1861: 'A desire to raise a regiment'

Location: Lancaster Fairgrounds, Lancaster, PA, USA
Welcome to Lancaster at War blog.  Today marks the initial post focusing on the 150th anniversary of events in the life of the 79th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. 

At one o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday, July 27, 1861, the Court House bell in Lancaster rang to announce the departure from Harrisburg of the two Lancaster companies returning home after brief service in the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  Militia companies and firemen led an "immense crowd" of people to meet the returning soldiers at the Dillerville Yard.  (Another crowd gathered in town at the train station was left disappointed.)  After taking time for personal greetings, they processed up James Street, down North Queen to Centre Square, and finally to Fulton Hall where they were dismissed.

Although their service in the "Three Months' Campaign" had completed, much work remained if the Union was to be restored.  Earlier that week, as a matter of fact, Union forces--not including any Pennsylvania units--met with disaster on the battlefield at Bull Run.  The prospect of a short war was extinguished, and the federal government revised old militia laws to allow President Lincoln to recruit regiments to serve for three years.  And almost all of the men of the two returning Lancaster companies--Capt. Emlen Franklin's "Lancaster Fencibles" and Capt. Henry A. Hambright's "Jackson Rifles"--intended their return to Lancaster to be brief, dictated only by the amount of time it would take Pennsylvania to authorize its three years regiments.

Accomplished militia commander Henry A. Hambright, widely praised for his proficient drilling and efficient management of the Jackson Rifles, had no intention of allowing any rust to accumulate on any of his soldiers' rifles.  Centre Square (now Penn Square) provided Hambright with his favored parade grounds for showing off his company and garnering praises from the city's newspapers, whose editors described "everything moving with greatest regularity, like a piece of splendid machinery."  (However one rifle did mistakenly go off, knocking off half a brick from the southwest corner of Centre Square.)

Another (unrelated) company of Pennsylvania volunteers in camp.
(Library of Congress)

On July 31, Hambright took his company out to the Lancaster Fairgrounds in order to have a little more space.  The Daily Evening Express' account of the event is presented below, presumably in the words of editor J.M.W. Geist.  At this point, people around Lancaster began to ask the obvious question of what role Capt. Hambright's next role would be, and whether it would be with the Regular Army or with volunteers from Lancaster.  They clearly preferred the latter, and as evident in this report momentum began to build for Hambright to command one of the new regiments.

Stay tuned for an introduction to Colonel Hambright, background information about Lancaster on the eve of the war, and information about the 1st Pennsylvania in the Three Months' Campaign.  

Daily Evening Express August 1, 1861
(alternate link)

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