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Doc. 23. Governor Curtin's message.

Delivered August 9, 1864.

I have called you together in advance of your adjourned session, for the purpose of taking some action for the defence of the State.

From the commencement of the present Rebellion, Pennsylvania has done her whole duty to the Government. Lying, as her southern counties do, in the immediate vicinity of the border, and thus exposed to sudden invasion, a selfish policy would have led her to retain a sufficient part of her military force for our defense.

In so doing, she would have failed in her duty to the whole country. Not only would her men have been withheld from the field of general operations, but the loans and taxation which would have become necessary, would have, to a large extent, diminished the ability of her people to comply with the pecuniary demands of the United States. She would also have necessarily interfered with and hampered all the military action of the Government, and made herself to some extent, responsible for any failures and shortcomings that might have occurred. In pursuance of the policy thus deliberately adopted, this State has steadily devoted her men to the general service.

From the beginning she has always been among the first to respond to the calls of the United States, as is shown by her history from the three months men and the Reserve Corps to the present moment. Thus faithfully fulfilling all her own obligations, she has a right to be defended by the national force as part of a common country. Any other view would be absurd and unjust. She of course cannot complain when she suffers by the necessary contingencies of war.

The reflections that have in too many quarters been made upon the people of our southern counties are most unfounded ; they were invaded in 1862, when a Union army, much superior to any force of the rebels, and on which they had, of course, a right to rely, was lying in their immediate vicinity and north of the Potomac; they were again invaded in 1863, after the defeat of the Union forces under Milroy, at Winchester; and they have again suffered in 1864, after the defeat of the Union forces under Crook and Averill.

How could an agricultural people, in an open country, be expected to rise suddenly, and beat back hostile forces which had defeated organized veteran armies of the Government? It is, of course, expected that the inhabitants of an invaded country will do what is in their power to resist the invaders; and the facts hereafter stated will show, I think, that the people of the counties have not failed in this duty. If Pennsylvania, by reason of her geographical position, has required to be defended by the national forces, it has only been against a common enemy; it has never been necessary to weaken the army in the field, by sending heavy detachments of veterans to save her cities from being devastated by small bands of ruffians, composed of their own inhabitants, nor have her people been disposed to sneer at the great masses of law-abiding citizens in any other State who have required such protection.

Yet when a brutal enemy, pursuing a defeated body of Union forces, crosses our border and burns a defenseless town, the horrid barbarity, instead of firing the hearts of all the people of our common country, is actually in some quarters made the occasion of mocks and jibes at the unfortunate sufferers, thousands of whom have been rendered homeless; and these heartless scoffs proceed from the very men who, when the State authorities, foreseeing the danger, were taking precautionary measures, ridiculed the idea of there being any danger, sneered at the exertions made for the purpose of meeting it, and succeeded, to some extent, in thwarting their efforts to raise forces.

These men are themselves morally responsible for the calamity over which they now chuckle and rub their hands. It might have been hoped — nay, we had a right to expect — that the people of the loyal States, engaged in a common effort to preserve their Government and all that is dear to a freeman, would have forgotten at least for the time, their wretched local jealousies, and sympathized with all their loyal fellow-citizens wherever resident within the border of our common country. It should be remembered that the original source of the present Rebellion was in such jealousies, encouraged for wicked purposes by unscrupulous politicians.

The men who, for any purpose, now continue to encourage them, ought to be held as public enemies — enemies of our Union, our peace — and should be treated as such. Common feelings, common sympathies, are the necessary foundations of a common free Government.

I am proud to say that the people of Pennsylvania [144] feel every blow at any of her sister States as an assault upon themselves, and give to them all that hearty good will, the expression of which is sometimes more important, under the infliction of calamity, than mere material aid.

It is unnecessary to refer to the approach of the rebel army up the Shenandoah valley, on the third day of July last, to the defeat of General Wallace on the Monocacy, their approach to and threatening of the Capital, or their destruction of property and pillage of the counties of Maryland lying on our borders. These events have passed into history, and the responsibilities will be settled by the judgment of the people.

At that time a call was made upon Pennsylvania for volunteers, to be mustered into the service of the United States, and to serve for one hundred days, in the States of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and at Washington and its vicinity.

Notwithstanding the embarrassments which complicated the orders for their organization and muster, six regiments were enlisted and organized, and a battalion of six companies. The regiments were withdrawn from the State, the last leaving the twenty-ninth of July.

I desire that at least part of this force should be confined in the service to the States of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and made such an application to the War Department. As this proposition did not meet its approbation, it was rejected,and the general order changed to include the States named and Washington and its vicinity. No part of the Rebel army at that time had come within the State. The people of the border counties were warned, and removed their stock, and at Chambersburg and York were organized and armed for their own protection.

I was not officially informed of the movements of the Federal armies, and of course, not of the strategy of their commanders; but it was stated in the newspapers that the rebel army was closely pursued after it had crossed the Potomac, and was retiring up the valley of the Shenandoah.

Repeated successes of our troops were also announced, and the people of the State had just cause to believe that quite sufficient Federal force had been thrown forward for its protection upon the line of the Potomac.

On Friday, the twenty-ninth of July, the rebel brigades of Johnson and McCausland, consisting of from twenty-five hundred to three thousand mounted men, with six guns, crossed the Potomac at Clear Spring. They commenced crossing at ten o'clock A. M., and marched directly into Mercersburg.

There were but forty-five men picketed in that direction, under the command of Lieutenant McLean, United States Army, and as the enemy succeeded in cutting the telegraphic communications, which from that point had to pass west by way of Bedford, no information could be sent to General Couch, who was then at Chambersburg.

The head of this column reached Chambersburg at three o'clock A. M., on Saturday, the thirtieth ult.

The rebel brigades of Vaughn and Jackson, numbering about three thousand men, crossed the Potomac about the same time, at or near Williamsport.

Part of the command advanced on Hagerstown; the main body moved on the road leading from Williamsport to Greencastle; another rebel column of infantry and artillery crossed the Potomac simultaneously at Sheppardstown, and moved towards Leitersburg.

General Averill, who commanded a force reduced to about twenty-six hundred men, was at Hagerstown, and being threatened in front by Vaughn and Jackson, and on his right by McCausland and Johnson, who also threatened his rear, and on the left by the column which crossed at Sheppardstown, he therefore fell back upon Greencastle.

General Averill, it is understood, was under the orders of General Hunter, but was kept as fully advised by General Couch, as was possible, of the enemy's movements on his right and to his rear. General Couch was in Chambersburg, where his entire force consisted of sixty infantry, forty-five cavalry, and a section of a battery of artillery; in all less than one hundred and fifty men.

The six companies of men enlisted for one hundred days remaining in the State, and two companies of cavalry, had, under orders from Washington, as I am officially advised, joined Averill. The town of Chambersburg was held until daylight by the small force under General Couch, during which the Government stores and train were saved.

Two batteries were then planted by the enemy, commanding the town, and it was invested by the whole command of Johnson and McCausland. At seven A. M. six companies of dismounted men, commanded by Sweeny, entered the town, followed by mounted men under Gilmore.

The main force was in line of battle, and a demand was made for one hundred thousand dollars in gold, or five hundred thousand dollars in Government funds, as ransom, and a number of citizens were arrested and held as hostages for its payment.

No offer of money was made by the citizens of the town; and even if they had any intention of paying a ransom, no time was allowed, as the rebels commenced immediately to burn and pillage the town, disregarding the appeals of women and children, the aged and infirm; and even the bodies of the dead were not protected from their brutality.

It would have been vain for all the citizens of the town, if armed, to have attempted, in connection with General Couch's small command, to defend it. General Couch withdrew his command, and did not himself leave until the enemy were actually in the town.

General's Averill's command being within [145] nine miles of Chambersburg, it was hoped he would arrive in time to save the town, and efforts were made during the night to communicate with him.

In the meantime the small force of General Couch held the enemy at bay. General Averill marched on Chambersburg, but did not arrive until after the town was burned and the enemy had retired. He pursued and overtook them at McConnellsburg, in Fulton County, in time to save that place from pillage and destruction. He promptly engaged and defeated them, driving them to Hancock and across the Potomac.

I commend the homeless and ruined people of Chambersburg to the liberal benevolence of the Legislature, and suggest that a sufficient appropriation be made for their relief. Similar charity has been heretofore exercised, in the case of an accidental and destructive fire at Pittsburg. And I cannot doubt the disposition of the Legislature on the present occasion.

On the fifth day of the month a large rebel army was in Maryland, and at various points on the Potomac as far west as New Creek; and as there was no adequate force within the State, I deemed it my duty on that day to call for thirty thousand volunteer militia for domestic protection.

They will be armed, transported and supplied by the United States, but as no provision is made for their payment, it will be necessary, should you approve my action, to make an appropriation for that purpose.

Feeling it to be the duty of the General Government to afford full protection to the people of Pennsylvania and Maryland by the defence of the line of the Potomac, I united with Governor Bradford in the following letter to the President, dated July twenty-first, 1864:

State of Maryland, Executive Department, Annapolis, July 21, 1864.
His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States:
sir: The repeated raids across the Potomac River made by portions of the rebel army, and the extent of the damage they have succeeded so frequently in inflicting, have most injuriously affected the people of Maryland and Pennsylvania, in the neighborhood of that river, and many of them, it is believed, as the only security against such losses in the future, are seriously considering the propriety of abandoning their present homes, and seeking safety at the North.

It seems to us that not merely in the sectional aspect of the case, but in its national relation, the security of the border line between the loyal and rebellious States, is an object justifying and requiring a disposition of a portion of the national force with an especial view to its defence.

The Potomac river can only be crossed in its ordinary state of water at some five or six fords, and we propose to enlist from our respective States a volunteer force that shall be sufficient, with the aid of the fortifications which the force itself can speedily construct, to effectually guard them all. We ask of the Government that the recruits thus raised shall be credited to the quotas of our States, on the call last made, to be armed, equipped, and supplied as other volunteers in the service.

We are aware that, as a general rule, well-founded objections exist to the enlistment of a force to be exclusively used for home or local defense, but we regard such a service as we now suggest as an exceptional case, and the complete protection of this part of our frontier as of admitted national importance.

For after the outbreak of the rebellion, the importance of a special defence of the region bordering on the Upper Potomac was recognized by the Government, and the Honorable Francis Thomas, of Maryland, was authorized by it to raise three regiments with a view to the protection of the counties on either side of the river.

Regiments were raised, but the subsequent exigencies of the service required their employment elsewhere, and they therefore afford at present no particular security to that region beyond other troops in the service.

The necessity, as we think, for some such peculiar provision has now become so obvious, that we would, with great respect, but most earnestly, urge upon your Excellency the expediency of acceding to the suggestions we have made, and we will immediately set about raising the forces required, and we have no doubt they will be promptly procured.

We have the honor to be,

With great respect,

Your obedient servants,


The following letter, from the Assistant Adjutant-General, dated August first, 1864, is the only reply received by me up to this time:

war Department, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, D. C., August 1, 1864
His Excellency, the Governor of Pennsylvania:
sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the joint letter from yourself and the Governor of Maryland, dated July twenty-first, 1864, asking authority to raise a volunteer force in your respective States, to be exclusively used for home or local defenses, and for guarding the fords of the Potomac.

In reply, I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that the proposition has been fully considered, and that the authority asked for cannot be granted. In this connection please see the Act of Congress, approved February sixteenth, 1862, and promulgated in General Orders, No. fifteen, series of 1862, from this office.

I have the honor to remain,

Sir, respectfully,

Your obedient servant,


Thomas M. Vincent, Asssistant Adjutant-General.


Mem.--Similar letter sent to his Excellency, the Governor of Maryland, this date.

The reason given for the refusal to act on this proposition can be made consistent with the enlistment of men for one hundred days, to serve in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and at Washington and vicinity.

The following communication, dated twenty-second July, 1864, was made by Major-General Couch to the Secretary of war:


headquarters Department of Susquehanna, Harrisburg, July 22, 1864.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
sir: During the recent raid into Maryland, the citizens of Chambersburg turned out with a determination to stand by the few soldiers present and hold the town against any cavalry force that might assault it. Five hundred citizens of York, irrespective of party, volunteered and were armed, and went down the Northern Central Railroad and repaired the bridges.

In order to show you that the border citizens are beginning to realize that by united action they have the strength to protect themselves against an ordinary raiding party, enclosed I invite your attention to a letter addressed to the Governor, together with the endorsement upon the subject of forming a special corps from the six border counties most exposed.

If ten thousand men can thus be organized, its existence would be a protection and give confidence. I am informed that the general sentiment of the people in question is in favor of something being done at once, and as a military measure I think it will be of essential service to the General Government, and recommend that the War Department encourage the movement, by authorizing the loan or issue of uniforms, provided the law in question is enacted.

It is believed that the new militia law of this State will practically prove of no value, expecting that an enrollment will probably be made.

I am, sir,

Very respectfully

Your obedient servant,


D. N. Couch, Major-General, commanding Department.
Headquarters Department of Susquehanna, Harrisburg, August 4--A true copy: respectfully furnished for the information of his Excellency, Governor A. G. Curtin.


John S. Schultz, Assistant Adjutant-General.

On the same day approved in writing of the proposition, and expressed my opinion that the Legislature would pass an act in accordance with it at its adjourned session, on the twenty-third of August.

I am furnished with an official copy of the following reply, dated August first, 1864, to the proposition of General Couch:


war Department, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, D. C., August 1, 1864.
Major-General D. N. Couch, Commanding, &c., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the twenty-second of July, relative to the United States providing uniforms for a special corps of militia from certain border counties of Pennsylvania.

In reply, I am directed to inform you that the subject has been carefully considered by the Secretary of War, who cannot sanction the issue of the clothing in question.

I am, General,

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,


Headquarters Department of the Susquehanna, Harrisburg, August sixth, 1864.--A true copy, respectfully furnished for the information of his Excellency, Governor A. G. Curtin.


John S. Shultz. Assistant Adjutant-General.

In each of the three years, 1862, 1863, and 1864, it has been found necessary to call out the State militia for the defence of the State, and this has been done with the assent and assistance of the General Government.

From the want of organization, we have been obliged to rely exclusively on volunteer military, and with few exceptions to organize anew for such occasions.

This has caused confusion and a loss of valuable time, and has resulted in sending to the field bodies of men in a great measure undisciplined.

The militia bill passed at the last session is, I think, for ordinary times, the best militia law we have ever had, but under the existing extraordinary circumstances it seems to require modification.

I suggest that the Assessor be directed to make an immediate enrollment, classifying the militia as may be thought best.

That the officer be appointed by the Governor, on the recommendation, approved by him, of a board of examination, composed of three Major-Generals for each Division, of whom the Major-General of the Division shall be one, the other two to be designated by the Governor, from adjoining divisions, or in such other modes as the Legislature may think fit; that in all cases the officers shall be selected by preference from officers and men who have been in service, and shall have been honorably discharged by the United States, and that effectual provision be made for drafting the militia when required.

The recommendation in regard to appointments is made to avoid the angry dissension, and too often political jealousy, which divide military organizations by the election of officers and to secure the services of the most deserving and competent men. The election of officers in [147] the volunteer forces in the field has been found to be injudicious to the service, while promotions by seniority and appointments of meritorious privates have produced bravery, and stimulated to faithfulness. In the enlistment of new organizations the plan adopted of granting authority to officers to recruit companies has been found to be the best policy.

I also recommend that the Governor be authorized to form either by the acceptance of volunteers or by draft, in such parts of the State as he may deem expedient, a special corps of militia, to consist in due proportions of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, to be kept up to the full number of fifteen regiments, to be styled Minute Men, who shall be sworn and mustered into the service of the State for three years; who shall assemble for drill at such times and places as he may direct, who shall be clothed, armed, and equipped by the State, and paid when assembled for drill or called into service; and who shall at all times be liable to be called into immediate service for the defence of the State, independently of the remainder of the term enlisted for.

As this force would be subjected to sudden calls, the larger part of it should be organized in the counties adjoining our exposed border, and as the people of those counties have more personal interest in their protection, the recommendation is made to authorize the Governor to designate the parts of the State in which it shall be raised, and save the time and expense of transporting troops from remote parts of the State, and the subsistence and pay in going to and from the border. A body of men so organized will, it is believed, be effective to prevent raids and incursions.

The expenses of clothing, arming and equipping such a force cannot be correctly ascertained, but the Quartermaster-General has been directed to approximate estimates for your information, which will be independent of pay and subsistence.

The State should provide at least six four-gun batteries of field artillery, with all the modern improvements. The suggestion has been frequently made by more reflecting persons that the State should raise a force and keep it permanently in the field for her defense.

Apart from other considerations, it is to be observed that the expense of such a measure would be quite beyond the present ability of the State.

To raise and maintain an army of fifteen regiments (and any smaller force would be inadequate) would involve an annual expenditure of more than fifteen millions of dollars.

The plan which I have above proposed would, I think, give the State efficient protection, and if the Legislature should think fit to adopt it, the expense can be readily provided for by loan or otherwise.

Having an organized force under the control of the authorities of the State, and mustered into service for domestic protection, we would not, as heretofore, lose time in arranging for transportation and supplies with the National Government when it becomes necessary to call it into the field.

When thoroughly organized, it should be in all its appointments an army which could be increased from our enrollment of classified citizens.

The plan which I have above suggested is the result of the reflection and experience which I have had during the last three years, and I have felt it to be my duty to submit it for your consideration, for the purpose of providing for the effectual defence of the State.

If the Legislature should prefer the adoption of any other plan, more efficient and economical than that which I have herein proposed, it will give me pleasure to co-operate heartily in carrying it into effect.

In accordance with the act of March 4, 1864, I have appointed for the Eastern armies, Colonel F. Jordan as agent at Washington, and Lieutenant-Colonel James Gilliam as Assistant Agent at that place; and also for the Southwestern armies, Lieutenant-Colonel James Chamberlain as Agent at Nashville.

These agents are now actively engaged in the performance of their duties, and it is desirable that our people should be aware that a part of them consist in the gratuitous collection of all claims by Pennsylvania volunteers, or their legal representatives, on the State and National Governments.

Volunteers having claims on either of these Governments can have them collected through these agents without expense, and thus be secured from the extortions to which it is feared they have sometimes heretofore been subjected.

Having received information from the agents of the State that our sick and wounded were suffering greatly for the want of comforts and even necessaries, I have been recently compelled to call on the people to contribute supplies mainly in kind, for their relief; and it gives me pleasure to say that this appeal has been cheerfully responded to, as have been all my former appeals to the same end.

It seems impossible to exhaust the liberality of our generous people, when the well-being of our brave volunteers is in question.

In my special message of the thirtieth of April I stated the circumstances attending the advance, by banks and other corporations, of funds for the payment of the militia called out in 1863.

In consequence, the Legislature passed the act of May 4, 1864, authorizing a loan for the purpose of refunding, with interest, the amount thus advanced, in case that Congress should fail to make the necessary appropriation at its then current session.

I regret to say that Congress adjourned without making such appropriation. The balance in the Treasury being found sufficient to reimburse the funds so advanced without unduly diminishing the sinking fund, I have deemed it [148] advisable not to advertise for proposals for the loans, and I recommend the passage of an act directing the payment to be made out of the money in the Treasury.

As the omission of Congress to act on this subject involved an unprecedented disregard of the good faith of the national authorities, I recommend that the Legislature take measures for procuring an appropriation at the next session of Congress.

The revenue bill passed at the last session has been found to be defective in several points, and I recommend a careful and immediate revision of it.

The bounty bill passed at the last session is found to be defective and unjust in many of its provisions, and from the manner in which it is administered in some parts of the State, oppressive on the people.

I therefore recommend a careful revision of it, as the present session has been called for the consideration of matters of vital public importance.

I recommend them to your earnest and exclusive attention.

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