A Look Back: Two Years of War, 1861-1862
In January 1863, the outcome of the Civil War could not be known to the people of Bucks County and the Delaware Valley. A quick victory had eluded the Union, as it had the Confederacy, and both sides had settled in for a longer – and far bloodier – conflict. Looking back on two years of war, local residents wrestled with the conflict’s human, social and economic toll. They reflected on the horrific casualty rates, the uncertain and evolving aims of the war, and the increasingly shrill partisanship and divisive politics on the home front. Few were left untouched. The war had claimed the lives of loved ones on the battlefield, separated family and friends, created economic hardship, and left a legion of sick and wounded in need of care. In early 1863, local citizens faced a frightening future in which few could foresee an end to the struggle.
Image: Private Jacob R. Brinker of Doylestown, a member of Co. B, 104th Pennsylvania Infantry, mortally wounded at Fair Oaks, Va., May 31, 1862. Courtesy of Robert Gormley.
War! The First Call for Recruits
At the outset of the war, patriotic fervor had led many men to enlist. Thousands responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s first call for troops. Typically, the ranks of companies and regiments were comprised of young men who had grown up together, and who knew each other as friends, relatives or neighbors. When they marched off to war, the ties of home and community went with them. In Bucks County, local leaders – some of them militia officers or veterans of the Mexican War – organized volunteers into military units. The Doylestown Guards, a local militia company, became Company I of the 25th Pennsylvania Infantry. Expecting a quick resolution to the conflict, most of these “first responders” joined to serve only three months. In fact, the Doylestown Guards never saw battle during their ninety-day campaign, returning home to Doylestown in July of 1861 to be mustered out.
Image: Doylestown Guards Dress Ball Invitation, February 22, 1859. Mercer Museum Library.
Summer 1861 – Recruiting Intensifies
Following the Union defeat in July at the First Battle of Bull Run (where no Bucks County units were engaged), it became clear that more recruits were needed – and for a longer period of service. From July to September, thousands more responded to calls to volunteer. The fervor that inspired these enlistments was stoked by patriotic meetings, speeches, and martial music from regimental bands.
Among the units organized all, or in part, in Bucks in the summer and fall of 1861 were the 104th Pennsylvania Infantry, the 3rd Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry, the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Durell’s Battery of light artillery. Other Bucks Countians were scattered among the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, the 4th Reserve Infantry, the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and other regiments. Some Pennsylvanians crossed the Delaware River to enlist. One company of Bucks County men ended up in the 1st New Jersey Cavalry. All of these units headed to the front in the fall of 1861.
Image: Recruiting Broadside for Col. W.W.H. Davis's Regiment (104th Pa. Vols.), Doylestown, September 1861. Mercer Museum Library.
Col. William Watts Hart Davis (1820-1910)
In the summer of 1861, W.W.H. Davis of Doylestown received authorization to raise a regiment of infantry for three years’ service. Davis, a veteran of the Mexican War, had already captained a company in the 25th Pennsylvania Infantry – a three month regiment. He now became colonel of what was first termed the “Ringgold Regiment,” after a hero of the Mexican War. Later the unit received its numerical designation, the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers. In addition to his military experience, Davis had served as acting governor of New Mexico Territory before the Civil War. In Doylestown he worked as an attorney and editor of the Doylestown Democrat, one of the community’s two main papers. Many local recruitment broadsides and advertisements of 1861 and 1862 were printed on Davis’ presses at the Democrat.
Image: Col. W.W.H. Davis, from a carte de visite photograph, 1861. Mercer Museum Library.
Rally 'Round the Flag
To train his regiment, Col. W.W.H. Davis commandeered the fair grounds at the western edge of Doylestown. He re-named the spot “Camp Lacey” in honor of a Revolutionary War officer. In October 1861, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin traveled to Camp Lacey to present a regimental flag – the state colors – to the 104th Pennsylvania Infantry. A few days prior to that ceremony, the “ladies of Doylestown” had bestowed another flag on the regiment, which became known as the “County Flag.” The flags of the 104th regiment, like those of other units, served as symbols of honor, identity and pride – and as a rallying point on the battlefield. They also connected a unit’s members to their communities. To have a flag despoiled or captured in battle was an insult to the honor of the unit, and reflected poorly on a unit’s members. As a regiment gained experience in battle, the names of its engagements were added to the colors. These “battle honors” bound survivors to uphold the record established by their comrades in earlier engagements.
Image: “County” Flag of the Ringgold Regiment, 104th Pennsylvania Vols., attributed to Horstmann & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1861. Mercer Museum acc. no. 01533.
From Bucks to the Battlefield
"I can yet hear those shrieking shells bursting, the minnie balls whistling around your head like bees buzzing, my comrades lying dead and wounded all around me. That day I have never forgotten and never will until my body is bound in the grave, and the dirt goes rattling on my box hiding me forever from view." - Cpl. Whittingham J. Livezey, 104th Pa. Infantry, Dec. 2, 1903
Bucks County’s soldiers, and their units, suffered severely during the first two years of the War. In camp and on the march, disease and accidents took their toll. On the battlefield, local troops were engaged in some of the bloodiest fights and most galling Union defeats of the early War period. In places like Ball’s Bluff, Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Stone’s River, and many others, young men from Bucks County were slain, wounded and captured in numbers that horrified local citizens. The dead would join more than 600,000 other American soldiers, north and south, who perished during the war. Today, if the United States engaged in a conflict that costly, as a percentage of the population, there would be 6.2 million graves to dig.
Image: "The Battle of Fair Oaks," Currier and Ives, New York City,1862. Mercer Museum Library. Cpl. Whittingham Livezey purchased this lithograph on his way home from the war in 1864. His personal inscription on the back of the original print described what he had witnessed, and acknowledged that the print would forever bring to mind the sights and sounds of the battle at Fair Oaks, Virginia in May of 1862.
The 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Fair Oaks
Mustered into service in the fall of 1861, the 104th was comprised primarily of Bucks County men. In spring 1862, the regiment joined General George B. McClellan’s campaign to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. On May 31, the 104th was thrust suddenly into battle at Fair Oaks, Virginia. The unit soon found itself hard pressed by a Confederate advance. The regiment’s two flags, stuck in the ground, served as a rallying point near the center of the line. Following an intense exchange of musket fire, the 104th was gradually forced back. As the regiment retired, Rebel troops rushed to capture the two stands of colors. Members of the color guard sprang forward to save the flags but were shot down. Aided by several comrades, Cpl. Hiram Pursell was finally successful in rescuing the colors and bringing them off the field. Wounded in the effort, Pursell was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism. Some 177 men were killed or wounded in the battle, and more than 60 captured.
Image: Cpl. Hiram Pursell's Medal of Honor, awarded May 12, 1894. Mercer Museum acc. no. 27083.
The 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers and Ball’s Bluff
Organized originally as the “1st California Regiment” under special federal authority, the unit trained in New York City before moving to the defenses of Washington in the summer of 1861. Though its ranks were filled with men from various locales, the bulk of enlistees were Pennsylvanians – including many from Bucks County. Eventually, the unit was “adopted” by the Commonwealth and received the designation 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers.
The regiment's first test of fire came in October 1861 along the banks of the Potomac River. In a poorly planned maneuver, a battalion of the regiment was sent across the Potomac only to find itself outnumbered by Confederate troops. After a determined stand, and suffering severe casualties, the unit was pushed back to the Potomac. With no means of retreat, soldiers tried either to swim the swollen river or surrendered. Many drowned or were shot down along the river banks. Of the regiment’s color bearers – both from Bucks County – one was shot through the legs and the other nearly drowned in the river attempting to save his flag.
Image: Shell Jacket of Pvt. George Harper, 71st Pa. Vols. Mercer Museum acc. no. 91.07.006. Harper, from Fallsington, Bucks County, was captured by Confederates at Ball's Bluff. His gray jacket was part of the original uniform of the 71st, though later the regiment exchanged their outfits for Union blue.
The 128th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Antietam
Organized in the summer of 1862, the 128th Pennsylvania contained two companies from Bucks County. The captain of Company C, Samuel Croasdale, was a Doylestown attorney. With little opportunity for training, the 128th moved quickly to Washington, D.C. to join the Union’s Army of the Potomac. A month later the regiment was thrown into battle at Antietam, Maryland. Appointed colonel of the regiment in late August, Samuel Croasdale led his troops into the fray at Antietam. Early in the battle, he was shot through the head and killed instantly. Many of his men died with him, including Howard Booz of Carversville, seen in this image. In a short time the regiment lost thirty-four killed and eighty-five wounded, six of them mortally. Eight months later, the 128th would be caught in Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville. More than 225 of their number were captured and marched to Richmond as prisoners of war.
Image: Cased ferrotype photograph of A. Howard Booz, Co. C, 128th Pa. Vols. Mercer Museum Library. Killed in action at Antietam, Booz’ remains were brought home for burial in the cemetery in Carversville, Bucks County.
The 3rd Pennsylvania Reserve at Second Bull Run and Fredericksburg
On May 15, 1861, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin received authorization to create a “Reserve Volunteer Corps” comprised of infantry, cavalry and artillery. Organized, trained and equipped entirely at state expense, the Corps was eventually mustered into federal service. Three companies of the 3rd Pennsylvania Reserve regiment were raised in Bucks County. The unit suffered its first casualties during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in the spring of 1862. Later in the summer, the 3rd Reserve fought in the battles of Second Bull Run and Antietam. Captain Henry Clay Beatty of Bristol, Bucks County, lost his life at Second Bull Run, commanding Company I. In December 1862 the unit suffered its worst casualties at Fredericksburg, Virginia. After briefly breaking through the Confederate lines, the 3rd was repulsed, with the loss of some 128 men killed, wounded or missing.
Image: Lithograph by L.N. Rosenthal of Camp Washington, Easton, Pa., training site of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Pa. Reserve regiments. Mercer Museum Library.
Partisan Politics in Bucks
Even as Bucks County’s soldiers engaged the enemy on the battlefield, political partisans waged their own battles on the home front. Bucks County was deeply divided politically. Those townships traditionally dominated by Quakers tended to support the new Republican Party. Those with strong German populations, especially in upper Bucks, tended to vote Democratic. Though at first Republicans and Democrats displayed some unity in response to Southern secession, partisan rancor returned as the war entered its second year. The election of 1860 had helped set the scene for this conflict, with the victory of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans. The bitter acrimony between the two parties found expression in political meetings and speeches, and in the pages of Doylestown’s two major newspapers.
Images: "Wide Awake" Parade Torch, Bucks County, 1860. Mercer Museum acc. no. 25073. Carried by George Worstall, a Lincoln supporter, in torchlight parades in Newtown, Bucks County.
Women and the Home Front"Never did woman contribute so much…as in the efforts she is putting forth in this unhappy contest. Her influence on the side of right and patriotism is untold – giving up cheerfully and encouraging her firstborn, her second born, and even her fifth born to enlist in the defense of our common country.”
- Statement from the Soldiers’ Aid Society of Hartsville, published in The Bucks County Intelligencer, August 26, 1862.
While women sacrificed during the War, their contributions included more than sending men off to fight. Beginning in 1861, local women founded groups to provide comfort and aid to the troops. They organized rallies and events to raise funds for medical stores and other special provisions. Some traveled to hospitals, camps and even to the front to serve as nurses and provide care for the soldiers. Left to care for their children and households, women managed farms and carried on the trades of absent husbands and fathers. Occasionally, a woman even passed as a man to serve with a combat unit. In 1863 the local paper reported a young soldier had been found sick on the streets of Philadelphia. “He” was discovered to be a fourteen year-old girl from Bucks County who had “been acting as a servant” and had “passed through 7 or 8 battles.”
Image: "The Brave Wife," Currier and Ives, New York City, 1861. Mercer Museum Library.
Soldiers’ Aid Societies“If the ladies are not permitted to show their patriotism by wielding the sword and raising their voice in public defense of the wrongs that have been heaped upon us by a misguided rebellion...they certainly do evince their love of country by the manner in which they wield the scissors and guide the needle.”
- Representative of the Reigelsville and Durham Ladies’ Aid Society, Doylestown Democrat, August 26, 1862.
Local women began gathering in the spring and summer of 1861 to assemble items of comfort for soldiers in the field. By the fall of 1861, many had established formal soldiers’ aid organizations around the county. While some of these groups included men among their members, most of the work was performed and led by women. At first these efforts were directed toward supporting local regiments. But eventually these groups began funneling supplies through regional and national organizations like the United States Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission, and other charities. Most groups met weekly for work and for society business. While much of their labor reflected traditional female roles, including sewing, knitting and preparing food, women also gained organizational and political experience in the aid societies.
Image: Fannie Hart Widdifield, a member of the Hartsville Soldiers' Aid Society, 1860s. Widdifield's husband was an officer in the 128th Pa. Volunteers. Mercer Museum Library, gift of George M. Hart.
Bucks County’s Non-Resisters: Quakers & Mennonites
A sizeable portion of Bucks County’s population included members of the “peace churches” – the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Mennonites, and the Brethren. At the outset of the war, most Quakers maintained their traditional pacifism. However, some were torn between pacifist belief and a desire to bring an end to slavery. While some Friends served as nurses, or filled other non-combatant roles behind the lines, a number of young Quakers chose to join the army and fight. Bucks County Mennonites were firmer in their desire to avoid involvement in the war and were less motivated by abolitionism. Though they believed slavery an evil, most Mennonites advocated tolerance and practiced non-resistance. A few young men, however, did choose to enlist – motivated by patriotism or inflamed by enlistment drives. Most of these youth had not yet been baptized into formal church membership and may not have felt bound by traditional pacifist tenets.
Image: Deep Run Mennonite Meeting House, Bedminster Twp., Bucks County, as it appeared in 1872. Mercer Museum Collection.
Robert Kenderdine, Quaker Soldier
The choice between adhering to faith, or responding to the call of cause and country, was made in hundreds of Bucks County homes during the first years of the war. In Solebury Township, twenty-one year old Robert Kenderdine grappled with the decision. Kenderdine’s parents, members of Solebury Quaker Meeting, expected their son to hold fast to Quaker pacifist tradition. After more than a year of soul searching, he found he could not. In July 1862 Kenderdine enlisted in the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry in the Union Army of Potomac. A year later he would be mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Image: Robert Kenderdine in uniform of the 114th Pa. Vols. Courtesy of R. Dean Kenderdine.
From Slavery to Freedom: Bucks County’s Black Communities
African-American history in Bucks County dates to its earliest settlement. Many early Dutch and English colonists held slaves, including colonial founder William Penn. In his will, Penn provided for his own slaves to be freed after his death. Other local slave owners followed Penn’s example during the 1700s. As a result of such manumissions, freeing individual slaves, and the eventual passage of a law abolishing slavery in the Commonwealth, communities of free blacks arose in several areas of the county.
By the second quarter of the 1800s, these communities began serving as stopovers and refuges for blacks fleeing slavery in states below the Mason-Dixon Line. “Self-emancipating” slaves who remained in the area swelled the county’s black population. Though still relatively few in number, residents of these communities established a vibrant social and religious life – often as islands within the dominant white culture. At the outset of the Civil War, many local blacks had established families and households. Others worked as individual laborers on local farms, as domestic servants, or as canal hands and boatmen along the Delaware River.
Image: Sabbath School Banner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bensalem, Bucks County, 1880-1900. Mercer Museum acc. no. MM2000.05.001.
Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad
Inspired by abolitionist efforts in Philadelphia and elsewhere, the first meeting of the Bucks County Anti-Slavery Society took place in 1837. Abolitionism was supported by many members of the Society of Friends, and by some non-Quakers as well. A number of local abolitionists were also involved in the Underground Railroad, the secret system that illegally assisted fugitive slaves to places of relatively safety in the North, or to more secure freedom in Canada. In addition to the white Bucks Countians who provided aid to fugitive slaves, blacks themselves played critical roles in the freedom struggle. The slaves who made their way to and through Bucks County were “self-emancipators,” boldly embarking on a difficult and hazardous path to freedom. Often they were assisted by blacks already here, concealed and given refuge in their small communities like those in Buckingham, Bensalem and Attleborough.
Image: Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention, Philadelphia, 1833-34. Mercer Museum Library. The American Anti-Slavery Society held its first meeting in Philadelphia in December 1833. This commemorative document, printed on silk and issued by the Society, advocated for the immediate emancipation of enslaved people, a controversial position even among abolitionists at the time.
Richard Moore and Henry Franklin – Quakertown
The Quakertown home of educator and earthenware potter Richard Moore was an important stop on the Underground Railroad in Bucks County. Assisted by a handful of others, Moore is alleged to have aided several hundred fugitives on their journey north. Henry Franklin, a former slave, drove wagon for Moore, transporting earthenware, coal and other goods for the pottery. Conveniently, Franklin also sometimes secreted slaves among his cargo. The risk of discovery was real, and the penalty if caught severe, but Franklin enabled many to reach freedom.
Image: Henry Franklin, c. 1875-1880. Courtesy of the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College.
Benjamin Jones – Buckingham
Benjamin Jones escaped from slavery in Maryland in the 1830s, eventually reaching Bucks County where he took refuge in a community of former slaves and free blacks on Buckingham Mountain. Nearly seven feet tall, Jones’ immense stature made him an easy-to-recognize figure in the area. He found employment with local farmers and eventually managed to build a home of his own. In March 1844, slave catchers in the employ of his former master found him at work, chopping wood. A fierce battle ensued, with Jones fending off his attackers with an axe. Eventually subdued, he was transported to Baltimore and imprisoned. Due to his injuries, however, he could not be sold. Sympathetic local Quakers gathered donations and purchased Jones’ freedom, and “Big Ben” returned to Bucks County.
Image: Benjamin Jones with other residents of the Bucks County Almshouse, c. 1870. Mercer Museum Library.
1863-1864: Turning Points
After the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1, 1863, the edict took effect. Its immediate impact was limited. It rendered “forever free” only those slaves in areas of the Confederacy not already under the control of Union forces. Despite its limited reach, the Proclamation’s symbolic value was immense. The scope and aims of the war had dramatically expanded. The end of slavery, not simply restoration of the Union, had become the goal.
Other turning points would follow as 1863 and 1864 unfolded, impacting Bucks County and its soldiers in the field. Some occurred as pivotal events like the invasion of Pennsylvania and the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Others would take longer for their effects to be felt. These included the establishment of a federal draft to reinforce Union armies in the field, the enlistment of “colored” or African-American troops, expanded participation of women in the war, and a political climate that emboldened opponents of the war and cast doubt on whether Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected in 1864.
Image: "The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet," engraved by A.H. Ritchie after an 1864 painting by F.B. Carpenter, c. 1866. Mercer Museum Library.
More Men! The Bounty System and the Draft
After the first rush of volunteers in 1861, enlistments lagged. Authorities realized that steps were needed to entice more volunteers to join the ranks. So began the bounty system, featuring cash incentives paid to recruits. These incentives, funded by contributions, bonds and taxes, were offered by federal, state and local governments to encourage enlistments. By the summer of 1862, however, even cash rewards were insufficient to produce the manpower necessary to replenish Union armies. A federal call to the states for additional troops was accompanied by an order to draft men between the ages of 18 and 45, if necessary, to meet each state’s quota of soldiers. This first experiment with the draft led to more conscription efforts. In 1863, the federal government assumed control over the implementation and enforcement of the draft.
Conscription's real purpose was to stimulate voluntary enlistments. The stigma of being drafted, plus the bounties offered to recruits, combined to encourage volunteering. Most townships and boroughs worked hard to find the recruits necessary to fill quotas. Still, many men were forcibly conscripted. This new form of compulsory service, accompanied by the reach of federal authority into local communities, helped fuel opposition to the war.
Image: 1862 Militia Draft Enrollment Notice for James Buchannon, Bristol Borough. Mercer Museum Library, Bucks County Archives.
The 1862 Militia Draft and the 174th Pennsylvania Regiment
The Federal Militia Act, enacted in July 1862, gave President Lincoln the power to call on the states to provide militia troops for nine months of federal service. Since organized state and local militia units had largely ceased to exist by the Civil War, these militias had to be created from a pool of eligible male citizens. The Militia Act called on the states to resort to a draft, if necessary, in order to furnish the sufficient number of troops for federal service.
In order to implement a draft, authorities first needed to identify all those eligible. Assessors canvassed local townships and municipalities, recording the names of men subject to the draft. From these lists, names were drawn at random to meet the County’s quota of troops. Many of those conscripted claimed disability or exemption. Others objected to service as a manner of conscience – Quakers and Mennonites. Still others simply refused to report. But after some delay an entire regiment – the 174th Pennsylvania Infantry – was organized and sent into the field in the fall of 1862.
Image: Jury or Draft Wheel from the Bucks County Courthouse, Mid-19th century, Mercer Museum acc. no. 24472. From such devices the names of draftees were drawn in 1862.
The Federal Draft of 1863
By 1863, federal authorities concluded that leaving conscription in the hands of states was clumsy and unworkable, and lacked provisions for adequate enforcement. This realization led to the first comprehensive military draft, mandated, organized and enforced by the federal government. In Bucks County, newly appointed Provost Marshal for the 5th Congressional District, Mahlon Yardley, took on the responsibility for implementing and enforcing conscription. Again bounties were raised and volunteer enlistments encouraged, but in the end a draft was needed to meet quotas. In July 1863 the first federal draft was held at the Board of Enrollment offices in Frankford, northeast of Philadelphia. A total of 1,656 Bucks County men were selected. Many of these draftees would fail to report or desert. Others were rejected due to disability, received exemptions, hired substitutes or paid the commutation fee. Some, however, reported for service and joined regiments in the field. With more calls for troops in 1864 and 1865, federal conscription would continue to the close of the War.
Image: Frock Coat of Capt. Mahlon Yardley, Provost Marshal, 5th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, c. 1863. Mercer Museum acc. no. 24398.
Draft Avoidance and Resistance
With the coming of the draft, local men faced a decision – to voluntarily enlist, take a chance on being drafted, seek alternative service, or attempt to avoid service entirely. Methods to avoid service included applying for an exemption based on disability or occupation, hiring a substitute to serve in one’s place, payment of a $300 commutation fee, or - if all else failed – desertion and resistance. Bucks Countians employed all of these options. Though individuals each made their own decisions, resentment over the draft, the imposition of Federal authority, and increased taxation also inspired small pockets of organized resistance. Disgruntled residents threatened enrollment officers, pelted them with rotten eggs, and attacked them with dogs. One officer was made to ride a rail. Others were fired upon. Some men publicly tore up their enrollment notices. In Sellersville, a “riot” of sorts ensued, echoing a much larger and more violent revolt in New York City in the summer of 1863. And, near Perkiomenville in Montgomery County – just across the line from Bucks – an enrolling officer was shot to death by an alleged deserter and resister.
Images: Claiming a disability, applying for conscientious objector status, and hiring a substitute were among the methods of avoiding the draft, as these documents attest. Bucks County Archives, Mercer Museum Library.
The Enlistment of African-American Troops"We understand…four colored men left Newtown last week with the object of entering the service at once. They probably joined the Second Massachusetts Colored Regiment [55th Massachusetts Infantry] which has opened a recruiting office in Philadelphia."
- Bucks County Intelligencer, June 16, 1863
Early attempts by northern blacks to join the war effort were mostly rebuffed. A few Union officers took it upon themselves to recruit former slaves and organize them into regiments, but such efforts were not supported by the Lincoln Administration. The conflict remained a “white man’s war” for restoration of the Union. By 1863, however, the Emancipation Proclamation and Congressional action had paved the way for the enrollment of black troops. Governors in the New England states launched the first recruitment efforts, drawing enlistees from across the North. Some Bucks County men traveled northward to join these units. Pennsylvania began enlisting black soldiers in the summer of 1863, in part to fill recruitment quotas. These soldiers joined regiments of “United States Colored Troops,” led by white officers. Local newspapers debated the merits and mettle of black troops through the spring and summer of 1863. In the end, nearly 200,000 black soldiers entered the ranks of the Union Army, drawn from free black communities in the North, and from former slave populations in the South. Just as it was growing more difficult to recruit, or conscript, enough white men into the Army, black troops provided critical manpower.
Image: The 24th United States Colored Troops at Camp William Penn, Cheltenham, Montgomery County, Pa., 1865. Mercer Museum Library.
Bucks County’s Black Soldiers"I have visited Newtown, Attleborough, Bristol, and their vicinities, and have procured 55 names, including…18 obtained in Buckingham…The prospect is fair for getting up a full [colored] company in this county."
- James K. Morris, Buckingham, Bucks County Intelligencer, June 23, 1863
Spurred by recruitment efforts that included public meetings and appeals, and the appearance of black abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, dozens and perhaps hundreds of young black men from Bucks County enrolled in “colored” regiments between 1863 and 1865. These included men born here, as well as fugitive slaves and “contrabands” who sought refuge in the County before and during the war. Some men traveled to enlist in colored regiments established in the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Others filled the ranks of one of the eleven regiments of United States Colored Troops that trained at Camp William Penn in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County. For blacks here and elsewhere, there were many reasons not to enlist. There would be no black commissioned officers. All units would be led by white men. Black enrollees faced discrimination in pay. How would their families be supported if they went off to fight? For black soldiers who might be captured, Confederate authorities promised that they would be returned to slavery at best, or executed at worst. Despite these disincentives, black regiments filled rapidly.
Image: Certificate of Muster of Thomas Dye of Yardley, Bucks County, 6th United States Colored Troops, Camp William Penn, 1863. Mercer Museum Library, Bucks County Archives.
Pennsylvania Invaded: The Gettysburg Campaign
Determined to take the war to the North, Confederate general Robert E. Lee led his army into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863. Alarm quickly spread throughout the southeastern and central portions of the state. Even Philadelphia began preparations to repel the invader. The situation led Governor Curtin to call for aid, especially for defense of the capitol at Harrisburg. Though the response was slow, a number of regiments of “Emergency Troops” eventually assembled in Harrisburg and in the surrounding countryside. Though few of these troops saw actual battle, they did manage to help keep the Confederate Army on the west side of the Susquehanna River, and away from Pennsylvania’s capital.
Eventually, Lee concentrated his forces around the small town of Gettysburg in Adams County. There on July 1st he engaged the Union Army and its new commander, General George Meade. After three days of intense fighting, and a horrific number of casualties, Lee’s army was turned back. On the 4th of July, his columns began a long retreat to safety in Virginia. On the same day, the Confederate bastion at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River also fell. These twin victories marked a major military turning point in the war.
Image: Headlines from the Bucks County Intelligencer, June 1863.
The Emergency Response"I am willing for my husband to be [a] soldier when necessary, but I do not want it to be a profession with him…"
- Ellen Hart to Her Husband, Samuel Hart, Co. F, 31st Pa. Emergency Troops
Like communities elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Bucks County sent several companies of Emergency Troops to defend the state and its capital. Though these troops contained a few Union Army veterans, most had little training or experience. They were ill-prepared for hard marching or fighting. The militia joined other units in Harrisburg, providing a nominal force for the defense of the city. The companies from Bucks served into August of 1863, transporting supplies, guarding prisoners, and helping to round up deserters. Governor Curtin dispatched one company of Bucks’ soldiers to Pottsville to help suppress opposition to the Federal draft. Among the Emergency Troops from Bucks, only one casualty occurred. A stray bullet fired in target practice wounded Doylestown attorney Richard Watson while his militia unit was encamped at Harrisburg.
Image: Rifle Musket of Henry W. Lear, Co. F, 31st Pa. Emergency Troops, P.S. Justice, Philadelphia, Pa., 1861-1863. Mercer Museum acc. no. MM2000.03.001. Discharged for disability from the 104th Pa. Infantry, Lear re-enrolled in the emergency troops called out in response to Lee's invasion.
Bucks County at Gettysburg
Though few Bucks County units fought at Gettysburg, the battle and its aftermath affected many local soldiers and their families. After a forced march to Gettysburg, Cpl. Elwood Mathews of New Britain Township found his 153rd Pennsylvania regiment in a vulnerable position on the Union right flank during the first day at Gettysburg. He would be listed as missing at the close of the battle....
Robert S. Dana, Assistant Surgeon with the 107th Pennsylvania, found himself trapped behind Confederate lines on July 1. His horse shot from under him, he spent the next two days caring for wounded Union and Confederate soldiers in a makeshift hospital in the town of Gettysburg....
Twenty-two-year-old Robert Kenderdine of Solebury went into battle on July 2nd with the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry. Wounded in the action, he would lie exposed on the battlefield for two days before being found and transported to a hospital. He died shortly afterwards...
Also on July 2nd, Doylestown’s Robert Bodine, commanding the 26th Pennsylvania, did everything in his power to stave off disaster for the Union forces. In the midst of the battle he even managed to exchange his regiment’s inferior muskets for captured Confederate weapons left lying on the field...
And, on July 3, Capt. James Hart of Southampton Township found himself in the thick of the cavalry fight just east of the main battlefield. One of his 1st New Jersey Cavalry troopers put Confederate General Wade Hampton out of the battle with a saber blow to the head.
Images: (clockwise from top) Elwood Mathews, Robert Dana, Robert Kenderdine, Robert Bodine, and James Hart. Mercer Museum Library.
Prisoners of War
At the outset of the war, soldiers captured in battle were simply paroled and exchanged. Many eventually returned to their units to fight again. While in captivity, conditions could be harsh, and some prisoners succumbed to disease or the effects of wounds, but lengths of captivity tended to be short. Many prisoners were released after a relatively brief incarceration.
By 1863, complex arrangements for parole and exchange had begun to fall apart. Union authorities saw that released Confederate prisoners typically rejoined their regiments, effectively prolonging the war. The Confederacy also announced that black Union soldiers would be treated not as prisoners of war, but instead returned to slavery. White officers commanding “colored” troops could be put to death. By 1864, with occasional exceptions, prisoner exchanges slowed and essentially halted. Prison populations both North and South soared, resulting in shockingly overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Thousands died of disease and starvation. Many POWs from Bucks perished in southern prisons, including those at Andersonville, Georgia, and Salisbury, North Carolina.
Image: Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia, c. 1863. Mercer Museum Library.
Col. Thomas Rose and the Libby Prison Breakout
A native of Bucks County, Rose moved to Pittsburgh before the Civil War. While in command of his regiment at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863 he was captured and taken to Libby Prison in Richmond. At Libby, Rose went to work planning a prison break. The escape involved tunneling out of the rat-infested basement of the prison. During the breakout in February 1864, he was the first one out of the tunnel, but was re-captured by a Confederate patrol shortly after. However, many of the more than 100 who escaped through the tunnel managed to reach the safety of Union lines outside Richmond. It was the largest and most daring prison break of the war. Rose was given 13 days in the dungeon as punishment for leading the escape, but was later released and exchanged.
Image: Presentation Sword and Scabbard of Thomas Rose, by Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, New York City, 1863. Mercer Museum Collection, acc. no. 19492, gift of Adelaide P. Rose, 1922.
Women’s Wartime Roles Expand"The women of Buckingham and Solebury meet weekly...to make winter clothing for the destitute slaves the army finds...The women work earnestly and have the aid and support of almost the entire community."
- Bucks County Intelligencer, January 5, 1864
By 1863, the soldiers’ aid organizations founded early in the war had become a vast network of women activists. These groups continued to raise funds and send supplies via a web of regional and national organizations in an effort to improve the health, medical care and morale of soldiers in the field. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, and the need to assist thousands of destitute former slaves inside Union lines, some of these women also began to provide aid through newly-organized freedmen’s circles and societies. Participation in these aid groups provided women with a form of “civic training” – training some would draw upon in later movements for social reform.
While many local groups supported the work of freedmen’s aid efforts from afar, a few Bucks County women took a more challenging path. These educators traveled south to teach reading and other subjects to freed slaves, or “contrabands,” in places like Nashville, Tennessee; Alexandria, Virginia; and the Carolina coast.
Closer to home, local women also responded to calls to volunteer as nurses at the new White Hall General Hospital established near Bristol, Bucks County. Women’s wartime service as teachers and nurses helped spur the feminization of these occupations in the later 1800s.
Image: Engraving of Bristol College, later White Hall U.S. Army General Hospital, Croydon, Bucks County, c. 1840. Mercer Museum Library.
The Great Sanitary Fair"Every Aid Society in the County shall be a connecting link in a chain of usefulness."
- Bucks County Intelligencer, March 1, 1864
Six months of intense planning culminated in Philadelphia's Great Sanitary Fair of 1864, a giant exposition intended to raise funds for the United States Sanitary Commission. The fair combined a ladies’ bazaar with an industrial and manufacturing exhibition. Though the planning was directed largely by men, women performed much of the footwork, soliciting donations of items for exhibition and sale at the fair. The event featured dozens of departments and booths, all housed in a 200,000 square foot complex, constructed in some 40 days by volunteer tradesmen.
In Bucks County, women worked tirelessly canvassing and soliciting their neighbors for donations of money, as well as for items to sell and display at the Fair. Local aid societies networked and coordinated their efforts. Presented over three weeks in June 1864, the Fair attracted a quarter of a million visitors and raised in excess of $1 million.
Image: Great Central Fair Committee Ticket for Miss A.E. Jones, June 1864. Mercer Museum Library.
The Election of 1864"How does thee think Phila. will go for the next President, McClellan or Abe? If the army has a vote Abe will be the next President. We are not for having a tra[i]tor in the Presidential chair after fighting for three years.”
- Michael H.J. Crouch, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, October 12, 1864
The 1864 Presidential election presented a stark choice. Would capitulation of the Confederacy continue to be the goal? Or, would the North negotiate a peace? In 1860, Bucks County had helped to elect Abraham Lincoln. But four years later, a Lincoln victory was not assured. Citizens debated the issues intensely. Some area residents affiliated with the Copperhead Movement. Radically opposed to the war, they agitated for a negotiated peace with no end to slavery. Local Democrats also criticized Lincoln’s conduct of the war. They claimed federal officials had violated the Constitution and trampled on individual rights. And, they raised the specter of civil rights for freed slaves.
Democrats called their opponents “Black Republicans,” branding them as radical proponents of racial equality. Although Democratic candidate George McClellan pledged to pursue a military victory, his party’s platform called for an armistice with the South.
Republicans pressed the war’s original aim – suppression of a traitorous rebellion and restoration of the Union. But with thousands of blacks in the Union army, winning the war had come to mean an end to slavery. Republicans tagged all of their Democratic opponents as “Copperheads,” conjuring images of venomous snakes undermining the war effort.
Images: Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan Campaign Pins, 1864. Mercer Museum Library.
The Soldiers’ Vote"The men say that when they heard rebel prisoners cheering for McClellan, they concluded that he could not be the right kind of a man for them to vote for..."
- Bucks County Intelligencer, November 15, 1864
Until the Civil War, soldiers in the field had never voted in a Presidential election. Legally, it had not been possible. But in 1864 Republicans believed the vast majority of Union soldiers would cast their ballots in support of Abraham Lincoln. General George McClellan, on the other hand, expected troops would express their affection for him – their former commander – at the ballot box. In August, Pennsylvania voters approved an amendment to the state constitution permitting troops to vote away from their home districts – in camp and at the front. Over the next two months, Republicans and Democrats sought to win the hearts and minds of soldiers in the field. Special commissioners were sent to monitor voting by the state’s soldiers on election day. Even so, Democrats charged that balloting was manipulated by Republican officers and officials. When the ballots of Bucks County’s soldiers were counted, they had voted more than two to one in favor of the President. Nationwide, among those states permitting voting in the field, the margin was even wider: nearly 117,000 for Lincoln and not quite 34,000 for McClellan. Mr. Lincoln’s Army had spoken.
Image: "Pennsylvania Soldiers Voting," engraving from an original drawing by William Waud, Harper's Weekly, October 29, 1864. Mercer Museum Library.
The Results are In!
In 1860, the voters of Bucks County helped elect Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. But by 1864, weary of war and critical of the Lincoln Administration, the County’s citizens readily embraced the candidacy of George McClellan. At the close of balloting, they gave “Little Mac” 7,235 votes, to Lincoln’s 6,197. If it had been up to the voters in Bucks, the war might have ended quite differently.
In contrast to the results in Bucks, statewide and nationally Abraham Lincoln rode to victory with 55% of the popular vote. In the Electoral College, his opponent won only three states - capturing just 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212. As perhaps the final major turning point of the War, the election affirmed public approval of the North’s military strategy and the war-fighting policies of the Lincoln Administration.
Image: “Presidential Election: Bucks County - Official,” Doylestown Democrat, November 15, 1864. Mercer Library Collection.
Bells of Victory...and Mourning
By the close of 1864, Union victory finally seemed within reach. The re-election of Abraham Lincoln ensured there would be no peace without the defeat of Confederate armies. Military conscription, bounty payments, and the enlistment of African-American troops brought more Union soldiers into the field – placing added pressure on the Confederacy and its limited manpower. Despite the support shown by Bucks County voters’ for Lincoln’s opponent, most local citizens continued to support the troops in the field, and to care for those who had – in Lincoln’s words – “borne the battle.” Though the conflict would continue into the late spring of 1865, with the deaths of more soldiers on southern battlefields, the tide had finally turned.
But as bells rang to celebrate victory, and then to toll the death of the President, few civilians or soldiers were prepared to confront the war’s unresolved issues. There was a need for reunion and reconciliation between North and South. At the same time, the struggle of black Americans for civil rights had barely begun. Women would continue to test themselves in the civic sphere in upcoming battles for social reform and suffrage. And the expansion of federal power and authority brought by the war would persist into the post-war era, presenting an issue debated even in our own time.
Image: Lincoln Memorial Ribbon, 1865. Mercer Museum Library.
Coming Home – Remembering and Forgetting
Surviving soldiers came home, tired and worn – anxious for an end to the struggle of the past four years, and a return to civilian life. With the Confederacy defeated, the Union restored, and slavery ended, most felt their job was finished. But enormous tasks remained ahead for a reunited nation.
The first chore was sectional reconciliation and healing. The second the pursuit of justice, civil rights, and economic independence for former slaves and free people of color. These tasks did not carry equal weight for most Americans. While the process of reunion triumphed, racial justice lagged and stalled.
Reconciliation required both remembering and forgetting. Those who wished to remember erected monuments, founded veterans’ groups, and devoted themselves to commemorating the service of comrades living and dead. The memory of shared valor, manly honor and sacrifice among veterans – chiefly white veterans – served as a foundation for reunion between North and South. Important, too, was forgetting. Bitter memories of prison starvation and death, wartime atrocities, and battlefield brutality had to be set aside. Because racial justice seemed only to divide Americans, rather than aid reconciliation, that, too, needed to be suppressed. Easily forgotten on the path to reunion were the legacy of emancipation and the role blacks had played in determining the outcome of the conflict.
Image: Morrisville, Bucks County Civil War Veterans, from a postcard photograph by William Pope, Trenton, New Jersey or Morrisville, Pennsylvania, c. 1910. Mercer Museum Library, gift of David Long.