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Arrest of the Patriot and Union Staff in 1862

The article below is excerpted from The Year of Jubilee: Men of Muscle.  In a chapter about how the Civil War affected African American residents of the Harrisburg area, author George Nagle recounts a story about the staff of the Patriot and Union, the local Democratic newspaper, who were arrested by military authorities for a sarcastic piece that they published in August 1862 about the fictional formation of a local African American company of soldiers.  There was no such enlistment at the time, and military authorities saw the piece not as tongue-in-cheek, but as a dangerous propaganda tool designed to incite those persons strongly opposed to using African Americans as troops.

Note that the Harrisburg provost-marshal was tipped off to the role of the Patriot and Union by its rival publication, the Telegraph,  the local Republican newspaper.  For modern scholars it is another example of how political parties played on racial tensions in promoting their views, forcing African Americans into the role of pawns on the national political stage.



In April 1862, longtime Anti-slavery speaker Wendell Phillips spoke to a large crowd at Brant's Hall in Harrisburg, in response to Democratic charges that abolitionists and anti-slavery policies were to blame for the bloodshed and destruction of the war. Phillips laid blame for the war on the institution of slavery, noting that its "doom was proclaimed in its own position; and its end, with the fearful enormities of which it had been the author, would go down into darkness and disgrace."

Before his appearance, the audience was warmed up by the nationally known anti-slavery singers The Hutchinson Family, whose repertoire now included many patriotic songs. Despite the popularity of the musical Hutchinson Family, and the forcefulness of Phillips’ rhetoric, the argument failed to make many converts among white city residents, who maintained a stubbon anti-abolition bias.

An apparent attempt to link the war to anti-slavery activism and to stir up white phobias about African American militancy occurred that summer. Sometime in the first week of August, handbills began appearing around town announcing:

Attention, Colored Men!

The great Gen. James Lane has arrived in this city to-day, and will address the colored citizens of Harrisburg in front of the Market-House at four o'clock this (Monday) afternoon. Men and brethren, come along.

The government having granted him permission to raise two Colored Regiments, he will be prepared to swear in all able-bodied colored men who may offer, and he confidently expects to raise one company in this place.

Arms, equipment, uniforms, pay, rations, and bounty the same as received by white soldiers, and no distinction will be made. Come one, come all.

J. H. Tompkins, Recruiting Officer for Lane's Colored Regiments.

The handbills caused considerable agitation and anxiety among white residents, loaded as they were with a number of inflammatory statements. Most alarming, to the peaceable citizens of Harrisburg was the name “James Lane,” which referred to Kansas Senator James Henry Lane, whose nicknames “Bloody Jim,” and “The Grim Chieftain” reveal the reputation that surrounded this iconoclastic Republican figure.

Even more frightening to white Harrisburg residents was the fact that Lane had just begun recruiting for the First Kansas Colored Infantry in his state, in defiance of federal regulations against the recruiting and arming of African Americans for duty as federal soldiers. This handbill suggested that the fiery Jayhawker has intimidated state authorities into allowing him to raise African American regiments in Pennsylvania. Images of the Garnet Guards, parading brazenly up Market Street with shouldered muskets a mere two months before John Brown tried to rally African Americans into a holy anti-slavery army filled their heads, while Henry Highland Garnet’s words burned in their memories: “If you must bleed, let it all come at once.” Worse yet, the handbill promised that all equipment and pay would be on par with white soldiers. Harrisburg was not ready for this.

George Bergner, editor of the rival Telegraph newspaper, a Republican organ, sensed that all was not right with the posters, and investigated. The editor of the Daily Telegraph soon found that they had been printed on the presses of the rival Patriot and Union newspaper. Believing that they were false, and had been composed solely to stir up sentiment against local anti-slavery advocates, and, by association, against Republican politicians, Bergner shared his suspicions with local Provost Marshal Dodge, and the next day a team of military officers arrived in Harrisburg from Washington, DC and arrested the owners and editors of the Patriot and Union on charges of suspected treason.

The men were all taken to Washington and held for three weeks while military officials decided whether they were guilty of exciting the passions of residents opposed to using African American troops, and of discouraging the enlistment of white soldiers. The editor, Uriah J. Jones, admitted to writing the placards for political purposes but denied any intention of embarrassing local recruiting officers. All were released on 23 August after signing loyalty statements, and returned to Harrisburg with the threat of military confiscation of their printing presses hanging over their heads. The threatened confiscation did not happen, however, and the Patriot and Union continued to publish editions.

Source: George F. Nagle, The Year of Jubilee: Men of Muscle (2010), pp. 299-301.

More Information

  • In 1863 the federal government did allow African Americans to fight as federal troops.  One person who worked in Harrisburg to help enlist local African American men into national service was Thomas Morris Chester.  You can read about a local effort to commemorate Chester's work by preserving his tombstone in a local cemetery by clicking here.
  • The editors of the Patriot and Union, even while still being held in Washington, pressed libel charges against the editors of the Telegraph. Those charges apparently were withdrawn after they returned to Harrisburg on the 23rd. The Coudersport, PA Potter Journal, a Republican newspaper, ran a short recap of the charges and of the incident. The article below was likely made up by the Journal editors from reading editions of the Telegraph.
    Source: Potter Journal (Coudersport, Pennsylvania), 20 August, 1862, p. 3.
    News article from the Potter Journal, 1862.


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