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a book about Harrisburg...

by George F. Nagle


Table of Contents

Study Areas:



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Civil War


Chapter Ten
The Bridge (continued)


Speaking Trumpet-tongued

The debate over allowing African Americans to serve in the armed forces was as old as the country itself, and flared anew during every war. Harrisburg banker and politician Simon Cameron was one of the first to broach the subject when the war began, and he did so in his own brash and inimitable way. Few stories of political dynasties can rival the tale of Simon Cameron's hold on Pennsylvania politics, with his behind-the-scenes maneuverings and deals made literally in smoke-filled rooms. Despite tales of corruption, political chicanery, and outright graft, few would dispute that this man was for many years the most powerful and influential person in Pennsylvania politics.

Cameron's interest in politics developed through his interest in printing, which began at age ten as a printer's apprentice. While barely out of his teenage years he assumed the editorship of several small newspapers and in 1821 came to Harrisburg where he bought a small newspaper, the Harrisburg Republican, renamed it the Intelligencer, and began cultivating important political connections.

Newspapers in the nineteenth century were often little more than political organs for various parties or candidates. While some existed only for the duration of a political campaign, established and financed by political party monies, most stayed in business longer and served their communities as legitimate newspapers, all the while endorsing a specific party or political movement. Simon Cameron's career as editor soon led to his appointment as State Printer, and then Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. He was twice elected to the U.S. Senate, first as a Democrat, and the second time with the backing of a coalition of Democratic, Republican, and American party legislators.

In the stormy presidential election of 1860, Cameron declared himself a Republican candidate for president and took an influential delegation to the party convention in Chicago. There, after much political wrangling, Cameron threw his support behind Abraham Lincoln in return for the promise of a Cabinet position. After the election, Lincoln withheld the post of secretary of the treasury, a post that Cameron, who counted banking among his many vocations, really wanted, and instead offered to him an appointment as secretary of war. It was during Simon Cameron's tenure as secretary of war that he proposed that slaves freed by Union troops be immediately emancipated and used in the war effort, either as laborers or as armed troops. From his 1 December 1861 annual report, Cameron argued:

It shall be found that the men who have been held by the rebels as slaves are capable of bearing arms and performing efficient military service, it is the right, and may become the duty, of this Government to arm and equip them, and employ their services against the rebels, under proper military regulations, discipline and command.

But in whatever manner they may be used by the Government, it is plain that, once liberated by the rebellious act of their masters, they should never again be restored to bondage. By the master's treason and rebellion he forfeits all right to the labor and service of his slave; and the slave of the rebellious master, by his service to the Government, becomes justly entitled to freedom and protection.15

Unfortunately, Lincoln felt that the nation was not yet ready for emancipation and arming African Americans as soldiers, and censored Cameron's report, demanding the removal of the portions referring to emancipation and arming former slaves. Cameron complied, but sent uncensored copies of the report to the newspapers, infuriating those members of the administration who opposed hard-line dealings with the Southern states. The resulting furor was one of several reasons that Lincoln replaced Cameron with Edwin Stanton, assigning the Pennsylvanian to the recently vacated, and safely distant, post of minister to Russia. The Lincoln administration then put the concept of black soldiers on hold, at least until the military situation demanded it, at which point the President finally decided to incorporate it into the planned Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln’s decision, made in July 1862, was based more on military necessity than on popular opinion, which was why he needed a military victory in order to announce his proclamation. The success of the Army of the Potomac in checking Lee’s invasion of the North at Antietam Creek in Maryland suited his purpose. Although that very bloody battle was not a Union victory, in that the Army of Northern Virginia was not militarily defeated, it was also not a Southern victory, and so it was close enough.

Released to the public right after the battle and first published in Harrisburg on Tuesday, 23 September 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation was trumpeted as a moral blow against slavery and also as a fuller prosecution of the war against those in rebellion by taking away their means of production. However, the September 1862 version of the Proclamation emphasized only the emancipation of those slaves in areas still in rebellion as of the first of the year. It said nothing explicit about taking African Americans into the armed forces.16 Perhaps even then it was still too soon.

Only two months before, the collected members of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party had been in Harrisburg for their state convention, and had issued a strongly worded denunciation of the President’s consideration of the acceptance of African Americans into the armed forces. In their published proceedings, they wrote:

On position in opposition to accepting African American troops: We forbear to discuss the question, whether such soldiers are not a burlesque upon the name, and whether clothing and arming negroes as such, beside the waste of clothes, arms, and other supplies, is not exposing us to defeat in battle, from the clearly established fact, that the negro is utterly disqualified by nature to stand the musketry and artillery fire -not to speak of the bayonet charge- of modern warfare.17

By January 1863, however, the Democratic opinions were moot. The decision had been made, and it remained only to begin the process of large-scale recruitment of blacks into the army and navy. Congress had, as early as July 1862, already passed two separate acts clearing the legal barriers against enlistment of African Americans, and black regiments had been formed in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas Territory.

The formation of African American regiments in Pennsylvania did not begin in earnest until June, but prior to that, Massachusetts and Rhode Island began to recruit throughout several eastern states for their respective regiments. The opportunity to fight was finally available, and Harrisburg saw a flurry of activity related to the organization of the New England regiments.

Massachusetts Governor John Andrew was the most aggressive in seeking recruits to fill his state’s first African American regiment. He appointed George Luther Stearns, one of John Brown’s chief backers in Kansas and a member of the “Secret Six” financial backers of his Harpers Ferry Raid, as the head of his committee on recruitment, and Stearns in turn brought in Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and Charles Lennox Remond as regional recruiters.18

Douglass immediately went to work in Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania. The initial meetings, as reported in the Harrisburg Telegraph, were promising:

Black Pennsylvanians Enlisting in Massachusetts Regiments.

A few days ago recruiting and transporting offices were opened, somewhat privately, in Philadelphia, to enlist black soldiers for Massachusetts regiments. At different times small squads of negroes were sent down to Boston, and on the day before yesterday twenty five well developed men marched through the streets to the transportation office and depot, which was the first information that the public had of negro enlistments. Gov. Andrew sent an officer to Philadelphia to consult with the leading men of color, and the interview was satisfactory. Should the Governor confirm what the officer agreed to, which relates to bounty and such matters, there will be a grand rush of blacks from this State to enlist in the Massachusetts regiments.19

The Patriot and Union took a more pessimistic tone, predictably:

Recruiting Negroes.

This State is overrun with agents from Massachusetts seeking negro recruits for her unfilled quota of the army. We have our information from a colored man of this city, who is promised thirteen dollars a month and ten acres of land. He tells us that some ten or twenty will be taken from Harrisburg. Massachusetts may have all the negroes she can raise from this quarter.20

Monthly pay of thirteen dollars, with a bounty of ten acres of land, would have been quite a generous enlistment offer, if true, but it was not; and that constituted a significant hitch in the plan to enroll the free black residents of Pennsylvania in the new Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was true that recruiting officers promised monthly pay on par with white troops, but there were no plans to offer land as an enlistment bounty. Furthermore, the recruiting agents knew that Congress, while authorizing the recruitment of black troops, had not authorized equal pay.

But there was another, bigger hurdle to overcome, which was the disenfranchisement of African Americans by the Pennsylvania State Constitution of 1838. This became a sore issue at the very first recruitment meeting for the Massachusetts regiment held in Harrisburg, where local agents encountered unexpected opposition to enlistment based upon the lack of respect given African Americans by the Keystone State. At the meeting, Harrisburg men told the recruiters, all the while reiterating their desire and willingness to fight, that they would respond to an enlistment call only when summoned “by the proper authorities,”21 meaning Pennsylvania’s government. In other words, they wanted to fight in defense of their homes, but would not sacrifice their self-respect by leaving a state that did not want their services, just to seek out another state that did.

A much more contentious crowd assembled for a mass recruitment meeting in Philadelphia in late March, and voiced many of the same concerns. At a meeting held in Franklin Hall and chaired by the Reverend Stephen Smith, recruiting agent A.M. Green opened the meeting with the statement that enlistments for black regiments were no longer in doubt, as “the noble old Bay State, Governor Andrew has power to organize at least one black regiment.” Green challenged his fellow Philadelphians by stating, “The question now is, whether the colored men shall rally, or whether it shall be thrown in our teeth, what has already gone forth, that the colored people have neither genius nor bravery to display in the present war.”

On the dais with Green was J. Miller McKim, who added his voice to the call to arms. McKim said that “he had it from a high source that colored enlistments for Pennsylvania had not yet been authorized, although plans for the same were now maturing, of which due notice would be given.” He advised those assembled, though, not to wait for Pennsylvania to start filling her own black regiment while the Massachusetts regiment remained only partially filled. McKim stated that one-half of the men already in Readville, Massachusetts, the camp of rendezvous for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, were Pennsylvania men.22

In suggesting the probability that future Pennsylvania regiments would be formed, McKim was clearly trying to head off the same protests that recruiters had heard in Harrisburg. A sympathetic member of the crowd offered supporting remarks, saying, “The colored people were a forgiving race, and, although they had been deprived of their rights, yet he knew they were willing to forget all, and rally around their country’s flag at that moment when their services were most needed.”

Stephens, McKim, and Green received his comments with satisfaction, but then the dissenters added their voices. David Bustill, the father of Joseph C. Bustill, stood up. The respected Quaker abolitionist was now in his seventies, and his small frame seemed even frailer with age, but the fierce defender of fugitive slaves had lost none of the fire that infused his lectures against slavery that he had delivered in years past in front of dour judges presiding over the fate of some unfortunate fugitive. This veteran equal rights crusader was not about to be so easily manipulated by talk of patriotism.

As recorded in the newspaper, the elder Bustill felt that “colored people had no rights whatever under the Constitution of Pennsylvania. They have no rights, and the Government doesn’t mean to give them rights. He denounced, in strong terms, the sentiments as uttered by Mr. McKim.”23 Bustilll’s opinions struck a nerve with those gathered in the room. A low whisper of assent spread through the hall. The rally organizers feared losing control of the meeting as several in the crowd muttered their agreement with Bustill.

The Philadelphia meeting was rescued by the comments of Robert Purvis, who “made a stirring address” which garnered the general, if begrudging, approval of most of the crowd for a series of resolutions saluting Massachusetts for her support of abolition issues, but mostly for being the first to “unbar the door, that black men of the North may on equal turns with white men, strike simultaneously at Slavery and the Rebellion.” The assembly then pledged a debt to Massachusetts, offering “every influence in our power in order to make the Fifty-fourth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, a perfect success, a model regiment by the way, speaking trumpet-tongued to her prejudiced sister States, saying ‘Go thou, and do likewise.’”24


John Wolf and T. Morris Chester Step Up

The Bay State eventually did fill up its first African American regiment, and in fact had so many qualified volunteers that it was able to create a second regiment, sending forth both the Fifty-Fourth and Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Volunteers, both of which included many men from Pennsylvania. It was a struggle at first, though. To the severe disappointment of those who supported the regiment, and despite the eloquent speeches of men like Frederick Douglass, recruiting efforts throughout Pennsylvania progressed painfully slow from January through April. A large number of the Pennsylvania men already in Massachusetts, as referred to by J. Miller McKim at the Philadelphia rally, were there due to the tireless efforts of two Harrisburg men: Thomas Morris Chester and John Wolf.

Harrisburg schoolteacher John Wolf, at forty-five years old, added a measure of respect and wisdom to the recruitment efforts in the state capital. Having taught school in the city for more than twenty years, the freeborn Pennsylvania native was well known to many of the young African American men of the town, so when he talked to them about their duty to stand up and fight the slave powers by joining the newly authorized Massachusetts regiment, they listened.

As a close personal friend of Frederick Douglass—Wolf and his wife had played hosts to the famed anti-slavery orator during his 1847 speaking engagement in Harrisburg—John Wolf welcomed the opportunity to again help his old friend in this new and worthy endeavor.25 The schoolteacher was joined in his recruitment efforts by the ambitious and versatile Thomas Morris Chester, the son of old time Harrisburg restaurateurs George and Jane Chester.

At only twenty-eight years of age, young Chester had already experienced a lifetime of achievements. College educated and well spoken, he had crossed the Atlantic several times to live and work in Liberia with fellow African American émigrés. He had published a newspaper and taught school in the African colony, and still had time to study law with an eye toward soon becoming a practicing lawyer. His African adventures brought him considerably regional fame, and he was invited to participate in numerous social events in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

On 9 December 1862, T. Morris Chester—his preferred moniker—delivered an address at the twenty-ninth anniversary of the Philadelphia Library Company on the subject of “Negro Self-Respect and Pride of Race.” In that well-received speech, Chester argued that blacks should strive for the same level of “self-respect and pride of race” in their daily lives that they manifested in emergencies, as when their “latent manhood” was aroused to a “grand development of moral courage in opposition to public sentiment and unjust laws.” He illustrated his point:

Let it be announced that a fugitive slave is arrested by the revolting vampires who exist by sucking our blood, and you will witness a magnificent gathering together of the Afro-Americans in their physical strength. Such an event would spread with the rapidity of lightning, and from Seventh street, and St. Mary, and Lombard, and Shippen, men and women would march up grandly to the tune of John Brown, to fight, if necessary, for the god-given rights of the race.26

Chester went on to urge the same passion and racial unity in the literature, art, and heroes that African Americans chose. In his most memorable line, he urged, “I would not persuade you to like the white race less, but to love the black race more.” He then cited worthy African American heroes, artists and businessmen as substitutes for better-known whites in the same categories: “Remove as far as practicable, from all observations and association, every influence which tends to weaken your self-respect. Take down from your walls the pictures of Washington, Jackson, and McClellan; and if you love to gaze upon military chieftains, let the gilded frames be graced with the immortal Toussaint, the brave Geffrard, and the chivalrous Benson, three untarnished black generals whose martial achievements are the property of history.”27

This was not a new theme, but Chester felt that it required repeating. One of the chief regional recruiting agents for Massachusetts Governor Andrew, Martin Delany, had exhorted the black residents of Harrisburg to follow that very course in a speech delivered here in November 1848, some fourteen years earlier. Delany had said, “It is necessary to make our people dependent upon themselves, and cease to look to others to do for them….My constant advice to our brethren shall be—Elevate yourselves!”

After rolling through a list of similar such substitutions, all in the name of providing young people with badly needed role models, Chester turned his sights on the larger institutions of government and especially religion:

The American religion, American politics and American literature have ever, to the lasting disgrace of the American people, been prostituted to ignore our virtues.—Henceforth discard such religion as illegitimate and hypocritical, such politics as corrupt and infamous, and such literature as versatile and dangerous. Follow only the Christianity of the Bible which diffuses good will to men, rally only in support of that policy which recognizes God as our Father and all mankind as brethren.28

These were the revolutionary sentiments that T. Morris Chester carried to Harrisburg a month later, and their influence is clearly evident not only in his recruiting practices, but in the Watch Night resolutions released by Wolf, Bennett, and Stevens that same month, which they summarized as follows:

Although the proclamation was not made as an act of philanthropy, or as a grand deed of justice due to those suffering in bonds, but simply as a war measure, still in it we recognize the hand of God; and for it we are constrained to say, roll forward the day when the American soil shall no more be polluted with that crime against God, American slavery; but all will be able to say "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will to man.

Their reference to the “hand of God” echoes not only the desire of T. Morris Chester to embrace a more pure Christianity—one not polluted with racism and political opportunism—but it also pays tribute to an allusion in Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered at Harrisburg on 22 February 1861, in the Capitol, in which he compared his act of raising an American flag at Independence Hall earlier that morning to his role as a simple instrument in the hands of the people:

I could not help hoping that there was in the entire success of that beautiful ceremony at least something of an omen of what is to come. Nor could I help feeling that, as I often have felt, in the whole of that proceeding I was a very humble instrument. I had not provided the flag, I had not made the arrangements for elevating it to its place, I had applied but a very small portion of my feeble strength in raising it; in the whole transaction I was in the hands of the people who had arranged it.29

Lincoln’s words had in turn struck a responsive chord with Harrisburg’s African American citizens, who recalled that the martyred John Brown had envisioned himself an instrument in the “Hand of Providence.” Self-reliance, as it allowed the African American community to “roll forward,” was therefore seen as being dependent upon the community’s willingness to act in the name of a higher law, whether that higher law was the will of the people, as Lincoln saw it, the divine will of Providence, as John Brown believed, or for the pride of race, as Chester (and Delany) argued.

Ingeniously, Stevens, Bennett, and Wolf had neatly wrapped all three into a trilogy of faith in their response to the proclamation. As a war measure, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation represented the will of the people; in allowing blacks to serve in the military, it defended unity and pride of race, and in cleansing the country of slavery—a “crime against God”—it represented the Hand of Providence, or God. All three components, community, brotherhood and God, were therefore present in the recruiting effort, and all three became the pillars of support that Harrisburg’s African American community henceforth gave to the war effort.

January 1863, with its New Years Day emancipation vigil, and its “Jubilee of Freedom,” as the Telegraph characterized the mass meeting in the Bethel A.M.E. Church on the fifteenth of the month, began on an exceptionally high and buoyant note for Harrisburg’s African American community, but by April the high hopes had vanished behind a cloud of disappointingly low enlistment numbers as well as the continuing racial disharmony that plagued the city.

The lukewarm reception that local African American men gave to recruiters for the Massachusetts regiment would not be immediately apparent. In mid-February, one month after the city’s black leaders stated that they were “bound as citizens” to maintain the supremacy of the American flag “o'er land and sea, against foreign foes or domestic traitors,” Harrisburg did not yet have an active recruiting office. Local African American residents could read about the ongoing efforts in Philadelphia, which had begun sending men to Boston the previous month, but other than actually traveling to Philadelphia to volunteer, local men could do little more than attend a local rally organized by the city’s supporters of the new regiment. Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph editor George Bergner wrote promising reports of the Philadelphia rallies, and hinted that local interest was very high:

A few days ago recruiting and transporting offices were opened, somewhat privately, in Philadelphia, to enlist black soldiers for Massachusetts regiments. At different times small squads of negroes were sent down to Boston, and on [the] day before yesterday twenty-five well developed men marched through the streets to the transportation office and depot, which was the first information that the public had of negro enlistments. Gov. Andrew sent an officer to Philadelphia to consult with the leading men of color, and the interview was satisfactory. Should the Governor confirm what the officer agreed to, which relates to bounty and such matters, there will be a grand rush of blacks from this State to enlist in the Massachusetts regiments.30

The excitement over the authority given to the Bay State to begin filling its first black regiment led to much speculation over when Pennsylvania would follow. The Patriot and Union printed an article on 6 March with the attention-getting headline “First Pennsylvania Negro Regiment,” but it was more speculation than an announcement of the start of active recruitment:

A meeting was held at Pittsburgh the other day to take measures for the organization of the “First Regiment of Colored Pennsylvania Volunteers.” It was determined to appoint ten recruiting officers to raise that number of companies, and committees were appointed to devise ways and means and solicit money. Addresses were delivered by two or three white officers who are willing to go into the field on an equality with their sable brethren. We learn that Harrisburg is to be one of the recruiting stations, but as the negroes of this city have no stomach for the fight, the attempt to raise recruits here will not be very successful. Conscription if the only mode by which our “Americans of African descent” can be got into military service, and as the bill recently passed does not exempt this class, of course a large proportion of them will be drafted and put into the army side by side with white citizens.31

Aside from taking digs at the draft by inciting the racial prejudices of Harrisburg’s whites, the Patriot and Union article played up the local resistance by local African American men to the Massachusetts enlistment rallies recently held in this city, mischaracterizing the fierce pride that kept many from deserting their native state for Massachusetts as a lack of “stomach for the fight.” The official Harrisburg response, given by Wolf, Bennett, and Stevens in January, had clearly spelled out the condition “if called upon,” and Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin had not yet shown his willingness to make that call. It would be a costly standoff.


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15. McPherson, Political History, 294.

16. Daily Telegraph, 23, 24, 25 September 1862.

17. Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Convention Held in Harrisburg, July 4, 1862 (n.p., 1862).

18. Blackett, Thomas Morris Chester, 32-33. Charles Lenox Remond, who had appeared in Harrisburg previously, had been a vocal advocate of using African American troops from the beginning of the war, while at the same time acknowledging the very significant political and social inequalities that would hold many back from volunteering. In a January 1862 speech delivered at the twenty-ninth meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, in Boston, he said, “Few men could place themselves in the point of view of the black man, and the more one did so, the less encouragement would he feel. Not only in Washington and in Pennsylvania, but in Massachusetts, the colored man is still disfranchised, and kept in an unequal, a degraded position. In Washington, he (the speaker) would be no safer now than he was ten years ago; even in Massachusetts, his native State, he could not shoulder a musket for his country; and if he were with the army on the Potomac, he could not wear the national uniform. Things were not so in 1776 and 1812, under Washington and Jackson. In both these wars, black men as well as white shed their blood in defence of their country. Now they are not allowed even to bear arms for this purpose.” Liberator, 31 January 1862. Remond went on to call on blacks to rise “against their masters,” stating “John Brown has shown us the way to success.” Governor John Andrew’s appointment of Remond as a recruiting agent for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers shrewdly reigned in this firebrand and harnessed his anger to enlist blacks in his new state regiment. Ironically, Remond’s point that “the colored man is still disenfranchised,” however, would be a primary remonstrance put forth by blacks in Harrisburg and Philadelphia who were skeptical of state enlistments.

19. Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, 19 February 1863.

20. Patriot and Union, 3 March 1863.

21. Blackett, Thomas Morris Chester, 33.

22. “Mass Meeting of Colored People,” Christian Recorder, 4 April 1863.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Obituary of John Wolf, “An Old Colored Abolitionist,” Christian Recorder, 2 March 1899.

26. T. Morris Chester, Negro Self-Respect and Pride of Race: Speech of T. Morris Chester, Esq., of Liberia, Delivered at the Twenty-Ninth Anniversary of the Philadelphia Library Company, December 9, 1862. Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection, Cornell University Library.

27. Ibid. Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803) was the iconic black hero, the leader of the Haitian Revolution. Fabre-Nicholas Geffrard (1806-1878) was a former general and President of Haiti when T. Morris Chester made this speech. A supporter of the abolition movement, Geffrard was enjoying the political recognition given Haiti by the United States government after the commencement of the Civil War. The availability of Haitian ports also aided the United States Navy in its blockade of the Confederacy. I have been unable to figure out his reference to “Benson.”

28. Ibid.

29. “Response of Mr. Lincoln,” New York Herald, 23 February 1861.

30. “Black Pennsylvanians Enlisting in Massachusetts Regiments," Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, 19 February 1863.

31. “First Pennsylvania Negro Regiment,” Patriot and Union, 6 March 1863. This article was very premature in predicting the opening of recruitment offices for a state African American regiment. The meeting referred to took place in Pittsburgh, in Wilkins Hill, on 26 February 1863, “for the purpose of taking steps towards the organization of a colored regiment.” A former first lieutenant with the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, George W. Lore, spoke at an advertised meeting of the local African American community in order to volunteer his services as the organizer and commander of a local African American regiment, “if he ever recovered his health sufficiently.” It is not clear if Lore, who was mustered into service in August 1862 as a first lieutenant in Company B, and resigned on 22 December 1862 “for ill health,” was a scheduled speaker or just showed up.

George W. Massey, a leader in the local African American community, chaired the meeting, at which some opposition was expressed by local black men regarding civil rights. A man identified as “L. Massey…labored to show that the colored man was constitutionally disqualified from serving in the army.” Lore made several boastful promises, if he was allowed to organize a regiment, including a pledge to fight to the death if ever faced with capture, a guarantee that all African American men would be accepted into service with his regiment and a pledge that he “would secure for the regiment all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the white soldiers.” A report of the meeting noted that he “indulged in profanity, which…was most shocking in a public meeting.” Lore then became embroiled in an argument with another white man present, and “the meeting here became disorderly.” At this point, chairman G. W. Massey recognized Pittsburgh Dispatch publisher J. Heron Foster, who “took the floor and made a few sensible and pertinent remarks, touching the war and the duty of the colored men of the North.”

Overall, there were no organized plans at that point for the “First Regiment of Colored Volunteers,” and certainly no plans to open a recruiting station for that purpose in Harrisburg. “Meeting of Colored Men,” Pittsburgh Daily Gazette and Advertiser, 27 February 1863. Aside from that meeting, there were other efforts to recruit African American men in Pittsburgh during the same period. One week after the Wilkins Hall meeting, a local newspaper printed the appeal for enlistment in the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Volunteers from Frederick Douglass. By Monday, 9 February, some fourteen men left Pittsburgh for Boston, stopping in Harrisburg en route. “An Appeal to the Negroes,” Pittsburgh Daily Gazette and Advertiser, 9 March 1863; “The First Installment,” Patriot and Union, 11 March 1863.


Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.

© 2010 George F. Nagle



This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.

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