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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)


12 June 1863: Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow

Friday, 12 June 1863, the day that war came to Harrisburg, was by all outward appearances a typical late spring day in the capital city. Provisioner Benjamin Olewine had just brought a large lot of freshly picked strawberries to town from his Susquehanna Township farm. The luscious fruit, which was available at the lower market house on the square, was a much anticipated harbinger of summer, and those from truck farmer Olewine, who regularly won awards at the State Agricultural Fairs, were deemed some of the best available.106

The local chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association decided to take advantage of the onset of strawberry season by announcing that it would hold a strawberry festival the following week to raise money for the purchase of books for its library. The local newspaper lauded the “novelty of the entertainment” and wished them success. The chapter was in need of funds, its membership having been devastated by enlistments. The dearth of dues paying members had not stopped it from devoting considerable service to the soldiers in the hospitals and camps around town, however, and many of the books to be purchased would doubtless entertain a wounded soldier in the months ahead.107

Harrisburg residents, however, were already planning other summer activities beyond strawberry festivals. Independence Island, lying just north of Forster’s Island in the Susquehanna River, had just opened for picnicking and summer amusements. The proprietors, Becker and Folk, had built a large dance pavilion in the center of the island, which also featured shady picnic groves and sets of swings.

The members of Hope Fire Company announced plans for a grand Fourth of July picnic in Hoffman’s Woods, and invited “all ladies and gentlemen of good moral character” to participate. It was to be a good old-fashioned reunion picnic for the members of the fire company, many of whom had been taken away by the war. As a special treat, an actress depicting the Goddess of Liberty, fresh from a tour of Europe, had been booked for the occasion.

Local entertainments continued to attract audiences looking to while away a mid-June evening at one of Harrisburg’s theaters. Shorey’s New Orleans and Metropolitan Minstrel Band was appearing at Sanford’s Opera House, on Third Street below Market. Sharing the bill were the Star Sisters, Emma and Edith Whiting and Nelly Seymore, all for twenty-five cents.

Stiff competition was being offered by the Gaiety Music Hall, on Walnut Street, which unblushingly billed itself as the “Best Place of Amusement in the World,” and offered a variety show by the Challenge Performers, including singers, jig dancers, and an Irish comedian. The show was hosted by “the far famed Bob Edwards, the favorite original Jester of Negro Comicalities,” and concluded with a farce comedy titled “The Scene at Phalons, or The Barber Shop in Uproar.” Admission to this “mammoth bill” of entertainments was only ten cents.

For those who wanted something more topical, Brant’s Hall, on Market Street, had brought in a traveling attraction called “The Southern Refugee,” or “The Scout of the Shenandoah.” This actor appeared in full Confederate military regalia to discuss the Southern army, its generals, and army life. Accompanying him was a “Rebel Museum,” containing “wonderful curiosities,” which was included for the twenty-five cent admission price.

The big entertainment news, however, was the announcement that virtuoso pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk would make a one-night appearance at Brant’s Hall on Tuesday evening on his way to New York. This highly popular entertainer, originally from New Orleans, had been the toast of Europe in the 1850s and was now in the middle of an extensive tour of the United States. Tickets for the 16 June concert could be purchased at the music store of William Knoche, at 93 Market Street.108

Such amusements made people forget, temporarily, the frightening rumors of approaching Rebel invaders that had heated the local imagination to a fever pitch of paranoia and fear only a day earlier. Everything seemed much more calm on Friday, as local organizations returned to their regular business: the Harrisburg Typographical Union, Chapter Fourteen, scheduled a union meeting for Saturday evening at six-thirty p.m.; the President of the Citizen’s Fire Company requested the presence of all members at the company meeting on Saturday evening, “as business of importance will be transacted,” and the Secretary of the First Ward Democratic Club reminded all members and other interested persons to attend a meeting on Friday evening at seven-thirty p.m., at Louis Koenig’s house on Paxton Street.

The police resumed their business of enforcing the daily peace, which, in the absence of doomsday predictions and to the delight of Harrisburgers throughout the city, was unusually peaceful. The Patriot and Union remarked that only “two arrests were made—not worth noticing.”109 By nightfall, however, the precious peace would be woefully shattered by an announcement from the Governor, and from the military men working in the Capitol.

On the second floor of the State Capitol, in a room that had been cleared for use as a makeshift headquarters for the newly created Department of the Susquehanna, Major General Darius N. Couch sorted through the various reports that he had from his commanders in the field, and from his superiors in Washington. It seemed evident to him, and to all in the room, that Robert E. Lee was moving rapidly north with his considerable army, and that the rumors of an impending invasion that shook Harrisburg on Thursday were much closer to the truth than not. It was also clear to him, and painfully so to Governor Andrew G. Curtin, that virtually no battle-ready troops stood between the closing Southern troops and the Pennsylvania heartland.

The military draft was meeting with no success and recruitment for the federally equipped and controlled three-year state regiments had slowed, making it unlikely that Washington would allow Couch to draw troops from that quarter. The War Department, in creating the Department of the Susquehanna, had made provisions to recruit soldiers into a special Pennsylvania state militia organization to be known as the Department of the Susquehanna Volunteer Corps, but the pay limitations and uncertain term of enlistment in that organization made if far less attractive to potential recruits than the regular state units.110

Nevertheless, on Friday the 12th, Couch pushed optimistically forward and issued “Department of the Susquehanna, Orders Number 1,” announcing the formation of the military department, and calling for “all able-bodied volunteers between the ages of eighteen and sixty” to be enrolled for duty. The orders acknowledged the “danger of invasion now threatening the State of Pennsylvania,” and deemed it necessary:

To call upon the citizens of Pennsylvania to furnish promptly all the men necessary to organize an Army Corps of volunteer infantry, artillery and cavalry, to be designated the Army Corps of the Susquehanna.—They will be enrolled and organized in accordance with the regulations of the United States service, for the protection and defence of the public and private property within this department, and will be mustered into the service of the United States to serve during the pleasure of the President or the continuance of the war…

They will be armed, uniformed, equipped, and while in active service, subsisted and supplied as other troops of the United States.—When not required for active service to defend the department, they will be returned to their homes, subject to the call of the Commanding General. Cavalry volunteers may furnish their own horses, to be turned over to the United States at their appraised value…

The volunteers for State defence will receive no bounty, but will be paid the same as like service in the army of the United States for the time they may be in actual service as soon as Congress may make an appropriation for that purpose.111

Governor Curtin, at the same time, issued a proclamation to bolster what he knew would be an unpopular attempt to form a defense force. Beginning with the alarming confirmation “that a large Rebel force, composed of cavalry, artillery and mounted infantry, has been prepared for the purpose of making a raid into Pennsylvania,” the leader of the Keystone State made an urgent appeal to residents’ patriotism. Curtin proclaimed “I know too well the gallantry and patriotism of the freemen of this Commonwealth to think it necessary to do more than commend this measure to the people, and earnestly urge them to respond to the call of the General Government and promptly fill the ranks of these corps, the duties of which will be mainly the defence of our own homes, firesides and property from devastation.”112

Neither Couch’s Orders No. 1, nor the Governor’s Proclamation were seen by Harrisburg residents until late in the day on Friday, and many residents were not aware of the seriousness of the situation until the items were published in the local newspapers on Saturday the 13th. Suddenly, the ghost of Stonewall Jackson was indeed on the march again, terrorizing Harrisburg’s gentry.


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106. “Strawberries,” Evening Telegraph, 13 June 1863; Transactions of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, vol. 2, 139.

107. “Strawberry Festival,” Patriot and Union, 13 June 1863; Hubert Clark Eicher, A Century of Service, 1854-1954: The Harrisburg Young Men’s Christian Association (Harrisburg: Evangelical Press, 1955), 45-56, 246-247.

108. Patriot and Union, 12 June 1863; Evening Telegraph, 13 June 1863.

109. “Local News,” Patriot and Union, June 13, 1863.

110. Nye, Here Come the Rebels!, 151-152.

111. “Department of the Susquehanna, Orders No. 1,” Evening Telegraph, 13 June 1863.

112. “A Proclamation,” Evening Telegraph, 13 June 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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