Thursday, December 29, 2011

Governor Curtin Comes to Town

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin traveled to Washington at the end of December 1861.  The main purpose of Curtin's visit was to discuss his state's military preparedness, including "the best means of defending Pennsylvania from a foreign enemy." (Phila. Press, Dec. 27, 1861.)  The trip would also afford Curtin the opportunity to visit the Pennsylvania Reserves, who had recently captured national attention for their victory over Jeb Stuart at Dranesville.

The governor, a loyal supporter of President Lincoln, immediately attracted attention in the nation's capital.  At Willard's on Pennsylvania Avenue, two or three Pennsylvania regimental bands serenaded the governor.  Curtin "was then called out, and addressed the audience, referring to the part Pennsylvania [had] taken in the war."  The governor extolled the state's "patriotism and faithfulness to the Union" in providing such a "large number of troops. . . all in very fine condition"  (Phila. Press, Dec. 30, 1861.)  The governor "manifested the greatest enthusiasm in the success of the troops" at Dranesville, and assured the Pennsylvania regiments present at the hotel of "his desire to secure to them every comfort in his power."  (Phila. Press, Dec. 30, 1861.)

Gov. Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania (courtesy of Wikipedia)
On Sunday, December 29, Curtin crossed the Potomac to visit the Pennsylvania Reserves at Camp Pierpont in Langley.  It was a "delightful" winter day.  (Phila. Press, Dec. 30, 1861.)  The governor must surely have felt a sense of pride as he moved among the troops.  After all, Curtin was instrumental in the establishment of the Reserves in the days following Ft. Sumter, and their win at Dranesville had helped to boost morale on the Northern home front. 

The division hospitals were the governor's first stop.  There Curtin "spoke a kind word to each of the soldiers wounded" at Dranesville.  (Phila. Press, Dec. 30, 1861.)  The governor then rode to a hill outside of Langley, where he reviewed the entire division, accompanied  by his political rival and fellow Pennsylvanian, Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was still recovering from a very severe illness back in Washington and was not present.

The Press reported that the Reserves were caught unaware of Curtin's visit and only received notice of the review at noon.  However, by 1 p.m, the entire division formed on the review ground and was ready to parade before the dignitaries.  According to the Press, the Reserves "performed the various evolutions with the precision and regularity of veterans. . . .  Their recent victory at Dranesville [had] inspired them with new courage and unbounded confidence in their officers."  (Phila. Press, Dec. 30, 1861.)

Following the military maneuvers, Curtin's carriage pulled up in front of the soldiers.  Brig. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, who had served as the immediate commander at Dranesville, introduced the governor.  Curtin stood and addressed his fellow Pennsylvanians.  The governor made no apologies for paying a visit to camp on the Lord's day.  In fact, he told the Reserves that "it could be no desecration of this sacred day for me to come out and look at the faces of the brave men who are illustrating the power of the nation to suppress insurrection and break down the conspiracy which now threatens our Government."   The governor announced that he had ordered the name of the Battle of Dranesville inscribed on the Reserves' standard.  Noting the "thrill of pleasure and of pride" that was felt in Pennsylvania upon learning of the victory at Dranesville, Curtin offered words of gratitude:
In the name of Pennsylvania, I thank you; I thank you for the honor you have reflected upon the Old Keystone State; I thank you for your courage.  Thousands of people at your homes rejoice over the result.   Thousands more will follow you, if need be, in this war; and at all times when our Government is in peril Pennsylvania, from the Delaware to Lake Erie, every man in the state, every dollar of our material wealth, all our blood and treasure, stand upon the side of right and truth, and they will, as ever, be loyal to the Constitution and to an organized, legitimate Government.
Curtin wished the men future success in battle and concluded his oration:
I commend you to the care of these generals, who lead you, and the Government that protects you in your rights.  I go back to Pennsylvania refreshed by this interview, and prouder than ever I have been of the gallant spirits comprising the Reserve Corps.  Pennsylvania expects every man to do his duty.  With that single word falling upon your ears, I bid you farewell.
The soldiers cheered their governor, and then sent up additional hurrahs for Secretary Cameron and the generals of the Pennsylvania Reserves. 

The next day, Cameron placed political rivalries aside and hosted a dinner for Curtin at his private residence.  Several dignitaries were present, including Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Secertary of State William Seward, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.  During the dinner, President Lincoln himself made an appearance.  The President's drop-by at a Cabinet member's social event apparently broke an unwritten rule of Washington etiquette.  However, as the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph reasoned, "President Lincoln desired to do the gallant and devoted men of Pennsylvania an honor through his Secretary of War and our Governor."  According to Sumner, much of the conversation focused on the all-consuming Trent affair, although the contribution of the Pennsylvania Reserves at Dranesville likely came up at some point that evening.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Curtin was "eminently successful in his official mission" to Washington.  The governor returned to Pennsylvania, where he continued his efforts on behalf of the Administration and the Union war effort.  Meanwhile, the Reserves could take pride in their own contributions and the recognition that they had received from their esteemed governor.  December had certainly been a month to remember for the soldiers encamped at Langley.

The Lincoln Institute, Mr. Lincoln's White House, Biography of Andrew G. Curtin; Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pa.), Dec. 31, 1861; Philadelphia Press, Dec. 27, 1861; Philadelphia Press, Dec. 30, 1861; Edward L. Piece, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, Vol. 4 (1893).

No comments: