In the late summer of 1862 after the defeat of two major federal armies in Virginia, the Army of Northern Virginia had been directed north of the Potomac River, a moment in time where the federal government would have been caught off guard with the reorganization of the army, and invasion would transform the entire north into a frenzied panic. A large rebel force within the borders of Maryland likewise left Pennsylvania equally as vulnerable and none was more concerned of these things than Governor Andrew G. Curtin.
News came to Harrisburg of the rebel's presence inside the border state through the Telegraph Office in Hagerstown, when a paroled Union man had testified seeing Major General Thomas J. Jackson at the head of his corps along the National Road between Middletown and Boonsboro. The Sheriff of Hagerstown; likewise received a piece of friendly advice from a friend who had known sympathies for the South, to leave Hagerstown immediately. Having tidbits of information such as this cross his desk; the governor knew the southern border of his own state was vulnerable with the Cumberland Valley completely undefended.
Colonel John A. Wright, acting on behalf of the state's executive was sent immediately to Washington that afternoon to confer with Major General Henry W. Halleck regarding the status of military affairs within state. It had also been requested that Washington assign an officer of high rank, vested with the full power of the central government for the purpose to over see the assembly of the state's militia with which Curtin saw no alternative too.
Three days earlier, on Sunday, a clergyman from Taneytown and well known to the governor authored a letter to Harrisburg and impressed upon the governor that one of his elders had passed through the rebel camps near Frederick and sent word that an estimate of one hundred twenty thousand butternuts were there; and with the Southern Army divided at that moment, another eighty thousand were expected.
Horsemen were organized for scouting out the Cumberland Valley but Pennsylvania lacked the proper accoutrements. Such was requested of the War Department to be sent immediately to Carlisle, carbines, slings and ammunition. Furthermore at the request of Governor Curtin, Brigadier General Andrew Porter had been ordered to report directly to him for organizing volunteers at the capital.
Major General George B. McClellan received warning from Harrisburg as to the numbers involved with the invasion campaign; to him the volume of infantry and cavalry had been substantially correct. He instructed the governor to proceed with the call for militia, emphasized paying close attention to mounted soldiers, and making lightning strikes against their flanks destroying what trains and property they could.
The application by Colonel John A. Wright to be granted the authority to call out the state militia had met the approval of President Abraham Lincoln and sanctioned accordingly. The thirty thousand small arms accounted for in the state's arsenal along with the weapons that would be naturally provided by those called upon seemed sufficient enough to meet the need. The state's government; would, in turn be paid by the United States Quartermaster's Department for all equipment furnished the militia at regulation prices.
The mayor, bankers, sheriff and all legal citizens of Hagerstown, Maryland had fled and sought refuge at Greencastle. The governor began sending wild reports of rebel intentions on taking Harrisburg and Philadelphia. His concern turned to frenzy when he insisted the government send no less than eighty thousand disciplined troops to Harrisburg along with all other available forces from New York and east to concentrate on Pennsylvania at once. The columns of Major General Stonewall Jackson were reported having left Frederick for Hagerstown with nothing less than three hundred pieces of artillery.
Governor Curtin was still unsettled about affairs to the south, he strongly urged General McClellan to forward a large portion of his army into the Susquehanna Valley to protect Pennsylvania from utter destruction, but the commanding general was not in a position to rush to extremes. Instead, he ordered the command of Brigadier General John F. Reynolds to allow the governor a small peace of mind.
The morning of September 12th, President Lincoln responded to the governor explaining to him he hadn't eighty thousand disciplined troops east of the mountains to send him. Most of what he did have were closing in upon the enemy's rear. If half were to be sent to protect him at Harrisburg, the rebels would have turned to destroy the half left behind, then march on the state capital and destroy the other. He maintained the best course of action was leaving the strongest force behind the invading army.
The anxious governor awaited the arrival of General Reynolds, but it was suspected the delay in his timely response lay with rapid movements and two orders sent had apparently not reached him. He had not arrived there until the following day.
By Sunday morning September 14th, the state of Pennsylvania received a wonderful turn out of the militia and it was hoped that it would be enough to deter the rebels from penetrating the interior. Greencastle would announce on Monday morning that it had received the cavalry command lead out of Harper's Ferry by Colonel Benjamin F. Davis, 1,300 strong, along with forty of Longstreet's ordnance wagons.
Following the engagement at South Mountain, Curtin's information continued to become more reliable instructing General McClellan that both Jackson's and Longstreet's columns would unite to give one more great battle; and the concentrated militia north of the Mason/Dixon Line fortified Chambersburg, sat and waited.
The drawn battle that followed, three days later on Wednesday September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg; relieved high pressure the previous week had placed upon the Pennsylvania governor. It had been enough for the Confederate invasion force to lick its wounds and back track across the Potomac River. Pennsylvania had been spared the first round. The governor would return to more pressing political business, and his administration spared the humiliation of rebel occupation.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org