National Guard of Pennsylvania Kepi - Circa 1861 - Inventory Number: UNI 064 / On-hold
During the Civil War, following President Abraham Lincoln’s April 15, 1861 call for troops to defend Washington, D.C. from the threat of Confederate invasion, five units from the state’s Lehigh Valley—the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, the Washington Artillery of Pottsville, the National Light Infantry of Pottsville, and the Allen Rifles of Allentown—hastened to the nation’s capital. Supplemented by a detachment of forty-fifty Regulars from the 4th Artillery, these five volunteer companies arrived in Baltimore on April 18th, where a mob of southern sympathizers harassed the troops and impeded their passage through the city. After enduring a shower of bricks, clubs, and stones, the Pennsylvanians boarded a train and proceeded to Washington, where they served in the forts surrounding the nation’s capital and in the Navy Yard, and helped defend the Washington Arsenal from Confederate invasion. President Abraham Lincoln lauded the Pennsylvanians as the “First Defenders”—a moniker proudly borne today by those units’ descendants, the 213th Area Support Group.
Following three months of service in 1861, the Washington Grays formed from their ranks the 118th and 119th Pennsylvania infantry regiments (the famed “Corn Exchange Regiment” and the “Gray Reserves,” respectively), which saw significant service in the middle of the fray at Antietam, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomoy Creek, Cold Harbor, Opequan, Winchester, Washington, D.C., Petersburg, Five Forks, and Appomattox Court House, among other battles.
In August of 1861, veterans of the 18th Pennsylvania (formerly the old Philadelphia Brigade of Militia, and the antecedent of today’s 111th Infantry) joined up with members of the Philadelphia Volunteer Fire Department in August of 1861 to form the 72nd Pennsylvania (also known as the “Fire Zouaves”), which served until August, 1864 at the center of numerous major battles, including Harper’s Ferry, Yorktown, Seven Pines, Savage’s Station, Glendale, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomoy Creek, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and First Deep Bottom.
The predecessors to the Wilkes-Barre 109th Field Artillery (now reorganized as the 143rd Pennsylvania) also served in the Civil War from October of 1862 to June of 1865, fighting in key battles such as Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Totpotomoy Creek, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg before being sent to Hart’s Island, New York to guard a local prison camp, as well as escort recruits and convalescents to the front lines until the end of the war.
The First Troop also saw action during the Civil War, providing vital reconnaissance concerning the movements of Generals “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart during the summer of 1861. In June, 1863, the remaining members of the Troop (known today as the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry) that had not already joined up with other Federal units responded to an urgent plea from President Lincoln to help turn back General Lee’s advance into the Cumberland Valley. The First Troop arrived in Harrisburg on June 19 before proceeding on to Gettysburg on June 21, where they skirmished with Confederates who were scavenging in the town. The Troop also provided valuable reconnaissance around nearby Cashtown to Union General George concerning the whereabouts of Confederate cavalry under Generals J.E.B. Stuart and Albert Jenkins. The Troop participated in several skirmishes with Confederate cavalry for which many historians credit them with helping to slow down the Confederate advance over South Mountain, thereby buying valuable time for the Union army to consolidate around Gettysburg en masse and prepare for battle.
In 1870, the Pennsylvania legislature officially consolidated and renamed all of its state militia units (at that time, comprised entirely of volunteers) the “National Guard of Pennsylvania.” The National Guard would continue to serve in all of America’s major conflicts up through the present day, continuing its long, diverse, and distinguished service to the American people.
Inventory Number: UNI 064 / On-hold