Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recruiting the 138th

Like many communities north and south, Gettysburg has many layers of Civil War history waiting to be discovered. Of course, most tourists spend their time studying the battle itself and its aftermath. That certainly held my attention for many years.

Step outside that history, though, and you can discover how the Gettysburg community experienced the entirety of the war - from its outbreak in 1861 to its conclusion in 1865. By the end, the war had dramatically reshaped the American landscape - and perhaps nowhere was that more evident than in Gettysburg. I find that studying the Gettysburg community during the war helps us to understand how the battle (and the war in general) changed this historic place forever.

War had touched Gettysburg before the summer of 1863. The first volunteer soldiers left town town on April 21st, 1861, under the command of Captain Charles H. Buehler, for three months of service. A second company of young men left town on June 8th, destined to become Company K of the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves. In addition to these companies, several home guard and scouting units formed to patrol areas south and west of Gettysburg for potential Confederate activity. Some individuals in these unofficial units ended up playing a significant role in the Gettysburg Campaign, as I wrote back in June.

In the summer of 1862 - recruiting excitement returned to Gettysburg when President Lincoln called for an additional 300,000 troops for the war effort. Two companies from Adams County - Companies B and G - would enlist for 3 years of service with the 138th Pennsylvania to answer this call. Company G's recruits came mainly from Bendersville and Heidlersburg. The soldiers filling up Company B were mainly from Gettysburg

The central figure in the recruitment of Company B was John F. McCreary. McCreary was born around 1841, the son of David and Ann. The family resided in Gettysburg, where David was a saddler. John attended Pennsylvania College as a member of the class of 1860. Two years later, he found himself leading many of his friends and peers off to war.

Following President Lincoln's call for more troops a recruiting office opened in the clothing store of Gettysburgian George Arnold on the southwest corner of the diamond on Chambersburg Street. To fill up the recruiting quota set for Adams County, McCreary and others waged a media campaign to induce enlistments. This campaign included newspaper coverage, public meetings, and fundraising drives to raise money for enlistment bounties. At a war meeting held on July 26th at the courthouse on Baltimore Street citizens resolved to pay any soldier enlisting into Captain McCreary's company a $50 bounty.

The media blitz in the local newspapers sought to invoke a sense of duty, honor and patriotism among Gettysburg's young men, and made full use of commonly accepted perceptions of manhood. A poem published in the Star and Banner on August 7 called out:
Break from the arms that would fondly caress you,
Maidens shall weep for you when you are gone!
Hark the bugle blast! sabers are drawn!
Never or now! cries the blood of the nation.
By August 12, 1862 McCreary had enlisted about  one hundred men. The next day his company boarded railroad cars "generally used for carrying swine" (according to one account in the Star and Banner) and set out for Harrisburg. Arriving at about 1 p.m. on the 13th, the new company moved out to Camp Curtin just outside the city, where they would begin their instruction as soldiers.

Over the next few weeks, I will take a closer look at some of the more interesting wartime stories of Company B, using many of the letters and accounts sent to Gettysburg's newspapers by the company's members during their service.

No comments:

Post a Comment