Saturday, July 23, 2011

Defense of the River, April, 1861

     One hundred years ago, the U.S. was at the start of a long, very bloody Civil War.  Philadelphians were organizing and sending off troops to fight.  However, they also had to be prepared to wage a defensive battle if Confederate troops broke through to the North.  This was a very real possibility - in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought to prevent Lee from moving on Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
     On April 30, 1861, the Philadelphia Inquirer published the following letter from an unnamed Navy Officer:

"Ed. Phila. Inquirer: …
     {The first paragraph deals with the stationing of ships to defend several forts and the Navy Yard.]
     "Some of our heavy artillery, 68 and 32 pounders, ought, I think, to be placed in charge of at least an artillery company, at Gray’s Ferry bridge, and men always stationed, armed the draw. Others should be located at the Railroad and Girard Bridges; as also, at the Market Street; on Market Street in the Lancaster Turnpike hills, and Fairmont; but, perhaps, Bridge [Spring Garden] and Thirty-sixth streets, Mantua, would be the most eligible site for a first defense of that crossing….
     "Should we be defeated at Washington, and have to leave, the advance of the Confederate Army will be made as much of a surprise as possible, I presume; and if my ideas of warfare and the probable Southern tactics are correct, without these precautions our beloved city may be surprised. I know that our God will defend us, as we are in the right; but we must have organized, immediately, a strong well armed Home Guard. And, although the sick and physically weak by organization, find themselves disappointed in not been received into the present volunteer force, let them neither despond nor disband, for there may be a time coming when even the oldest and most infirm among us can aid to sustain the Government and our blessed flag. Let each and all, young and old, sick or well, if they can, organize themselves and seek and buy arms of some kind, so that no raid of 'plug uglies' upon our city, our beloved city, can succeed. Let all remember that Philadelphia is within one hundred miles of Baltimore, where such atrocious rebellion has recently displayed its horrid front, and but one hundred and forty miles from Washington, the capital of our country, and upon which the eyes of both North and South are fixed – the first for defense, the last for rapine, murder and rebellion.
     "Philadelphia calls upon her sons to arm. Let all do it, (Quakers and other sects alike). We can beat the southern cohorts if we manfully try; for Pennsylvania don't crow coward's. Let, too, the holders of arms in Philadelphia sell them at not over cost price, even if their patriotism will not prompt them to do more. They know not how soon they may wish they had given rifles, revolvers, &c, away, and bitterly repent their desire for lucre.
     "[Signed] A Navy Officer"
[italics in original, bold added]

   Powelton and Mantua did act.  One part of their response was the formation of the Mantua Home Guard which I plan to describe in a future blog.

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