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Happiness & Long Life to All its Residents #37

Becky Weiser

Wednesday Dec 23rd, 2020

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The title of this blog is “Happiness & Long Life”, however; war is neither.  William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame stated “War is hell”.  Still, some of us tend to romanticize past wars being “Monday night quarterbacks” to events that happened long ago and were so ugly that only those involved in the modern military should study so as to not repeat the horrors.  Thousands of volumes have been written about the Civil War so today I hope to briefly honor those from Erie County and the surrounding region who served in the American Civil War.

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A uniform of the Wayne Guard in the Hagen History Center collection.

Erie County’s involvement began in April of 1861 (immediately after the war began). Captain John McLane, who served in the Mexican War and was in command of the “Wayne Guard” an early form of the National Guard in Erie organized the group.  Close to 1,200 men from Erie and Crawford Counties responded to the call and $17,000 was raised to support the families while their fathers and husbands were away.  This became the First Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers and were enlisted to serve for 90 days because the war at this time was believed to be short in duration.  The men camped on vacant ground on the east side of Parade Street near East 6th Street at what they called “Camp Wayne”.

This regiment travelled to Pittsburgh, being one of the first military groups to arrive and aroused great interest with the locals.  After 6 weeks of idleness, they returned to Erie on July 20th.

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Monument in Gettysburg, PA honoring the 83rd

After 4 days being back home, McLane (maybe his wife wanted him out of the house already!) organized the 83rd PA Volunteers with 1,000 men enlisting.  300 were from the 3-month regiment who just returned home.  Volunteers from Erie, Crawford, Warren and Forest Counties mustered under the command of General Butterfield.  These men fought at the battles at Yorktown, Hanover Court House, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill (near the Chickahominy), Pope’s Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Spotsylvania.  Sadly, McLane was killed at Gaines Mill, so a young Strong Vincent took his place as commander of the Regiment. 

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Colonel Strong Vincent was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and posthumously promoted to General.  Vincent’s body was returned to Erie where he is buried at Erie Cemetery, as is the body of John White McLean who organized the 83rd Regiment.

By the time the Regiment was mustered out of service in June of 1865, only 200 of the original 1,000 remained.

The 111th Pennsylvania Infantry was organized as a three-year enlistment by Matthias Schlaudecker in September of 1861 and included men from Erie, Warren and Crawford Counties.  This group left for Harrisburg by rail by way of Cleveland and Pittsburgh and were connected with the Army of the Potomac.  They were in many battles and the monument pictured to the right was raised in their honor in Gettysburg.  The 111th took part in General Sherman’s “march to the sea” that reeked devastation upon the South along the way.  They were mustered out of service July 19th, 1865.

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The 145th Pennsylvania Infantry was recruited in the summer and fall of 1862 here in Erie under the command of Colonel Hiram Loomis Brown.  They also took part in many of the major and minor Eastern battles of the war and took huge losses.  After the Battle of Antietam, they were charged with the burying of the dead; some of whom had been lying on the battlefield for 4 days.  Of the 200 men who fought at Gettysburg, 80 were lost.  The monument pictured is on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Enough of the gloom and doom!  No more talk of the dead and destruction.  If I ever have the time, I would love to look at the Erie newspapers of the Civil War time period and try to learn more about what other people were doing here.  Did Erie County supply food for the troops, leather goods, clothing or armaments?  How did women survive without the men in their families around? What were citizens here doing to be more life giving instead of life taking?  Maybe it’s just me but I wish happiness and long life for everyone, even those involved in wars.