Back in the Day: Erie Troops Play Vital Role in the Civil War - Part 1 of 3
Erie played a vital role in America?s Civil War. This is the first look at a three-part series that takes us back in the day.
By the time Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as President of the United States Monday, March 4, 1861, the national upheaval of secession was a grim reality. Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy two weeks earlier and nerves were raw. In his address, Lincoln called for calm and ?the better angels of our nature,? but despite that, the Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was forced to surrender following month following bombardment by Confederate forces and the country was at war.
In Erie the news of war was greeted with great patriotic fervor. Local government bodies responded with resolutions in support of the Union. Letters and editorials appeared in the newspapers urging citizens to fly their flags. When the word was received that troops were needed, one local citizen, John W. McLane, on April 21, issued a call for volunteers for immediate service in the National Army and within four days 1,200 men from Erie, Crawford, and Warren counties had assembled at the City of Erie.
The grounds selected for the local encampment were east of the city on the north side of Buffalo Road and were the original Erie County Fair Grounds. They were purchased by the Fair Association in 1860 and fairs were held there in 1860 and 1861. Today this would be the land that is on the northwest corner of Buffalo Road and Franklin Avenue immediately across from the Jack Frost Donut Shop on Buffalo Road. The land ran from Buffalo Road to the railroad tracks and was known as ?Camp Wayne? after General Anthony Wayne who died in Erie in 1796. There were some display buildings on the fair grounds that were loosely constructed. They faced the north and east and were used by the soldiers as temporary shelter.
McLane was no stranger to military affairs. In 1859 he had organized a local group known as the ?Wayne Guard,? a volunteer company whose duties were mostly ceremonial. This company became the nucleus of the new regiment, which was known as the ?Erie Regiment.? The men had no uniforms, so ladies of the city organized and quickly raised funds and made the men uniforms that consisted of a jacket and pants of blue and a shirt of yellow flannel. Quite an accomplishment which took just under a week!
On April 27, McLane was elected the Colonel of the regiment, Matthias Schlaudecker was elected Major, and Strong Vincent, a private in the Wayne Guards, was appointed Adjutant. The next day the regiment headed by rail to Pittsburgh having been organized in just one week.
The ?Erie Regiment? never saw any action on the battlefield. They were disbanded following a three month encampment in Pittsburgh and the expiration of their term of service. They returned to Erie via railroad and were greeted with a picnic provided by local citizens.
The ?Erie Regiment? had scarcely been disbanded when the news of the disaster at Bull Run on July 21 aroused the nation to a new sense of danger. Several days later Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, issued a call for regiments to be formed for three year?s service. Colonel McLane volunteered to raise a regiment in Erie and in less than five weeks nearly a thousand men had responded, with nearly three hundred coming from the old ?Erie Regiment.? They rendezvoused at ?Camp Wayne,? now renamed ?Camp McLane,? where they set up camp life. The fair buildings were converted into bunk houses and a drill field constructed where at the head stood a large flag pole. Again, elections were held and McLane was elected Colonel and Strong Vincent, Lt. Colonel.
The new regiment attracted men from not only Erie, Crawford, and Warren Counties but Venango and Mercer Counties as well. On September 8, the regiment was mustered into service for the United States and the name was changed from the ?Erie Regiment? to the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. This regiment would go on to fight in a whole list of battles including Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Spottsylvania, and the Siege of Petersburg and was present for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. The 83rd was disbanded at Harrisburg on July 4, 1865 having suffered total losses of 435 officers and men.
The purpose of the Harborcreek Historical Society is to promote awareness of the history and heritage of the Harborcreek area. The Society is located in Knowledge Park near the Behrend College campus and maintains a library and archives that is free and open to the public. Visit our website at www.harborcreekhistory.org for hours and special events information. The Harborcreek Historical Society is a member of Erie Yesterday, a consortium of Erie County historical societies and museums.