Persons of Color
The Bridge (continued)
Men of Muscle
few hardy men still at work carving out entrenchments from the clay
and shale substratum of Hummel’s Heights welcomed an early dawn
on Tuesday morning. Soft rosy light began to filter up from the edges
of the eastern sky as early as four o’clock a.m., forcing an
imminent end to the eight brief hours of darkness that cloaked this
midsummer night. The railroad crews who had been feeding logs to dozens
of fires in order to provide ample work light on the hilltop allowed
the bonfires to subside to glowing embers, and by four-thirty the first
rays of sunshine were glinting from the flowing waters of the Susquehanna
hours earlier, several hundred jovial workers stood thick around the
stakes that marked where rifle pits and artillery lunettes were to
be located, and as many shovels and pickaxes reflected the fading rays
of sunshine from the west as they bit enthusiastically into the earth.
As darkness took over and the hours passed, though, spirits began to
fade and fatigue began to set in. Fresh workers arrived from time to
time, but each hour the flames of the bonfires illuminated fewer and
fewer faces at work, still swinging digging implements.
railroad work foremen who had accompanied engineer John A. Wilson to
the site to supervise the construction were seriously concerned.
They knew exactly how much work was required to complete the planned
and they had witnessed the alarming flight of workers and diminishing
pace of progress through the night. The light of dawn was now exposing
the sum total of work that had been accomplished by Harrisburg’s
civilian pick and shovel brigades, and it was seriously deficient.
They could do little more than hope for a large replacement force
up once the sun was up, as the night workers one by one put down
their shovels and headed for the bridge, breakfast, and bed.
crossing the Camel Back Bridge back into Harrisburg, the tired and
hungry overnight laborers found that the city presented a much
appearance from ground level than it had projected when viewed
from the heights across the river. On a normal day at this early morning
the chief source of activity on city streets would have been coming
from sleepy clerks opening up their stores, drivers unloading stacks
on sidewalks, and groups of men walking to their shift at the Car
Works. It would have been a casual, even sedate level of activity,
sense of urgency.
however, even with the sun barely up beyond the eastern hills, the
level of activity was already as frantic as the market before
a holiday. Large numbers of people were already about, either
rushing from one location
to the next, or standing in knots on the sidewalk, talking and
gesturing excitedly. It was as if the town had never gone to
sleep at all during
the night, which was probably not far from the truth. All through
evening and into the night, telegraphic communications poured
into the capital from across the state, from the southern battlefields,
the national capital. Men, boys, and a few women stood outside
the telegraph offices, waiting to read the next dispatch, eager
the first with
the latest news.
was a noticeable difference in the town, though, described by one eyewitness
familiar with Harrisburg’s usual demeanor, as having “the
unusual appearance of one deserted by residents and filled with strangers.” In
looking around, the returning laborers would have been able to see the
truth in that observation. For one thing, almost all the shops were closed.132 The intense commotion they were seeing had nothing to do with commerce,
and everything to do with a mass evacuation of residents and their possessions.
The Patriot and Union noted that “all along the streets were omnibuses,
wagons and wheelbarrows, taking in trunks and valuables and rushing them
down to the depot, to be shipped out of rebel range…Every horse
was impressed into the service, and every porter groaned beneath the
weight of responsibilities.”133 Only
one or two shops remained open for business, and they were
begging for customers.
usual crowd of market bound shoppers had been replaced by depot bound
African American porters, all loaded down with
containing the treasured possessions of their white neighbors
and employers. It seemed that, even in the defense of Harrisburg,
only role white
residents would allow blacks to fill was one of labor and
today that would change. When the morning edition of the Patriot
and Union hit the streets, it contained the following
placed by William T. Hildrup:
TO THE COLORED MEN OF
We want men of muscle,
and men who are ready and willing to work on our
entrenchments.—We have such white men already. But colored men
can help in this common cause also, and colored men are needed at this
crisis.—Liberal inducements are offered to such of those as assist
us, and their pay will $1.25 per day as long as they work. The night
laborers will receive the same compensation.—Turn out then
men of all classes and colors, if for nothing more, to the assistance
your country, and the capital of the old Keystone State.134
had placed the ad as the acting superintendent of the fortifications
being constructed on Hummel’s Heights, possibly after viewing the
work completed by Harrisburg’s white residents during the night.
Although a similar ad targeting white workers had also been published
in the same edition of the paper, this particular ad was more than
a mere plea for additional workers. It represented a real change in
attitude of some city authorities regarding what types of roles African
Americans would be allowed to play in the defense of Harrisburg.
a Connecticut master carpenter who had been wooed by Harrisburg entrepreneurs
before the war to run the fledgling railroad car manufactory
in the city. The new Yankee manager of the works had an egalitarian
streak that led him to train poor local men in the skills needed
to build railroad
cars, rather than seek experienced craftsmen from outside the city.
He established and taught courses at a free night school during the
winter months, and during the intermittent financial panics of the
late 1850s, found other work for his crews, rather than let them
Now, as Superintendent
of Fortifications, William T. Hildrup was staying consistent with his
democratic ideals by offering equal pay
American men for equal work. These “liberal inducements” were
genuine, as the offered rate was significantly above what could be earned
in the usual jobs—waiters, porters, drivers, unskilled laborers—reserved
for African American men at the time. More importantly, it offered African
American residents the chance to take an active role in defending their
homes, side by side with white residents. Hildrup would get his much-needed “men
of muscle” today, as local black men, lured by the ad, volunteered
by the dozens to work in the entrenchments.
As the sun
rose higher in the sky, the excitement in Harrisburg intensified. Many
of the town’s wealthiest citizens hired any hands available
to pack up their valuables and haul them to the train station,
where they were to be shipped to Philadelphia or to other points east.
loaded high with boxes, began to line up at the rail depot, awaiting
their turn to unload and then return to the most stylish homes
along Front Street, Second Street, and Market Square, to load up again.
women or children were in view by midmorning, most having traveled
to the homes of relatives or friends living further
or north of
the river town—preferably much further east or north—as
the approaching rebels were now believed to be planning to
march clear to
New York State, or further. In addition to piles of household
goods being shipped out of town, most local merchants were
emptying their stores
of valuable stock and sending it out of the reach of Southern
in Harrisburg about this time was respected Franklin
County resident and bank president William Heyser, who had
with his wife at two o’clock p.m. the previous day,
just after the more than two hundred army wagons from Milroy’s
command had panicked the town. Advised to leave town because
of Heyser’s connection
to the local bank, the Heysers had hitched up their buggy
and struck out for Carlisle, leaving their house in the care
of their adult son
and two African American servants.
found the turnpike jammed up from the army wagons, wagonloads of household
goods, farmers driving livestock,
hundreds of African
American refugees. It took them four hours to drive the
twenty miles from Chambersburg to the village of Stoughstown, in
where they stopped for the evening at about six o’clock,
thoroughly exhausted from their constant maneuvering around
the miles and miles
of disabled and jammed up wagons that lined the route.
was interrupted about midnight by someone spreading the alarm that
Confederate troops had entered Shippensburg,
so the Heysers
dressed and again took to the road. The fourteen miles
from Stoughstown to Carlisle presented the bank man and
such a harrowing
journey that he regretted ever leaving home. Traveling
in near total darkness,
driving around disabled and immobile wagons, dodging
people, debris, and animals, they arrived in Carlisle at four o’clock
in the morning, just as the eastern sky was getting light. Heyser noted
in his journal “Tried
to get more sleep, but impossible, excitement here is
mounting. We got a bite to eat, the horse fed, and left for Harrisburg.
All along the
way the news had preceded us, people out securing and
leaving with their goods. Driving away their horses, and all shops
on the Trindle Road, they encountered a similar panicky situation in
Mechanicsburg, which was
heard about the
fortifications being constructed around Harrisburg.
Pressing on along Trindle Road through the village of White Hall,
Bridgeport and passed the new fortifications on the
heights to their left, where
they could see “a large number of men working on them.”
the Camel Back Bridge and emerging onto Front Street the Heysers “found
Harrisburg in wildest confusion. Merchants shipping away their goods,
families their furniture, and people fleeing in all directions. Almost
laughable scenes some created. Stopped at Harris's Hotel. See few females,
mostly men moving furniture and stores, the streets are almost impassable.
The excitement is greater than Chambersburg.”136
132. “The Invasion of the State,” Philadelphia
Press, 17 June 1863. At least one dry goods store remained open during
the early days of the crisis, when all the others had closed. The C.
L. Bowman store, in true Harrisburg retailing style, even used the invasion
as a marketing ploy, advertising, “The Invasion of Harrisburg—the
mind of the peaceful citizen becomes alarmed and pained in entertaining
for a moment the bare probability of our fair city being desecrated by
the foot-prints of southern freebooters; and we think that we hear Pennsylvania’s
brave sons with strong arms and willing hearts say that it shall not
be so; and as the Cheap Dry Goods House of C. L. Bowman have no disposition
to pack up or send off his goods in view of the rebels coming, therefore
buyers will please take notice that this is the time to get bargains,
at the southeast corner of Front and Market streets.” Evening
17 June 1863.
133. “The Events of Yesterday—The Hegira,” Patriot
and Union, 17 June 1863.
and Union, 16 June 1863.
Harrisburg Industrializes, 64-66, 265.
Dice Stone, ed., “Diary of William Heyser,” The
Kittochtinny Historical Society Papers 16 (Mercersburg, PA: Kittochtinny
Historical Society, 1978), 64-85.