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Harrisburg's Civil War
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  Harrisburg and the Central Pennsylvania region in the Civil War

Study Areas:



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

Civil War

US Colored Troops

Year of Jubilee (1863)


Racism and Jobs

The beginning of war, and in particular the establishment of Camp Curtin north of the city, brought many jobs and business opportunities to Harrisburg. Employment and opportunities were not equitably divided among all of the city's residents, though. Lingering nativism limited opportunities for Irish Catholics, and anti-foreign feelings were strong with regard to Italian and Eastern European immigrants who were beginning to appear in the city.

Racial discrimination in hiring, however, was still a daily reality for the city's African American residents, who were kept from applying for employment in many of the city's socially prominent households by advertisements such as the one placed by ex-governor David Rittenhouse Porter, above. Already limited to the lowest paying jobs, Harrisburg's African American population experienced increasing competition for even these jobs from thousands of black war refugees, poor whites who were drawn to the city hoping to find work, and newly arrived immigrants.

Many turned to working in the thriving ililcit businesses that flourished in the alleys and narrow avenues of Judy's Town and Tanner's Alley. Unlicensed dance halls and lager houses, collectivley referred to as disorderly houses by the police, catered to soldiers and the thousands of men who were employed in their support. Prostitution, hard liquor, and gambling were associated with these businesses, and whites mixed freely with blacks as owners, staff, and as patrons. This "amalgamation" of the races, as well as the illegal activity, frequently led to calls for police crackdowns on the businesses by the same segment of society that denied otherwise respectable employment opportunities to African Americans.


Advertisement source: Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1861.

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