Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Governor Andrew J. Curtin to Abraham Lincoln, August 21, 1861

Harrisburg, Pa., August 21, 1861.

SIR: The government of Pennsylvania is and has been earnestly desirous of doing its full duty to the Commonwealth and the country. It has done and will continue to do everything in its power to fulfill the requisitions and facilitate the operations of the Government of the United States, without presuming to criticise or find fault, even when they may appear to be irregular or indiscreet. What I am about to say will therefore not be understood as said in the way of complaint, but merely for the purpose of calling attention to some arrangements, the effect of which has probably been overlooked by the authorities at Washington.

It appears clearly from the acts of Congress of 22d and 25th of July last that the President has power to accept volunteers otherwise than through the State authorities only in cases where those authorities refuse or omit to furnish volunteers at his call or on his proclamation. The act of Assembly of Pennsylvania of 15th of May last contains, among others, a provision, “That it shall not be lawful for any volunteer soldier to leave this Commonwealth as such unless he shall have been first accepted by the Governor of this State upon a call, under a requisition of the President of the United States, made upon the Governor direct, for troops for the service of the United States.” Thus Congress and the State Legislature appear to be agreed upon the inexpediency of attempting the formation of volunteer organizations simultaneously under the control of different heads and on the propriety of leaving such organizations to be formed under the requisitions of the President by the State authorities.

Notwithstanding this common action of Congress and the State Legislature, a course has been pursued by the Government of the United States which is not in accordance with it, and which has already produced much embarrassment and must tend to greatly retard the fulfillment of the objects of the Government. On the 26th day of July last a requisition was made on the Executive of this State for ten regiments of infantry in addition to the forty-four regiments already furnished, twenty-five of which had been called for three months’ service and had been discharged at the expiration of their time. Active measures were immediately taken to comply with the requisition, but unfortunately the Government of the United States went on to authorize individuals to raise regiments of volunteers in this State. Fifty-eight individuals received authority for this purpose in Pennsylvania. The direct authority of the Government of the United States having been thus set in competition with that of the State, acting under its requisition, the consequence has been much embarrassment, delay, and confusion. It has happened in one instance that more than twenty men in one company, brought here as volunteers under the State call for the United States, have been induced to abandon that service and join one of the regiments directly authorized by the United States. In other cases companies ready to march, and whose transportation had been provided, were successfully interfered with in like manner. The inclosed letter is but a sample of the many of like character that have been received.*

As the call of the State is for the service of the United States, no military obligation can be imposed on the men until they are mustered into the service of the United States, and there are therefore no means of preventing them from joining independent regiments or even deserting their colors entirely. The few mustering officers that can be found have refused to muster in less than a whole regiment of infantry. Part of these evils, it is understood from a telegraphic dispatch received to day, will be alleviated by a general order from the War Department, which was suggested by me yesterday. Still there remains the great evil of the unavoidable clashing of two authorities attempting at the same time to effect the same object among the same people through different and competing agencies. The result is what might have been expected – that after the lapse of twenty-six days not one entire regiment has been raised in Pennsylvania since the last requisition. There are fragments of some seventy regiments, but not one complete; yet men enough have been raised to form near thirty complete regiments, and if the State had been left to fulfill its duties in accordance with the acts of Congress and of Assembly referred to, it is confidently believed that the ten regiments called for on the 26th of July would by this time have been fully raised.

That the course thus pursued is in violation of the law, both of the United States and of Pennsylvania, is a consideration not unworthy of notice. At the same time the Executive of this State will leave the authorities of the United States to construe their own law, and so far as regards the law of Pennsylvania, will take the responsibility of disobeying it rather than fail in any effort that may be required to array her military force in the present emergency in such manner as the Government of the United States may point out; and the Executive, in so doing, will rely on the Legislature to ratify his acts, dictated as they are by an earnest desire to aid the Government of the United States promptly and efficiently, without stopping to discuss the legality of any form in which that aid may be demanded. But where the law is so clearly in accordance with true policy and expediency, it is hoped that the Government of the United States will adhere to it. At all events it is earnestly suggested that the double system which has been adopted can lead to nothing but continued embarrassment and confusion, and that it would be better to rely exclusively either on requisitions on the State government, or on the authority given to individuals. It is also suggested that it would be expedient to make requisitions on the State for companies and not for regiments. Under the act of Congress of 22d of July last the President has authority to form them into regiments, and the field officers could then be appointed by the Governor, in accordance with the same act. Some of the advantages to be derived from this course are—

First. That men enlist more readily when they know that they are to enter on active service without delay.

Second. That they would have the benefit of drill by officers of the United States and in their camps, in direct contact with troops already drilled, instead of being kept in temporary camps during the time requisite for filling a whole regiment.

Third. That company officers could be examined as they come in, and the incompetent ones replaced during the same interval, and thus time be saved and the effectiveness of the troops enhanced.

There are other reasons which will readily occur to you.

With great esteem, your obedient servant,

SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series III, Volume 1 (Serial No. 122), p. 439-41

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