Virtue, Liberty, Independence

Pennsylvania’s State Senators in the Civil War
1861 – 1865

Virtue, Liberty, Independence
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We are coming, Father Abra’am, three hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi’s winding stream and from New England’s shore;
We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear;
We dare not look behind us, but steadfastly before—
We are coming, Father Abra’am, three hundred thousand more!

– “We Are Coming Father Abraham,” a poem by Philadelphian James Sloan Gibbons that became a popular Union Army recruiting song.

On Wednesday morning, January 9, 1861, Southern guns fired at and hit the U.S. steamer “Star of the West,” carrying supplies to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Three months later, the fort came under Confederate bombardment, prompting President Lincoln to call for 75,000 soldiers to defend the Constitution and preserve the Union.   Pennsylvania was among the first to respond.Nearly 150 Pennsylvania State Senators and two staff members performed notable military or civilian service during the Civil War, as soldiers, surgeons chaplains and in other capacities.  Their stories of service and sacrifice are told in the book,Virtue, Liberty, Independence: Pennsylvania’s State Senators in the Civil War. Their ranks include seven Brigadier Generals and two Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients. One of President Lincoln’s security guards, John Lamon of Philadelphia County, would go on to become Senate President Pro Tempore.  Other future senators served in emergency militias to defend the commonwealth against Confederate invasions.  Most were elected to the Senate following their military service; some served prior; and one, Senator Henry Lloyd “Harry” White of Indiana County, served in the Senate and the military simultaneously.  Senator White received a leave of absence from President Lincoln to attend legislative sessions in Harrisburg. (Captured by Virginia Confederates in 1863, he escaped captors five times in 16 months before finally breaking for freedom and eventually resuming his Senate service.) For more stories, portraits and battlefield photos, click on the book cover above.

Civil War veterans who served in the Pennsylvania Senate included several who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. Here’s a brief look at some of them:


On the very day that slavery drew the sword upon liberty for the purpose of establishing its permanent empire, the American people, chosen instruments of Divine justice, determined it should die.  It was a terrible conflict with all the hosts of hell. The Christian world never witnessed its like before, and never will again. The thing is dead! Its career ended as it began – in blasphemy and blood. With its bishops in the Church, it called upon God for help; with its assassins in the capital, it appealed to hell for succor. Its pimps in the British Parliament; its friends in the British Ministry, and its rogues in the London Exchange, have defiled themselves in vain – they could not save it.  With the foulest record of crime that was ever exposed to Omnipotent wrath, it has been hurled into an abyss from which it will never rise, but sink down – down, down – deeper and deeper, in fathomless infamy, through all eternity!

– Senate Speaker Charles L. Gibbons, heralding the abolition of slavery and the 89th anniversary of American Independence, July 4, 1865.