“Patriotically Interesting Sight” – The 96th Pennsylvania Receives Its Colors

“Notwithstanding the rain, a great crowd of spectators from the borough and the surrounding country had assembled to witness the patriotically interesting sight, and when the Governor appeared at the door opening on the balcony, graced by the presence of ladies, and crowded by his many warm political admirers, it was the signal for waving of handkerchiefs, and cheer after cheer broke spontaneous from the lips of the soldiers and their assembled friends…” 

– Captain John T. Boyle, 96th Pennsylvania  

Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (WikiCommons)

On a rainy, November day in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Governor Andrew Curtin arrived with a number of his staff. Their reason for coming to the capital of Pennsylvania’s hard coal empire: inaugurating the newest volunteer infantry unit hailing from this most patriotic regions. Schuylkill County and the surrounding area had given men to yet another regiment of citizen-soldiers, the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

November 7, 1861 marked an triumphal moment for this new regiment of volunteers. The 96th had been encamped on Pottsville’s Lawton Hill since the end of September, drilling and preparing for war. Governor Curtin had arrived in the Schuylkill County seat to deliver the 96th its regimental colors and to give it a proper send-off.

The festivities took place amid a driving rainstorm outside the American House hotel on Union Street in the heart of downtown Pottsville, near the railroad depot.

The Pottsville Miners’ Journal picks up the story:

On Wednesday last, notwithstanding the heavy rain, large number of persons assembled at noon at the depot of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad for the purpose of witnessing the arrival of Governor Curtin, whose visit here was to present a flag from the State to the 96thRegiment, Col. H. Cake. 

At noon, the Governor arrived, and was escorted to the American House, headed by the fine band of the Regiment, and amid the salutes of a small cannon planted near the depot. In the afternoon at 3 o’clock , the Regiment marched to the American House, where Governor Curtin presented the colors in a speech which was eloquent and spirit stirring. 

The Governor referred to the fact that Schuylkill County was among the first in the field, at the call of the President, and that she was now nobly pouring out her thousands of brave defenders. He spoke thrillingly of the cause in which we are engaged. He said that it was a holy cause. In handing over the colors, he felt that the brave men before him would defend them to the last. Col. Cake in receiving this flag, made a neat and pertinent reply. The flag bears upon it the coat of arms of Pennsylvania, and the number of the Regiment. 

In the afternoon, the Governor partook of a dinner at the American House with the officers of the Regiment, and then proceeded to Sunbury via. the Mine Hill Railroad in charge of the efficient Superintendent Wilder. The unfavorable state of the weather somewhat interfered with the ceremonies of the presentation; but everything passed off pleasantly, and was witnessed by an immense concourse of people. The Borough was liberal in its display of bunting on the occasion…

Regimental historian Captain John T. Boyle recorded the his thoughts in 1884 of these momentous events. The event came to an end on a high note when the “Star Spangled Banner” played and “the enthusiasm of the men and their friends was raised to the highest pitch of feeling.”

The regimental flag given to Colonel Cake was described as:With the event’s conclusion, the enlisted men returned to their encampment on Lawton’s Hill while the officers remained to pay respects to the Governor. They spent about an hour with the Keystone State’s leader before he and his entourage embarked the cars and returned to the state capital at Harrisburg.

The flag presented was in dimensions eight feet by six feet. It was made of silk and bound around the edge with yellow or gold-colored silk fringe about one and a half inches wide. The Pennsylvania State Coat of Arms encircled by thirty-four stars, emblazoned its azure field, and on one of its white bars was inscribed in letters of gold. NINETY-SIXTH REGIMENT P. V.

Governor Curtin in Pottsville - The 96th PA Receives Its Colors
The railroad depot in Pottsville in 1861. The American House is just out of frame at right.

Later that day, the regiment returned to Pottsville proper and camped out around the Schuylkill County Court House where they remained for the night. The next day, November 8, the regiment departed for the seat of war amid parades and parties throughout Schuylkill County.

Governor Curtin in Pottsville - The 96th PA Receives Its Colors
The regimental flag of the 96th Pennsylvania as it appears today. The flag survived numerous battles and was returned to Pottsville in February 1864 (Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags)

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