On the evening of September 29, 1863, residents of Wiconisco Township at the northern end of Dauphin County poured into the community’s Methodist Episcopal Church on Pottsville Street. A former minister planned to speak on “The State of the Country” inside the community’s “Miner’s Chapel.”
The night’s speaker, John Chandler Gregg, was well-known in Wiconisco and in this congregation specifically. He had been the church’s minister in 1859-1860. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Gregg was appointed chaplain of the 127th Pennsylvania. The regiment became known as the Dauphin County Regiment, as it was entirely recruited from the county on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. Several local soldiers served in the unit.
Gregg’s lecture came at a turning point in the Civil War. In the summer of 1863, Central Pennsylvania, including the residents of Wiconisco Township, were threatened when a Confederate army invaded the Keystone State. Many of those in the audience likely joined emergency militias to repel the Rebel incursion and did so successfully. But only a week before Gregg’s presentation at the M.E. Church on Pottsville Street, a Union Army suffered a stunning defeat at Chickamauaga, in what was the second deadliest battle of the conflict. That defeat threatened to eat away at Northern momentum that grew out of the victory at Gettysburg in July 1863.
On this evening in the autumn of 1863, Gregg poured forth in support of the Union and for a “vigorous prosecution of the war” against the Confederacy. As he drew his speech to a close, he tallied a list of reasons why the war should be prosecuted until the South was entirely destroyed:
We want a vigorous prosecution of the war, for I am certain if the friends of our country would have been as much in earnest to save the country as the rebels have been to destroy it, this Rebellion would have been over today; for I am opposed to halfway measures, and a milk-and-water policy. Then let us have a vigorous prosecution of this war for the following reasons.
1. We desire to perpetuate the Union of these States.
2. The blood of the dead demands it at the hands of our rulers.
3. The groans of the sick and wounded soldiers call loudly for a vigorous prosecution of this war.
4. The great multitude of heart-broken widows and orphans that this war has occasioned, cry to us for a vigorous prosecution of this war, for they know by prolonging this war that their number will be greatly increased.
5. The Free North, clothed in the habiliments of mourning for the brave and fallen, cries for a vigorous prosecution of the war.
6. Religion, humanity, and our country demand it.
7. Prosecute the war with vigor, and it will stimulate and strengthen the weak-kneed patriots in our midst.
8. It will cause the soldiers in the field to have more faith in the ability of the government to put down the Rebellion. It will cause them to fight with greater courage than ever.
9. It will cause the Union men of the South to take fresh courage and assert their rights, at least in some sections, at the point of the bayonet.
10. The only hope of a permanent peace lies in the vigorous prosecution of this war to the suppression of the Rebellion.
A word to our enemies in our midst. The time will come when you will deeply regret your present wicked and disloyal course; for this Government will put down this Rebellion and punish you severely in case of necessity. I warn you, then, to cease your efforts to overthrow it, for this Government will live and flourish long after you are dead and forgotten, for our enemies everywhere will be compelled to respect our nationality in the future as they have been compelled to do in the past. Why will you then continue to strive to break up this Union, and trample upon both Divine and human laws? Why are you trying to trample beneath your feet the old, time-honored flag of our country? That flag, which was christened by the blood of our Revolutionary fathers, baptized in the blood of our brothers in our present struggle, which we believe has been favorably recognized by the God of nations!
The speech landed well with this audience. Many in the congregation sent sons to fight this war. Among the congregation were numerous widows, whose husbands’ blood Gregg had used as a reason to prosecute the war until Union victory. The speech was later published in Philadelphia.
Gregg returned to serve with the Union Army in 1864. He traveled to New Orleans to act as a hospital chaplain in the city’s war-time medical facilities. He later wrote a memoir of his Civil War experiences that has been analyzed earlier.
Featured Image: An unidentified chaplain in Union Army uniform, (Library of Congress).