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Congressman Joseph Bailey, D-16th District (LOC)

York congressman voted no to recruiting of black soldiers

By the winter of 1862-63, the United States War Department and President Lincoln knew they needed many more troops to continue the war effort, which by then was struggling. Robert E. Lee reigned supreme in the Eastern Theater, having defeated a litany of Union generals since being installed in command of the Army of Northern Virginia in the summer of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign.

Several leading congressmen, most notably abolitionist “radical Republicans,” advocated putting black men in uniform as front-line troops.

Democrats were not so sure.

In February 1863, the House of Representatives voted on a bill that authorized the president to enroll and arm black soldiers and sailors for a term of service for up to five years. The new soldiers, later known as the United States Colored Troops, were to receive the same rations, uniforms, and equipment as white soldiers. Pay at first was less than white soldiers, and the black men served under white officers, but they were to be Union soldiers in every other aspect. Slaves of loyal citizens were exempted, and there were to be no recruiting stations in the border states such as Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, or Missouri without the consent of their respective governors.

After a spirited debate, the vote was taken on February 2, 1863, before the 37th Congress adjourned.

It largely went along party lines.

Edward McPherson, the Republican representative from Adams County, voted aye. So did Lancaster County’s Thaddeus Stevens (an early and vocal proponent of the measure).

Joseph Bailey, an iron furnace owner from Perry County and a Democrat, represented the 16th district which then included York County. He voted nay.

The measure passed 83 to 54 and was sent to the Senate for confirmation and approval.

As for Congressman Bailey, he had defeated Yorker Adam J. Glossbrenner, a Peace Democrat “Copperhead,” in November 1862 in what by then had become the 15th district. So, he kept his seat in the 38th Congress, which oversaw turning the new law into action.  On May 22, 1863, the government formed the Bureau of Colored Troops to oversee the creation of the U. S. Colored Troops. Several states, including Massachusetts, quickly formed their own black regiments (the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry including several men from Lancaster and York counties).

Over time, Bailey grew to support Lincoln’s war effort in the 38th Congress and became a leader in the congressional “War Democrat” faction.

A. J. Glossbrenner (LOC)

However, York Countians, no fans of Abraham Lincoln, and the rest of the district’s voters readily voted Bailey out of office in 1864 by a tally of 13,382 to 10,576. Bailey returned to his iron business while Glossbrenner, a Maryland native, served two terms in Congress before being defeated in 1868. He was a banker in York before moving to Philadelphia in 1880 to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Bailey and Glossbrenner — two arch-rival politicians, both Democrats, who represented York County in the Civil War. Bailey came to accept Lincoln while Glossbrenner stubbornly opposed the president.

For more, see the York Gazette, February 10, 1863 (available on-line at or on microfiche at the York County History Center’s library and archives).