York County antebellum militia groups enlisted in 16th PA at start of Civil War
At the start of the Civil War, across both the North and South tens of thousands of young men enlisted in the Union and Confederate armies. Some had previous military experience, including combat action in the Mexican War or other conflicts such as the Seminole War or Plains Indians wars. Others had no experience whatsoever. In between were the many local militia units, some of which had been in existence since the 18th century. These were usually honorary organizations, filled with civic leaders and the cream of society. Their main activities before the war were primarily ceremonial and social.
In York County, Pennsylvania, four such pre-existing militia units answered President Abraham Lincoln’s April 1861 call to arms. Two of these companies were from York; the other two hailed from the Hanover area.
A prominent Yorker, Thomas A. Ziegle, received a commission from the governor of Pennsylvania and helped raise men for what would become the 16th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The roughly 1,000-man regiment would serve for a term of 3 months. Optimism reigned; few citizens believed the war would last much longer than that.
Here is 19th century local historian George Prowell’s account of the formation of this short-term regiment (pages 357-58 in Prowell’s History of York County).
“The Sixteenth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, answered the first call of President Lincoln for troops. It was organized at Harrisburg, May 3, 1861, by the election of Thomas A. Ziegle, of York, as colonel. He had a good military record in the Mexican war and for twelve years had been captain of the Worth Infantry, a noted military organization of York. George J. Higgins was chosen lieutenant-colonel, and Frank T. Bennett, major; A. Hiestand Glatz, of York, quartermaster; Charles Garretson, assistant-quartermaster.
Soon after organization, the Sixteenth Regiment was brought to Camp Scott, at York [at the old fairgrounds near the intersection of E. King and S. Queen streets], and remained here, engaged in drill and discipline, until June 8. Before its departure to the seat of war, the regiment was presented with a flag by the ladies of York, and then proceeded to Chambersburg, where it was placed in the Fourth Brigade, First Division, of General Patterson’s army, which was preparing to move into the Shenandoah Valley. The regiment crossed the Potomac at Williamsport [MD], proceeded to Martinsburg [VA, now WV], and from thence to Bunker Hill, near Winchester, Virginia, and drove in [Confederate Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston’s advance guard. The regiment then made a forced march to Harper’s Ferry, the enemy’s pickets retreating before them, and encamped at Charlestown, on the 17th of June. It remained in this position until the expiration of the three months’ term of service. Although in constant expectation of meeting the enemy, General Patterson’s army was not engaged in battle. The Sixteenth Regiment, at Charlestown, was within hearing distance of the battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. It was mustered out of service at Harrisburg, July 30.
The Worth Infantry, Company A; York Voltiguers, Company H; Marion Rifles, of Hanover, Company F; and Hanover Infantry, Company G, served in this regiment. They were all York County troops. These four companies had existed for several years before the war opened, and were quick to respond to Lincoln’s first call for troops.”
Captain John Hay commanded the Worth Infantry; Captain Theodore D. Cochran the York Voltiguers; Captain Horatio Gates Myers the Marion Rifles; and Captain Cyrus Diller the Hanover Infantry. Most of these officers and several of their enlisted men went on to serve in other regiments as the war progressed.
John Hay would rise to the rank of colonel and command the largest regiment raised in York County during the war, the 87th Pennsylvania. A cabinet maker by trade, he was present during the June 27, 1863, negotiations with Confederate Brig. Gen. John Brown Gordon, which led to the peaceful occupation of York by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s full division
Cochran had been a pre-war newspaperman and lieutenant the U.S. Army during the Mexican War. He was from an influential family in York borough.
Cyrus Diller would become the colonel of the 76th Pennsylvania and have a successful career after the war as a railroad contractor.
Horatio Gates Myers operated a retail store in downtown Hanover before the war. Unlike Captains Hay, Cochran, and Diller, he did not survive his 3-month term of duty in the 16th Pennsylvania. The native of New Chester in Adams County suffered from exposure at the regiment’s campsite at Verdant Meadow near Hagerstown, Maryland, and was left behind there when the regiment returned to York in July to be mustered out of the service. Captain Myers eventually died on August 7, 1861, from the lingering effects of his illness. He is buried at Saint John’s United Church of Christ Cemetery in New Chester. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.