The First Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry

Click here to the see the flag of the First Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry


The First Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry consisted of members of the First Regiment of the National Guard of Pennsylvania. The unit spent it service fighting the enemies of disease, boredom and tension in camps in the Southern U.S.

Unit History:

The First Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which mainly consisted of members of Philadelphia's First Regiment of the Pennsylavnia National Guard, arrived at camp at Camp Hastings, Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, on April 28, 1898. Mt. Gretna, located in Lebanon County, was the National Guard's normal training camp, so it was a place the men knew well. A few days after the unit's arrival, on May 2, the unit had a proud moment - when Governor Hastings of Pennsylvania reviewed the unit. The day, however, was not without its tragedy. The unit's commanding officer, Colonel Bowman, was wounded when he fell from his horse. He was unable to remain in command and was ultimately forced to resign his commision. On May 10-11, 1898 the First Pennsylvania was formally mustered into service.

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The officers of the First Pennsylvania with Col. Bowman seated at center.

The First Pennsylvania, now under the command of Lt. Col. J. Lewis Good, mustered 40 officers and 754 enlisted men for a total of 794 men. Additional men were added bringing the total to just under 1000 men. It was not until August when Lt. Col. Good would be promoted to full colonel to replace Colonel Bowman. His commission was, however, backdated to May 12.

On May 16, the unit received orders to proceed to Camp Thomas on the old Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga, Georgia, where it became part of the Third Brigade, Second Division of the First Army Corps. The unit served as part of the "Department of the Gulf." The scene in Camp Thomas was chaotic. The army was not prepared to meet the needs of the sixty thousand men ultimately sent there. Sanitary conditions were bad. Food and other supplies were in short supply. Ultimately, the camp itself would become as dangerous as facing an armed enemy.

At Camp Thomas, the day began at 4:55 a.m. with first call, and ended at 9:15 p.m. with "Taps." In between were long hours of company and regimental drill capped off with a dress parade.

In accordance with the orders of the War Department on June 1, 1898, the unit was authorized to recruit several additional companies of men. The detail sent to Philadelphia to recruit completed raising the additional 106 men, with the units peaking at 1,100 men!

The mess cooks of Company G, First Pennsylvania.
Note that the man seated at center is holding a pig on his lap.

Meanwhile, conditions at Camp Thomas continued to deteriorate. The First Regiment's Chief Surgeon, Major William G. B. Harland registered his disgust. He stated:

"...for many reasons, indifference born of ignorance of sanitary laws on the part of the men, and the nature of the ground and insufficient water these efforts [to provide sanitary conditions] proved fruitless...The sanitary conditions of the camp were fearful by this time...sinks were flooded by the rains, and the underlying rock made it impossible to dig them at all deep...The air was laden with foul odors from the sinks and from the dump heaps, between the regiments, which should never have been permitted to have been made, and for which our regiment was not responsible. Gloom and despondency took possession of the men."
Because of the crowded conditions and poor sanitary facilities, disease began to break out. The First Pennsylvania relocated its camp a short distance to a large drill field on August 12 to try to allevaite the situation. In the mean time, the people back home had begun to hear of the plight of the men, and reacted to support the men. On August 19, a special hospital train arrived from Philadelphia with supplies for the troops. The First Pennyslvania loaded eighty-four of its sick men onto the train for transport back to Philadelphia. Morale had begun to plummet.

To stave off any mass epidemics, the First Pennsylvania was ordered to break camp and move to a new location at Camp John S. Poland in Knoxville, Tennessee on August 28, 1898. By this time, the war crisis had passed. On August 13, an armistice had been declared with Spain. The fighting had ended, though the war would not formally end until December 10, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

The unit's move to knoxville began at 3:00 a.m. on August 29, with an eight mile march to the train station at Rossville. Here it embarked on the railcars and arrived in the new camp at 4:00 p.m. of the same day. The unit remained at Camp Poland until being ordered to proceed to Philadelphia for mustering out on September 14.

The unit's arrival in Philadelphia was a festive affair with Civil War veterans forming up to act as an escort to the unit's armory where a large banquet was held.

On September 17, the members of the First Pennsylvania were given a thirty day furlough. The unit reformed on October 16 and was mustered out on October 26. The  following day, the unit took part in the Peace Jubilee Celebration in Philadelphia.

During its term of service, the unit lost two officers and 16 men to illness and injury.


(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on

Sauers, Richard A., Pennsylvania in the Spanish-American War. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998).

Stewart, Adj. Gen. Thomas J., Record of the Pennsylvania Vounteers. (Harrisburg: William Stanley Ray, 1901).

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