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A dispatch issued on June 15, 1863, by Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (1817–1894) to various post offices in Pennsylvania alerted citizens to the imminent arrival of Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee in Pennsylvania. It was the first public notice of the South’s advance on the Keystone State which ultimately resulted in the horrific three-day Battle of Gettysburg waged July 1-3. “Lee is moving in force on Penna [and] he has defeated our people at Winchester & Martinsburg,” Curtin wrote. “And part of his army is now at Hagerstown. The President has called on Pennsylvania for Fifty Thousand Volunteers to check the Rebel Movement.”

The notice is part of Record Series 19.181, Military Dispatches of the Transportation and Telegraph Department (1861-1867) in Record Group 19, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Established in 1861, the Transportation and Telegraph Department coordinated the movement of troops and military supplies through the Keystone State and controlled telegraphic messages relating to war activities in response to the national emergency. The communiques were issued by Curtin or Adjutant General A. L. Russell.

Born in Bellefonte, Centre County, Curtin attended Bellefonte Academy, Dickinson College, and the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Cumberland County, before being appointed Superintendent of Public Schools by Whig Governor James Pollock in 1855. Switching from the Whig Party to the Republican Party in 1860, Curtin was elected governor that year – the first Republican to serve as the Commonwealth’s chief executive. On April 18, 1861, he organized Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, the Union’s first military camp, where more than three hundred thousand men drilled over the course of four years before fighting for the North.

Curtin was closely involved in the Gettysburg Campaign and was instrumental in creating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. He was among those who stood near Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the cemetery on November 19, 1863. Curtin established Soldiers’ Orphans Schools to educate children of soldiers who died during the war. Later switching to the Democratic Party, he served as Ambassador to Russia under President Ulysses S. Grant and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1881 to 1887. He died in Bellefonte on October 7, 1894. His lengthy obituary in the New York Times the following day appeared beneath the headline “Another War Governor Gone – Andrew G. Curtin Passes Away at His Pennsylvania Home – His Influence Had Much to Do with the First Nomination for President of Abraham Lincoln – His Troops Were the First to Reach Washington After the Call, and His Reserves Saved the Capital After the Battle of Bull Run.”

 

Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist with the Pennsylvania State Archives.