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Local militias were ready for Civil War

Long before Confederate warships bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the seeds of discontent had been planted in the hearts of residents of the South as anti-slavery advocates threatened the southern way of life and its economy.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln, who had run on a platform critical of slavery, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate warships escalated the conflict between the North and South and the Civil War, pitting countrymen against each other, was underway.

In Lycoming County there were several military companies active in the county even before the conflict erupted.

“There were a number of military companies in the county and ‘training day’ for the militia was always an event of more than ordinary importance while the militia system existed,” John F. Meginness wrote in The History of Lycoming County.

An establishment above Linden, the old Bennett Tavern, was a favorite place for the militia to “muster,” Meginness noted.

“Road Hill, in Washington Township, where, ‘Squire Sedam kept tavern was another place made famous by these meetings,'” Meginness related.

But, when the war between the North and the South erupted, Lycoming County residents were quick to meet the call.

“Patriotism found prompt and appropriate expression in the county, when the safety of the Union seemed to be imperiled. Many descendants of Revolutionary stock were included in her population and these as well as others who could not boast such enviable descent were prompt to declare for the cause of the government,” the history recorded.

Meginness reported that local residents “watched closely every step in the progress of events toward the fateful clash and the nearer the decisive hour came the higher arose the loyal enthusiasm among the people of the valley.”

In 1856, the Woodward Guards, an artillery company named after Judge Woodward, a prominent Williamsport citizen, had been formed. It was reported by Meginness that “many who joined the Guards later also served creditably in the war for the Union, a great majority of them becoming officers.”

The company had been given a twelve-pound Napoleon gun prior to the start of the Civil War.

Meginness wrote that when news reached the city that Major Anderson had abandoned Fort Moultrie and entered Fort Sumter, the gunners of the Guards moved to Market Street hill, north of the city, to fire a salute in celebration of the event.

“After a few discharges, the piece was prematurely fired, the thumb stall, of Thomas Wilkison, vent man, having slipped just as the charge was reamed home,” according to accounts from the time.

The result was that Wilkison died and a Private with him, Joseph Bubb, had his right arm and hand mangled.

“Thus, long before the firing on Sumter, Lycoming County citizens had shed their blood on behalf of the Union,” Meginness wrote.

When the crisis finally came, Meginness related that “the enthusiasm of the people of the county broke forth in a flame.”

“Monster meetings were held,” Meginness wrote, “and the citizens demonstrated in the most unmistakable manner that they were solid for the Union. Not only did they throughout the war that followed send their own troops to the front, but they furnished open-handed hospitality to the troops from elsewhere that passed through their borders on their way to the field or on their return.”

The Nineteenth New York Regiment, passing through the area in April, 1861, was reportedly “royally entertained.”

“The noble women of Williamsport acquitted themselves well in this respect and won the lasting gratitude of thousands of the country’s defenders,” Meginness said.

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