Quotable Pennsylvania: Military and Wartime

In 1838 Abraham Lincoln famously said that “all the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

It just so happens the Ohio River and the Blue Ridge Mountains both begin in Pennsylvania, and for centuries the state has been central to many great war efforts both here and all around the world.

Pennsylvania was the place where the French and Indian war started when a young militia colonel named George Washington ambushed British forces near Pittsburgh. Two decades later Washington returned to the eastern end of Pennsylvania with the Continental Army and together they weathered a hard winter at Valley Forge in 1777. Nearly a century later Pennsylvania played host to the bloodiest battle fought on American soil at Gettysburg and saw the rebel Army of Northern Virginia’s back finally broken.

I could go on, but I think its already clear that there’s a place for Pennsylvania in American military history.

Some of these quotes are from observers reflecting on the glory of Pennsylvania’s war contributions and its important role in armed conflicts. Other times they are warnings not to ignore Pennsylvania in times of war lest disaster strike the country. I think they’d all agree that wars have left an indelible mark on this state.

Recommended listening: “Nelly Bly” by Stephen Foster (Foster was a native of Pennsylvania, his song was a popular tune sung by Civil War soldiers) and the World War II standard “Pennsylvania 6500” by the Andrews Sisters.

Reading Civil War memorial
Civil War veterans of Co. D, 30th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Corps in Reading, Pennsylvania c. 1911-1922. Library of Congress.

“It is clear, therefore, that whenever our liberty has been at stake, Pennsylvania has been in the forefront of its defense. This was no less true during the recent war then previously.”

-James Duff, 1946
“Pennsylvania at War, 1941-1945” page iv

WWII worker woman
A woman working in the Frankford Arsenal (Philadelphia) during WWII. Pennsylvania at War.

“Pennsylvania, indeed, situate in the Center of the Colonies, has hitherto enjoy’d profound Repose; and tho’ our Nation is engag’d in a bloody War, with two great and powerful Kingdoms, yet, defended, in a great Degree, from the French on the one Hand by the Northern Provinces, and from the Spaniards on the other by the Southern, at no small Expence to each, our People have, till lately, slept securely in their Habitations…

…Not so far from Zidon, however, as Pennsylvania is from Britain; and yet we are, if possible, more careless than the People of Laish! As the Scriptures are given for our Reproof, Instruction and Warning, may we make a due Use of this Example, before it be too late!”

-Benjamin Franklin, 1747
“Plain Truth”

washington valley forge
George Hand Wright, Washington at Valley Forge, 1931, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“The loyal people of Pennsylvania will respond promptly to the call of the government, and within the next 24 hours enable the Governor to assemble an army at this capital sufficient to check a rebel invasion. The time for action has arrived.”

-Governor Andrew Curtin, September 11, 1862
“Proclamation by the Governor,” September 11, 1862

“Everything depends on Pa. and upon the army vote of that State.”

-Samuel L.M. Barlow, c. 1864
Quoted in “Supporting Soldiers’ Right to Vote” by Jonathan White, Pennsylvania Heritage Winter 2006 page 16

“Pennsylvania will never be behind her sister States in doing honor to the brave men who gave up their lives while fighting her battles; and the demonstrations of each Decoration Day are evidences that she will not soon forget their deeds, or their claim upon her deepest gratitude.”

-Willard Glazier, 1886
“Peculiarities of American Cities,” page 194

“Much blame has been thrown upon General Couch. But it is clearly impossible that he or any other General could protect Pennsylvania from being at some point infested, and if infested by an army regardless of the amenities of civilized warfare the result was inevitably such as we have described.”

-Harper’s Weekly, 1864

“Burning of Chambersburg,” page 542

Rothermel Pickets Charge
The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge, by Peter Frederick Rothermel, 1870. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“By every possible criterion, Pennsylvania will be a No. 1 target so long as men possess weapons. Nowhere else in the United States is there a greater concentration of vital industry and transport systems within easy access by sea or air. One-fifth of all this nation’s industrial resources are located in the Commonwealth. If these were once destroyed, either by armed attack from outside or by sabotage from within, there would be little point in any further resistance on the battlefields. The war would be over and the country in the hands of a foreign overlord.”

-Military and Civil Defense Commission for Pennsylvania, c. 1951
While the Sun Shines: A Civil Defense Primer, page 1

Windber war memorial
Monument to the parish’s war dead in World Wars I and II at the St. Anthony of Padua Cemetery in Windber, Pennsylvania. Library of Congress.

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