When Abraham Lincoln asked for volunteers to preserve the Union, Lebanon County men were quick to answer the call.
“All over the country patriotic fervor was spreading like wildfire and Lebanon County was no different,” says local historian Jeremy Brandt.
James Mayland McCarter, an ardent abolitionist and a Methodist minister at Lebanon’s Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, got approval from the Pennsylvania governor to raise a regiment of troops to fight in the Civil War, Brandt explains. “This regiment would be raised primarily in Lebanon County and McCarter would be its commander.”
They became known as the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, or the Lebanon Infantry, and their history has been kept alive today through organizations such as the Perseverance Fire Company and the Perseverance Band of Lebanon.
Initially, Brandt says, everyone thought “the war would be short and bloodless,” so troops were signed up for just three months of service. But after the first major battle in Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, the Union realized the war would be longer, and “the need for more troops and for longer enlistment terms was needed.”
McCarter had served as chaplain of the 14th Pennsylvania Infantry, one of the three-month regiments, but now would take command of the new body of troops. His former commander, John W. Johnston, served as his second in command.
The regiment was organized in Lebanon from Sept. 21 through Oct. 28, 1861, and mustered in for a three-year enlistment under Col. McCarter’s command.
Local iron magnate G. Dawson Coleman and his wife, Deborah, took a special interest in the 93rd, Brandt noted. Coleman was nicknamed the “Father of the Regiment” after paying for their uniforms, equipment and flags. The 93rd’s camp for instruction and recruitment was dubbed, in his honor, Camp Coleman.
Recruitment began on Sept. 12, 1861, “and within one week 200 men were at Camp Coleman and another 500 had been enrolled,” Brandt says. “The camp was set up on ground used by the Lebanon County Agricultural Society as a fairgrounds, and at the time stretched from modern day 7th Street west to 8th Street, and from Lehman Street north to Canal Street (the Union Canal in 1861).”
By Oct. 12, more than 900 men were in camp. They were mustered into federal service as the 93rd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on Oct. 28 with a full complement of 1,020 officers and men.
The regiment was nicknamed “The Lebanon Infantry,” Brandt says, although some of its 10 companies were recruited in nearby counties before gathering at Camp Coleman.
‘Until the job was done’
Troops came from all walks of life in Lebanon and surrounding counties, Brandt says. “There were obviously a lot of farmers, a lot of steelworkers, coalminers from the northern part of the county, railroad workers, clerks and lawyers. It was a fair cross-section of people.”
When the initial enlistment periods were ending and northern frustration over the long and costly war was growing, the federal government “realized they had a problem” and asked soldiers whose service was ending to re-enlist “until the job was done.”
If at least 75 percent of a regiment re-enlisted, he says, they could keep their regimental designation.
“The 93rd did that,” Brandt says. “They had enough men who were willing to stay the course.”
By the end of the war, he explains, total enrollment in the regiment reached 1,908 officers and men, 274 of whom would die either in battle or from disease.
That’s a fairly devastating loss for a community of Lebanon’s size, Brandt says.
“When you think of the size of Lebanon at the time, to have that many people enlist is crazy, especially when you see that kind of loss,” he says. “That was a big chunk of the town.”
He notes that there were at least 20 other companies in the Civil War that had “good-sized chunks of men from Lebanon,” but “the 93rd is the most famous.”
“Lebanon County was definitely represented in the war,” he says.
The regiment fought in more than 16 major battles, including Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill and the Breakthrough at Petersburg, as well as numerous other skirmishes and actions. The 93rd would be a part of the Army of the Potomac’s 6th Army Corps for most of its service.
Their first “real taste of combat” was at Fair Oaks, on May 31, 1862, which cost the 93rd some 155 men in casualties. They played a major role at the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Cedar Creek, both in 1864, he says, as well as the Petersburg Breakthrough, just a week before Lee’s Confederate Army surrendered on April 9, 1865.
“They put up quite a fight,” Brandt says.
It was at Petersburg, on April 2, that Sgt. Charles Marquette earned the Medal of Honor – the first person from Lebanon County to receive the federal government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.
According to the citation, Marquette, “although wounded, was one of the first to plant colors on the enemy’s breastworks.”
At the very end of the war, the regiment was on its way south to link up with General Sherman’s troops when Lee surrendered, “so they turned around and march back to Washington, D.C.,” Brandt says.
The 93rd Pennsylvania Infantry mustered out of service on June 27, 1865.
‘Keep their memory alive’
The memory of the regiment is kept alive by a small group of local re-enactors. Known as the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the group has about 15 official members, according to spokesman Steven Bansner.
Before COVID shut everything down, Bansner says, the re-enactors participated in eight to ten events per year, spread through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Bansner says he’s been involved in the group since 1987, and he notes that some members have ancestors who served in the original Civil War regiment.
Another member, Dennis Shirk, says he’s been re-enacting for 35 years, and he enjoys recreating Civil War battles on the sites where they originally took place.
“Keeping Civil War history alive is very important to me,” Shirk says. “It is up to us to keep their memory alive.”
Another group maintains an educational group on Facebook known as the Lebanon Infantry: The 93rd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Basic information about the 93rd is available through various online and published sources, “but you learn more the more you dig,” Brandt notes.
A regimental history (Amazon), published in 1911 by Capt. Penrose B. Mark of Company D, “is the bible of the 93rd,” he adds. There are also old newspaper clips, journal entries, letters and other resources that help to fill in the blanks.
“More is discovered all the time,” Brandt says.
The Perseverance Band of Lebanon
Another notable fact about the 93rd, Brandt says, was its musicians: the Perseverance Band of Lebanon.
According to the band’s website, the “Perse” organized in 1857 and enlisted en masse – about 20 men strong – in the Union Army in 1861. They were deployed as the 93rd Regimental Band of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.
“It has the prestige of the only continuous military band of the Civil War and (its) reputation for military music remains undimmed and (its) excellence as a musical organization is unsurpassed,” Mark notes in his regimental history.
Unfortunately, their service was short-lived; in March 1862, new general orders to the Union Army prohibited bands from being attached to regiments.
“It was actually pretty common for regiments to have a brass band,” Brandt says – at least, he notes, until the federal government “decided to stop paying for bands.” In fact, he remembers reading a journal entry from a soldier who mourned the band’s loss, complaining that the now had only fifes and drums to entertain them.
But the band, which retains social ties to the Perseverance Fire Company (which also enlisted en masse and was assigned to Company A of the 93rd) and has long been associated with the Coleman family, is still active today. After the end of the Civil War, the band notes on its website, they played at many reunions of the 93rd at Gettysburg.
‘Everyone in Lebanon can be proud’
Today, the regiment has two monuments in Gettysburg — one funded by the state, the other paid for by veterans committees. They and other Civil War dead are remembered also at Monument Park in downtown Lebanon, a memorial erected in 1869 through the efforts of Deborah Coleman and other women from Lebanon and a committee of local veterans.
“If you go to pretty much any cemetery in Lebanon County, it’s impossible not to find 93rd guys buried there,” Brandt says. “Either men who were killed during the war or who died afterwards.”
Some markers are clearly marked, he says, while others “require a little research.”
Brandt says he’s glad the 93rd is still remembered after all this time.
“They were a typical run-of-the-mill regiment that did their job,” he says. “It’s something everyone in Lebanon can be proud of.”
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