HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, state Sen. Lisa Baker and other distinguished guests, participated in a wreath-laying ceremony April 17, in Harrisburg, to honor a Civil War general and former governor of Pennsylvania.
The ceremony was conducted as part of the annual Pennsylvania National Guard Day as a way to resurrect the story of the Medal of Honor recipient at the site of his statue near the state Capitol.
Hartranft was awarded the medal for staying to fight in the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 after his 4th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment returned home after their enlistments expired on the eve of the battle.
“Hartranft was humiliated by his men’s decision to go home,” said Craig, “but he stayed to fight with the Army, volunteering his services to fellow Pennsylvanian Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin.”
Following the battle, Hartranft raised another regiment. He became the colonel of the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-year regiment. They first served on the North Carolina coast in the Burnside Expedition. Hartranft led them in battle at Roanoke Island and New Bern.
In July 1862, Hartranft’s men proceeded to Newport News, Va., to become part of Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps, with whom they fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run and at South Mountain. They also fought at the Battle of Antietam, where Hartranft led its charge across Burnside’s Bridge, suffering 120 casualties. They also participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
The 51st Pennsylvania was transferred to the Western Theater, where Hartranft saw action at the battles of Vicksburg, Campbell’s Station, and Knoxville.
He commanded the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, of the IX Corps in the 1864 Overland Campaign, participating in the fighting at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania before he was promoted to brigadier general on May 12, 1864.
When the corps was reorganized, he was given command of a new 3rd Division, consisting of newly raised Pennsylvania regiments.
At Petersburg, Hartranft foiled Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's attack on Fort Stedman, the last major Confederate offensive of the war. Hartranft brought his division from its reserve position and counterattacked to recapture the fort. Lee's failure led to the ultimate fall of Richmond. For this action, Hartranft was promoted to major general by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
At the end of the war, Hartranft was appointed special provost marshal for the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. He was responsible for the custody of the prisoners and the execution of four of those convicted.
After the war, Hartranft returned to his hometown and entered politics. He served as our state’s auditor general from 1867 to 1873 and governor of Pennsylvania from 1873 to 1879.
“His spirit prevailed as he confronted obstacle after obstacle, in wartime and in peacetime,” Baker said during the ceremony. “Throughout the turbulent times that followed Lincoln’s assassination—marred by the Molly Maguires murders and the railroad strikes—Governor Hartranft never ran from a challenge.” Craig explained that Hartranft was very well-respected both in and out of uniform.
“As governor, he was a strong advocate of education, municipal reform, regulation of banking, improved industry and commerce, suffrage for African Americans, and the reorganization of the National Guard,” Craig said. “He was also serving as what we would call a traditional guardsman as first commander of the Pennsylvania Division, today’s 28th Infantry Division.
Hartranft’s efforts to reorganize the National Guard into the structure that essentially remains today earned Hartranft the title of ‘the father of the Pennsylvania National Guard.’
“John Hartranft was a gentleman who was well-respected by his friends as well as his opposition,” said Craig. “When he died in Norristown on Oct. 17, 1889, former confederate general Henry Kyd Douglas praised Hartranft as ‘a man whose name would blaze in any country.’”
The statue was originally dedicated in Hartranft’s honor in 1899 on the east side of the Capitol building in Harrisburg. It was later moved to the southwest side to a more suitable setting. Baker said that he was not a man who was interested in the spotlight, only in improving himself so he would be in a position to help others.
“Today, more than 120 years after Gov. Hartranft’s death, most of us probably walk by Old Johnny’s statue on the Capitol Plaza without a second glance or a second thought,” said Baker.
“Governor Hartranft’s life philosophy was: The more I can make of myself, the more I can help others. And that is the lesson we should take with us every time we walk by Governor Hartranft’s statue.”
This was the first ceremony of its kind, but not the last. The adjutant general plans to annually recognize Hartranft, a general, statesman, and father of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
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