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Harrisburg Burning – Yet Again

Posted By on April 2, 2014

A third incident of arson in Harrisburg occurred in the early morning of 1 July 1865, the two previous incidents having occurred a few days prior and about two weeks prior.  This third incident resulted in the organization of citizens’ patrols.  The article that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 3 July 1865 also made note of the fact that soldiers were pouring into the city which was a major discharge point.  Among those regiments that were being discharged in Harrisburg and Camp Curtin at the time of the third fire were the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry, the 190th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 191st Pennsylvania Infantry.


HARRISBURG.  Still Another Fire. Incendiarism.  The People Alarmed!  The Mayor Calls a Town Meeting.  Government Property Under Double Guard.  The Liquor Establishments Closed.  Citizens Patrol the Wards.  Pennsylvania Regiments Still Arriving.  Camp Curtin Filled with Soldiers.

Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.

Harrisburg, 1 July 1865 —

Still Another Fire – Incendiaries.

The fire fiends are still at work.  There is no doubt whatsoever that Harrisburg is infested with a few desperate characters, who have originated the fires that have occurred here within the last three weeks.  In the first fire of the series, they destroyed about thirty-five of the series, they destroyed about thirty-five thousand dollars’ worth of property in the very heart of the city.  The second attempt was made in the rear of the Brady House and the North Ward Girls’ Grammar School.  This square is composed of light frame tenements, and if the firemen had not arrived early the whole square might have been in a——- morning.  The third fire occurred early — morning in a stable in Raspberry Alley between Market and Chestnut Streets. On one side is the Jones House, on the other the Lochiel, to of the largest hotels in the city.

In close vicinity is the Dauphin Deposit Bank, Masonic Hall, Court House, Brant’s City Mills, and cetera.  The fiery element raged fiercely for a time, but through the gallant exertions of the firemen the flames were stayed, not, however, until after several buildings, the property of M. C. S. Legelbaum, were destroyed.

These fires have all occurred between the hours of two and four o’clock in the morning when it is the most difficult to arouse the people.  They are evidently designed to burn large and valuable districts.  Everybody is becoming alarmed.  The impression is gaining ground that it is an organized system to burn the place.

Although there is no paid fire department here the volunteer firemen have worked very efficiently,  A proposition has been before Councils to appoint a Fire Director for the city at a fixed salary, but the Fire Companies have strongly protested against it.  The war has brought here a very large number of itinerant and small traders and storekeepers, who for economy sake have occupied light frame buildings erected for temporary purposes.  Indeed the place is largely composed of this class of buildings.  This looks almost like inviting fires.  The wonder is that these conflagrations have not extended over more extended districts.  It is now urged that an ordinance be passed, prohibiting the erection of wooden buildings.  This would no doubt have a very good effect.

In view of the dangers surrounding the people a town meeting was called by the Mayor at the Court House this evening.  There was a large attendance.  The Mayor opened the meeting in a speech of some length, calling for immediate measures for the security of property. He laid the principal blame upon the bars and drinking saloons, and contended that they ought to be closed after a certain hour.  It was determined to close all drinking establishments at twelve o’clock.  The city was districted and patrols allotted to each district.

Captain Reichenbach, United States Quartermaster, at this point, addressed the meeting.  He said that he doubled the guards over Government property under his charge, and that this very evening he had set additional guards for several squared around his district.  He took occasion to obse3rve that, especially in localities where Government property was stored, the material of the building was very inflammable; in short, that they were mere “tinder boxes,” ready for firing at any moment.  He added, that although he did not know the feeling of the Mayor and Councils upon the subject, he would say that if any of his guards caught an individual under suspicious circumstances, they would hang him to the first lamp post.  This was greeted with cheers.

Our Patrol.

After the meeting an number of citizens reported to the Mayor for duty, and are on patrol to-night.  If an incendiary is caught is will certainly not be a convenient thing for him.  The recent heavy losses have excited the citizens to vengeance against these scoundrels, who will undoubtedly meet with summary punishment if detected.  The patrols are instructed to arrest all individuals out after twelve o’clock who cannot give a straight account of themselves.

The City Council also held a meeting this evening in an upper room of the Court House, where the citizens had assembled.  They passed a measure authorizing the appointment of an additional police force for secret night duty.

Camp Curtin is now full of soldiers, and more are arriving daily.  The streets present quite an excited appearance in the evening.  Hundreds of the old veterans are constantly tramping around, indulging in songs and other demonstrations.  Tradesmen are plying their vocations and making piles of money….


For other blog posts on the Harrisburg fires of June 1865, see Harrisburg Burning.

News articles are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.



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