Col. William Wesley Jennings, 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia

William Jennings.jpg
Col. William W. Jennings commanded the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, the regiment sent to defend Gettysburg on June 23 — he and his men were delayed from reaching the town because of a cow – train accident west of New Oxford. Jennings sent a vanguard to Gettysburg, where York’s Major Granville O. Haller ordered them west of town to defend the turnpike near the Marsh Creek crossing. Jennings’ regiment arrived on the morning of June 26, marched to Marsh Creek, and by mid-afternoon was in full retreat after the approach of Confederates of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon‘s expeditionary force. Not long afterward, Jennings’ main body was shattered by the 17th Virginia Cavalry at Witmer Farm northeast of Gettysburg and forced to march to Harrisburg. Some of his men escaped the twin fiascos and made into York County, where eventually they took part in the defense of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
Haller and Jennings, political opposites, blamed each other for the loss of Gettysburg to the Rebels.
So, who was William Wesley Jennings, who played an important role in the early part of the Union defense of Adams and York counties???


Jennings older.jpg
WILLIAM JENNINGS, a representative of the manufacturing interests of Harrisburg, descends in the fourth generation from Captain Jesse Jennings, a veteran of the war of 1812-14. He is a grandson of William Jennings, a plow manufacturer of Harrisburg, and a son of Colonel William Wesley Jennings, a prominent business man of Harrisburg, and an illustrious soldier of the great civil war.
William Jennings (grandfather) was born September 23, 1807, died October 6, 1875. About 1824 he.took up his residence in Harrisburg, established a large factory and was very successful in his business operations. He married Elmina Elizabeth Boas; born July 7, 1813, died October to, 1884, daughter of Frederick and Elizabeth (Krause) Boas, the former named a dealer in china and queensware. The children . born to Mr. and Mrs. Jennings were as follows: I. Elmer F., born May I I, 1833, died December 22, 1876. He married Elizabeth: Pritchard, of Germantown, Pennsylvania. .In 1862 he enlisted as a soldier in the nine months service, and served until the close of the war; he was a captain of one of the companies in the Twelfth Pennsylvania Regiment of Volunteers; he was a brave soldier, participating in many battles and enduring many hardships. 2. William Wesley, born July 22, 1838, see forward. 3. Elizabeth Martha, born Septemebr 9, 1843, married Benjamin f`,. Scheffer, a sketch of whom is found elsewhere in this work. 4. Elmina R., born January 8, 1845, died May 17, 1846. 5. Mary E., born September 26, 1847, died January 16, 1857. 6. Fanny, born March 9, 1854, died December 23, 1869.
Colonel William Wesley Jennings, second son of William and Elmina E. (Boas) Jennings, was born at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 22, 1838. Ile was educated in the public schools of that city. At the age of fifteen years he entered his father’s foundry and learned the trade of a moulder, becoming well skilled in the art of iron making. He followed his trade until 186o, when he purchased his father’s plant and successfully engaged in the iron business on his own account, continuing until 1877. Mr. Jennings was active in the organization of the Harrisburg board of trade and was its first president. In 1880 he was elected president of the First National Bank of Harrisburg, which position he held until his death. He was president of the Commonwealth Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company (now the Common-wealth Trust Company) ; was president of the Harrisburg Steam Heat and Power Company; a director of the Cumberland Valley Railroad Company, and interested in other large corporations.
William W. Jennings distinguished himself during the civil war as a volunteer soldier and officer. When President Lincoln called for men he enlisted as a private in the “Lochiel Greys.” He was chosen first lieutenant of his company and served as such through the three months campaign of 1861, with the Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Upon the return from the front Lieutenant Jennings was tendered by the governor of Pennsylvania the position of past adjutant and drill master at Camp Curtin, which appointment he accepted and filled until .July, 1862. He was anxious, however, to be actively engaged on the field, so applied for and obtained permission to raise a regiment, and the following month found him at the point in command of the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Pennsylvania Regiment, wearing the insignia of colonel. He was in command of this regiment until the expiration of his term of service, May, 1863. Colonel Jennings then returned to private life, but during General Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, he was again called to the field and placed in command of the Twenty-sixth Emergency Regiment.
Politically Colonel Jennings was a Republican. He held numerous offices, among which was that of sheriff of Dauphin county, serving from 1864 to 1856 and from 1876 to 1879. In the capacity of sheriff, on the never-to-be-forgotten night of July 23, 1877, when an armed mob had taken possession of the city of Harrisburg, Colonel Jennings called to his aid men who had confidence in his ability and judgment and inspired them to suppress the deadly riot, and soon peace and order was restored in the city. He was an active and honored member of Robert Burns Lodge, No. 464, Free and Accepted Masons, at Harrisburg, and also of Pilgrim Commandery, Knights Templar. He was one of the organizers of Post No. 58, Grand Army of the Republic, held all the offices in the gift of the organization, and was an enthusiastic supporter of all its purposes. Colonel Jennings stood without a superior as a citizen; as a soldier and officer he performed his duty as he saw the-right; as a Christian and firm believer in his faith he was loyally faithful. He was an excellent financier, and not a few of the business men of today in Harrisburg owe their success and prosperity to timely assistance and advice from him when they most needed it. The needy poor ever found in him a friend.
Colonel Jennings married, December 17, 1861, Emma J. Van Horn, daughter of William and Jane (Hutton) Van Horn, the former of whom was born December 8, 1809, died October 2, 1859, and the latter was born in 1814, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, died in April, 1849, aged thirty-five years. Mr. and Mrs. Van Horn were united in marriage in 1839. The children of Colonel and Igrs. Jennings are: Frederick B., who died at the age of seven years. Mary. William, of whom more will be said. Fanny. married Dr. George G. Ross, of Philadelphia. Harry, married Mary Saylor, of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
One possessing the sterling traits of character of Colonel Jennings could not fail to draw merited admiration front a large circle of inen of a high type. He had not yet reached his majority when he wore the uniform of a colonel and was the commander of a gallant regiment of men. He was a man among men and hence was by all beloved, both as leader and comrade. His was a genial nature, generous and broad-minded. He had no petty traits of character to mar his manhood, but was frank and open-hearted arid free from guile. He died February 28, 1894.
William Jennings, son of Colonel William W. and Emily Jane (Van Horn) Jennings, was born in the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, August 18, 1868. His education was obtained in the public schools of his native city and Lehigh University. After completing his education he was engaged as a moulder and machinist for one year, and in 1889 was appointed secretary and treasurer of the Harrisburg Steam Heat and Power Company, of which corporation he became the president in May, 1894, and which he is guiding to success. He is also the treasurer of the Jackson Manufacturing Company, as well as of several electric railway lines in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. In politics Mr. Jennings is a Republican; he served as councilman in the city of Harrisburg from 1900 to 1904, and at the present time (1907) is president of the board of public works. He is a member of Robert Burns Lodge, No. 464, Free and Accepted Masons, at Harrisburg.
William Jennings married, October 13, 1892, J. Belle West, daughter of Rev. William A. and Jennie West. Their children are: Dorothy, born December 2, 1893, died March 28, 1898. William W., born Deccmher 28. 1896. Ross S., born April 18, 1898. Christian L., born April 12, 1900. Edward, born February 28, 1901. The family are attendants of the Presbyterian church.
Kelker, Luther Reily, History of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Lewis Publishing Company, 1907, pp. 10-11.

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10 Responses to Col. William Wesley Jennings, 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia

  1. Scott,
    Should he also be known as Brave Sir Robin? :-)
    Eric

  2. Scott Mingus says:

    LOL!
    Jennings’ defenders cite a brave, competent, experience regimental commander who performed well at Chancellorsville in combat and knew his stuff. It was his men and his subordinate officers, most of whom had zero experience who let him down at Gettysburg.
    His detractors, foremost of them Granville Haller, claim Jennings was weak and indecisive, and withdrew in the face of the enemy on miltiple occasions. At Witmer Farm, he outnumbered the attackers at least 3 to 1, yet was routed (his men were in no condition to fight by then).
    My opinion? His orders (right or wrong) were to stand and delay the oncoming Rebels (Gordon’s force), and he withdrew without much of a fight in direct disobedience of an order. He could have been court-martialed (and perhaps he should have). By then, Haller had his own problems, so the matter was dropped.

  3. George Lichte says:

    those farm boys at gettysburg had 2 days of military training. After a scolding in the town square the seccesionist general sent the captured back to their mamas.
    The matter was discussed and the dropped. He never lost his pride in those boys who rushed to the union’s defense, their hearts bigger than their experience.
    I do not question the bravery of anyone who saw the cream of the rebs marching toward them. He was thrice wounded. Once lying face down in the mud all afternoon at frediricksburg huddled behind the body of a dead comrade. And twice during chancellosrville in one of the very bloody battles of the war.
    And a detachment of the regiment did have a skirmish later in the day at gettysburg and captured the torn, bloodstained, homespun texas regiment’s flag. My mother has it on display.
    But a great great grandson retains pride, sir.

    • Liza Parker says:

      Hello George, Thank you for standing up for our ancestor. He was my Great, greatgrandfater too! My grandfather was Ross Swartz Jennings.

  4. Scott Mingus says:

    Very cool about the flag!
    And I agree, the militia did about as well as one could have expected given the fact that most had no training in firearms and they were facing some of Lee’s best troops in Early’s veteran division. Here in York County, the 27th Militia did very well at Wrightsville, although it must be admitted that many of the men and their officers were veterans of the 129th PA.

  5. Steve Howlett says:

    My two times Great Grandfather, Charles Howlett, volunteered for the 26th emergency regiment in Pennsylvania. He was a 26 year old farmer who lived 2 counties away from Harrisburg but must have known the urgent need to stop the advancing Southern troops before they reached the Capital. He survived the war and lived to age 56 and had 7 children in Lycoming County PA.

  6. Jim says:

    Jennings can’t be blamed for “losing” Gettysburg. For heavens sake he had a few regiments of militia to stand up to Early’s battle hardened division of Confederates. After the Confederates steamrolled Jennings, Early rounded up the Yankee prisoners, many students from Gettysburg college, told them they were in danger of hurting themselves and sent them home to their families.

    • Scott Mingus says:

      Yes, it’s fascinating that Haller blamed Jennings for losing Gettysburg and vice versa. The reality is that General Couch had little other options than to send the untrained militia to Gettysburg, knowing they would be no match for Early’s veterans, but he needed to buy time. Frankly, Jennings was an experienced combat officer and did what he deemed as most prudent.

  7. Wayne Johnson says:

    The time needed was indeed acquired and the militia made up of men leaving there homes and businesses were worthy, especially since they knew what may be in store for them. Men such as the 4 Barto brothers and their father from Fredericksburg (PA) in the 26th indeed showed their loyalty to Pennsylvania.

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