The genesis of the 74th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was as odd as it was haphazard.  It was the fruit of Carl Schurz's determination to raise all-German volunteer units for the Union.  Schurz achieved a small victory when on April 27, 1861, he was authorized by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to raise a German cavalry regiment in New York City (the 1st New York).

 

While he welcomed that authorization, Schurz continued to fight for the authority to raise an all-German infantry brigade in New York, an effort that won approval on May 13, 1861.  But despite his success in gaining authority to create his brigade, Schurz was not destined to be the first to lead it.  At the request of President Lincoln, Schurz reluctantly accepted an appointment as Minister to Spain and on June 8 departed.  As a result, Colonel Louis Blenker of the 8th New York was picked to become the first commander of the German brigade.

 

Schurz's success bore fruit in other states as well as other German-Americans began to consider organizing similar units.  This was especially true in Missouri where German-Americans took the lead in organizing pro-Union forces and, indeed, secured St. Louis and Missouri for the Union.

 

After the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), when it became obvious that the nation was facing a long war, President Lincoln urged the northern States to raise new three-year regiments.  In Pittsburgh the city's Committee of Public Safety responded to the President's plea and to the desire of local German-Americans by creating a subcommittee to undertake the task of recruiting and organizing a German-American regiment.  Chaired by J.J. Siebnick (an 1860 Republican candidate for Pittsburgh city council), the subcommittee quickly decided to offer the colonelcy to Alexander Schimmelfennig, a well-known German socialist revolutionary and former Prussian army officer who had dropped his title of nobility ("Von Schimmelpfennig").

 

Siebnick probably knew Schimmelfennig from a letter calling German-Americans to arms that Schimmelfennig had published in the April 19, 1861, edition of Der Wecker ("The Alarm"), a well-known socialist/anti-slavery German-language newspaper based in Baltimore.  The obvious hope of the subcommittee was that Schimmelfennig's name would attract recruits.

 

Equally anxious to lead a regiment, Schimmelfennig immediately accepted the colonelcy (July 23, 1861).  He then went to Baltimore where he recruited two former Prussian army officers, Adolph von Hartung and Alexander Theobald von Mitzel to help him organize the regiment.  They then proceeded to Philadelphia where the three Prussians began recruiting soldiers from the large local German community there.  On August 5, 1861, Schimmelfennig left his two associates and departed for Pittsburgh to take command of the regiment and to select the rest of his field and staff officers.

 

After Schimmelfennig arrived in Pittsburgh the subcommittee published an appeal for financial contributions and for recruits in an advertisement in the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle.  The next day the Economy Society of Pittsburgh provided a $500 donation for the enterprise.

 

At Schimmelfennig's urging the subcommittee decided to recruit predominately trained soldiers, either veterans of 90-day regiments which had recently been disbanded or veterans of the U.S. or various German armies.  The subcommittee hired the law firm of Taylor, Esq., to handle the recruiting and which began enrolling men in earnest, with many recruits coming from the heavily German-American industrial town of Birmingham located just across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh.  Within three weeks Taylor, Esq., fulfilled the subcommittee's recruiting requirements.

 

In the meantime, desperate for troops, Secretary of War Simon Cameron issued an order on August 19, 1861, directing Governor Curtin "to forward ... immediately to the city of Washington all volunteer regiments, or parts of regiments, at the expense of the United States Government, that may now be enrolled within your State, whether under your immediate control or by acceptance issued direct from the War Department, whether such volunteers are armed, equipped, or uniformed or not ... you will please confer with and aid all officers of independent regiments in such manner as may be necessary to effect the object in view.  All clothing, stores, or supplies belonging to or contracted for the several regiments shall be forwarded to Washington for their use ..."

 

At this point it should be observed that the regiment was not being organized at the behest or under the control of the Governor, but had received War Department acceptance to be organized independently.  Indeed, Governor Curtin's report of August 20 to Secretary Cameron concerning regiments being raised in Philadelphia did not mention Schimmelfennig's regiment, although Lieutenant Colonel Charles F. Ruff's (the senior mustering officer in Philadelphia) report of August 21 did state that Schimmelfennig was organizing a regiment which was "directed [by the War Department] to be mustered in here [at Philadelphia]."  This situation -- which was mirrored by other units being formed throughout Pennsylvania -- was creating confusion over who had authority to commission officers.  This point was particularly pertinent since Curtin and Cameron were leaders of rival factions of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.  In addition, because there were many "regiments" being organized and regiments from other states were recruiting within Pennsylvania, a number of Pennsylvania regiments were having difficulty reaching their desired manpower.

 

Secretary Cameron also dispatched Assistant Secretary Thomas Scott to Philadelphia to personally direct locally raised units to Washington.  Ruff and Scott determined that Captain von Hartung's company was ready and available for deployment, whereupon it received the designation of Company A, 35th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  But rather than send the company to Washington alone, the War Department decided to detail Company A as the garrison of Fort Delaware, which defended the sea approaches to Philadelphia.  On August 26, 1861, Lt. Col. Ruff ordered Company A to move to Fort Delaware.

 

Back in Pittsburgh, as the men enrolled they were directed to assemble at Camp Wilkins, where Schimmelfennig was organizing companies and beginning the training of the regiment.  During this time, Schimmelfennig also selected Edward Freyhold (Company C) as his Lieutenant Colonel and Captain John Hamm (Co. I) as Major.  On September 14, eight additional companies (B, Turner Rifles; C; D, Kossuth Guards; E, Alliquippa Rifles; F, Sigel Guards; G, Lyon Guards; H, Pittsburgh Infantry; and I, Hooveler Zouaves) were mustered into federal service. 

 

The regiment's company recruiting names were intended to evoke patriotic feelings.  The Turner Rifles were recruited from the Pittsburgh Turnvereine.  The Kossuth and Sigel Guards were named after famous 1848 revolutionaries.  The Lyon Guards were named after Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon (USA) who with the help of five Turner regiments (known as the Schwarze Jaegers) and former German revolutionary Franz Sigel, seized control of St. Louis and preserved Missouri for the Union.  Lyon was killed in action at the Battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861.

 

On September 19, before a crowd of local dignitaries, family members, friends and excited spectators, and stirred by patriotic tunes played by local marching bands, the 35th Pennsylvania assembled at Camp Wilkins.  Although there were firearms available at the nearby Allegheny Arsenal, Secretary Cameron's order of August 19 made it clear that the regiment was to be armed and equipped in Washington.  After a number of speeches, the regiment marched through a drizzling rain to Pittsburgh's Union Station (now Penn Station).  Boarding a train on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the regiment departed for Philadelphia where it had been ordered to report for mustering in by the War Department. 

 

Arriving at Philadelphia on September 21, the regiment marched from the Pennsylvania Station at Eleventh and Market Streets across the Schuylkill River to a camp located at the Engle and Wolf's farm on Edgeley Lane.  Already located at the same camp was the locally-raised German-American 40th (later the 73rd) Pennsylvania Regiment under the command of Colonel Max Einstein.  In addition, some volunteers from Pittsburgh were combined with men who had been raised locally by Captain von Mitzel to form Company K, which completed the organization of the regiment. 

 

On September 23, 1861, two orders were issued by the War Department that were of significant importance to the 35th Pennsylvania.  First, Colonel Schimmelfennig received orders from Secretary Cameron through Governor Curtin ordering him to immediately move the 35th to Washington to complete a new German brigade under the command of General Blenker.  Second, Secretary Cameron also issued an order revoking all authorizations to raise military units in Pennsylvania unless they were made at the specific request of the Governor.  As a result, the 35th (as well as the German-American 40th and 45th regiments) received the conflicting orders both to immediately join the Army of the Potomac and to immediately disband.

 

To only further confuse the situation, while leading the regiment on horseback from its encampment through the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia to the Washington Street station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, Schimmelfennig's horse stumbled and fell, badly injuring his right ankle.  He was forced to remain behind for treatment while the regiment proceeded to Washington under now Lt. Col. Hamm.  Unfortunately, while he was in the hospital recuperating from his ankle injury Schimmelfennig contracted smallpox.  Hospitalized for several more weeks, it wasn't until mid-October that Schimmelfennig rejoined the regiment at its new camp at Hunter's Chapel (near Alexandria), Virginia.

 

Arriving at Union Station in Washington in the evening of September 23, 1861, the 35th -- which was now uncertain as to its status -- detrained and marched a short distance to a camp near the Capitol.  The next morning, and despite the confusion, the War Department ordered Lt. Col. Hamm and the 35th to proceed by company to the Washington Arsenal (now Fort Leslie J. McNair), where the soldiers were issued arms (Austrian rifled muskets) and ordinance stores.

 

In the meantime, and in Schimmelfennig's absence, politics intervened and a campaign was launched to save the regiment and Schimmelfennig's colonelcy.  On September 28, 1861, Governor Curtin issued a proclamation formally reorganizing the independent regiments and requested the War Department to accept the 35th into Federal service -- although it's official designation was now changed from the 35th (which was no longer appropriate since it was officially disbanded) to the 74th effective January 1, 1862.

 

With the regiment now formally authorized by both the Governor and the War Department it was ordered to immediately join General Blenker's German division at its encampment in Virginia.  On the morning of September 29, 1861, the regiment decamped, marched down Maryland Avenue past the Smithsonian Institution to the Long Bridge.  After crossing the Potomac River into Virginia, the regiment was guided about four miles to a new encampment at Roach's Mills, close to the confluence of Four Mile Run and the Potomac.

 

While at Roach's Mills, the men were put to work for about two weeks in the building of Fort Blenker (later known as Fort Reynolds) to the northwest of Alexandria as part of the defenses of Washington.  The soldiers cut trees and placed them as obstructions, dug rifle pits and constructed a number of gun emplacements to cover the approaches to the fort.  Subsequently, the regiment moved to higher and drier ground at Hunter's Chapel, where it went into winter quarters.  In addition, Captain von Hartung and Company A finally joined the regiment.