The 61st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (PVI) was one of approximately 2,000 Union regiments which served in the United States Civil War. It was formally commissioned in late July, 1861, a few days after the first battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and in response to Abraham Lincoln's call for more troops to fight for the Union cause. The unit was organized as a three year regiment, though it actually fought throughout the remainder of the war and was not finally mustered out until June of 1865. Its entire service was in the Eastern theater of operations, mostly in the Army of the Potomac, but with a short stint in the Army of the Shenandoah in 1864 when the Sixth Corps to which it then belonged was temporarily reassigned.
Unlike many other volunteer regiments, the soldiers came from a broad cross-section of Pennsylvania, with companies formed in both urban and rural counties and from each side of the state. This mix was due in large part to the transfer of four companies to the 61st from the 23rd PVI in March of 1862 in order to balance out regimental manpower. While the original contingent of troops had come from western Pennsylvania, the transferred soldiers came from the east.
As with nearly every other Civil War regiment, the 61st experienced both tragedy and triumph – interspersed with considerable periods of boredom and hardship. Their defining moments were essentially private ones in that they generally occurred off the main stage of the war as history records it. Thus, the 61st had a dark moment of tragedy in its first major fight at Fair Oaks, VA in May of 1862. While this ultimately was a less significant battle in the overall scope of the conflict, it very nearly decimated the unit. To its credit, the regiment was able to sustain itself and then contribute steady service until its final muster. As for triumph, the 61st fought bravely and successfully at Marye's Heights in May of 1863; it acquitted itself with honor in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania in May of 1864; it participated in the stirring Shenandoah Valley victories later that year and it was part of the final push to victory over the Army of Northern Virginia in April of 1865.
The 61st PVI was not the most famous regiment in the Civil War, nor did it play a spotlight role in any moment now deemed pivotal to the eventual Union victory. However, its history was noteworthy and its men consistently exhibited the courage and perseverance which was evident in so many units on both sides of the conflict. As such, the regiment exemplifies the best that America's citizen soldiers had to offer their country in the years of its greatest trial.
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Special thanks to Dick Creps (rest in peace) and Vernon Cook for their considerable information and assistance over the years.