General McLane School District offers four different public schools for student in Erie County, Pa. Although the District has now acquired numerous accolades and accomplishments to make all four schools some of the best schools in Erie County, the District has a rich history that has a big part in making General McLane School District one of the best things about Erie County.
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Soon after Fort Sumter was fired upon and taken by the Confederate army is April of 1861, Captain John W. McLane of Erie was called to Harrisburg and promoted to colonel.
The promotion was in recognition of McLane’s previous military experience. As a young man in the1830s, he had organized an early version of the National Guard called the Wayne Grays. He had also served as a captain in the Mexican War, and in 1858 was sheriff of Erie County.
McLane was in command of the Wayne Guard at at at the outbreak of the Civil War. On April 21, 1861 he called for men to form the First Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Around 1,200 men responded in a period of four days; 770 were sworn in as regular soldiers.
It became necessary to raise money to support the families of all those who had enlisted. A sum of $7,000 was allocated at the first meeting, and within a few days a total of $17,000 was raised. An allowance of $3.50 was given to the wife of each volunteer, plus 50 cents per week for each child.
The First Regiment was recruited mainly from Erie and Crawford Counties and was bound to serve 90 days. The men set up camp on a vacant piece of ground at the southeast corner of Parade and Sixth streets in Erie, which was given the name Camp Wayne.
On Wednesday, May 1 at 2 p.m., the regiment left by train for Pittsburgh. A large crowd saw the men on their way, and Mehl’s Brass Band played. The regiment reached its destination the next morning and set up at Camp Wilkins along the Allegheny River.
The May 3, 1861 issue of the Pittsburgh Dispatch described the First Regiment: “The regiment, beyond question, will be one of the finest marched to the field from the north. As one of the officers quietly remarked
in reply to a query as to how the regiment was quartered: ‘Our men are not the kind who grumble.’ “
Six weeks of relative inactivity were spent at Camp Wilkins before the regiment moved twelve miles up the Allegheny to Camp Wright at Hulton Station. There they were drilled and received muskets.
The three-month enlistment of the First Regiment expired there, and the men were sent home without ever having been called into active service. On July 20, a Saturday evening, a disappointed regiment returned to Erie.
Meanwhile, the president had called for 300,000 new men for the war effort. On July 24, McLane received authorization to recruit a new regiment, the 83rd. Many men from the disbanded First Regiment were recalled, and camp was set up at the old fair grounds, two miles cast of Erie. Enlistment was for three years.
McLane’s regiment departed for Harrisburg on Sept. 16 and was ordered into action. On Dec. 21, the state presented McLane with a flag, and his group was officially recognized as the 83rd Regiment.
The 83rd went on to see action at Hanover Court House, Gaine’s Mills, Malvern Hill, Manassas, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spottsylvania, North Ann and Bethesda Church. The regiment had the longest casualty list of any regiment, with 971 of 1,808 enlisted men killed throughout the Civil War.
The 83rd met its first round of serious fighting at Hanover Court House in May, confronting a brigade of General A. P. Hill’s “Light” Division. The 83rd held their ground, and the Confederates withdrew.
In July, General Robert E. Lee assumed control of the Army of Northern Virginia. His strategy was to push the Union forces south and possible trap them against the James River. Union troops dug in at Beaver Dam Creek and were hit by Lee’s army. They held their position, and then on June 27 fell back to Gaine’s Mill.
Confederate brigades from Hill’s “Light” Division attacked at noon, but were held off by the Union forces. The next assault came soon after 2 p.m., with all six of Hill’s brigades striking at the center of the Union’s stronghold. After two hours of continuous fighting, Hill’s men pulled back. Fresh troops attacked again at 5:30 p.m. with minor success. At 6:30 p.m. General Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade came straight at the 83rd Regiment. The Confederates finally broke through the Union’ lines. As McLane was reorganizing his troops to combat the oncoming Southern assault, he was shot in the chest and died immediately.
Almost half of the men of the 83rd Regiment were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner at Gaine’s Mill. McLane was buried on the field where he was shot, until his body was retrieved by a detachment of the 83rd and returned to Erie. McLane was honored by the city and was buried in Erie Cemetery on May 19, 1865.
Though General McLane High School was erected in 1960, McLane was at that time still a colonel. The title of general posthumously conferred upon him April 4,1961, when the General Assembly of the State Legislature promoted to brigadier general.
By Brett Taylor
Information for this article was taken from the essay “Colonel (Brigadier General) John W. McLane” by Dr. Roy P. Stonesifer Jr. of Edinboro University; Erie…A History, written and published by Herbert R. Spencer; History of Erie County, The Erie Dispatch and The Pittsburgh Dispatch.
*This article was copied from the Brown-Thompson Edinboro Independent.*