Curtin, Andrew Gregg

Andrew Gregg Curtin of Pennsylvania was the best known of the "War Governors." He was born in Bellefonte on April 22, 1817, the son of a Scots Irish immigrant iron manufacturer and a daughter of a prominent Pennsylvania political family. He studied law at Dickinson College under Judge John Reed and was admitted to the bar in 1839. A lifelong Presbyterian, he married Catherine Irvine Wilson in May 1844. While in private practice in Bellefonte, he became active in politics and campaigned for an array of Whig presidential candidates. By 1854, he was offered the Whig nomination for governor but declined in favor of his friend James Pollock. He did run in the pivotal election of 1860 as a Republican and a strong supporter of Lincoln who he had helped nominate at the national convention. During the Civil War his leadership at the meeting of the “Loyal War Governors of the North,” at Altoona in September 1862 was pivotal, and the Pennsylvania regiments he helped raise and supply were vital to the northern war effort. He was easily re-elected as governor in 1863. Following the war, he was briefly considered as running mate to Grant in 1868 and then appointed minister to Russia. He supported Horace Greeley as the Liberal Republican candidate for president in 1872 against Grant, however, and then moved in the direction of the Democratic Party. He was later elected for three terms to Congress as a Democrat in the 1880s. He retired in 1887 and lived in quiet retirement till his death on October 27, 1894. (By John Osborne)
Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Law class of 1837
    Full name
    Andrew Gregg Curtin
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Roland Curtin (father), Jean Gregg Curtin (mother), Catherine Irvine Wilson (wife)
    Dickinson (Carlisle College)
    Attorney or Judge
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Political Parties
    Grant Administration (1869-77)
    US House of Representatives
    Other state government
    Household Size in 1860
    Children in 1860
    Occupation in 1860
    Attorney at Law
    Residence in 1860
    Wealth in 1860
    Marital status in 1860

    Andrew Curtin (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    CURTIN, Andrew Gregg, a Representative from Pennsylvania; born in Bellefonte, Pa., April 22, 1817; pursued preparatory studies in Milton (Pa.) Academy, and was graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., in 1837; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1837 and commenced practice in Bellefonte; presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1848 and in 1852; secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and superintendent of public instruction; Governor of Pennsylvania from January 15, 1861, to January 15, 1867; Minister to Russia 1869-1872; delegate to the constitutional convention of Pennsylvania; elected as a Democrat to the Forty-seventh, Forty-eighth, and Forty-ninth Congresses (March 4, 1881-March 3, 1887); chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (Forty-eighth Congress), Committee on Banking and Currency (Forty-ninth Congress); was not a candidate for renomination in 1886; resumed the practice of his profession; died in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pa., on October 7, 1894; interment in Union Cemetery.
    “Curtin, Andrew Gregg,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,

    Andrew Curtin (Dickinson Chronicles)

    Andrew Gregg Curtin was born April 22, 1817 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a Scots Irish immigrant who had begun an iron manufacturing concern in Center County and his second wife, Jean Gregg, daughter of a prominent Pennsylvania political family. He prepared at academies in Harrisburg and Milton and entered Dickinson to study law under Judge John Reed. He graduated with the class of 1837 and began private practice after being admitted to the bar in 1839.

    Active in support of Whig candidates, he placed his developing skills as a speaker at the service of an array of candidates, including Harrison, Clay, and Taylor. By 1854, he was regarded highly enough to be offered the Whig nomination for governor, which he refused in favor of his friend James Pollock. Pollock named Curtin immediately as Secretary of the Commonwealth. His work on public schooling added to his name and he stood for governor himself in the pivotal election of 1860 as a strong supporter of Lincoln. He thus became one of the so-called "war governors" upon whom Lincoln depended for support after the outbreak of hostilities.

    He is famous for his unswerving activity on behalf of the Union and both his raising of and caring for the troops sent to the Army from Pennsylvania. He was over-whelmingly re-elected in 1863. Following the end of the Civil War, he was increasingly prominent in Republican circles, first being briefly considered as running mate to Grant in 1868 and then being appointed minister to Russia where he served for three years.

    On his return, he supported Greeley for president and moved in the direction of the Democratic Party. He was later elected for three terms to Congress as a Democrat in the 1880s. He retired in 1887 and lived in quiet retirement till his death on October 27, 1894.
    John Osborne and James W. Gerencser, eds., “Andrew Gregg Curtin,” Dickinson Chronicles,

    Andrew Curtin (American National Biography)

    Although not an elected delegate, Curtin attended the Republican convention at Chicago in May 1860, and there he influenced most members of the Pennsylvania delegation to abandon Cameron and join with politicians from several other states in a movement to derail the candidacy of New York Senator William H. Seward, the clear favorite for the presidential nomination at the outset of the convention. Seward's detractors believed that his well-publicized reference to a "higher law" than those protecting slavery and to the "irrepressible conflict" between slaveholding and free societies rendered his candidacy controversial enough to endanger their own prospects of election should he head the Republican ticket. Hence they sought a more "available" (less well-known) nominee. The result of these machinations was the choice of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican presidential candidate and a commitment by Lincoln's floor managers to propose Cameron for a Cabinet position, while Cameron was to assist Curtin's election in October. All went as planned: Lincoln won the presidency, Cameron became his secretary of war, and Curtin was sworn in as governor of Pennsylvania, serving in that office from 15 January 1861 until 15 January 1867.
    Norman B. Ferris, "Curtin, Andrew Gregg," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Andrew Curtin (Appleton’s)

    CURTIN, Andrew Gregg, governor of Pennsylvania, b. in Bellefonte, Centre со., Pa., 22 April, 1815; d. there, 7 Oct., 1894. His father came from Ireland in 1793, and in 1807 established near Bellefonte one of the first manufactories of iron in that region. Andrew studied law in Dickinson college law-school, was admitted to the bar in 1839, and soon became prominent. He early entered politics as a whig, laboring for Harrison's election in 1840, and making a successful canvass of the state for Clay in 1844. He was a presidential elector in 1848, and a candidate for elector on the whig ticket in 1852. In 1854 Gov. Pollock appointed him secretary of the commonwealth and ex-officio superintendent of common schools, and in the discharge of his duties Mr. Curtin did much toward reforming and perfecting the school system of the state. In his annual report of 1855 he recommended to the legislature the establishment of normal schools, and his suggestion was adopted. In 1860 he was the republican candidate for governor. The democrats, though divided in national politics, were united in Pennsylvania, but Mr. Curtin was elected by a majority of 32,000. In his inaugural address he advocated the forcible suppression of secession, and throughout the contest that followed he was one of the “war governors” who were most earnest in their support of the national government. He responded promptly to the first call for troops, and when Gen. Patterson, who was in command in Pennsylvania, asked for twenty-five thousand more, they were immediately furnished. Gen. Patterson's requisition was afterward revoked by the secretary of war, on the ground that the troops were not needed; but Gov. Curtin, instead of disbanding them, obtained authority from the legislature to equip them at the state's expense, and hold them subject to the call of the national government. This body of men became known as the “Pennsylvania Reserve,” and was accepted by the authorities at Washington a few weeks later. Gov. Curtin was untiring in his efforts for the comfort of the soldiers, answering carefully the numerous letters sent him from the field, and originated a system of care and instruction for the children of those slain in battle, making them wards of the state. He thus became known in the ranks as “the soldiers' friend.” Gov. Curtin's health began to fail in 1863, and he signified his intention of accepting a foreign mission that had been offered him as soon as his term should expire, but in the mean time he was re- nominated, and re-elected by 15,000 majority. In November, 1865, he went to Cuba for his health, and in that year declined another offer of a foreign mission. In 1869 Gen. Grant appointed him minister to Russia, and in 1868 and 1872 he was prominently mentioned as a candidate for vice-president. He returned home in August, 1872, supported Horace Greeley for the presidency, and subsequently joined the democratic party, by which he was elected to congress for three successive terms, serving from 1881 till 1887.
    James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., “Curtin, Andrew Gregg,” Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1900), 2: 34.

    Andrew Curtin (New York Times)


    His Influence Had Much to Do with the First Nomination for President of Abraham Lincoln—His Troops Were the First to Reach Washington After the Call, and His Reserves Saved the Capital After the Battle of Bull Run.

        BELLEFONTE, Penn., Oct. 7—Andrew Gregg Curtin, War Governor of Pennsylvania, died at his home here at 5 o’clock this morning.  He had been near death’s door for several days, and had been in feeble health for a long time.
        The arrangements for the funeral are so far perfected that, at the urgent solicitation of Gov. Pattison, the family has consented to a funeral with military honors.  Ex-Gov. Beaver will have full charge, and there will be an escort of a regiment of infantry, a troop of cavalry, and a battery of artillery with the Grand Army of the Republic, under command of the brigade commander.  Gov. Pattison will attend with his staff.
        Gov. Pattison issued a proclamation tonight in which he announced ex-Gov. Curtin’s death.  After reviewing his distinguished services to his State and country, the proclamation concludes as follows:
        In honor of his memory and in recognition of his eminent public service, I invoke for his bereaved family the sympathy of the people of Pennsylvania, and I recommend and order that on the day of his funeral the flags upon the public buildings be displayed at half mast and that the several departments of the State Government within executive control be closed upon that day.
    Andrew Gregg Curtin was born April 22, 1817, at Bellefonte, Penn., where his father, Roland Curtin, an Irishman of wealth and education, in 1800, had settled as a manufacturer of iron, building one of the first, if not the first, of the State’s iron furnaces.  His mother was the daughter of Andrew Gregg, who had been United States Senator, member of Congress, and Secretary of State.  Mr. Curtin was educated in private schools of Bellefonte, at Harrisburg, and in Milton Academy.
        He began the study of the law with William W. Potter, who afterward became a member of Congress, and finished with Judge Reed, one of the great attorneys of the State, after he was graduated from the law department of Dickinson College, at Carlisle, Penn.  He was admitted to the bar at Bellefonte, and began the practice of the profession, in which he soon became famous, in 1837.  At twenty-three years of age he was celebrated as an orator, having done much active canvassing in the Whig interest.  Four years later he made in favor of Henry Clay a canvass so brilliant that his political future was at once assured.
        In 1848 he was a Presidential Elector, doing effective work for Gen. Taylor; in 1852, in the same office, he was again a leader in national politics; in 1854 he could decline to be a candidate for Governor, and obtain the nomination for his former schoolmate and intimate friend, James Pollock, who appointed him Secretary of State.  In this office he was ex official Superintendent of the Public Schools, and reformed their entire management.  It was Mr. Curtin who secured, among other innovations, the adoption of the prevailing system of County Superintendents of Schools in Pennsylvania. 
        In 1860, when the election of a Republican for President depended absolutely, apparently, on the doubtful States of Pennsylvania and Indiana, wherein State elections occurred in October, the month preceding that of the national elections, Mr. Curtin received the Republican nomination for Governor.  He knew that Pennsylvania could not be carried by Seward, against whom the charge was violently made that he had been elected Governor of New-York as a Whig, after an understanding with Bishop Hughes that the State School fund was to be shared with the Catholics schools, and he went to Chicago to secure, at the Republican Convention, the nomination of Lincoln.  He was not a member of the Pennsylvania delegation, which Thaddeus Stevens and David Wilmot led, and which was instructed for Simon Cameron.  He was accompanied by Col. A. K. McClure, who was Chairman of the Republican State Committee.  He went in defense of his canvass that the nomination of Seward, he was persuaded, would seriously imperil; he pleaded earnestly with the delegates that defeat to the Republican Party in the State in October would entail its defeat in the Nation in November; and to his exertions, pre-eminently, the nomination of Lincoln was due.
        He returned immediately to Pennsylvania with the energy, the faith, and the ability to conduct the most brilliant person canvass that his State had ever known.  His election was made by a large majority.  Its wisdom was immediately apparent.  He was inaugurated and sent to the Legislature a message declaring in an admirable tone that “The Government is based upon a compact to which all the people of the United States are parties.  It is the result of mutual concessions, which were made for the purpose of securing reciprocal benefits.  Its acts directly upon the people and they owe it a personal allegiance.  No part of the people, no State nor combination of States can voluntarily secede from the Union nor absolve themselves from their obligations.  To permit a State to withdraw at pleasure from the Union without the consent of the rest is to confess that our Government is a failure.”
        In the lower house of the Legislature a bill was instantly introduced investing the Governor with power to raise and equip troops, and appropriating $500,000 for this purpose.  In forty-eight hours the bill became a law.  Its authority was used by the Governor so promptly that when the President issued his call for 75,000 men for 100 days the Pennsylvania soldiers were the first to reach the capital.
        The Governor foresaw t hat the war would be long, called an extra session of the Legislature, asked for authority to raise not less than fifteen nor more than thirty regiments, enlisted for three years, or until the end of the war, and obtained all that he requested and an appropriation of $3,500,000.
        The reserves equipped with this fund saved the capital of the United States from capture after the battle of Bull Run.  At the most trying point of Mr. Curtin’s career as War Governor of Pennsylvania, when the battle of Chancellorsville was fought and lost, his acuteness was brilliantly exercised.  Col. Thomas A. Scott, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was Assistant Secretary of War.  He knew Pennsylvania as well as Mr. Curtin, and the latter, knowing that he could appreciate the peril of the situation, made a personal requisition upon him for the appointment of Gen. Couch of Connecticut, in command of the forced defending Harrisburg.  Gen. Cough was at once placed in defense of the entire southern line from Philadelphia to Pittsburg.
        After the fall of Sumter, in an eloquent speech he promised that Pennsylvanians who enlisted should not be buried in other soil than theirs, that wives and children should be the wards of the State, and that widows and orphans should be protected.  The promise was faithfully kept.  Commissioners were placed in every corps of the army, and orphan asylums were established in various parts of the State for the redeeming of his promise.  The Governor labored incessantly; he seemed indefatigable, but before the end of his terms of office his health failed.  Then Gen. Simon Cameron, Col. John W. Forney, and Col. A. K. McClure, who were never in accord, united in a conference at Washington that a mission might be given to him, but there was none vacant.  “Whose mission shall I give him?” said Mr. Lincoln, and then he related the story of the young man who when his father advised him to take a wife asked: “Whose wife shall I take?”  The Governor finished his term, was renominated, and in 1868 became Minister to Russia.
        In 1872 he returned to Bellefonte, and was the choice of the Pennsylvania delegation for the second place on the ticket of the convention which nominated Horace Greeley.  He took an influential part in the proceedings of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, which sat for a year and included among its members Jeremiah S. Black, William M. Meredith, Wayne MacVeagh, Charles R. Buckalew, and George W. Woodward.
        He kept out of politics until 1881, when he was elected as a Democrat for six years to the lower house of Congress.  At the close of the Forty-ninth Congress he retired permanently from public office.  He lived at Bellefonte, in his stone house which has the air of a castle, among the books of his library.  He was a tall, slim, and straight as an Indian.  His eyes were dark gray, his hair was silvery, and when he went to Washington his affability attracted around him a circle of eminent men, to whom he related his career and innumerable stories.
    “Another War Governor Gone,” New York Times, October 8, 1894, p. 5: 3.
    Date Event
    Andrew Gregg Curtin is born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
    Andrew Gregg Curtin marries Catherine Irvine Wilson
    Eli Slifer elected to his second term as Pennsylvania State Treasurer
    - Pennsylvania Opposition Party Convention nominates Cameron for President and Curtin for Governor
    In Pennsylvania, Douglas and Breckinridge Democrats unite behind gubernatorial nominee Henry Foster
    Republicans sweep to victory in state-wide elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota
    - Andrew Gregg Curtin serves as Governor of Pennslyvania
    In Harrisburg, Andrew Gregg Curtin sworn in as the Pennsylvania's first Republican governor
    Reading, Pennsylvania militia artillery unit called to service arrives in Harrisburg
    The Governor of New York reacts to the emergence of naval ironclad warfare in Virginia
    The governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey also react to the emergence of naval ironclad warfare
    The troops of the Pennsylvania Reserve present General George Meade with a valuable sword in recognition of his leadership
    The Governor of Pennsylvania misses his connection with the President at Hanover Junction
    The combined Sanitary Fair of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware opens in Philadelphia
    In a rainy Philadelphia, General George Meade leads Philadelphia's veterans in a welcome home parade
    The cornerstone is laid for the Soldiers' Monument at Gettysburg's National Soldiers' Cemetery
    Andrew Gregg Curtin dies in Bellefonte, Pennslyvania
    Date Title
    Alexander Kelly McClure to Eli Slifer, May 29, 1852
    Alexander Kelly McClure to Eli Slifer, November 20, 1854
    Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Andrew J. Curtin,” March 1, 1860
    Alexander Kelly McClure to Eli Slifer, April 14, 1860
    New York Herald, “Commencement of Republican Cabinet Making,” June 12, 1860
    Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, "The Coming Contest in Pennsylvania," October 3, 1860
    New York Times, “Very Suspicious,” October 15, 1860
    John Hays to Charles Francis Himes, October 19, 1860
    John P. Sanderson to David Davis, November 12, 1860
    Alexander K. McClure to Abraham Lincoln, January 15, 1861
    Newark (OH) Advocate, “Obtaining Votes Under False Pretences,” January 18, 1861
    Abraham Lincoln's Reply to Andrew Curtin at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, February 22, 1861
    New York Herald, “Apprehensions of an Attack on Washington,” April 14, 1861
    Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “More Stealing in Pennsylvania,” July 1, 1861
    Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Secretary Cameron,” July 8, 1861
    Abraham Lincoln to Carl Schurz, November 10, 1862
    New York Times, “Pennsylvania and Her Governor,” June 17, 1863
    Carlisle (PA) American, “What Invasion Has Taught Pennsylvania,” July 15, 1863
    David Wills to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1863
    Chicago (IL) Tribune, “From Gettysburg,” November 13, 1863
    George Alfred Townsend, "The Obsequies in Washington," April 19, 1865
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Paul, James Laughery. Pennsylvania's Soldiers' Orphan Schools. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1876.
    view record
    Albright, Rebecca G. "The Civil War Career of Andrew Gregg Curtin, Governor of Pennsylvania." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 48 (1965): 151-173. view record
    Albright, Rebecca G. "The Civil War Career of Andrew Gregg Curtin, Governor of Pennsylvania."  Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 64 (1964): 323-341. view record
    Beers, Paul B. "Andrew Gregg Curtin." Civil War Times Illustrated 6, no. 2 (1967): 12-20. view record
    Coddington, Edwin B. "Pennsylvania Prepares For Invasion, 1863." Pennsylvania History 31, no. 2 (1964): 157-175. view record
    Egle, William Henry, ed. Andrew Gregg Curtin: His Life And Services. Philadelphia: Avil Printing Co., 1895. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Curtin, Andrew Gregg," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,