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10-year-old girl escaped from Hanover just as the battle erupted

The Picket, Hanover’s landmark monument to its Civil War battle, was once in the middle of the traffic circle (Author’s postcard collection)

Imagine going about your daily business when suddenly word comes that enemy troops are fast approaching and a battle looms. You are far from your home, potentially caught up in the path of the fighting. Already armed soldiers on horseback are encircling the town and cutting off access to the roads. People are rushing around the streets, hoping to find shelter.

Now, imagine you are only ten years old.

And, it’s your birthday.

That was the situation little Sarah Adams faced on Tuesday, June 30, 1863, when Confederate cavalrymen under Major General J.E.B. Stuart rode toward Hanover and surprised an unsuspecting column of Pennsylvania cavalry who were passing through the area. Fighting began raging along the Westminster Road and the Frederick Road. It was the opening movements of the Civil War battle of Hanover, which would soon grow into the largest known armed conflict in the history of York County, Pennsylvania.

Here is little Sarah’s story, as told decades later on her 85th birthday in the pages of the June 30, 1938, York Gazette and Daily, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hanover. Her story has rarely been told in previous accounts of the battle.

The town’s public market shed and the Central Hotel were landmarks in Hanover’s Centre Square. (Author’s postcard collection)

“Mrs. Sarah Eck, a native of Berwick township [Adams County], north of Hanover, an eye-witness to the preliminaries of the battle of Hanover, will observe her eighty-fifth birthday anniversary today, which is also the seventy-fifth anniversary of the battle of Hanover.

“She is a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Adams and widow of Henry Eck, who died about 17 years ago. She lives alternatively with her seven children and at present is staying with a son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Eck, near Dallastown.

“On her tenth birthday little Miss Adams attended a home on Baltimore street in Hanover where instructions for her first communion were given by a priest from Conewago chapel. At that time there was no Catholic church in Hanover.

“She and a companion were returning home, crossing the square and proceeding north on Carlisle street, when a native warned them that the soldiers were coming and told them to run home as fast as they could. They were near the square when they received the word and immediately beat a hasty path toward Clearview where the Adams family lived at the time of the battle.

“Mr. Adams met the girls just south of Clearview. The children crossed Clearview hill just as the picket lines formed to close off the town. Mrs. Eck recalls vividly the thunder of the cannonading and the mad dashing of the cavalry troops as the conflict waxed  hot and furious in the first of the only two battles of the Civil war fought on Free Soil [actually, there were several others besides Hanover and Gettysburg, including Corydon, Indiana; Buffington Island, Ohio; Monterey Pass on South Mountain in Franklin County, PA; and several others].

“Mrs. Eck is in excellent health. She reads and sews without glasses and is consistently cheerful. She delights in making rugs, piece-patching quilts and doing hand work for her children.”

Little Sarah Adams had escaped from Hanover as the battle commenced and went on to live a long and full life, enjoying in 1938 39 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

What stories do you have of your ancestors in the Civil War? Please share them via comment or by sending an email to