145 years ago today – June 28, 1863
Sunday dawned bright and early on June 28. Most townspeople in York went about their daily routines, including dressing nicely for worship, strolling the sidewalks, and visiting friends and relatives. While church was in progress at St. Paul’s Lutheran, the vanguard of the Confederate division of Jubal Early marched into York, preceded by the pioneer corps and advance pickets from the 31st Georgia. Rebels hauled down the large flag in the Center Square, as well as a smaller one from a nearby shop. York was now under Confederate control. The lead brigade, the Georgians of John Gordon, moved on to Wrightsville, while Jubal Early ringed York with artillery and established a series of camps.
Early soon ransomed the town for money and food, and town officials began door-to-door collection of the cash, while leading merchants “donated” large quantities of flour, beef, and other foodstuffs. Rebels lounged around their new campsites (Avery’s Brigade in Penn Common, the market sheds, and the old fairgrounds; Hays’ Louisiana Tigers along Codorus Creek near the flour mills; Smith’s Brigade apparently near Emigsville). For them, it would be a day a leisure for those infantrymen and gunners..
it was not so leisurely for Gordon’s Brigade and Early’s cavalry. White’s Comanches (35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) rode throughout eastern York County burning bridges toward Wrightsville, whlle French’s Wildcats (17th Virginia Cavalry) rode through Manchester and Mount Wolf to burn the bridges at York Haven.
Gordon’s Brigade, along with a battery of Virginia artillery, marched to Wrightsville, deployed into battle line, and attacked the earthworks, defended by a motley assortment of inexperienced or invalided Union soldiers. The Northern troops retired across the Columbia-Bridge and burned it after most men had escaped to safety. Gordon’s men formed a bucket brigade to save most of Wrightsville after flaming embers, fanned by high winds, began to set fires in the town. Six hours later, the bridge was a part of history, as was the Confederates’ dream of entering Lancaster County.
More Rebels visited Dillsburg, and a few of them left written records that they could see the lurid red glow in the sky, and wondered what to make of the site. York Countians as far away as Hanover also recorded seeing the strange glow, as did many people in Harrisburg.