145 years ago today – June 29, 1863
Representative Civil War troops on the march, in this case, New York volunteers. Courtesy of Corbis.com.
Failing to find a way across the Susquehanna River with the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge now a smoldering wreckage, Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon retraces his steps and marches back to York. Cavalry under Elijah V. White burn a few more railroad bridges and terrorize farmers in the Hellam region, stealing or buying (with worthless CSA money) as many horses as they can find. Gordon’s infantry march westward through York in the late afternoon and camp out near the Carlisle Road (today’s Route 74).
Flames erupt at several spots south and north of York as Col. William French’s 17th Virginia Cavalry burns several more bridges onthe Northern Central Railway, including a few skipped by White’s Comanches on Saturday, June 27, following their successful raid on Hanover Junction.
Meanwhile, Jubal Early’s main body of infantry and artillery enjoy a rare day off from the long marches. Many visit downtown York, and stories abound of their brief sojourn in the seat of York County. Some get rip-roaring drunk, and the 9th Louisiana has to set up a “bull-pen” in their camp along the Codorus Creek where inebriated Pelican State boys can sober up (under armed guard). Several York citizens take a stroll to the various camps, and Jim Carrington’s four cannon parked at the fair grounds prove to be a popular attraction. The Virginia captain enjoys socializing with the citizenry, as do several North Carolina infantry officers, all of whom leave written accounts of their “pleasant stay in that beautiful town.”
Reports circulate that the Louisiana Tigers have vandalized the two large flour mills along the creek; these prove to be false. Wagonloads of confiscated flour, beef, and other foods are distributed to the thousands of hungry Confederate soldiers, who will eat well for the next couple of days off the bounty of the York ransom. Some untoward Southerners ransack a few buildings in the countryside where owners had previously fled.
Flames crackle on the north side of town as railcars and a few selected trackside buildings are put to the torch; one car of lumber destined for a Presbyterian Church is spared when the Tar Heel commander, a Presbyterian, learns of the intended end use for the boards. Early threatens to burn more structures unless his full ransom is paid; he will only finish with $28,610 and will harbor a grudge for decades, insisting in 1887 that York was still not finished paying off its debt to him.
By evening, officers begin preparations to move westward at first light, following the news from a courier that Robert E. Lee is concentrating the army in response to information that the Yankees are coming northward in force.
The stage is being set for the Battle of Gettysburg.