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Historiography of the Battle of Hanover; 154th anniversary today

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

June 30, 1863. The largest military battle ever fought in the recorded history of York County, Pennsylvania. American vs. American. North vs. South. Blue vs. Gray. More than 300 men fell, several to rise no more and be laid to rest in the soil of the Quaker State.

General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Union cavalry rode from Maryland through downtown Hanover, where citizens greeted them with food, beverage, flowers, and cheers. Most of the dusty blue-clad cavalrymen rode north toward Abbottstown, searching for the reported presence of Jubal Early’s enemy infantry. Meanwhile, Stuart’s lead brigade approached from the south and slammed into the rear of Kilpatrick’s column. Savage fighting raged in the streets of Hanover in the midday, with mounted combatants slashing one another with sabers or pausing to shoot men off horseback. Some accounts suggest a few townspeople joined in the battle, firing guns from upstairs windows.

In the afternoon, the fighting moved into the fields southeast of town, as newly-minted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer brought his Michigan Wolverines into action, while Stuart fed in two more brigades. By late afternoon, as opposing artillery banged away at long distance, Stuart broke away, sending his three brigades one by one through Jefferson and York-New Salem up to Dover. The battle of Hanover ended by evening, with Kilpatrick in charge of the field. Townspeople helped nurse the scores of wounded.

A few books have been written on the battle. Check them out of your local library, or, for those recent ones still in print, pick up a copy from your favorite book dealer.

Anthony’s History of the Battle of Hanover: (1945) Cover of a recent reprint of the first detailed book on the Battle of Hanover, written at the end of WWII. Local man William Anthony compiled and edited this mid-20th century account of the fighting, based largely on George Reeser Prowell’s interviews with participants and witnesses, as well as old newspaper accounts and other sources. It’s still a useful book, though some of the story line of the battle has been superseded by more recent interpretations. Somewhat hard to find, except through local York County libraries or inter-library lending programs. (self-published)

Encounter at Hanover: Prelude to Gettysburg: (1963, reprinted 1994) Issued during the bicentennial by the Hanover Chamber of Commerce. Includes much material from Anthony. Reprinted in 1994 and still found occasionally for sale on the Internet. Useful background material and a decent overview of the battle, though not correcting Anthony’s errors. (Hanover Chamber of Commerce)

Cavalry on the Roads to Gettysburg: Kilpatrick at Hanover and Hunterstown: (2000) The first of the modern treatments of the Battle of Hanover. George A. Rummell III looked at Judson Kilpatrick’s twin fights against Stuart on June 30, 1863, at Hanover and then on July 2 at Hunterstown in east-central Adams County. This is the first in-depth treatment of Kilpatrick’s role in the summer campaign in Pennsylvania. (White Mane)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg: (2006) Long-time personal friendships with co-authors Eric Wittenberg and J. D. Petruzzi notwithstanding, their work stands alone as the finest book ever written on Stuart’s ride to Pennsylvania and has become one of the indispensable, “must-read” books on the Gettysburg Campaign. A modern classic. The authors place Hanover into its proper context within the entirety of Stuart’s ride; the battle descriptions are lucid and compelling. Of special interest is the driving tour in the back of the book, which allows the reader to follow many of the same roads that Stuart’s main column used (Savas Beatie LLC)

A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover, Pennsylvania: (2008) Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide John T. Krepps, a long-time Hanover resident, uses his vast knowledge of local roads and places, coupled with innovative research into the post-war damage claims filed by residents along the line of Stuart’s march, to piece together the single-best volume on the battle itself. The book lacks the overall campaign context of Wittenberg and Petruzzi’s work, but is the most detailed account ever written of the battle of Hanover. Krepps combed through the damage claims to rediscover the many small skirmishes and encounters in the farm fields and villages surrounding Hanover, showing that the fighting and maneuvering were much more widespread than commonly believed. Not as widely published as some of the other recent books, this one, nevertheless, deserves a place on your bookshelf as an outstanding micro-history of this aspect of the Gettysburg Campaign. (Colecraft Books)

Confederate Calamity: J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry Ride Through York County, Pa.: (2015) The newest book on Stuart’s ride, this small but very detailed work covers Stuart’s ride in depth from Hanover to Dillsburg in York County. Inspired by Wittenberg and Petruzzi’s driving tour and by Krepps’ use of damage claims, York County author/researcher Scott Mingus takes readers on a virtual tour of many of the routes that Stuart’s widely-scattered brigades and foraging patrols used to traverse western York County after the Battle of Hanover. Filled with modern photos of many of the very same farmhouses and barns that the Rebels visited in their quest for fresh horses, supplies, and food, this account fills in the gaps and will appeal not only to local residents, but also to those readers wishing for a deeper look at Stuart’s interactions with the Pennsylvania populace. (Self-published, amazon CreateSpace).