Cannonball

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161 years ago: York and Wrightsville fall to the Rebels

One of a series of paintings of the Columbia Bridge on fire painted by students in 1913 ofr Columbia’s Old Home Week. (C. Wallace photo)
Sunday, June 28, 1863.
1) Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s brigade marches from Farmers into downtown York about 10 a.m. just as church bells ring calling townspeople to worship services. Soldiers haul down the town’s 18×35′ flag in Centre Square. Gordon’s superior, Jubal Early, arrives and ransoms the town for $100,000 and massive quantities of shoes and supplies; door-to-door collections raise $28,610. Gordon marches on to Wrightsville. and Col. I.E. Avery’s brigade occupies York, with the Louisiana Tigers and Brig. Gen. “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade camping between Emigsville and York.
2) Col. William H. French’s 17th Virginia Cavalry trots up Board Road to Liverpool (now Manchester) and Mount Wolf, taking horses along the way and raiding stores. The Rebels skirmish with elements of the 20th PA Volunteer Militia near York Haven; the emergency men retreat in flatboats across the Susquehanna River to Lancaster County. The Rebels then burn two key railroad bridges.
3) Lt. Col. Elijah V. White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry screens the eastward advance of Gordon’s Georgia brigade to Wrightsville. The Rebels arrive at 5:30 p.m. and fire artillery at the 1,400 or so defending militiamen, who are joined by 53 Black home guardsmen and a large contingent of convalescent soldiers from the Army Hospital in York, as well as a handful of the 87th PA, the First City Troop from Philadelphia, and Bell’s Adams County Cavalry.
4) The defenders at Wrightsville hold out long enough for civilians, under army orders, to burn the Columbia Bridge. One of the company of non-uniformed, unpaid Black volunteers is killed by a shell fragment. He is the only fatality of the skirmish. General Early is irate that the bridge has been destroyed, thwarting his plans to invade Lancaster County. He berates General Gordon publicly on the streets of Wrightsville.