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1930 Wrightsville photo shows old battlefield from the Gettysburg Campaign

Recently fellow blogger Jim McClure of the York Daily Record posted a photo taken in 1930 of the newly dedicated Lincoln Highway bridge linking Wrightsville, Pa., (foreground) with Columbia (top, across the Susquehanna River). I have grayed out the 1930 bridge to show the older railroad bridge, the piers of which in 1863 supported what has been called the world’s longest covered bridge. In late June 1863, Union troops guarded the bridge from approaching Confederates, hoping to hold it if the attackers proved to be merely cavalry raiders intent on securing the bridge.

Instead, the Rebels on Sunday, June 28, proved to be almost 2,000 veteran Georgia infantrymen, 200+ Virginia and Maryland cavalrymen, and a 4-gun battery of Virginia artillery all under the talented and experienced Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon.

The Union defenders were a motley force consisting of the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia (mostly from coal country in northeastern Pennsylvania) under a proven leader, Medal of Honor winner Col. Jacob G. Frick, as well as remnants of two inexperienced militia regiments previously whipped by the Rebels (the 26th PVM retreated from Gettysburg after a June 26 skirmish and the 20th PVM retired from Hanover Junction after a June 27th defeat). One company of the 27th fronted the main position as a skirmish line facing west centered at the old tollhouse at the intersection of today’s Route 462 Lincoln Highway and Cool Creek Road.

Also in the mix were a company of black volunteers still dressed in civilian clothing but carrying army-issued Springfield rifles, the wounded patients from the York Army General Hospital (mostly veterans of the Army of the Potomac), the Patapsco Guards from Ellicott Mills, Md., a handful of remnants of the 87th Pennsylvania driven from Winchester, and perhaps a scattering of citizens. Guarding the incoming railroad was the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry, a cross-section of the wealthiest young men of that city. Major Granville O. Haller commanded all of the latter forces, other than Colonel Frick’s 27th.

The above map also shows the approximate positions of two hastily constructed Union fortifications, Fort Case opposite the dam breast near Shawnee Run and the Grubb’s Ridge Bastion. A couple of artillery pieces manned by the 27th PVM and a handful of wounded artillerymen from the York Hospital also guarded the bridge. Their position is not as certain. As the Rebels advanced slowly (a mistake on Gordon’s part), the Union militia withdrew, marched across the covered bridge, and set it on fire to prevent the Southerners from crossing the river into Lancaster County.

In the lower left of the photo is the J. Huber farm, which late in the skirmish was the position of two of the four CSA rifled artillery pieces. Georgia infantry tried flanking the Rebels along the base of Hellam Heights (left) and the Kreutz Creek ravine (off-photo to the bottom right).

Sadly the old battlefield, as with the battlefield at Hanover, is largely gone to development and only vestiges remain. No interpretive markers exist except along the river and in downtown Wrightsville opposite the 1863 James Magee house. It was there that Chief Burgess Magee’s newlywed daughter, Mrs. Mary Jane Rewalt, served breakfast to General Gordon and his staff to thank them for saving Wrightsville after part of the town caught fire from flaming embers from the covered bridge.

For much more on the Gettysburg Campaign in Adams, York, and Lancaster counties, please pick up a copy of Flames Beyond Gettysburg, which is the definitive book on the first fighting at Gettysburg on June 26, the skirmish at Hanover Junction, the “surrender” of York, and Jubal Early’s push to the river.