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A Confederate voice from the occupation of York, Pa. during the Gettysburg Campaign

On Sunday afternoon, June 28, 1863, Maj. Gen. Jubal Early and more than 5,000 veteran Confederate soldiers occupied central York County, Pennsylvania. Only a few dozen Rebels left written accounts of their time in York. One that did was 25-year-old Lt. Col. Hamilton C. Jones, Jr. of the 57th North Carolina.

Jones was born on November 3, 1837, in Salisbury, North Carolina. His father, son of a Welsh immigrant. was a prominent Whig attorney and state legislator. Young Jones graduated in 1858 from North Carolina State University and a year later established his own law practice in his hometown. He lost an election in 1860 for the state legislator to his Democratic rival. Jones served as a lieutenant in a pre-war militia company, the Rowan Rifles, and consequently enlisted after the start of the Civil War in the 5th North Carolina as a captain. He was wounded in the Peninsula Campaign in July 1862 and, during his recovery, was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 57th NC. He subsequently fought at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

His regiment broke camp at Hamilton’s Crossing near Fredericksburg in early June 1863 and marched to the Shenandoah Valley where Early’s Division helped route Federal defenders at the Second Battle of Winchester. On June 22 the 57th entered Pennsylvania and five days later reached York County, camping near Big Mount. On the 28th, Col. I. E. Avery led the brigade into downtown York in mid-afternoon. They camped at the old fairgrounds, as well as on Penn Common and in the market sheds at Center Square. The division departed York on the morning of June 30 and headed west toward East Berlin and Heidlersburg.

Here is Lieutenant Colonel Jones’ brief reminiscences of his short stay in York, Pa.

“Then came the momentous march into Pennsylvania. Early’s Division, with Hoke’s Brigade, marched by Gettysburg and went to the city of York. During the march of the division through Pennsylvania to this point, within twelve miles of the Susquehanna river, the column had encountered no opposition, had seen no Federal troops, nor even heard the sound of their drums or bugles. The country through which it had marched was largely inhabited by Germans, proverbially phlegmatic, and no sign of excitement had been visible among them. The Confederate army was restrained by strict orders and there was little sign of invasion from an hostile army to be seen along the route of their march. The barns were filled with grain, the fields were dotted with cattle and horses, and the Confederate Quartermaster and Commissary in an orderly way provided the army with sustenance. There was no straggling and consequently the passing army left only the tracks of its soldiers and its artillery on the highway: it left the fences and the houses, too, yet these same men had just come from the Valley of Virginia, a fenceless and houseless country, thanks to the presence of the Federal army.

The column entered York on Sunday morning. It looked as though they were unexpected, for the church bells were ringing and crowds of well-dressed men and women were on the sidewalks on their way to church. They stopped and gazed at the troops as they passed with something like stupefaction, but there was no sign of alarm even among the ladies. They, however, seemed to give up the idea of going to church that day, and the ladies went to their homes and during our stay there they were rarely ever seen on the streets. The men, however, mingled freely with the Confederate officers, and there was little or no sign of bitterness apparent. They drank together and discussed the war and many other subjects together. Some of the men, of course, were ardent Union men, and expressed their sentiment freely, but a great many, and it seemed to the writer a majority of them, were bitterly hostile to Mr. Lincoln’s administration and condemned the war on the South. The seeming preponderance of the anti-administration sentiment might have been due to the fact that the Union men had fled or were keeping themselves close. When the division left the place some prominent men even went so far as to insist that leading Union men should be arrested and carried away prisoners, for the reason, as they said, that the Union men had been dominating and tyranizing over them ever since the war began. General Early preserved the most perfect order during our stay there. He levied a contribution of $100,000 on the banks, but took no private property without paying for it. A foundry in the outskirts of the town which was used by the government for the manufacture of war material he burned.”

Adapted from Jones, Hamilton C., “Fifty-seventh Regiment,” in Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Walter Clark, editor (Goldsboro, N.C.: Nash Brothers, 1901), Volume 3, 411-12.

Additional information on Hamilton Jones from Hartley, William R. and David J. Zimmerman, The Fighting 57th North Carolina: The Life and Letters of James Calvin Zimmerman (North Carolina: s.n.,, 2006), 12.

Photo from the collection of the York County Heritage Trust.