A Gettysburg Campaign controversy
One of the underpublicized aspects of the Gettysburg Campaign is the fact that the Confederate army at times seized black people and escorted them back into Virginia. Some were escaped slaves that the Confederacy believed were legally allowed to be returned to their masters if identifiable. However, others taken prisoner were free men and/or their families. This practice seems to have been more prevalent early in the campaign, particularly in Franklin County.
Dozens of accounts exist from primary sources of this atrocity, including a couple of stories of daring rescues to free some of the prisoners. However, a number of people (both black and white, by the way) disappeared and were presumed or proven to have been taken South into captivity. (Many of the whites transported to Virginia were Federal workers such as postmasters.)
There is only one such account I am aware of here in York County.
Not only did William French’s western Virginia mounted infantry seize dry goods and horses in York County, they may have also been hunting escaped slaves. The 17th Virginia, escorting Jubal Early’s infantry division, was a part of former U.S. Congressman A. G. Jenkins’ brigade. That force had engaged in the pursuit and capture of contraband escaped slaves, as well as free blacks, in Chambersburg and Mercersburg. There is some evidence that this practice was continued in York County, although to a much smaller extent.
In his 1884 book on the Confederate invasion, Gettysburg resident Jacob Hoke reported that a white Chambersburg resident, D. M. Eiken, had been held in a Southern prison camp, along with several other Pennsylvanians taken during the Gettysburg Campaign. Eiken told Hoke, “A little colored boy from York, Pa., captured during the invasion, was in Castle Thunder, but was allowed to come and go at his pleasure.” This lad has not been identified.
For more information on this seldom discussed aspect of the Confederate incursion into the Keystone State, see author and National Park Service official Ted Alexander’s intriguing article in Blue & Gray, September 2001, page 88).