A local legend – the Andrew J. Menges farm in Jackson Township
This very impressive homestead was in 1863 the Andrew J. Menges farm near Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, in Jackson Township, York County. It’s located on Roth’s Church Road near the modern school complex. It’s just north of the June 27, 1863, campsite of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry (where the Spring Forge shopping center is now).
The A. J. Menges story is a good example of how the Civil War researcher must separate fact from fiction, or exaggeration.
Several Rebel cavalrymen paused at the farm, where the aged farmer’s wife Caroline and teenaged daughters Agnes and Magdalena served them food and fresh-baked pie. The commanding officer promised Menges that they would not take his horses because the farmer and his two sons were using them in the fields.
In the files of the York County Heritage trust is a small, undated pamphlet entitled In the Hands of the Confederates written by a local man named Howard Overmiller. Here is a summary of his tale of the Menges farm, which he recorded from oral tradition passed along by family descendants.
The Menges farm is less than a quarter-mile from White’s main campsite at the John Wiest farm, and on the same road leading to Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon‘s infantry camp at Farmers. Somehow the family came to believe that they had entertained General Gordon himself. “Gordon” conversed with the farm family about his impressions of York County versus the South.
When he and his staff were ready to leave, Andrew Menges, a 59-year-old devout Christian, led the Rebels in prayer. Standing in a circle, they silently doffed their hats and bowed their heads. One, a youth, left his personal New Testament with the family.
Because several nearby farmers filed damage claims for June 26-27, it is likely that the Confederates did indeed visit the farm. Their leader may have claimed to be Gordon, but it is more probable that the Menges family misunderstood or exaggerated their visitor’s identity.
So, what really happened on the Menges farm? (By the way, “Menges” is the original southern German spelling of my surname; my direct ancestors were related to the Menges family of York County).
My best guess is that the Rebels rode up to the farm and indeed did not take the horses (Menges did not file a claim for lost horses). A couple of accounts by the Confederates indicate that York Countians did indeed try (sometimes successfully) to talk the Rebels out of stealing their horses, or persuaded them through gifts of food or meals. Nearby neighbor Rev. Samuel L. Roth actually went into downtown York, talked his way past the Rebel guards, and persuaded General Gordon into returning his stolen horse, so the ploy worked.