Part of the USA Today Network

A Louisiana Tiger describes York

Part of a panorama of York from an 1852 lithographic art print, looking south from the northern hills at George Street and the bridge over Codorus Creek.This peaceful scene of course cannot be duplicated today because of U.S. Route 30 and all the intervening construction from there to the now sprawling town.
For two days in late June 1863, York played host to more than 5,000 unexpected visitors from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, perhaps the largest group of uninvited visitors in the county’s history. They did not come to take in the sights, but to take the area’s resources and horses. The town was ringed by Confederate campsites, and artillery frowned from Shunks Hill south of town and Diehl’s Hill north of town. Very little in the way of written memories has been found from the Confederates who camped on the hills south of town, but a few Rebels on the north side recorded their impressions of York and its citizens.
A part of the First Louisiana Brigade (the much feared “Louisiana Tigers”) camped along the Codorus Creek near where today’s San Carlos night club is located (the old barn is from a period mill that was being guarded by the Rebels). Nearby is Diehl’s Hill, crowded by the Louisiana Guard Artillery. Still further east are the heights around Pleasureville / North Sherman Street, another major campsite for the Tigers.
One of them was Captain William J. Seymour. His father, a prominent New Orleans newspaperman, had been killed as a colonel in the Army of Northern Virginia while leading his regiment into action at the Battle of Gaines Mill on June 27, 1862. Almost exactly a year later, young Seymour paused on top of one of the northern hills and recorded his impression of York.

A companion view to the above art print, showing more of York’s probable appearance during the Civil War era. This view is to the left of the previous view, and shows the county court house used by Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early as his headquarters while the Confederates were in the region. Author’s collection.
WIlliam Seymour’s brother-in-law, Johnson Kelly Duncan, was a York native who served as a Confederate general during the Union attacks on New Orleans, and had died the previous December of malaria in Tennessee. Seymour would take the time on Monday afternoon, June 29, 1863, to ride into York and visit one of Duncan’s sisters, presumably Margaret Beitzel. Prior to doing so, as he stood atop the heights north of York he scribbled in his diary. He could see York of course, as well as parts of Manchester Township and what was then Spring Garden Township.
“The surrounding country was in a high state of cultivation and from our camp presented a beautiful appearance with its immense fields of golden grain that flashed in the sunlight–dotted here and there with neat little cottages and large substantially built barns which were literally bursting with wheat, oats, & corn. Most of the barns in this section of Pennsylvania are larger and more finely built than the dwellings of the farmers; the Dutch lords of the soil invariably bestow more care and attention on their crops and stock than they do on their families.”
He was one of scores of Confederates in the Gettysburg Campaign who marveled at the immensity of Pennsylvania’s bank barns. I have been riding around the county taking photos for this blog, and, as a native of southern Ohio and a frequent business and social traveler, I can attest that the barns in these parts are very, very impressive compared to the rest of the country.
Seymour had some pleasant memories of the march through Adams and York counties to reach his vantage point in the northern hills, it was a and “filled with milk and honey.” He also believed the Confederates were well behaved, other than some public drunkenness shortly after leaving Gettysburg on June 27. “During our march, the inhabitants were treated with the greatest kindness and consideration.”

Seymour and fellow Confederates marveled at the impressive public buildings and stores in downtown York. It was the largest Northern town to fall to the Rebels during the entire Civil War.

View of the southeast corner of York’s center square; the large dry goods and general merchandise store is currently undergoing restoration.