“A Lovely Place”
The six-story John Hartman building on the center square was highly noticeable to the Confederates. Courtesy of YCHT.
Original letters and diary entries from the Confederates who occupied York in late June 1863 are quite scarce, especially considering there were more than 6,000 enemy soldiers within York County. Less than a couple dozen are known to have left their impressions of the borough, although it is quite conceivable that scores of other accounts were written, but have since been lost to historians. Consistently, in perusing the existing accounts, the Rebels were impressed by the beauty of the prosperous town, and phrases such as “a lovely place,” “a nice town,” and “exceedingly tasteful” can be found in their surviving writings.
York’s “imposing structures” certainly made an impression. York was the largest town North of the Mason-Dixon Line that the Confederate army formally marched through, although several Southerners set foot in Harrisburg as prisoners of war or deserters, and hundreds saw New York City from afar on prison ships as they were transported to the Davids’ Island prisoner of war camp on Long Island.
One young Confederate officer penned a lengthy letter to his wounded brother in late August recounting the Gettysburg Campaign. He mentioned his brief stay in York with fondness. The town had “some magnificent buildings in it,” he wrote. “The streets are very regular & well paved. The people are mostly Dutch and were very friendly. Confederate money was taken at par and I shall ever remember York with pleasure.” He added a postscript to his daily entry, “Had lots of fun, saw some pretty girls and amused ourselves extensively until 10:00 p.m.”
Young soldiers out on the town sightseeing, shopping, and girl-watching – the story is timeless.