Happiness from a series of lithographs
Far away from home in unfamiliar territory. Well behind enemy lines. Weary from days and days of travel. Riding on someone else’s horse, one just purchased from a farmer. Tired from exposure and weakened from hunger. Knowing that the enemy has been on your tail for days. Homesick from missing your sweetheart and parents. Exhausted from two years of fighting a war that you expected to be over in a few months when you enlisted.
Put yourself in the minds of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalrymen that invaded York County on June 30 and July 1, 1863. Any escape from the wearisome toil of the march and the mind numbing routine was welcomed. For Virginia-born J. E. Cooke, that pleasant diversion came in the form of wall decorations in one Dillsburg tavern.
As the various Confederate columns crossed over York County in late June and early July 1863, food was always on the soldiers’ minds. Their officers, at times, paused to dine in York County establishments or homes, and there are dozens of stories associated with these repasts. John Esten Cooke, a staff officer serving in the cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart, was saddle sore and famished by the evening of July 1. He had ridden for nearly two weeks up and down the rolling hills of Virginia, Maryland, and now western York County, and he needed rest. Along with Brigadier General Wade Hampton III (one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina) and some other officers, Cooke paused in downtown Dillsburg for some refreshment, while Hampton’s brigade proceeded through the village to a nearby farm to camp for the evening.
Cooke and the other cavaliers entered Dillsburg’s main hotel and took seats at a table in its tavern. The innkeeper, a Mr. Miller, was philosophic in his conversation and made a positive impression on young Captain Cooke. What made a more lasting impression, one that Cooke would write about years after the war, was the tavern’s décor. “The walls were covered with pictures of black trotters in skeleton conveyances, making rapid time…” Cooke studied the pictures for some time, taking in the visual images of more peaceful time when the roads were filled with graceful carriages, instead of being clogged with the men and materiel of a civil war. Once dinner was over and the conversation ebbed, Cooke, Hampton, and the officers bade their farewells and departed for their camp. In four years of warfare and campaigns, the Dillsburg tavern is the only establishment that Cooke mentions the décor in his memoirs, so the pictures of black trotters must have really made an impact on the war-weary soldier.