A near miss at Dillsburg!
Monument to the 26th Militia at Gettysburg
Many local (and national) Civil War buffs are aware of the Battle of Hanover and the Skirmish of Wrightsville. However, there was other fighting in York County, albeit very minor in nature, including insignificant cavalry skirmishes near Jefferson and Dover, as well as near York, where Virginia cavalry fired potshots at retreating Union forces as they were abandoning York for Wrightsville. One other York County town was spared the frightful rattle of gunfire and the fear of potential casualties to be nursed in area homes, despite two opposing forces warily eyeing one another in nearby fields.
Dillsburg was a sleepy little rural village nestled in the shadow of South Mountain. It was primarily known in 1863 as a rest stop for travellers on the road from York to Carlisle, and it boasted a couple of fine taverns, a few stores, a post office, and some other businesses, as well as a nearby sprawling commercial fruit farm. Not far away was the strategically important, from a military viewpoint, gap in the mountain range at Yellow Breeches Creek. That passage offered an egress from the Cumberland Valley into the heart of northwestern York County.
The 26th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia had been hastily organized in Harrisburg at Camp Curtin in mid-June 1863. They had been shipped via train to Gettysburg, where they arrived on June 25-26 and deployed on the hills west of town. Chased away from their defensive positions on the afternoon of Friday the 26th by the arrival of John B. Gordon’s force coming down from the Cashtown Gap, 175 of the 743 militiamen were captured in a series of brief skirmishes with Virginians at Marsh Creek, Rock Creek, and the Witmer Farm. Some of the Pennsylvanians fled along the road to Hanover and later formed a part of Maj. Granville Haller’s defensive force at York. Cut off from the railroad by which it had come to Gettysburg, but keeping to the right, the bulk of the remaining commonwealth troops retired towards Harrisburg via Dillsburg.
At Dillsburg, Col. William W. Jennings paused to rest his weary men, few of whom had any experience in forced marches in the face of enemy pursuit. Arrayed in battle line, rifles gleaming in the sunshine, the 26th encountered a portion of Confederate Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins’ West Virginia mounted infantry, moving south, from Carlisle. By maintaining a firm front, Jennings and his men dissuaded the understrength Rebel patrol from attacking, and the Southerners finally withdrew back towards Carlisle. The much relieved Pennsylvania militia arrived at Fort Washington, opposite Harrisburg, on Sunday, June 28th, after yet another forced march. They were finally safe, and were mustered out of the army less than two weeks later, after the invasion threat had subsided.