A Quaker in Gray
George Fox, an early leader in the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers)
During the Gettysburg Campaign, several hundred York Countians were victimized by Confederate raiders, losing such diverse dry goods as buffalo robes, women’s bonnets, and hairpins, as well as liquor, crops, livestock, mules, supplies, and most of all, horses. Often, these acquisitions were accompanied by a legitimate military requisition, backed with CSA currency or government promissory notes (or in gold or greenbacks if the recipient was lucky). However, in far too many other cases, marauders, deserters, and thugs simply took what they wanted. At least one Confederate soldier was appalled by the wanton thievery he witnessed.
Private William B. Hockett, a 36-year-old Quaker and strong conscientious objector, had been drafted into the 21st North Carolina in May 1863. He been forced against his will to join that regiment for the march into Pennsylvania. The peaceful farmer, who had never before been outside the county he lived in, met up with Company M in the Shenandoah Valley shortly after the Second Battle of Winchester, but refused to take up arms and was placed under arrest for defying orders.
At one point near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, a frustrated Colonel William Kirkland assembled a firing squad to execute him, but his new comrades, impressed by Hockett’s piety and sincere faith, refused to shoot him. The officers finally decided to give up trying to force him to carry a gun and, instead, he was ordered to ride with the wagon train of I. E. Avery’s Brigade as a noncombatant.
Riding into downtown York, he watched the residents parade in their Sunday finery along the sidewalks. Depressed at their open freedom to worship, he wrote in his journal later that afternoon, “Oh! how I wish I was at home to go with my dear wife to go to Centre meeting to-day to worship the Lord in spirit and truth. But the Lord’s will be done, not mine.”
In the evening, the heartsick and lonely father of two added a postscript. “I have spent the day in reading my Bible, and in silent waiting on the Lord. My heart is sick, seeing the roguery our men are up to; taking horses, cattle and provisions of all kind. Nothing that they see escapes their grasp, and they are thrown away because men cannot carry them.”
Hockett was eventually allowed to leave the military and return home, where he resumed farming and later became a notable religious leader. Yet, he never forgot the crude behavior of his fellow soldiers in York County, where he saw the dark side of man’s character.