An enduring York County tale: Pvt. John Hoffacker
Photo by Harry T. McLin of Hanover PA; courtesy of the excellent on-line Historical Marker Database website (Civil War content edited and maintained by Craig Swain).
I have recently been rereading Licensed Battlefield Guide John T. Krepps‘ excellent book A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover, Pennsylvania (Colecraft Industries, 2008). This fine tome is worth reading every couple of years and as I occasionally give Civil War tours of the Hanover area for the York County Heritage Trust, I want to remain current in my understanding of the fighting that took place there in late June 1863.
In one of his appendices, John discusses in detail one of the longstanding tales of the Civil War, the case of Private John Hoffacker of Company E, 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry. For more than a hundred years, the story has been erroneously told that Hoffacker was born and raised south of Hanover, left his farm two months before the fighting, and then was tragically and ironically killed not far from his home. Several books have picked up this story and retold it.
According to John’s extensive research, Hoffacker was not a York Countian, despite decades of misinformation that has been passed from author to author, beginning with historian George R. Prowell in 1886. Ten years later, the Hanover Citizen repeated the story that Hoffacker was from “below Hanover.” In 1907, Prowell for some reason expanded the story to note that Hoffacker was from West Manheim Township in York County. Other authors took this as fact and merely repeated the story.
It appears that this oft-repeated York County hero was not from York County after all.
Photo taken by Scott Mingus in August 2009 after leading a guided tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
John Krepps’ investigation has proved that the soldier John Hoffacker was not the West Manheim farmer John Hoffacker that Prowell believed him to have been. In reality he was from Carroll County, Maryland, which indeed is below Hanover, but not near enough that he would have been considered a local man. For a time, Hoffacker worked in the Gunpowder Falls Paper Mill in northern Maryland (another mill worker was Philip Henry Glatfelter, founded of the P. H. Glatfelter company for which I work as R&D director).
In September 1862, John Hoffacker joined the army. He indeed was killed at Hanover, but his family did not have enough money to have him shipped home (by then Parkton, Maryland) so he remained at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Tragically, another of Elizabeth and Henry Hoffacker‘s soldier sons, William, died at the home in February 1865 while on furlough from wounds suffered at Spotsylvania Court House. He was buried next to his brother in Hanover, and eventually the impoverished parents were buried there as well.