Battle of Hanover occurred 148 years ago today during Gettysburg Campaign
The old Central Hotel still stands watch over the center square of Hanover, Pennsylvania, a bustling town about 17 miles southeast of Gettysburg. On June 30, 1863, this hotel served as a headquarters for Union Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick (an ancestor of CNN reporter Anderson Cooper) during parts of the Battle of Hanover and its aftermath.
Kilpatrick’s troopers had passed through Hanover that morning, with much of his column well out of town by the time Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s advance regiments arrived and attacked the tail end of the Federal force. Stuart’s attack split apart the 18th Pennsylvania, and his victorious North Carolinians galloped up Frederick Street into Hanover, where spirited counterattacks pushed them back.
More and more soldiers arrived from both sides and fighting escalated into the fields south of town. Stuart himself narrowly avoided capture by jumping his horse over a 15-foot-wide watercourse. By afternoon, with multiple brigades now in and around Hanover, the fight devolved into long-range skirmishing and an artillery duel. Stuart began withdrawing toward Jefferson in mid-afternoon, and by late evening all of the Confederates were gone from Hanover.
Here are a few stories from the Battle of Hanover, as taken from the new book, Civil War Voices from York County, Pa.
Hanover had about 1,600 residents during the Civil War. Many of the young men had joined the Union army earlier in the war, and now in June excitement filled the town as news came that the Confederate army had invaded Pennsylvania. A company of volunteers left town on the railroad for Hanover to enroll in the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, an emergency regiment raised to help protect the commonwealth until the Rebels left.
One of the earlier recruits, Pvt. Wesley Wagoner, later wrote, “I suppose the excitement was great in Hanover that you hardly thought of writing… I was glad to see that the Hanover boys are turning out so well for defense of the state. I guess some of the people in town thought of packing up some of their things and leaving again.”
Most residents stayed in Hanover, and on the morning of June 30th were busy feeding Kilpatrick’s passing troopers and greeting them. The sudden sound of gunfire southwest of town sent the citizens scurrying for cover. As Rebels dashed into town pursuing fleeing Pennsylvania cavalry, a few daring Hanoverians are said to have fired shots at the enemy soldiers.
The Battle of Hanover that humid June 30 was the largest military encounter in York County’s history.
Thousands of warring cavalrymen clashed in the vicinity, leaving behind more than 300 casualties. Many suffered saber cuts and pistol wounds from close order combat in which soldiers at times battled hand-to-hand along Frederick Street.
Samuel Althoff witnessed the whole thing.
“I was at my home where I now reside on Baltimore Street when Kilpatrick’s men entered Hanover,” Althoff recalled. “Like the rest of our citizens interested in seeing them move through town, I went up to Centre Square and watched them passing by and helped to feed them as they moved along on horseback.”
Before 10:00 a.m., as he was handing out cigars to the Union horsemen, he heard shooting south along the Westminster road,
He returned to his Baltimore Street home.
His family had gone to the cellar, but he climbed through the attic to the roof. There, he saw mounted soldiers dashing back and forward along the roads and in the fields west of town.
In a grain field, he saw Confederate sharpshooters rising from the tall grain to fire at the Union troops in and around the town.
Rebel cannon on Cemetery Hill and near the Westminster road began to fire shot and shell over the town at Federal soldiers on Bunker Hill.
“About this time, an officer of the New York Regiment rode down Baltimore Street and commanded me to get off the roof of the house,” Althoff wrote, “for I was in danger of being shot, so I went down stairs.”
Sam Althoff and his fellow citizens huddled in their homes as the battle raged around them. It was not what they expected that jubilant morning when they had greeting Kilpatrick’s soldiers.
Dead soldiers and horses, cast-off military accoutrements, and the debris of war filled Frederick Street by nightfall.
Clean-up and recovery efforts soon began, but the residents for years would recall that fateful summer Tuesday back in 1863.