Brooklyners Visit York County
Custom made miniature of a 14th Brooklyn soldier, sculpted by Alan Ball and painted by Marion Ball.
On Tuesday, July 2, 1867, a group of Civil War veterans from the 14th Brooklyn Infantry, a celebrated unit known as the “Red-Legged Devils” for their bright crimson baggy trousers, traveled back to Gettysburg to visit the battlefield. Their agenda took them first to Philadelphia for some sightseeing, including Independence Hall and the U.S. Mint. After lunch at one of Philly’s leading restaurants, the vets toured Fairmount Park and then took in a minstrel show in the early evening. The night was completed with a huge spread of food and desserts at the local armory. The men went to bed full, satisfied, and eager to head on to Gettysburg to revisit where they had fought four years earlier.
Their trip on July 3 would take them through the heart of York County.
After a farewell event in the morning, the men of the 14th Brooklyn embarked on a passenger train from Philadelphia to Columbia in Lancaster County, and then eventually on to Gettysburg. A correspondent accompanying them deemed the ensuing trip a “weary pilgrimage” because of all the times they had to change trains to reach the old battlefield.
They first stopped at Columbia, where the bridge over the Susquehanna River burned in 1863 had not yet been rebuilt. The reporter noted, “At Columbia we changed cars, took a ferry boat of primitive pattern, and steamed across the Susquehanna, a distance of 6,600 [feet].” Residents informed the ex-soldiers that the destruction of the bridge had been necessary and had, in their opinion, “saved the war from being carried to the north of the river.”
Once on the Wrightsville side, one of the Brooklyn boys snuck wandered over to the river and grabbed a piece of wood from the charred bridge as a “relic.” The Mayor of Wrightsville, who was there to greet the war heroes, christened the chunk as “Colonel Wood,” an allusion to a well known former military officer. When word spread that Colonel Wood was in the vicinity, men rushed from the train to see the celebrity. They fell for the burgess’s cheap joke.
They boarded a Northern Central train and steamed into downtown York, where the 14th Brooklyn disemarked and paraded to a special reception in their honor. It had recently rained, and the vets marched through “some first class Pennsylvania mud.” After being wined and dined by York’s leading citizens at the banquet, they were escorted to the train station by a militia group known as the Zeigel Guard. The honor guard and the Brooklyn travelers reentered the rail cars and rode down to Hanover Junction, where another change of trains was necessary.
Boarding cars of the Hanover Branch, the New Yorkers rode westward to Hanover, where a final change of trains was made to the Gettysburg Railroad. At 6:15 p.m., the locomotive arrived at the downtown Gettysburg depot, and the ex-soldiers wearily detrained and took rooms in the Eagle Hotel (located on Chambersburg Street where the 7/11 store is now). After yet another reception and more speeches, the men finally retired for the evening.
The correspondent closed his daily commentary with, “It is dripping tonight, but the sun went down with a golden promise for the morrow.”
Thursday July 4 was indeed a golden day for the veterans. They visited the battlefield where they had fought, exchanged old war stories, and then solemnly paid their respects to fallen comrades in the National Cemetery. After a long day of touring and feasting, they took retraced their grueling train ride through Hanover, Hanover Junction, York, Wrightsville, and Columbia before taking rooms at a Lancaster hotel.