Capture the Flag
The Battle of Hanover, June 30, 1863, is believed to have been the largest battle ever fought in what is now York County, although it is conceivable there may have been larger quarrels among Native Americans that were not recorded. Hanover was a significant par tof the Gettysburg Campaign, in that the scrap delayed J.E.B. Stuart for nearly a day, and forced him to swing further eastward than originally planned. It is entirely possible that the engagement directly led to Stuart failing ti intersect the troops of Jubal Early as they withdrew from York westward toward Adams County.
Hanover marked a Civil War rarity – open cavalry fighting on a large scale in the streets of a town. The majority of large cavalry fights occured in open areas, where the space and terrain enabled the mass manuevering of large bodies of mounted men. Hanover was a swirling fight that reached the very heart of the town. Here is one incident from the hand-to-hand, close order fighting as recorded by one of the Union participants…
Irish-born Thomas Burke was a private in Company A of the 5th New York Cavalry. On the morning of June 30, Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick with his Third Division of the Union Cavalry Corps, reached Hanover. While passing through town, the rear of his column was suddenly surprised by oncoming Confederates from John Chambliss’s brigade. Rebel artillery fire reverberated through Hanover’s buildings, sending residents scurrying into basements. The ensuing fighting raged up and down Frederick Street.
The 20-year-old Burke had a thrilling experience during this battle. He later recalled, “We were well worn out by long continued work in the saddle, and the attack was almost a complete surprise; but with the first gun my commander, Colonel Hammond, moved us quickly from the street into an open field where we formed in line for a charge. Getting the word we started directly toward the Confederates and we went with such force that the enemy’s line in our front broke and we saw men scattering in every direction. As we neared the battery which was still being served, I noticed a Confederate flag and started after it just as Corporal Rickey did the same thing. The colors were in charge of two mounted men and it was a race. Rickey had gone 200 yards perhaps, when his horse was shot and thus I was left to go it alone. Meanwhile the firing was sharp from both sides; but I gained on my prize and closing in on the men, as I used my carbine with good effect, I called on them to surrender. ”
My command was almost instantly obeyed and I disarmed each man of carbine, sword and pistol, after which, I rushed them ahead of me as fast as our horses—and they were very tired—would take us back to our lines. It was a precarious ride of course, but we got there, flag and ail. When I took the prisoners, flag and arms to headquarters, General Kilpatrick complimented me very highly. The colors which I captured were those of the Thirteenth Virginia Regiment.”
On February 11, 1878, Thomas Burke received the Medal of Honor for his valor at the Battle of Hanover. He lived the rest of his life in New York City, dying in 1902 at the age of 60. He is buried in Queens.