Civil War officer as a boy saw the pioneering steamboat Codorus
Major Granville O. Haller of the 7th U.S. Infantry played a key role in the early part of the Gettysburg Campaign, organizing and commanding the defenses of Adams and York counties in south-central Pennsylvania. His orders were to slow down the oncoming Confederates and deny them passage over the Susquehanna River. Strategists told him he would likely only face cavalry raids, but instead Haller had to deal with Jubal Early’s entire division of infantry, as well as cavalry and artillery.
Haller’s performance to many of his peers was effective and efficient in light of the unexpected odds against him. To his detractors, Haller’s incompetent military skills and personal cowardice stained his name and reputation, which was further soiled when he was dismissed from the army in late July 1863 for allegedly making disloyal statements about the government and president. He was later exonerated and restored to the army, and was promoted to colonel with back pay.
G. O. Haller grew up in York, Pennsylvania, ironically one of the town’s he was called to defend in June 1863 as the Rebels swarmed through southern Pennsylvania.
In 1893, Haller recalled an incident from his early youth, when he saw one of the first steamboats, the Codorus.
Inventor Phineas Davis had built the experimental steam-powered vessel in his shop in downtown York, and was moving it to the Susquehanna River to be launched.
Here is Haller’s reminiscence of that event, which must have fascinated the schoolboys of York.
Blogger James McClure used the above photo in a past entry in his popular York Town Square blog. Jim wrote, “This drawing of the iron-hulled steamboat ‘Codorus’ by William S. Stair appeared in Greater York (Pa.) in Action. The flat-bottom boat was launched for a northward Susquehanna River journey from the Accomac area.”
Jim continued, “In 1825, John Elgar constructed the iron vessel in York shops near the Codorus Creek. He labored at a factory that Phineas Davis later made famous for crafting what is considered to be the first successful coal-burning locomotive. (In 1831, Davis gained a $4,000 award from the Baltimore and Ohio Steam Railway for building “The York,” the first successful coal-burning locomotive steam engine in the United States.) A historical marker at West King and South Newberry streets in York marks the site on the shops, demolished long ago.”
This excerpt from Jim’s fine book, Never to be Forgotten, tells more:
“Quaker John Elgar completes the steam-powered, metal-hulled “Codorus,” designed to chug up the Susquehanna River. The 6,000-pound boat, reported to be America’s first iron steamboat, is rolled through York’s streets to its launch site at present-day Accomac.”
With this background, now we turn to the 1893 words of Granville Haller in recalling the vessel’s passage through York’s streets.
First, here is the introduction to Haller’s letter, as taken from the Proceedings and Collections of the York Historical Society, Volume 1.
The article recently published in the Gazette and written and compiled from the old files by Mr. John C. Jordan, of this city, giving valuable information regarding the life and work of Phineas Davis has attracted much attention. Mr. Davis was the inventor and constructor of the first coal burning locomotive steam engine ever produced in the United States. The engine was made in 1831 in this city, was known as “The York” and is now in exhibition at the World’s Fair.
One of the many interesting letters received by Mr. Jordan from people who have read the above mentioned article is the following from Col. Granville O. Haller, then residing at 606 Twelfth street, Seattle, Washington, and dated September 21, 1893. Col. Haller as is well known was born in this city, in 1819, and has a splendid and widely known military record. In his letter to Mr. Jordan he says:
“Your memoir, ‘An Historical Citizen,’ published in the York Gazette, September 14th inst., came promptly to hand. Accept my thanks.
“The subject recalls to memory my witnessing the steamboat ‘Codorus’ on wheels passing along Main street, York, and when it reached the Market Square, the width of the passage way was insufficient for the boat to get through, owing to an awning frame, whose supporting posts stood at the curb stone, in front of the Demuth store, at that time in the Jordan building on the northwest corner of Main street, when the awning was torn down without ceremony to enable the elephant to pass through at that corner. I was then a boy about nine years of age.
“Small as I was, Mr. Davis in those days enjoyed an enviable reputation, among even the boys, as an ingenius mechanic as well as an inventor–also a Mr. Grimes (?) I think that was his name. (His name was John Elgar). The former to us was a ‘Big Injun heap’ above the ordinary run….
G. O. Haller”