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Civil War vets reconnect after 48 years in York County

Old Civil War veterans meet after the war (image provided by the descendants of Pvt. William Henry Gilbert, used in Jim McClure and Scott Mingus’s book Civil War Voices from York County, Pa.)

Following the American Civil War, veterans from both the North and South often assembled with their comrades to renew their acquaintances, relive old war stories, and to remember those who had given their last full measure of devotion. Some men searched in vain for old chums whose addresses and current whereabouts were now unknown.

In one case, two men reconnected after a 48-year absence.

Ironically, they both had lived for all those years in the same county, not more than 20 miles apart.

York County.

Here is the story, from the December 29, 1911, York Daily.

“Civil War Veterans Meet at Mt. Zion after 48 Years of Separation

Mt. Zion, Dec. 28 – A search begun in 1863 and carried on for 48 years ended yesterday in the meeting of Henry Shaffer, Dillsburg, and Zechariah Wilt, near this place, who had been comrades in the One Hundred and Sixty-sixth Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. Both men had been wounded in an engagement at Suffolk, Va., and in the hospital at Hampton Roads had occupied adjoining cots.  A warm friendship had sprung up between them, but upon being sent to the front they had lost track of one another.

After the war Mr. Shaffer had begun a search for his friend, but until the past week had heard nothing of his whereabouts. Recently while in York he was told by one of the merchants of a Mr. Wilt residing near Mt. Zion, and coming here today found him to be the friend for whom he was searching. A most enjoyable day was spent by the two veterans.”

According to Dennis Brandt’s on-line database of Civil War soldiers at the York County History Center’s website, Zachariah Wilt was born in April 1841 in Conewago Township. In 1860, he lived with and worked for wealthy farmer John Brillinger in Manchester Township. The married man was drafted into the 166th PA in October 1862 as a private in Company A. Wounded in the left leg at Suffolk in April 1863, he was transported to Fort Monroe at Hampton Roads, where surgeons amputated the shattered limb. He received an honorable discharge for medical reasons in July and returned home. He worked as a laborer in Manchester Township and later Spring Garden Township much of his life, raising seven children with his wife Matilda Ellen (Snyder). After his reunion with Shaffer, Wilt lived another eight years, dying April 4, 1924, at his home at Mount Zion in Springettsbury Township. He is buried in Mount Zion Lutheran Cemetery.

Henry Shaffer was born in 1838 in northern York County. In 1850, he and his parents and seven siblings lived in Monaghan Township. During the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, he volunteered to serve in one of the emergency militia units raised for the potential defense of Pennsylvania should Robert E. Lee invade the commonwealth. After two weeks, the Weist Infantry Company was mustered out without seeing any combat. Little did Shaffer know he would again be a soldier in less than two months. In early November, he was drafted into Company C of the 166th PA. Corporal Shaffer was wounded April 24, 1863, at Suffolk and taken to the military hospital at Fort Monroe, where he met Zachariah Wilt. He was discharged on July 28 and sent home. He lived near Dillsburg for most of his life. Henry Shaffer died on January 3, 1916, and is buried in Barnes Cemetery in Washington Township.