Civil War Voices: Part 8 – Patriotism, glory compel York residents to enlist
– Excerpted from ‘Civil War Voices from York County’
Volunteers in the North stood in line to sign up for the military.
Some were ardent Union men, determined to see the country held together. Others sought adventure or glory, or perhaps just a way out of the drudgery of factory or farm work. Still others came because of peer pressure or family expectations, or they believed it was the right thing to do.
Some prospective soldiers were devoutly antislavery and felt this was a chance to put teeth to their abolitionist ardor. For a few men down on their luck, war offered a chance for a steady paycheck. In New York City and other places across the North, persuasive recruiters targeted newly arrived European immigrants.
The young men of York County echoed most of these reasons for enlisting.
David Givens, a 20-year-old Wrightsville resident, was one of those men. He had worked as a boatman on one of his uncle’s barges on the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, linking York County to the Chesapeake Bay and then Baltimore.
He enlisted as a private in the 3rd Pennsylvania Artillery.
Givens would be a soldier for more than four years before resuming his career as a boatman, marrying, and raising eight children.
His oldest son died from pneumonia in an army camp during the Spanish-American War.
Joseph W. Ilgenfritz, a 29-year-old blacksmith from York, with a wife and two small children, was among the thousands in the region to respond.
Struck with patriotic fever, Ilgenfritz enlisted on April 20 as a private in the 16th Pennsylvania Infantry. His brother David would enroll in the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry.
Joe wrote a short letter to his brother in July from a camp in Martinsburg, Berkley County.
He recounted the march into Virginia two weeks earlier and described one of the first deadly encounters by York countians with the Confederates:
“We marched over into Virginia on the 2nd and at Falling Waters we had a small skirmish with the rebels whome where from 4 to 5 thousand & there was only 1 rigment of our brigade took part in the battle as the rebels run before we got up to them but they railed 3 times & where drove off again with a heavy loss.”
It was dangerous work for the newly trained soldiers, who had signed up for three months in the field.
With only two weeks left in his own unit’s term, Ilgenfritz closed with a line that revealed the nagging uncertainty of soldiers through the ages, “I hope to see you all again soon if God permits it.”