Columbia PA Civil War markers and sites
This now empty building once housed the Columbia Bank, which owned the Columbia Bridge, a toll bridge that was the world’s longest covered bridge at the time of the Civil War. The bank made a huge windfall profit in late June 1863 as thousands of refugees, fleeing the Confederate advance, paid cash money to cross the Susquehanna River via the bridge to perceived safety in Lancaster County.
I spent an hour or so wandering around downtown Columbia this past Saturday while I awaited attending the General Thomas Welsh Civil War Symposium at the local historical society. Columbia is now establishing a small waterfront park, which is the first step to revitalizing the long neglected riverfront. The town is sprinkled with Civil War markers, many of which were erected by the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails commission.
Here is a sampling.
This marker is at the corner of Second Street and Locust, and remembers the long ago days when the Columbia National Bank was a regional economic powerhouse. The destruction of its toll bridge was partially covered by an insurance policy, but the bank spent years trying to recover money from the Federal government, citing the Army as the reason and source for the burning of the bridge.
The railroads of south-central Pennsylvania played a huge role in the war effort, conveying tens of thousands of soldiers to Baltimore, from which they would be taken to Washington, D.C. for deployment in Northern Virginia or sent westward to the Shenandoah Valley, West Virginia, or the Western Theater. Massive quantities of coal for the Union Navy, supplies and ammunition for both the Army and Navy, and other war materiel passed over the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Northern Central Railway, the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and other lines. Columbia played a vital role in this transportation network, and the bridge was the key railroad linkage across the Susquehanna.
Click on the image to enlarge it for easier reading. Columbia was once considered as the site for the U.S. capital before it was decided to build a new city, Washington, on land owned then by Maryland and Virginia. The town by the time of the Civil War was a bustling riverfront town, with several large industries including iron ore mining and processing, rolling mills, and shipping / logistics.
RiverTownes PA USA is a non-profit organization formed several years ago by several citizens of three southern Pennsylvania cities along the Susquehanna River, including Wrightsville here in York County and Columbia and Marietta across the wide river in Lancaster County. The organization works to promote the cities for tourism, newcomers, visitors, and current residents. Its mission is “promoting, preserving and enhancing the culture, heritage and related commerce and recreational activities in the Pennsylvania Susquehanna river towns of Columbia, Marietta and Wrightsville and surrounding areas.”
Black Union Army veterans are buried in Columbia’s old African-American Cemetery, which is immediately north of the U.S. 30 viaduct on Fifth Street, west of Linden Avenue. Several Columbians fought at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, while serving in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. The regiment’s actions were recalled in the popular Denzel Washington – Morgan Freeman – Matthew Broderick movie Glory.