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Common (and not so common!) myths of the Gettysburg Campaign: Part 2


Background: Part 1

7) Abraham Lincoln wrote part of his Gettysburg Address on the train while at Hanover Junction — One old account says that a small boy peeked into the window while Lincoln’s train was parked at Hanover Junction, Pa., while awaiting the belated arrival of a southbound train carrying the governor of Pennsylvania. The boy said that Lincoln was sitting with his hat on his lap, using it as a desk while writing on some papers. However, eyewitness accounts from those on the train do not mention him writing. He spent time conversing with the mayor of Boston and other politicians before laying down to rest. Most historians believe he wrote the early part of his speech in Washington (on White House stationary) and put the finishing touches on it at the David Willis house in Gettysburg.

8) York’s Chief Burgess cowardly proposed surrendering the town to Jubal Early instead of resisting passively or actively — In reality, while York indeed did allow the Rebels to arrive without any resistance, Chief Burgess David Small did not initiate the idea. His hand was in effect forced when a young businessman named A. B. Farquhar arrived at a meeting of town leaders who were discussing what to do if the Rebels arrived. On his own initiative, Farquhar proposed “that it would be well to meet the Confederates before they entered the town—that we could make a good deal better bargain with them then than we could after they saw how little of our property we had been able to remove to a place of safety.” A local attorney liked the plan, if they could find someone to go and if the Rebel would keep any resulting bargain. The confident Farquhar believed they would and thought he could make such an arrangement. His plan “was not seriously entertained,” so “then I told them I would take the responsibility of going anyhow—which I did.” David Small and other leaders stayed put to await the results of Farquhar’s unofficial visit with Confederate leaders. Small would later be ridiculed in many Northern Republican newspapers for cowardice, while Farquhar’s role escaped national attention.

9) Gettysburg was strategically important to the Confederates, and Robert E. Lee planned to fight the battle there all along — While Gettysburg’s central location near the border and its network of ten roads made it a perfect place to concentrate armies, holding it was never in the Confederate plan. Major General Jubal Early captured the town in a series of skirmishes on June 26, 1863, seized supplies and food from the citizens, and then promptly marched away early the next morning. There is no evidence that he or his men expected to return to Gettysburg. Their orders were to march to York, and then concentrate at Dillsburg in northwestern York County. As late as June 29, before Lee’s recall orders to his scattered corps, he was planning to move A. P. Hill’s entire corps through Gettysburg to York, according to the Official Records. Lee surely knew from maps of the roads in the Gettysburg, Cashtown, Heidlersburg area and may have considered the locale as an alternative position for a fight, but he posted no troops there to hold the region.


10) The Rebels wore ragged, dirty uniforms during the battle of Gettysburg — this one is true for some regiments, but the majority of men of Ewell’s corps had been in Pennsylvania for more than a week and had liberally visited clothing stores. In downtown York, testimony from post-war border claims reveals that Early’s division took hundreds of new shirts and trousers, and left piles of old clothes in their camps and along the streets. Many were dressed quite well in the latest fashions (including imported silk shirts!) procured in Pennsylvania towns. The merchants of Chambersburg, Carlisle, York, and Hanover in particular took a severe financial loss. However, marching on the dusty macadamized roads would have soon coated the new clothes with a layer of fine limestone powder.

11) The Rebels respected private property in strict adherence to Lee’s orders — Again, this is partially true. Many Confederate officers commented on how little the marching columns disturbed the countryside (Jubal Early and John Gordon are prime examples of these commentators). However, many Pennsylvanians would have disagreed. Early burned the privately owned Caledonia Iron Works, and his men wantonly vandalized a number of houses in Adams and York counties. Fence rails were taken down and burned as firewood; fields trampled; and one CSA account from a North Carolinian occupying York tells of men wantonly stealing what they wanted from houses on a lark and then leaving piles of booty behind in the streets when the division marched away to go fight at Gettysburg. It must be noted, however, that destruction and thievery accompanied both armies and got increasingly worse in 1864 when military officers in both blue and gray began openly ordering the destruction of private property.

12) Pennsylvania civilians hung several straggling Confederates in the days before the battle of Gettysburg — there are a handful of stories from Georgia soldiers in John Gordon’s brigade of this occurring, but the tales are not corroborated by either civilian accounts or military records. Bushwhacking was a real problem, however, and there are known accounts of Pennsylvanians taking potshots at passing Rebels or at stragglers. One Louisiana Tiger, Charles Brown, perished at Big Mount; his service records suggest he was “murdered by the citizens of York County, Pa.” In another celebrated account a few days earlier, a cavalryman named Eli Amick died from a gunshot on June 26 while riding through the mountain passes west of Gettysburg along the turnpike to Chambersburg. An incensed General Early threatened to burn the nearby village of Cashtown unless the perpetrator(s) came forward; cooler heads finally prevailed. Colonel Clement A. Evans of the 31st Georgia wrote in his diary that his men kept close together in march order in fear of straggling and encountering bushwhackers.