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Confederate artillery ringed York, Pa., in the Gettysburg Campaign

Modern Reservoir Park is on a hilltop just south of York, Pennsylvania. The park, originally part of the York Water Company’s reservoir and surroundings, is a popular spot for dog-walking and strolling. Back during the Civil War, this hill, known as Webb’s Hill, provided an excellent vantage point for Confederate artillery.

On Sunday, June 28, 1863, Major General Jubal A. Early led his division of the Army of Northern Virginia into the York region. By early afternoon, his Rebel troops occupied much of the town and surrounding countryside.

Early, a Virginia native, unlimbered artillery batteries on two commanding hills, one north of York and on Webb’s Hill to the south.

The appearance of Webb’s Hill (also known as Reservoir Hill and Shenk’s Hill) has changed rather dramatically since the Civil War. The contours have been leveled and terraced in places for a series of lovely, well-kempt homes, and roads criss-cross the slopes. The reservoir, of course, is post-war as all almost all of the structures in the general vicinity. Back in 1863, much of the hilltop was clear and open pasture land, with an unobstructed view of downtown York.

It was here that Captain Asher W. Garber unlimbered his quartet of 12-pounder Napoleon guns. These relatively short-range guns were often most effective for defensive purposes, but they provided a deterrent to York’s residents in case of any resistance to General Early’s ransom demands ($100,000 and three days of various supplies and food for his men).

Garber’s battery which deployed somewhere along the commanding hill was from Staunton, Virginia, in the scenic Shenandoah Valley. The Staunton Artillery had a solid combat record and its men were mostly veterans of multiple battles. The battery would remain on the hilltop for the next couple of days while Early’s division occupied York. The precise location of Garber’s campsite is not now known but likely was somewhere on the heights immediately south of the gun positions, and likely was near Grantley Road.

1893 depiction of Webb’s Hill. Young Billy O’Donovan and the Staunton Artillery were posted here during the Rebel occupation of York.

This 1852 view, courtesy of the York County Heritage Trust, shows the relative height of Webb’s Hill as it towers just south of York. The road in the foreground is the old Harrisburg Pike, now known as N. George Street.

The view of the town from the heights must have been impressive for the Valley boys. A couple of them decided the allure of York was much greater than the prospects of remaining in the Confederate army. They apparently slipped into York and were not present for their next roll call. In fact, they were not seen again by their comrades.

Looking north toward York from Webb’s Hill (YDR’s York Town Square blog).

Fellow blogger Jim McClure first posted the above photo on his very popular York Town Square blog. It is an 1893 photograph from the “Art Work of York,” published by the W.H. Parish Publishing Co. and shows the general view that Garber’s artillerymen would have had of York and the nearby farmland.

During Robert E. Lee’s retreat to Virginia following the Battle of Gettysburg, an angry Captain Garber wrote a letter back home to his sister. “[James] W. Fallon — I sent out an inquiry about him,” he mentioned. “Him & Michael Duneghee [Donaghee] deserted the company in York City and have not been heard of since.”

Captain Asher Waterman Garber (1835 – 1912) was a machinist before the Civil War. At the start of the war, he was elected as a second lieutenant in the Staunton Artillery. He survived a wound at First Manassas and returned to duty. In 1862, he assumed temporary command of the battery and led it during the Peninsula Campaign. In December of that year, Garber received his captaincy and permanent command of the Staunton Artillery. He became a prisoner of war at Spotsylvania but escaped and rejoined his battery. He was to survive another wound before finally surrendering with the remnants of his men at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

After the war, Garber stayed in Virginia. He died April 21, 1912, in Richmond and is buried in that city’s Hollywood Cemetery.