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Confederate camp sites in the York County region

When not on campaign, Civil War troops (particularly the Federals) had semi-permanent camps with tents and log structures. While on the road, they made do without these luxuries. For the Rebels on the march to Pennsylvania, the camp was usually a piece of grass, an old blanket, and the starry sky. (Library of Congress)

Recently I posted a message and photograph of the John Wiest house/tavern in Spring Grove, which was used as a Confederate campsite during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign. Some of you have inquired as to the locations of other CSA camps and headquarters during the Confederate invasion, so I will begin a series of occasional articles on the topic. First, some basic information to help set the table for this new series…

A typical infantry column, walking on improved roads that were not muddy or excessively steep or uneven, could generally average about 2 miles per hour of marching. Officers often would call 10-minute halts every 2-3 hours, plus a lunch break, depending upon the circumstances and the presence (if any) of enemy troops nearby. A normal day on the road might see a hike of more than 20 miles, but seldom more than 25 miles unless there were extreme necessities.

The typical campsite on the march would have been in open pastureland or light groves of trees (preferable), with a source of fresh water nearby (a stream or creek, typically). The Rebels rarely had tents, especially on this march when General Early had ordered all camp wagons and extraneous supply wagons to be left behind in Chambersburg. Hence, few officers or men had tents. Most simply bedded down in the grass or crop fields, destroying them for the summer harvest and of course angering the farmers (most of whom never received compensation). Nearby fence rails were often torn down for fuel, or small trees would be chopped up for firewood. Foraging parties might go out to collect food from local farms and houses.

The camp alignment was by brigade, subdivided into separate sites for each regiment and company therein. By then, regiments (and campsites) were much smaller than earlier in the war, as disease and attrition had generally far outstripped the number of replacement soldiers. Each “mess” of four soldiers usually would maintain their own campfire for warmth, although at times one per company was sufficient for cooking. Soldiers would cook their dinners, boil water for coffee, inspect their equipment, and relax before turning in for the night. Usually, at first light, they would break camp and be back on the wearisome road within an hour or two past dawn.

The Confederate advance guard — Jubal Early’s Division — camped June 25 in Greenwood, a village near Fayetteville (between Cashtown and Chambersburg just west of Black Gap in South Mountain). They hiked to Gettysburg and Mummasburg and camped in that vicinity on June 26. The following day saw the approach though eastern Adams County toward York County, and individual campsites were established at Spring Grove (the forementioned White’s Battalion of cavalry, screening the right or southern flank), John B. Gordon’s column of infantry, artillery, and a company of cavalry at Farmers (along today’s Route 30), and the bulk of Early’s division around Big Mount.

Early’s campsite was, of course, the largest in terms of area and the number of troops (more than 4,500 men). Most of the fields west of Big Mount were filled with tired Confederates. Their exact disposition is unknown but it is probable that the 17th Virginia Cavalry camped the farthest east, perhaps as much as a half-mile east of the village itself. Early had been directly riding with the cavalry that day instead of back with the infantry column, and it is known he slept that night at the Widow Zinn house.

The three infantry brigades (Hays’ Louisiana Tigers, Avery’s North Carolinians, and Smith’s Virginia brigade) rested west of town, centered around the creek for water. Given time, I will take some photos of what I believe to be the most likely spots for this large encampment. Keep in mind that it is private property, and metal detecting for Rebel relics is strictly forbidden without written permission from the landowners.