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Confederate campsite: 17th Virginia Cavalry

Confederate cavalry camped on June 28-30 on this hill overlooking the village of Emigsville, Pa. and the nearby York and Liverpool Turnpike (now George Street) and the Northern Central Railway. The horse soldiers had come down the pike the afternoon of the 28th after burning two railroad bridges over the Conewago Creek near York Haven. This was the 17th Virginia Cavalry, commanded by Col. William H. French, and reporting to Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early.

As Jim McClure and I collect information for our manuscript, Civil War Voices from York County, Pa.: Remembering the Rebellion and the Gettysburg Campaign, we have been fortunate to receive dozens of previously unknown primary accounts from eyewitnesses to the war. These include letters, diaries, journal entries, reminiscences, and unpublished manuscripts. So many of these new sources add to our overall knowledge base of what transpired in York County during the Gettysburg Campaign, and what the soldiers and civilians from this region were thinking and doing throughout the entire war. This has been one of my most satisfying and rewarding experiences of my writing career, for I believe it is rare for a pair of historians to uncover so much fresh material in such a short time span.

Among the accounts is an old transcript of an interview with a resident of Emigsville, Pennsylvania, Sallie (Emig) Rutter. Descended from the founders of Emigsville, she married into the family that founded what became the Rutter’s chain of gasoline stations and convenience stores.

Much of the hilltop is covered with townhouses and condominiums and is the most likely place where the Rebels would have camped. This field remains intact on the southern slope, but it is not known if any of the men were specifically on this side of the low hill. It is likely, as the regiment contained more than 200 men (some evidence from the York County damage claims suggest that at least one part of the regiment camped east of York along the road to Wrightsville; historians know that Company C accompanied Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon to the Susquehanna River in a foiled attempt to seize control of the Columbia Bridge.).

Sallie Emig, as a young girl, watched as her father John discharged a pistol into the air to unload it. He did not realize that the Confederates had arrived and taken possession of the nearby hill (her parents’ farm was in the general vicinity of the foreground of the first photograph). A Rebel fired a return shot and then several galloped their horses down to the farm. She noted they were on Emigsville Hill above the town, not far from the blacksmith shop.

For the rest of the interesting story, stay tuned for announcements of the publication of the new book!

Damage claims filed after the war by Emigsville residents confirm the presence of “a large body of cavalry” camped in the woods near this hill and “on the hill above the town.” The only known cavalry in this vicinity was the 17th Virginia, which was raised mostly in what is now West Virginia. Just down the road on a series of heights were campsites of three regiments of Virginia infantry under Brig. Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith, the subject of a new biography I have written (Savas Beatie, autumn 2011). They were camped along the old turnpike which led from York to Liverpool (now Manchester) and eventually on to Harrisburg.

Colecraft Industries of Orrtanna, Pa. is the publisher of Civil War Voices; we are expecting it to be in print in April 2011 for the start of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The cover art is now almost finished, and Jim and I have 90% of the text written. There is still time for you to submit your ancestors’ stories, which we welcome!

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As a reminder, this hilltop is all private property. Trespassing to explore for any remaining relics of the Virginians is forbidden without express permission.

An old shot of the John Emig farm, where Sallie and her father unexpectedly encountered the 17th Virginia Cavalry. Note the low wooded hill in the upper left of the photo; compare that to the first photo. The old farm is now an industrial park, and modern construction made it impossible for me to get the exact same camera angle. I was trying for a “now & then” type composition. Vintage photo courtesy of Dianne Bowders.