Confederate colonel’s diary described “triumphal entry” into York
It was the bright, sunny Sunday morning of June 28, 1863.
The macadamized turnpike west of York, Pennsylvania, was a beehive of activity as Virginia cavalrymen and advance scouts scurried from barn to barn and field to field seeking to confiscate fresh horses from frightened Pennsylvania farmers.
Behind these Confederate foragers marched the dust-choked, road-weary soldiers of the 31st Georgia Volunteer Infantry, some of whom were barefoot and bleeding from the sharp stones on the packed gravel roadway. They were the vanguard of more than 1,800 infantrymen from six regiments of Georgia infantry, plus six artillery pieces from Virginia and their associated limbers, caissons, and ammunition wagons.
Brigadier General John Brown Gordon, a pre-war businessman and attorney, commanded the brigade. At the helm of the 31st Georgia rode a fiery Methodist preacher and talented public speaker and writer named Clement Anselm Evans.
Evans was the charismatic colonel of the 31st. He was a much beloved commander, a natural leader who treated his soldiers well and had gained their admiration for both his caring attitude and his battlefield tactical prowess. A teetotaler and family man, Evans was articulate, well-educated, and well-mannered. He was also a passionate defender of states’ rights.
The young officer recorded his time in York County in his diary. Here are excerpts, as published in the October 25, 1957, issue of the Gettysburg Times newspaper.
“June 27, Saturday. Marched out of Gettysburg in the direction of York. Encamped at a little town of two stores [the village of Farmers Post Office along what is today U.S. Route 30 a few miles west of York].
“June 28, Sunday. Triumphal entry into York. I was sent ahead to establish a guard and preserve order in the town. The troops passed through in admirable order. Before marching through I took down the U.S. colors which were flying over the town at the Market place. [Two large wooded, open-sided market sheds then existed in Centre Square at the intersection of Market and George streets]. A very large stand of colors. [18’x35′] Citizens in the streets dressed in their best all full of curiosity to see the Rebels.
“Marched through towards Wrightsville. Reached the enemy’s position. In attempting to get his position we frightened them all off — all militia who ran as fast as possible and burnt the bridge.
“Town on fire. Rebel regiments which had marched 25 miles that day worked to stop the fire. Tear down houses and at last the fire stops after burning 6 to 8 hours. Wrightsville was a scene of confusion and excitement. But the splendid behavior of the rebel troops soon restored order. I again guarded the town.
“June 29, Monday. Marched back to York. [the 31st camped west of town on a farm along the Carlisle Road].
“June 30, Tuesday. Marched in the direction of Chambersburg. Encamped near Heidlersburg. Long weary march.”
As Clement Evans bedded down that pleasant summer evening, little did the young colonel know that on the morrow he and his men would face one of the toughest battles of the entire War Between the States.
For much more on youthful Confederate Col. Clement Evans and his interesting diary of the Gettysburg Campaign, pick up a copy of Scott Mingus’ best-selling book, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863 (El Dorado Hills, California: Savas Beatie, 2011).