Confederates marvel at region’s rich agriculture
Advertisement from a June 1863 issue of the Gettysburg Compiler showing one of the new pieces of mechanical farm equipments coming into use by the farmers of southern Pennsylvania. In this case, the Wible farm would be used as a field hospital following the Battle of Gettysburg. There is no record if the mower was present at the time, but it is likely.
For much of my 30 years in industry, I have frequently traveled, sometimes as much as 30-35% of the business days, including 42 states and 18 countries. I have been privileged to see most of the United States and Western Europe, as well as Japan and other captivating places. Growing up in a small community in rural southeastern Ohio, I have always maintained a strong interest in the farming techniques and farmsteads of the places I visit.
The same was true in the summer of 1863 as Confederates from North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland paid a visit to York County during the midst of the Gettysburg Campaign. A study of the enlistment rolls for the regiments of Jubal Early’s division and J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division reveal that the majority of the Rebel infantrymen and troopers were pre-war farmers.
Naturally, the agriculture of the southern tier of the Keystone State held special interest for these tillers of the soil, who marveled at the rich topsoil in PA, the huge barns, and the new fangled mechanical farm implements they encountered as they passed through the region.
1939 photo of rural York County by Marion Wolcott.
Captain William J. Seymour was adjutant general of the First Louisiana Brigade (the feared Louisiana Tigers) of Early’s Division. Standing on a hilltop above where today’s Harley Davidson factory is in York, he surveyed the prosperous scene and recorded in his diary, The surrounding country was in a high state of cultivation and from our camp presented a beautiful appearance with its immense fields of golden grain that flashed in the sunlight – dotted here and there with neat little cottages and substantially built barns which were literally bursting with wheat, oats & corn.” Fellow Louisianan William Lyon reported that land between Gettysburg and York along the turnpike (now U.S. Route 30) was “the most beautiful and highly cultivated country that I ever saw. It was literally a land of plenty.”
One unknown Georgian in Gordon’s Brigade wrote to a Savannah newspaper that “the region was only distinguished for “its immense fields of waving grain ripened for the harvest” and its “nice large cherries, Dutch farmers, and ugly females.” Another member of the same brigade commented that it was a “most beautiful and highly cultivated country… Everything that science could furnish had been applied to a soil already fertile. The houses were neat and well built. Everything was in the most perfect order, and everything that man or beast could want abounded in the greatest plenty.”
Over in Franklin County, the story was much the same as here in York and Adams counties. One North Carolina soldier wrote, “There is no danger of our suffering for anything to eat in this campaign, for I have seen more wheat in the last three weeks than I ever saw in all my life together before. The whole face of the earth is one big wheat lot.” Another soldier commented, the area was “so thickly settled that we were continually traveling in the suburbs of some city it seemed.” The locals “live in substantial brick or stone dwellings generally, and on every farm you may see commodious and elegant barn…. Small grain is the staple, wheat, rye, barley and oats.” He marveled that “more luxuriant fields of wheat cannot be imagined and when we were there it was fully ripe and falling down.”
I have read scores of similar accounts from Confederates (and many from passing Yankees as well) who were shocked by the richness of central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. This area was truly a “breadbasket” and “cornucopia” of abundance, and one Georgian remarked “such oceans of bread I have never seen before” as he entered houses along the turnpike to helpo himself to fresh baked goods and food.