Confederates raid Hanover Junction
The Junction Hotel, seen above in this December 2008 photograph, was among the small cluster of buildings that made up the hamlet of Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, on June 27, 1863, as the veteran 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry approached following the railroad and nearby roads.
The junction was defended by Lt. Col. William Sickles, who was destined to have the worst week of his military career (perhaps of his entire life). Little did he know as the howling Confederates headed toward his line of nervous, inexperienced militia that within days, he would lose Hanover Junction, walk to Wrightsville, be captured there by John B. Gordon‘s Georgians, be censured by his superiors in the press and public record as a coward, and then break his leg when he fell off a railroad handcar after being paroled by the Rebels. It was certainly a bad few days for the star-crossed officer.
Before his eyes, the Rebel attack unfolded, and his men hit the panic button…
Although the exact configuration of Sickles’ defensive line is open to conjecture, as he left no maps or detailed plans, it is likely that he spread his 200+ men in an arc to defend the approaches from the Hanover Branch Railroad and the Junction Road. Several of the men likely lined a northern-facing wooden fence near the South Branch of the Codorus Creek. it would have protected any approach along the Northern Central Railway and from Seven Valley. A few men may have patrolled the road leading south to Glen Rock.
About 2:00 PM, White’s whooping, pistol-firing men galloped toward the stationhouse as Sickles’ line collapsed almost immediately. Terrified militiamen raced across the shallow valley eastward to their nearby hilltop fortifications. Some accounts suggest a single shot was fired from a small cannon Sickles had placed in his works.
Many of the soldiers of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia may have crossed the Codorus at or near this location, immediately east of the Hanover Junction railroad bridge. They regrouped and watched the ensuing spectacle as the Rebels burned railcars, torched the round table and some small rail yard buildings, severed telegraph lines, and rode around Hanover Junction firing their pistols in celebration. Coal oil was poured on the wooden bridge over the Codorus; it was soon engulfed in flames.
Some Rebels entered the John Scott Hotel and began draining the locally made whiskey. After Scott protested that the Rebels were no gentlemen, an officer (perhaps Lt. Col. Elijah V. White) halted the festivities and posted armed guards to protect the establishment.
A southbound locomotive managed to steam away from the junction toward Glen Rock and Baltimore; the aging telegrapher leaped on board as it departed. White detained his 16-year-old apprentice John Shearer until the Rebel merriment was completed in the late afternoon.
Another view of the field crossed by the 20th PVM in its retreat as White attacked. View taken from Maple Street. Only one contemporary Confederate account of the raid is known to exist. Captain Frank Myers, in his classic book The Comanches, simply reported that the Yankees fled to their entrenchments about 2 miles from the junction; he greatly exaggerated their strength in his brief commentary. A careful reading of his text suggests his company may not have been present for the attack as it is all third person, and he is badly mistaken on at least two key points that an eyewitness might have been more accurate.
White’s men may have followed the Northern Central Railway (left to right in the photo) and/or Maple Street (foreground) to reach Seven Valley about 5:00 PM, where he sent patrols farther northeast (perhaps Myers’ company) to scout the Union defenses at the Howard Tunnel, Reynolds’ Mill, and Brillhart Station (they were too heavily defended, so a planned attack was canceled). Some of White’s men paused to raid the Henry Fishel farm, where they discovered 46 barrels of York County rye whiskey.
In the evening, White passed through Jefferson and encamped on the John WIest farm at Spring Forge. His raid had been a temporary success; the U.S. Military Railroad had the bridge at Hanover Junction and the railroad operational in just a few days.