Diary entries from a Confederate soldier occupying York, Pa.
In my research for an upcoming book on the Second Battle of Winchester, I found the diary entries of James Edmond Hall, a Confederate soldier in the 31st Virginia’s “Liberty Rifles.” He was a member of the brigade of Brig. Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith, who at the time of the occupation of York was the governor-elect of Virginia.
The 21-year-old Hall, like almost all of the 31st Virginia, hailed from what became West Virginia in June 1863, the same month that Smith’s brigade and the rest of Jubal Early’s division entered York and camped in and around the town of 8,000 people for three days. He had attended what later was West Virginia University in Morgantown, but returned home at the start of the War Between the States and joined a newly organized militia company, the Barbour Greys (which became Company H of the 31st).
Hall kept a diary during the war. He made only two entries related to his brief stay in York, but like so many other Rebels, his was impressed by the beauty of the area.
Here are his entries for June 29 and 30, 1863, adapted from a book on his life by one of his descendants, which was published in 1961 (The Diary of the Confederate Soldier: James E. Hall)…
June 29 . . . For the last few days we have been bearing Northward. Nothing of interest transpired during our coming. We are now encamped at Little York, 22 miles east of Harrisburg. No one has any idea where we will go. Our marches have been quite long and severe. The days now are very long and hot. Beautiful June! How I love to look over those green fields and upon the clear blue sky.
June 30 . . . Left York this morning at daylight, and passed over the same road for 20 miles that we traveled in going to that city. Vast amounts of commissary stores of every description were captured at York. Gen. Early made a requisition on the Mayor of the city for #100,000 in money. It was immediately paid, and much of it was afterward expended in payment for horses.
July 1, 1863 … Had a fight today at Gettysburg.
It is interesting how much ink York got versus Day One at Gettysburg. Of course, Smith’s brigade did very little on July 1 other than create controversy, which I cover in my upcoming biography of Smith, the oldest Confederate general at Gettysburg.