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Did you know? 150 Civil War facts about York County, Pa.: Part 1

Union cavalry reenactors pose before the 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Hanover, which was fought primarily in southwestern York County, Pa.

The Civil War was fought from April 1861 through mid-1865 when the final Confederate forces surrendered and efforts began to reconstruct the country. York County, Pennsylvania, played a larger role in the war effort than many current residents may realize. Although rightfully overshadowed by the massive battle in neighboring Adams County, the contributions of Yorkers should not be overlooked or discounted.

In the words of resident Cassandra Small, the events in York “should never be forgotten.” She was referring to the Confederate invasion of 1863, but York County’s rich Civil War heritage needs to be remembered, and through the Cannonball blog and books by an ever growing array of talented researchers and writers throughout the county, the story is being retold for today’s (and tomorrow’s) generation.

In memory and honor of the 68,000 residents of York County during the Civil War years, and to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war, here are 150 Civil War facts about the county, its people, places, events, and lore:

1. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, took three train rides into York County during the Civil War. On November 18, 1863, he took a Northern Central train north from Baltimore through Shrewsbury Station and Glen Rock up to Hanover Junction before heading west to Gettysburg to dedicate the National Cemetery. The following day he reversed his route, steaming into Hanover and Hanover Junction via the Hanover Branch Railroad. His final trip was on April 21, 1865, when his funeral train passed through en route to Springfield, Illinois.

2. More than 5,000 men from York County served in the Union Army (and a handful in the opposing Confederate army). While the typical age range for a soldier in those days was 18 to 45, plenty of teenagers younger than 18 served either with their parents’ permission or by lying about their ages. Older men also served, including Harry Fink who was a fifer in the 87th Pennsylvania while in his mid-50’s.

3. The largest battle in York County occurred in and around Hanover on June 30, 1863, when Confederate cavalry and artillery under famed General J.E.B. Stuart collided with their Union counterparts of General Judson Kilpatrick’s division. Some Hanover residents are reported to have fired at the Rebels from their windows. Kilpatrick was a direct ancestor of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt.

4. William Buel Franklin was the highest ranking Union officer from York County. Born in the borough, he became a major general and led a major portion of the Army of the Potomac at the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. After the war he was an executive with the Colt firearms company. He’s buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery along George Street.

5. York County played a key role in the Underground Railroad in south-central Pennsylvania, with two sites in York recognized by the Federal government as being heavily involved as shelters — the William C. Goodridge house at 123 E. Philadelphia Street and the Samuel Willis house off Willis Road north of the town. Many other sites likely were also stations in the Underground Railroad, but have documentation or have never been submitted to the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom for verification.

6. York County was the site of the first battle in which George Armstrong Custer led a cavalry brigade into combat. Newly promoted from captain to brigadier general, Custer’s Michigan troopers participated in the Battle of Hanover.

7. Railcar manufacturing shops in York produced freight cars which were used in the Northern war efforts. Among the output was a heavily armored railcar which would later be destroyed by the Confederates during the Gettysburg Campaign.

8. Lieutenant Michael S. Slothower of the 87th Pennsylvania was the first officer from York County to die in the Civil War, mortally wounded in the Gettysburg Campaign at Bunker Hill, (West) Virginia on June 14, 1863. The Washington Township native was 26 at the time of his death in the Shenandoah Valley during the Rebel operations near Winchester.

9. One out of every six soldiers in Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia passed through York County on their way to fight at Gettysburg. The 11,000 men included the infantry division of Major General Jubal Early and the cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart.

10. In the election of 1860, Manheim Township residents cast only 2 votes for Abraham Lincoln while giving 174 votes to his Democratic opponents. Much of southwestern York County likewise tended to support the Democrats, which traditionally at the time was viewed as a party catering to the interests of farmers.

11. Sgt. John Henry Denig of York won the Medal of Honor for valor while serving in the Marines in the Civil War. On December 31, 1864, by Navy Department General Order Number 45, Denig was awarded the medal. His citation reads: “On board the U.S.S. Brooklyn during action against rebel forts and gunboats and with the ram Tennessee, in Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Despite severe damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks, Sgt. Denig fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the furious 2-hour battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the damaging and destruction of batteries at Fort Morgan.” Denig is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery.

12. Uriah Seitz Dise, a laborer in Glen Rock, may have been the youngest soldier from York County. He was only 14 when he enlisted in the 101st Pennsylvania Infantry in February 1865.

13. John Schultz likely was the oldest man in the 87th Pennsylvania at the age of 58. Naturally, his fellow soldiers soon nicknamed him “Pap.”

14. Penn Park in downtown York is the site of a large U.S. Army Hospital which operated during the war. More than 14,000 patients received treatment there. They had to feel lucky to have been sent to York because of its outstanding success ratio. Less than 200 men died there in the entire war, a remarkably low percentage. Sanitary conditions, dedicated care, favorable location, and quality medical care contributed to the odds of recovery.

15. One of the Confederate objectives in the Gettysburg Campaign was a Susquehanna River bridge which connected Wrightsville to Columbia. Said to be the longest covered bridge ever built, four Columbia residents set it on fire (under military orders) on June 28, 1863, to prevent Georgia Confederates under Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon from using it to enter Lancaster County.

Much more to come in the next week or so!

In the meantime, visit York County’s Civil War attractions, including The Fiery Trial exhibit at the York County Heritage Trust in York, the Steam into History Civil War steam train in New Freedom, and the Burning of the Bridge Diorama in Wrightsville. All are worth a look!

Photo by Scott Mingus on the Sheppard Farm, July 2, 2013.