Dover doctor’s office served as Confederate HQ
A view of the northwestern corner of the main intersection in Dover, Pennsylvania. In the 19th century, the town (and surrounding township) had a significant population of citizens with German heritage, including a Mrs. Forscht, who owned the white house.
The sturdy red brick building was the office of Dr. John Ahl, which was the Confederates’ business office during their half-day stay in Dover on July 1, 1863. Here, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton fired off dispatches via couriers, and later supervised the parole of 230 Yankees, including 21 men captured at the Battle of Hanover. Ahl’s house was a beehive of activity, with a long line of Union prisoners lining the pavement awaiting their turn to sign the papers that promised they would not take up arms again until they were properly exchanged. They would be sent down into York, where they would be generously fed by the citizenry.
Dr. Ahl never filed any border claim for any damage to his property or theft, so it would appear that Hampton and his staff kept a tight rein on their men (and on the prisoners who paraded before them).
Who was Dr. John Ahl?
John Ahl is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in North York, Pennsylvania. I believe his resting place should be marked as part of the formal tour of the graves of important Civil War personalities. Photo submitted by long-time Cannonball reader Ron Bupp, who is researching the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry for a manuscript he is developing. Readers are encouraged to send me any any pictures of ancestors in the 130th, their stories and anecdotes, copies of any letters, etc. and I will make sure to forward them directly to Ron.
John Ahl, M. D. was a native of York. He was born April 15, 1822, a son of Peter and Mary (Stroman) Ahl. His mother was a daughter of ex-Sheriff Stroman of York County, and her family was of German descent. His father Peter Ahl, Jr. was born in Virginia and is also of German descent. He came migrated to York as a young man and found employment as a butcher (he lived in town when the Confederates occupied York. Peter died in 1874, and his wife the following year). Peter Ahl, John’s grandfather, was a native of Germany and came to America prior to the Revolutionary War, in which he was a military surgeon.
Dr. Ahl was educated at the public schools and York County Academy. He began the study of medicine in 1842 under Dr. William McIlvain, of York, and ten attended Washington University, of Maryland, and graduated in 1845. He was married November 6, 1853, to Mrs. Elizabeth A. Cone of Baltimore County, Md., daughter of Samuel Cone. Politically he was a Democrat and was elected first coroner of York County about 1849, serving two terms.
Ahl initially established his practice in York, where, he was assisted briefly by his brother Dr. David Ahl, an 1846 West Point graduate who moved in 1854 to Newville, Pennsylvania. During the Civil War, David Ahl was an army surgeon who was credited with saving the arm of a badly injured General John Geary, later a Governor of Pennsylvania.
Later in 1846, John Ahl moved to Dover, where he lived for the next 20 years. He was a commissioner of the company that was planning the Dover and York Turnpike and Plank Road. His Dover practice prospered and he became one of the leading citizens of the village. On July 1, 1863, more than 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen under Major General J.E.B. Stuart camped in and around Dover after leaving Hanover and Jefferson. They were trying to locate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell‘s infantry, and some Dover citizen reported that Ewell had last been seen in Carlisle to the northwest. To quicken his march, Stuart ordered the release of 230 prisoners of war, most of which had been captured in skirmishes in Maryland. Ahl’s office was a convenient spot on the town square to process the prisoners and the necessary paperwork for their paroles. The process took most of the morning and the line was lengthy in the bright morning sunshine.
In 1866, Dr. Ahl was succeeded by young Dr. Jacob M. Gross, who later purchased a tract of land on West Canal Street on April 1, 1876. Ahl’s empty lot then became the site of what is today the Dover United Church of Christ. Gross maintained the medical practice in the red brick house on the square until 1929. Their combined medical records have been archived.
Ahl was again elected in 1878, and again served two terms. In 1884, he took an active role in relief efforts in York following a disastrous flood of Codorus Creek. He raised prize-winning dahlias, which are mentioned in some of the agricultural journals of the late 1800s.
At the time of his death, Dr. Ahl was the oldest resident physician then practicing in York. He was an active member of the Masons for thirty years. During his long career, he mentored and trained several medical students, including Dr. Israel P. Leckrone of Dover.
Adapted from various sources, including the book, “History of York County, Illustrated 1886,” by John Gibson.