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Early’s Raid – Ransom!

York’s old county courthouse served as the temporary headquarters for the Confederate army division that occupied York in June 1863.
In several previous posts, we have looked at the Confederate invasion of York through the eyes of resident M. L. Van Barman, in an account not fully republished since 1911. Backgrounds posts: Introduction, Jubal Early arrives in Gettysburg, The Rebels Approach York, Farquhar Steps Up, York “Surrenders” at Farmers.

My wife and I enjoy popping a DVD into the player and watching movies together, a joy we indulge in a couple of times a week. We recently watched Denzel Washington’s interesting movie Man on Fire, in which he plays a downtrodden bodyguard assigned to protect a little girl in Mexico from political kidnappers. He initially fails, and she is taken and held for ransom. Eventually, as with many Hollywood flicks, she is released and the movie has a happy ending. Unfortunately, ransom money has been around almost as long as humanity, The paying of tribute money was a common practice in the ancient Middle East, where an invading army might be dissuaded from sacking a village or town through the payment of crops, slaves, gold, or other valuables. That practice was still intact during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign.
Here is Van Barman’s account of Jubal Early’s ransom of York…

“About noon General Early with his staff arrived and proceeded to the courthouse, where the committee of safety was in session, with Mr. Small, Chief Burgess, presiding. He [Early] was dressed in a new gray uniform and a black slouch hat, in which was a black ostrich feather. When he entered the session, he repeated his demand and requisition previously made to the committee, and had it placed in writing as follows:
165 barrels of flour or 28,000 pounds of baked bread
3,500 pounds of sugar
1,650 pounds of coffee
300 gallons of molasses
1,200 pounds of salt
32,000 pounds of fresh beef or 21,000 pounds of bacon or pork
The above to be delivered to the market house on Main street at 4 p.m. Signed by William W. Thornton, Captain, A. C. S. [Army of the Confederate States]
In addition to the above, the following was made for the use of General Early’s command: 2,000 pairs of shoes or boots, 1,000 pairs of socks, 1,000 felt hats, and $100,000 in U.S. money. Signed by C. E. Snodgrass, Major, and Chief Quartermaster, Early’s Division, approved by J. A. Early, Major General in command. Signed June 28, 1863.
Some discussion took place between him and the committee when it was finally concluded that they would do the very best they could. Samuel Small, Sr., Henry Welsh, Peter McIntyre and Thomas White were appointed a committee to canvass and solicit among our business men and others of means, food, etc. to fill the required requisition. They succeeded in raising between $28,000 and $30,000 in money and about $15,000 or $18,000 in provisions, clothing, shoes, etc.
General Early’s headquarters were established in the courthouse in the sheriff’s office during the occupation. On Monday, the 29th, about noon, General Early began to complain that the demand laid down by him was not being filled as rapidly as he desired. In order to facilitate matters he started down to the depot on North Duke street, with the intention of, or at least threatening to burn the Northern Central Railroad [Railway] corner shops, and Messrs. Billmyer and Small’s shops, together with those of Messrs. Pflieger, Hess, and Nevin, which were all in the same vicinity. He said it had been reported to him that these shops were furnishing cars to the government. Samuel Small, Sr., David Small, and Mr. Farquhar tried to convince him that this was not the case and that by burning the shops it would endanger the whole northern portion of the borough, and that he would be violating the which he entered into to not destroy private property. This discussion took place in the office of James Hopkins, who was superintendent of the railroad company’s interests here, a very aristocratic and emphatic official but a perfect gentleman.”
In the next installment, Jubal Early receives some unexpected orders from Robert E. Lee…