Early’s Raid – Skinny Dippin’ in the Codorus
A typical old swimming hole from the 1930s
When I was a kid, our southeastern Ohio village was uniquely blessed with a very popular regional tourist attraction known as Lake Isabella. A sprawling complex of former limestone quarries, the Columbia Cement Company spent huge amounts of cash to dam a nearby creeek and convert the former quarries into a horseshoe-shaped lake, with shelter houses, a dance hall, recreational facililties, basketball and tennis courts, shuffleboard, boat docks, a marina, and best of all, a very nice swimming area replete with a diving board, a high dive tower, and a distant metal raft to rest upon after distance swims. It was a fantasy, as we lived on the bluff overlooking the lake, and I spent my youthful summers at the complex.
We also had an old-fashioned watering hole at the nearby Jonathan Creek, where some people would go skinny-dipping, an act obviously forbidden at the Lake Isabella beach. Somebody fixed up a rope and old tire, and swinging out over the hole and jumping in became popular.
Somewhat similar to my hometown of East Fultonham, York in 1863 had its own two water attractions, as we will see from the latest entry from M. L. Van Barman’s 1911 recollection of the Gettysburg Campaign and Jubal Early’s Raid.
“During the Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, it was the custom of the boys, of which I was one, to wander along the banks of the Codorus [Creek] at a location known as Laurel Rocks and Indian Steps, bathing places for boys. At these points, the rattle of musketry and booming of cannon during the engagement could be distinctly heard.”
The ithought of a bunch of naked or semi-naked young boys whooping it up splashing around these swimming holes while listening all day to the sounds of America’s greatest military battle conjured up a lot of memories for me, as we young Buckeyes used to “play army” at our creekside repast. We would pick up sticks as rifles, divide into sides, and stage mock creekside battles, with the most fun shooting down the person swinging on the tire rope, who would “die” most gloriously as he plunged in various fake contortions into the chilly water.
As Van Barman and his playmates swam and frolicked in the water, the sounds they heard meant real death and destruction for tens of thousands of men, some not much older than the York boys. For hundreds of men who had tramped through the York vicinity during Early’s Raid, the picnic-like atmosphere, the fresh bread and roasted beef, the parade through York, and the York County whiskey had been replaced by the grave or the torture of long hours of lying in agony in once obsure fields and woods or in the temporary field hospitals.
In the next entry, Van Barman will examine the question of whether or not York should have surrendered to the Confederates.