Early’s Raid – The retreat
Civil War messages were conveyed by telegraph where the service was available, but most often were delivered in person by mounted couriers. A messenger sent from Carlisle by Richard Ewell rode through northern York County down to York to find Major General Jubal Early and give him updated orders, cutting short his raid.
Confederate general Jubal Early had planned to seize the long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville, march his veteran division into Lancaster County, and threaten Harrisburg from the rear. This was in contrast to his original orders to destroy the bridge and then march to Dillsburg to link up with the rest of Richard Ewell’s corps. However, in the early evening of June 28, 1863, “Old Jube’s” plans were thwarted by the state militia’s burning of the bridge. High water prevented any possibility of simply fording the rain-swollen river.
As we pick up York resident M. L. Van Barman’s narrative, it is late afternoon on Monday, June 29. John Gordon’s brigade is marching back to York, having passed through Hallam after leaving Wrightsville and the smoldering bridge. The Lousiana Tigers and Extra Billy Smith’s brigades are camped between Loucks Road and Emigsville, along with artillery on the heights along the Codorus Creek. I. E. Avery’s North Carolinans patrol downtown York, and more cannons frowning from Webb’s Hill south of town. Jubal Early has threatened to burn certasin railroad buildings if York does not fully comply with a ransom he has levied on the town, and he is meeting with York authorities. A few railcars and small shops are already on fire.
However, events in Maryland will now change forever the course of the Gettysburg Campaign, even as Early argues with one of the railroad officials…
“While this discussion was going on, which was rather heated, especially on the part of Mr. Hopkins and General Early, a courier arrived in great haste with a dispatch from General Ewell for General Early stating that the Federal army, [now] under General Meade, was crossing the Potomac to intercept General Lee, and that he should retrace his steps immediately. General Early gave immediate orders for a general retreat, the preparation of which could be seen all that Monday evening and night.
On the following Tuesday morning, the 30th, about 5 o’clock, the last of the invaders, General Early and his staff, left Center Square on their way to join General Lee at Gettysburg [note: the orders were to march to Heidlersburg, not Gettysburg], where the great invasion of the Confederates was terminated in favor of the Union forces, and the star of the southern confederacy gradually went down and finally became extinct at Appomattox.
No one but those who were eyewitnesses to the occupation of York can have any conception to the anxiety and suspense of our people during these two days’ occupation, which was relieved by their departure on Tuesday morning, June 30.”
In the next installment, Van Barman, then a young lad, describes hearing the sounds of the Battle of Gettysburg.