Extra Billy’s boys devastated North York farm
Today, thousands of motorists travel through the intersection of U.S. Route 30 (Loucks Road) and N. George Street in North York and Manchester Township, York County, PA. Few, if any, are aware that back in late June 1863, during the height of the Gettysburg Campaign, more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers camped near this now bustling area. At the time, it was decidedly pastoral, dotted with tidy farms and several grist mills, with an abundant supply of fresh water and plenty of lush meadows and glistening fields of ripe oats, corn, and hay. It was, by all accounts, a bucolic setting.
Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early’s division approached York in two powerful columns. During the early morning of Sunday, June 28, 1863, 1,800 Georgia infantry, fronted by cavalry and trailed by artillery, tramped eastward from Farmers Post Office along the Gettysburg-York Turnpike (now Routes 30 and 462). They marched through York with their flags flying and bands playing starting at 10 a.m. and headed on toward Wrightsville to seize the covered bridge there. Some two hours later, the vitriolic General Early led the rest of his division (some 4,600 additional soldiers) south through Emigsville on what is today N. George Street (then the Harrisburg Road).
He had earlier dispatched the 200-man 17th Virginia Cavalry northward through Mount Wolf to burn two railroad bridges south of York Haven. Early dropped off the famed Louisiana Tigers to seize flour mills along the Codorus; most of them camped where today’s Harley Davidson factory sits. The general instructed Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith to post his small, understrength Virginia brigade along the Harrisburg Road north of York not far from the Tigers’ position at the Z. K. Laucks grist mills.
Most of Smith’s force camped on the farm of Henry L. King.
King would long rue the Southerners’ visit.
William Smith had made a fortune in the 1830s as a postal contractor from Virginia through the Carolinas and down to Georgia. He had become widely known as “Extra Billy” for his penchant of taking full advantage of every loophole in the laws to make extra money from his far-reaching enterprises. He had been governor of Virginia during the Mexican War, an attorney to the 49ers in California during the Gold Rush, and later a five-term, vehemently pro-slavery U.S. Congressman.
When the Civil War began, he was the colonel of the 49th Virginia Infantry at the First Battle of Manassas and during the Peninsula Campaign while also serving in the Confederate congress. He had been promoted to command of Early’s old Virginia brigade and led it at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in the spring of 1863. After the Second Battle of Winchester on June 13-15, two of his five veteran regiments had been left behind to guard the thousands of prisoners taken from Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy’s ill-fated Union division. Among the captives were more than 200 men from York County who were part of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Smith, a teetotaller and anti-tobacco advocate who had just been elected to another 3-year term as Virginia’s governor, left a subordinate to establish the camp on the King farm. He rode with General Early and a North Carolina brigade into downtown York. One observer recalled that the charismatic orator paused to make a flowery speech that greatly amused the throngs of townspeople collected on the sidewalks.
I am sure Henry L. King was not among those listeners who admired Extra Billy’s speech, nor did he appreciate his uninvited guests on his farm.
Smith’s men remained camped on along the Harrisburg Road until dawn on Tuesday, June 30, when they and the rest of Early’s division marched westward to Heidlersburg as General Lee concentrated his far-flung forces.
In their wake, the Rebels left a pathway of stolen horses and mules, distraught Dutch and Scots-Irish farmers, and terrified women and children. Hundreds of residents later filed damage claims delineating what they Confederates had taken.
Henry L. King had been hit hard. Very hard.
Rebels had slaughtered and cooked four of his hogs and twenty chickens to augment the entire contents of his smokehouse, including 24 cured hams, fletches, and shoulders. A 50-pound can of lard has been used for cooking. They stripped his garden of all vegetables and onions. Supply wagons delivered barrels of ground flour from Zechariah K. Loucks’ nearby mill, as well as P. A. & S. Small’s mills. The rebels had fed 13 bushels of mixed oats and corn to their horses. The troops had spread out over his property, trampling or cutting 4 tons of hay in his field and destroyed 1.5 acres of pasture. King asked the state government for $317.31 in compensation.
He, like all other York Countians, though their claims were approved by a special commission, never received a dime because of political infighting and budget cuts.
Today, King’s old farm is long gone, replaced by row homes, small businesses, and other modern urban sprawl.
Yet, at one time, it had been the nerve center for the operations of Governor-elect Extra Billy Smith as his patrols collected supplies and horses for Confederate usage from the prosperous farms in the region.
To read more about Smith and his boys, pick up a copy of Scott Mingus’s multiple-award-winning biography, Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith: From Virginia’s Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat (Savas Beatie LLC, 2013).