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New eyewitness account of the Confederate occupation of York, Pa.

Another Lewis Miller sketch of the 31st Georgia as it marched into York (Courtesy of YCHT)
Noted folk artist Lewis Miller’s sketch of John Gordon’s 31st Georgia Infantry as it marched into York (Courtesy of YCHT)

During the Civil War, Southern newspapers often reprinted news from Northern papers or from those in the Border States. Such as the case on Friday, August 14, 1863, when editor of the The Daily Progress in Raleigh, North Carolina, repeated a story which had previously appeared in the Baltimore (Md.) Gazette.

Why is this story of interest to Cannonball blog readers?

It is an account written by an eyewitness here in York, Pennsylvania, to Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early’s three-day occupation of the town in late June 1863 during what later became known as the Gettysburg Campaign. I have not previously read this particular account , so there is some new information in it which may be of interest.

Downtown York

“On Sunday [June 28, 1863], 10 A.M., Gordon’s brigade entered the town with flags flying, to the tune of Dixie, by the band. They presented a semi-grotesque appearance, and it was difficult to believe these were Stonewall Jackson’s men, and the veritable tigers; but on closer observation it could be seen that their physique and fighting material was of the best order. They made but few demonstrations along the road, only giving a few cheers and cracking a few jokes at our expense, while the citizens looked on with intense interest.

“Their wagons, guns and equipments were nearly all marked ‘U.S.,’ and it was a source of amusement as well as humiliation to witness knapsacks on the shoulders of rebels, marked in bold letters, ’87th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ (that regiment being raised here.)

jbgordonJohn Brown Gordon, CSA (Library of Congress)

“During the passage of the troops Gen. Gordon addressed a group of ladies to the following effect: — ‘Our Southern homes have been pillaged, sacked and burned; our mothers, wifes and little ones driven forth among the brutal insults of your soldiers. Is it any wonder we fight with desperation? A natural revenge would prompt us to retaliate in kind, but we scorn to war upon women and children.  We are fighting for our God given rights of liberty and Independence, as handed down to us in the Constitution by our fathers. So fear not. If a torch is applied to a single dwelling, or an insult offered to a female of your town by a soldier of this command, point me out the man and you shall have his life.’

“About noon the town and country swarmed with rebels off duty [editor’s note: the men in town were mostly from Col. I. E. Avery’s brigade; the ones out in the country were Brig. Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith’s Virginia brigade and Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays’ Louisiana Tigers]. They talked freely with the citizens on the war and its kindred subjects; professing confidence in their generals, and contempt for ours, except [Maj. Gen. George B.] McClellan–saying we did not have one in long enough to learn anything but to get men slaughtered; had no thought that the Union would ever be restored; would not live with the Yankees if it was; but would fight to the bitter end, claiming that Lincoln killed all the Union sentiment in the South when he called for troops to coerce a sister State; was sure they would gain their independence, for God was on their side; had changed their base of operations to improve their rations and transfer the bounties of war to our own soil; would like to get hold of [Radical Republican congressman] Thad. Stevens or [detested Union Maj. Gen.] Ben. Butler; would take no negroes alive in battle, to be exchanged for white men; considered [Union Maj. Gen. Robert H.] Milroy [the commander of the Federal forces at the recent disastrous retreat at Second Winchester] a first rate Confederate Quartermaster; professed to feel no apprehension about their precarious position with [Union Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Joseph] Hooker in the rear; trusted all that matter to [Robert E.] Lee; were willing to go anywhere he ordered.

“The officers and men were on perfect equality, seldom giving the military salute, and generally messing together. Some of the privates were pointed out as being very wealthy. There were a few [black] servants, who seemed to feel their importance and put on airs. One said he ‘didn’t like to come dis side de ‘Tomac [Potomac River], cause he might got stole by some bobolishes [abolitionists].’ Another inquired for the hostler at the hotel, and on his being told that he had run away from the rebels, replied, ‘He needn’t be afeared ob us, ’cause we don’t want no rich, free black trash as dat down Souf.’ Another, during the march, rolled up the whites of his eyes to a crowd that was laughing at him, and said, ‘Can’t kill us now; go to kill all dese fuss,’ pointing to the rebels.

“They requested some of the stores to be opened, and supplied themselves with clothing, and paid in rebel scrip, the storekeepers charging in proportion. A guard was placed at the doors, and no one allowed to pass out until his bill was settled. Around the county they applied to the country people for eatables, and were well supplied. Where they found a house deserted they would sometimes break in. They also seized a number of horses, but whenever the owner would apply to headquarters and identify their property it was returned. No crops or even a fence rail was destroyed, except in one case, when a road was made through a wheatfield to water horses.

JubalEarlyMaj. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early, CSA

“When the troops had settled in quarters General Early located his headquarters at the court house, guards were placed at all the places containing liquor, pickets also thrown out on the roads. A demand was then made upon the town authorities for $100,00 in money and commissary stores. The authorities appointed committees to call the citizens to contribute towards raising the amount. On Monday the committee appointed made their report saying they had done their best, and it was accepted. It amounted to [$]28,000 and 30,000 rations, which was received in satisfaction, the general remarking that he did not wish to be hard on the citizens.

“Gen. Early inspected the railroad properties and car shops, but in consideration of danger of fire to the town, nothing was destroyed but a few old cars. Individual cars and about fifty coal cars belonging to the company were left uninjured. Gen. Early then issued an address to the citizens, and on Tuesday morning early the whole column was in motion westward, seemingly, well pleased with the goods that they had received, and much to the relief of our anxious citizens, who would sooner hereafter read about them than have their humiliating presence.

“Before the raid, and getting wind of the approach of the rebels, the stores were closed, goods sent off, and public meetings held to raise volunteers but enrollment was slow, only one company being formed. The roads were well thronged with fugitives driving their stock towards the river. Many of our citizens with their families fled in great trepidation. But the cowardice as usual was chiefly exhibited by the boldest war to the knife men. [“War to the knife” was a period phrase for the anti-slavery activists who openly advocated violence in “Bleeding Kansas” before the Civil War.] When actual danger menaced, all their valor descended to their legs. The most prominent was a pugnacious member of the safety committee.”