Famed historian Ed Bearss and friends tour Wrightsville with YCHT tour guide
Historian Ed Bearss (left in the red shirt) is an American treasure. Wounded as a Marine in the South Pacific in WWII, he later became the chief historian of the National Park Service and the leading authority on the Vicksburg Campaign. He has led Civil War and WWII tours for several decades, and these are punctuated with his booming voice and machine-gun-like delivery. He and several long-time friends are members of the “Joe Hooker Society,” a self-named group which enjoys touring Civil War sites.
Dean Schultz (right in the straw hat and blue shirt), a civil engineer from Gettysburg, arranged for the Joe Hooker Society to tour one of York County, Pennsylvania’s hidden gems, the Civil War heritage sites of Wrightsville. Nestled along the scenic Susquehanna River, Wrightsville played a role in the Gettysburg Campaign when more than 2,000 veteran Confederates tried to seize control of the world’s longest covered bridge, which was guarded by a motley collection of injured or retreating Federal troops and inexperienced state militia, as well as civilian volunteers (including 53 black men).
The Joe Hooker Society asked sanctioned York County Heritage Trust Civil War guide Scott L. Mingus, Sr. to show them some of the area covered in his recent book, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863.
The group spent a delightful Sunday touring Wrightsville sites and eating at the historic Accomac Inn. Here are a few photos.
The goal of the YCHT Civil War Guide is to bring publicity (and hopefully tourists) to York County’s historical attractions, which are often overlooked in between Amish Country and Gettysburg.
After an orientation session in the parking lot of the Rutter’s gas station on Cool Creek Road, the group ventured out to Strickler Ridge, a low eminence west of Wrightsville along the Lincoln Highway (a major Confederate route from Franklin County through Gettysburg and York to the Susquehanna at Wrightsville). Here the Skirmish of Wrightsville first took shape on the early evening of June 28, 1863, just a few days before the Battle of Gettysburg some 45 miles to the west.
The Strickler family is an interesting version of the classic “brother against brother” theme seen so often in the Civil War. Confederate General John B. Gordon, a pre-war Georgia businessman and lawyer, deployed his troops on Strickler Ridge. He posted an artillery section on a knoll beyond the old Strickler Cemetery.
Gordon sent his cavalry to the south along Strickler School Road to feel the enemy position. The commander of one of the companies of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry was Lt. Harrison M. Strickler, whose ancestors settled in Lancaster and York counties. The Stricklers in Wrightsville were his distant relatives, as was the commander of the opposing Union militia scouting patrols, Capt. M. M. Strickler of Columbia, Pa. in Lancaster County.
The Joe Hooker Society next went into the Kreutz Creek ravine to learn how Lieutenant Strickler and the other Rebel cavalry leaders used the cover to approach the awaiting Yankees.
Bair’s Mill is a local landmark along the creek. Confederates raided the mill for flour and supplies after the fighting at Wrightsville concluded.
The tour group listens to guide Scott Mingus in the shade of an old tree along the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville.
The Yankee militia retreated from their entrenchments surrounding Wrightsville and crossed the covered bridge into Columbia. They burned the bridge behind them. The old piers of the war-time bridge still stand in the Susquehanna River.
This wayside marker describes the defense of Wrightsville and the burning of the covered bridge.
Ed Bearss and Scott Mingus enjoy the conversation over brunch at the Accomac Inn along the scenic river. The tavern dates from the late 1700s.
The Joe Hooker Society ended its tour in Zion Hill Cemetery in Columbia, where a number of the black defenders of Wrightsville are buried, as well as several veterans of the famed 54th Massachusetts. The black regiment, commanded by white officers such as Col. Robert Gould Shaw, gained fame with an ill-fated but brave attack on Confederate-held Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina, the same summer that their friends and relatives were defending Wrightsville from Gordon’s Georgians.
Ed Bearss, and his witty T-shirt, enjoyed his time learning more about York County’s Civil War history, and the Joe Hooker Society in the future may also tour downtown York’s Civil War sites with Scott Mingus.
The group graciously donated $200 to the York County Heritage Trust for preservation activities.
All photos used by permission of George Evans of the Joe Hooker Society. These and many more can be viewed on his website.