First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 1
This seemingly bucolic illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for July 14, 1886, shows the modest, somewhat ramshackle homestead of George and Mary (Bell) Squibb in Warrington Township in northwestern York County, Pennsylvania. The Squibbs were modest people, by all accounts thrifty but at the same time generous to others in need. As Quakers, they lived unpretentiously on this 87-acre farm off of Stone Jug Road, even today a rather remote and rarely traveled route other than the locals. It was a dirt lane connecting the public road from Rossville to Lewisberry northward to the public road to Lisbon.
Nestled in the shadow of Round Top (today a local ski resort), the Squibb property abutted one of the wooded foothills, Dare’s Hill (now called Ramsey Hill). George and Mary enjoyed a scenic and expansive view from their porch. Their nearest neighbor’s house was some 500-600 feet away. It was, as it was later described, a “lonely and isolated place.”
By the summer of 1863, the Squibbs were grandparents. However, they had made an enemy of a neighbor, an often drunk poor Irishman named William Donovan. “Irish Bill” held a longstanding grudge against George Squibb, one that festered for years.
However, quarrels among neighbors took a backseat in late June and early July when tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers invaded the region in a two-pronged movement. Two divisions of Richard Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia marched on Carlisle and a battalion of their vanguard cavalry dipped south through northwestern York County, while another division under Jubal Early farther to the south occupied York. Farmers scrambled to move their horses to safety, often taking them in between the Rebel forces and hiding the steeds on Round Top and its foothills.
No one could have known that more Rebels were on their way.
J.E.B. Stuart and more than 4,500 cavalrymen, to be specific.
For George Squibb and scores of his neighbors, that meant unexpected trouble.
On July 1, word began spreading that the Confederates had marched away from York and Carlisle, and some farmers began taking their hidden horses home. However, dozens remained secreted in the Round Top region, often accompanied by the owners and/or their teenaged relations. No one could have imagined that Confederate foraging parties would begin scouring the region that morning for fresh horses.
Stuart’s men had fought a tiring battle the previous day in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and had then ridden long into the night northerly to Dover. Many cavaliers were asleep in the saddle. They had not received much sleep after their staggered arrival in the wee hours of the early morning, and now they were back on the road. Outriders from Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade, aided in some accounts by a black servant of a Rebel officer who developed quite a reputation for ferreting out hidden horses, began returning to the State Road (today’s York Road) with their captured prizes.
One such patrol rode up Rosstown Road, turned left onto the dusty lane, and headed for George Squibb’s house.
Squibb and his wife Mary did not own much, but they did have a workhorse, a 9-year-old gray mare, which did the plowing and provided transportation into Dillsburg when needed or down to the Warrington Friends Meeting House for their weekly services.
Soon, the aged Quaker had no horse.
Another neighbor, John Grove, later saw a party of armed Rebel soldiers leading the distinctive gray mare past his house on their way to Dillsburg. George Squibb would never see the steed again, a significant blow during the summer harvest season.
The loss of horses throughout the region brought out the best (and worst) in the farmers. Many who had taken their animals to safety or whose farms were too remote to attract Rebel attention pitched in to help their horseless neighbors bring in their harvests of corn, grain, and fodder. Others refused to be bothered, undoubtedly causing resentment and bitterness which lasted for years.
One old score resurfaced — “Irish Bill” Donovan, never wealthy and having invested much of his money in the bottle, was tapped out. Deep in debt, he needed cash to cover several loans.
And, he knew where to find it, at the house of an old enemy about a mile away across Dare’s Hill.
George Squibb’s next unwanted visitors would not be wearing the Confederate gray. And, they weren’t interested in the aged Quaker’s replacement horse.
To be continued in Part 2… click here.