From POW to “misbehavior before the enemy”
Andrew Bentz Smith was a young saddle maker from northwestern York County who answered Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin’s call to arms in mid-1861. He traveled to the nearest town, Wellsville, and enlisted on September 19, 1861, at the age of 21 as a corporal in Company H of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. In mid-winter 1863, his regiment was stationed in the Winchester, Virginia, region as part of the Eighth Corps division of Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy, an Indiana attorney turned soldier.
Milroy’s heavy-handedness toward the civilians of the area earned him unmitigated hatred from Winchester’s pro-Southern women, including the “devil diarists,” whose anti-Union sentiments later became legendary. As spring approached, Smith received his first promotion, being elevated to First Sergeant on March 12.
In mid-June, the Confederate Second Corps crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and entered the scenic Shenandoah Valley, unbeknown to Milroy’s men. The 87th was among the troops garrisoning the town and surrounding regions, and some of the York County boys, including Andrew Smith, were deployed at Bunker Hill, a village not far from WInchester.
On June 13, trouble came for the regiment and for young Andrew…
Confederate forces under Major General Robert E. Rodes passed through Bunker Hill and easily brushed aside the overwhelmingly outnumbered Union garrison. Sergeant Smith was among those men who were snapped up by the veteran Rebels. Within a few days, he had been taken to Richmond and incarcerated in Libby Prison, most likely on June 15. Three days later, he was moved with the other non-coms to the prison camp on Belle Isle in the middle of the broad James River. Smith was finally paroled and sent to an exchange camp at Annapolis before rejoining his regiment.
Smith received his second promotion of the war on November 16, 1863, accepting a commission as a first lieutenant. it meant a pay grade increase and more responsibilities. Things were looking up for the young officer, despite lingering affects from a leg wound that caused him to limp badly. However, 1864 would see the unexpected and sudden end of his career.
On February 13, Lieutenant Andrew B. Smith was cashiered from the army and dishonorably discharged, forfeiting his commission and pay. He was accused and convicted of “misbehavior before the enemy,” in the Battle of Payne’s Farm at Locust Grove, Virginia, back in November 1863. He had been ordered by the regiment’s colonel to rally his men after they broke and ran. In a series of misadventures in which he claimed to have become lost, Smith wound up being two days late in rejoining the regiment. Retribution was swift, and he was arrested. He tried to resign, but that request was denied and he was brought up on formal charges of misbehavior before the enemy.
Smith returned to Pennsylvania to resume his saddle business. He moved to Adams County where he farmed near East Berlin. He later married and raised three children, but an old war injury plagued him and eventually his leg was amputated in early June 1875. It was too late. He died June 27 in Adams County and was buried in Red Mount Cemetery on York Street in Wellsville.
In a tragic consequence, his widow could not afford to maintain the household following Smith’s death, and she was forced to place her children in a public orphanage to be raised by strangers. Their old home still exists on Anthony Road; it is now the East Berlin Fish & Game Club.
For much more on the unfortunate A. B. Smith, see Dennis Brandt’s excellent book on the 87th Pennsylvania, From Home Guard to Heroes.Smith’s story is engrossing, as he was one of the few York County officers to be court-martialed for dereliction of duty during the Civil War.