Glen Rock, Pa., was important telegraph station during Gettysburg Campaign
Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, is a small town in south-central York County, just a few miles north of the Maryland line. Home to some 1,800 people, it is situated astride the historic Northern Central Railway tracks, which is now the York Heritage Rail Trail. Settled in 1838, it grew alongside the railroad and was incorporated in 1858. However, only a few hundred people lived in the region during the war years (the town experienced its greatest growth period in the decades after the war ended).
As the Civil War began, volunteers from the Glen Rock region joined the Union army and marched off to war. Few could have realized how important their little town would become in late June and early July 1863 when its location along the railroad gave it strategic importance to the Federal commanders.
Tracks and telegraph wires – that combination cemented Glen Rock’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign.
During the Civil War, a wooden bridge spanned the Codorus Creek immediately north of Glen Rock where this modern steel bridge now stands. On June 27, 1863, Lt. Colonel Elijah V. White sent a detachment of his 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, south from Hanover Junction to destroy the bridge. For reasons not entirely known, they failed to accomplish the task.
Earlier that afternoon, “White’s Comanches” had torched railcars, trackside equipment, and a bridge at Hanover Junction, but a southbound train had slipped away to Glen Rock.
The depot’s elderly telegraph officer jumped on board and rode down to Glen Rock, where he entered the telegraph station and informed Federal authorities of the Rebel raid on Hanover Junction.
The Civil War-era train station and its telegraph lines are long gone, but a large mural on the wall of a convenience store keeps alive the memories of the long period in the 19th and early 20th centuries when Glen Rock was primarily a railroad town.
The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion mention Glen Rock several times in the reports of the Gettysburg Campaign (Volume 27). Among the entries is this dispatch.
DEPOT, Baltimore, Md., July 1, 1863. (Received 5 p. m.)
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
At your request, through Mr. Garrett, I have seen the chief officers of Northern Central road, now in Baltimore, who say the are at once ready to carry out your wishes about an express locomotive from Baltimore to Westminster and return every three hours. Only 7 miles of the Northern Central to their Relay House is used, the other 29 miles, from Relay to Westminster, being upon the Western Maryland road. The Central, however, will make the whole arrangement. There is no telegraph line upon the Western Maryland, Relay being the nearest station to Westminster excepting that of Glen Rock, on the Northern Central, which is 23 miles by a country road. The office at Relay, as well as that at Bolton Station, Baltimore, will, they promise, be kept open without a moment’s intermission.
W. P. SMITH.
With all communication out at York, Hanover, Hanover Junction, New Oxford, Gettysburg, and most other railroad towns in Adams and York counties, Glen Rock became critical to Union telegraphic reports, and it was the furthest north any trains from Baltimore could go before torn-up rails halted their progress. All the telegraphs lines to the north were also out.
Sections of this old mill dates from before the Civil War, and it would have been operational as railroad men feverishly tapped out messages on behalf of the army.
Among the earliest officials who arrived from the Confederate-held areas north of Glen Rock was S. S. Blair, the superintendent of the Baltimore division of the Northern Central Railway. Early on the morning of Monday, June 29, he slipped out of York, then occupied by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s veteran division. Somehow Blair eluded Rebel pickets and roving cavalry patrols, and made his way down from York to Glen Rock. After a grueling hike of more than15 miles, the weary Blair tramped past this mill and entered the station house.
He ordered the telegrapher to wire news of Early’s occupation of York to Federal authorities, and also reported that one of Early’s brigades (John B. Gordon’s Georgians) to the Susquehanna River. It was the first report the War Department received from an eyewitness to Jubal Early’s movements. Blair estimated the Rebel strength at 10,000 or less.
The June 29, 1863, New York Times reported, perhaps in reference to Blair’s alarming telegram, “A dispatch from Baltimore, published yesterday, announced that the rebels were at Glen Rock, on the Northern Central Railroad, forty-three miles from Baltimore, tearing up the track there, but a dispatch received last evening states that the telegraph was working to Glen Rock. The rebels were, however, at Hanover Junction, six miles beyond, at work destroying the railroad, and it is known that at they have also been operating at York, some twenty miles beyond.”
The Military Telegraph during the Civil War, a book published in Chicago in 1882, notes another incident of the Gettysburg Campaign connected with Glen Rock.
“For several days, Meade’s telegrams were forwarded to the nearest office by couriers, one of whom was killed June 30, near Glen Rock, while bearing a long cipher despatch, detailing Meade’s plans and operations.”
This courier died near Green Ridge when a startled farmer, mistaking the soldier for a Rebel cavalryman, shot him.
Once telegraphic service was restored at Hanover Junction, Glen Rock’s role lessened and the junction became the central place for Union telegraphic dispatches from the Gettysburg battlefield.
All photographs taken by author Scott L. Mingus, Sr. on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.