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Confederate Calamity: Dillsburg

Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, is the principal town in Carroll Township in northwestern York County, Pennsylvania. Irish-born Matthew Dill settled there in 1740 on a 504-acre tract, raised a company of men to fight the occasional Indian raids, and later prospered, becoming a county judge. By 1833, there were enough people living in Dillsburg for it to become incorporated on April 9 of that year. It was an important regional trade center, as well as a popular stopping place on the old state road between York and Carlisle, two of south-central Pennsylvania’s most prominent towns. Dill’s Tavern became a focal point of the community, providing rooms and refreshment for weary travelers.

Nestled near the termination of South Mountain and on an important road, Dillsburg during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign was the scene of a minor skirmish between the 26th Pennsylvania Militia (retreating from Gettysburg) and elements of Albert G. Jenkins‘ Virginia mounted infantry brigade, which was raiding the region for horses (we will have a detailed look at Jenkins’s seldom discussed raid, under Maj. James H. Nounnan, in a series of future posts).

On the late afternoon of July 1, 1863, more than 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen under Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart arrived in Dillsburg.

Stories abound about the brief incursion…

View of historic Dillsburg, PA, taken on the south side of town along Route 74. Some of the buildings date from the Civil War. A large portion of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry force rested in Dillsburg, and an entire brigade (Wade Hampton’s) camped northwest of town on the John Mumper farm).

Stuart’s men entered town in two waves, with him having earlier split his division into two wings. The westernmost column consisted of the brigades of Fitzhugh Lee and John R. Chambliss, Jr. They lingered in Dillsburg while their horses rested and the men ate their dinners. The town was searched for supplies and horseflesh, and it is likely every stable was investigated. Only a few horses were located, because the majority of Dillsburg’s residents had heeded warnings from countrymen coming in that the Rebels were on their way. A few citizens later filed damage claims for horses taken by Stuart’s cavaliers on July 1. Most of the horses had been hidden in supposedly secure places near the town in thickets, woods, or ravines, but the Rebels found the horses anyway.

Among the victims on July 1 were Col. Samuel Nelson Bailey, whose horse was taken from the country stable of Samuel Mumper. Dr. George L. Shearer‘s 7-yr-old black horse was taken from a patch of woods despite the protests of Abraham Birkholder and David A. Bentzler, who were guarding the steed.

George W. Reed, Sr. sent his son Samuel Reed to take an 8-yr-old bay mare to woods on the property of John Cook. Rebels seized the horse, as well as two halters & chains.

Tomorrow we will discuss several of the merchants in Dillsburg who lost inventory to Stuart and/or Jenkins.