J. W. Gitt – Hanover man was a victim of both armies during the Gettysburg Campaign
More than 700 York County residents suffered losses to the passing armies during the Gettysburg Campaign. In a few cases, they were victimized more than once, and at times to both the Union and Confederate forces. One such multiple unfortunate man was wealthy Hanover merchant and landowner Josiah W. Gitt, whose prosperous properties were in the wrong places at the wrong times.
Josiah William Gitt was born about 1825 in Hanover. He was a son of George W. Gitt, a significant landowner and developer in the vicinity. Josiah married Maria Newman and raised a family, including daughter Mary Elizabeth and sons William B., George D., H. Newman, and Clinton J. In 1847, Gitt and a partner opened a dry goods store in downtown Hanover, and later he owned several pieces of land outside the town, some of which he rented out.
Gitt lived in a comfortable brick house on the town square in downtown Hanover, where he could walk to his place of business. Sometime in the 1850s, he planted a silver maple tree in front of his residence. He later claimed (quite dubiously) that during the Battle of Hanover on June 30, Union Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer tied his horse to the trunk of the tree, which over time became known as the “Custer Maple.” Later in the century, borough authorities sought to remove the maple as a public nuisance. In the only court case in which he ever appeared as litigant, a case ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gitt succeeded in preventing the destruction of this tree.
Gitt also owned a sprawling farm along Westminster Road, which was worked in 1863 by 27-year-old Edmund Lippy and his wife Catherine. On June 30, shortly after the Battle of Hanover, J.E.B. Stuart began his eastward movement away from Hanover. A group of Confederate cavalrymen rode into the farmyard and began confiscating items of military value. They loaded 75 bushels of corn and 30 bushels of oats into empty supply wagons and threw in 30 grain bags. As they departed, they led away three horses and three mules. The Lippys were powerless to stop the raiders. (Later in the war, perhaps looking for a chance to get back at the Rebels, Lippy joined the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry).
J. W. Gitt’s troubles were not over. The following day, part of the Union Fifth Corps marched past the Westminster Road farm en route to Gettysburg, where a major battle was already in progress. Again, he suffered losses, including a mare, a wagon, saddle, and other farm gear to the infantrymen. He later filed damage claims with the state and Federal governments, but never received his requested compensation.
After the war, Gitt expanded his business and civic interests. He served on the board of directors for the Bachman Valley Railroad in the 1870s. Gitt retired in 1888 and sold his thriving business to two of his sons, George and Newman. He died February 10, 1898, in Hanover, where he is buried. His business lived on as the J. W. Gitt Company until 1934 when it was liquidated upon the retirement of H. N. Gitt.
Josiah W. Gitt is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery off Baltimore Street in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Ironically, this now tranquil hill was the position of Confederate horse artillery during the Battle of Hanover.
To learn more about Hanover during the Gettysburg Campaign, see John T. Krepps’ recently published book, A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover, Pennsylvania and Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi’s 2007 book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: J.E.B. Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.