Jenkins Cavalry Raid Through Northwestern York County: Part 3
The Camp Curtin Historical Society and Civil War Round Table sponsored the construction of this monument in downtown Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Perhaps the northernmost Civil War memorial to a Confederate general, the stone and bronze column commemorates Brig. Ge. Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ occupation of Mechanicsburg. Some of the former U.S. Congressman’s (D-Va.) soldiers went on an overnight excursion into York County PA raiding farms for horse and supplies.
Part 1: Context and historical setting
Part 2: The approach on Mechanicsburg
Dawn came early on Sunday June 28, 1863. If was a day marked by increasing clouds, with a major thunderstorm brewing off to the east. For the soldiers of Jenkins’ Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Sabbath would not be a day of rest and relaxation. Instead, much of it would be spent in the saddle. as the veteran political general split his 1000+ man brigade into segments each with a different mission. The mounted infantry brigade would not be reunited until mid-morning on the 29th.
One relatively small patrol (perhaps company-sized) rode north toward Sterrett’s Gap, watching for Union militia and raiding farms. A modern wayside marker commemorates the site of the old Joseph Miller farm as the farthest north any element of Robert E. Lee’s Rebel army came during the Gettysburg Campaign. The bulk of Jenkins’ men rode into downtown Mechanicsburg before moving out in various directions. The general and his staff eventually headquartered in a sturdy 18th century stone house owned by John Rupp (at 5115 East Trindle Road). From there, Jenkins directed the movements of his four regiments / battalions and his artillery battery.
A large raiding party would terrorize northwestern York County.
Their foraging mission would be overshadowed just three days later by the passage of J.E.B. Stuart’s 5000 warriors through the same region, consigning Jenkins’ Raid to a mere footnote or single sentence in most Gettysburg Campaign accounts.
Until now… the raid will be brought back to life in a new article I am writing. excerpts of which will appear in Cannonball over the next few entries.
The John Rupp House (Camp Curtin Historical Society). The society has been quite active in preserving and commemorating the Civil War history of Cumberland and Dauphin counties. Not far from this house is a very interesting business, Jim Schmick’s Civil War and More. Jim was one of the leaders of the efforts to create the Jenkins memorial and has been a popular tour guide and speaker in the Mechanicsburg area.
“Some were clad in butternut uniforms, while the majority had no uniforms at all; many, indeed, having nothing but shirt, pants, and hat. A few looked like Pennsylvania farmers. They were armed with all sorts of weapons. . . . The men were, with few exceptions, a stout-looking set of fellows picked men for hard service, and would have done some good fighting had they been attacked. They were, as a body, pretty well behaved.”
So wrote a Mechanicsburg newspaperman regarding the passage of General Jenkins’ troops on the morning of June 28. Many of the invading Rebels were wearing new civilian clothes procured from shops and stores in Chambersburg, McConnellsville, Carlisle, and countless small country stores in the Cumberland Valley. A few still wore their actual uniforms, but by the time of the occupation of Mechanicsburg, their appearance was hardly soldier-like, no doubt why the newsman thought some looked like typical Pennsylvania farmers, other than the menacing rifles they carried.
The brigade rode into town following two scouts with a white flag, who informed the chief burgess that Jenkins was coming and no one would be harmed if the townspeople stayed out of the way. Pausing at the town square, Rebels refilled haversacks and wagons with whatever supplies and food they could carry off from the residents before heading eastward toward Camp Hill.
Jenkins sent half of the brigade eastward along the Carlisle Pike north of Mechanicsburg, while the rest of his command rode out along the Trindle Spring Road that afternoon to Peace Church, which rested on a knoll of higher ground. There, the artillery of both sides exchanged fire until dusk.
A large Rebel raiding party rode from Mechanicsburg southward toward Dillsburg in Carroll Township, York County.
Meanwhile a rather large patrol of the 16th Virginia Cavalry, perhaps several companies in size, headed for York County. Some estimates are that this raiding party may have numbered some 250 soldiers. The battalion was commanded by Major James H. Nounnan of Wayne County, Virginia (now West Virginia). They rode from Mechanicsburg towards northern York County, intent on raiding the prosperous town of Dillsburg. Near the hamlet of Williams Grove, according to 19th century York County historian George Prowell, Jenkins’ men spotted a large, brightly colored U.S. flag waving atop a nearby low mountain.
Entering the small village, Major Nounnan encountered a civilian named Lee Welty, who lied and calmly informed the Virginian that the impressive banner marked the vanguard of the oncoming Union Army. The Confederates temporarily halted their advance and splashed back across Yellow Breeches Creek to regroup. The fluttering flag was a deliberate ruse, having been planted on the mountaintop by some local boys. Dillsburg residents used this brief respite to hide their valuables and horses in nearby woods. Hotel keepers stashed their liquor and pharmacist George Shearer secreted his wooden barrel of “medicinal whiskey” in his barn.
A passing force of Union militia deployed for action, expecting to encounter the Rebels at any time. These men, from the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, had recently encountered Jenkins’ detached regiment, the 17th Virginia Cavalry, on a hilltop at Witmer’s Farm northeast of Gettysburg and had retreated toward Harrisburg after losing at least 176 prisoners of war in the brief engagement. Now, unknown to them, the 16th Virginia Cavalry had resumed its march toward Dillsburg from Williams Grove.
However, the respite would not last long.
Nounnan and his men were just getting started.
Northwestern York Countians would experience their first glimpse of an invading enemy army.
Jenkins’ men would not be the last Rebels to visit the Dillsburg area. Indeed they were in effect an unknowing dress rehearsal for Stuart’s larger expedition on July 1.
In part 4 of this series, we will follow Major Nounnan’s raiders as they chase off the untrained militia and enter Dillsburg.