John Aquilla Wilson – Civil War veteran
A few years ago, York County author and blogger Jim McClure and I briefly discussed a fellow by the name of John A. Wilson, who is thought to be the last black Civil War veteran from York County to have been laid to rest. I started digging into this man, researching what Jim had found and searching for a little more information. Not only was “Quil” Wilson the last surviving black ACW veteran, he was among the youngest men to take up arms against the Confederates during the Gettysburg Campaign, when he served as an unpaid volunteer manning the trenches defending Wrightsville against the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon. There are no specific records of Wilson’s individual service at Wrightsville, but his small company was noted by the Lancaster Examiner and Herald as having “fought bravely.”
According to writer Lon Myer, Wilson was the teenaged son of Nathaniel and Louisa Harris Wilson. He was among a group of parishioners from the Fawn African Methodist Church (near Gatchelville in rural eastern York County’s Fawn Township) to volunteer for a company of unpaid militia being formed in Columbia. The majority of men ih company worked at a large Columbia rolling mill owned by a former military officer named WIlliam Case, but he recruited volunteers from among the region’s black community. They helped strengthen and extend a line of horseshoe-shaped earthworks that protected the town, railroad, and, most importantly from a military perspective, the vital Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
In his official report, the Union commander at Wrightsville, Colonel Jacob Frick of Pottsville, praised the excellent conduct of these black civilians. “After working industriously in the rifle-pits all day, when the fight commenced they took their guns and stood up to their work bravely. They fell back only when ordered to do so.” The Lancaster newspaper trumpeted “the only Columbia volunteers in the fight were fifty-three [black men], who after making entrenchments with the soldiers, took muskets and fought bravely.”
Wilson later enlisted in the 32nd U.S. Colored Troops, which helped capture Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865. The last living Civil War veteran in York County, he died in 1942 at the age of 101.
For a photo believed to be Wilson, see Jim McClure’s blog entry.