Letters from York woman chronicles the Confederate occupation
Cassandra Morris Small was a 34-year-old single woman living with her parents, wealthy industrialist Philip A. Small and his wife, in a house on E. Market Street across from the Yorktowne Hotel. She wrote at lest three letters to a cousin that provide some of the most compelling insight into Yorker’s emotions during Major General Jubal A. Early‘s occupation of the town during late June 1863.
I offer her first letter on this Cannonball blog; to read the other two, please visit historian and journalist Jim McClure’s excellent web pages on local history found on the York Daily Record‘s website.
June 30, 1863
Oh my dear Lissie:
How shall I begin to write you and what shall I say! We hope soon to have communication again with some of our friends, so I write this to have it ready to go by the first mail, knowing how anxious you must all feel to know the true state of the case — but how far short of the reality any description of mine will fall. Can it be true that our quiet town has been in possession of the Rebels, and that for the last two days we have all been prisoners of war! Oh, Lissie, you can’t form any idea of our situation, but thanks be to our Heavenly Father, they have all left us this morning. When to return — who can tell, for the impression is that General P……..is coming to meet them and there will be a bloody battle somewhere near. In case they are defeated, all will come rushing back pell-mell on us. Oh, how fearful we are still, but I will begin at the beginning and tell you all — as I can.
For several days last week, all persons were expecting fearfully to hear of the enemy’s approach. Saturday the news came that they were certainly within ten miles of us with an immense force. One young man, a Mr. [A. B.] Farquhar (who married an intimate friend of ours), started off on his own responsibility without telling anybody — went twenty miles before he met them — rode into their lines at the risk of his life, and asked to see the Commanding General. He was told that that was impossible, but insisted, and presently met an old college mate who introduced him to General [John B.] Gordon and left. The General demanded his business. Mr. F. said he came in behalf of the women and children of York who were dreadfully terrified and wished to know what his intentions were — that they might have time to escape. The General replied that if they were allowed to come in unresisted, nobody would be harmed, and all private property would be respected. When Mr. F. was asked what force we had, and a number of other questions, he replied as best he could, but the General said he knew all about it, and told Mr. F. a great deal — how many men we had — by whom commanded — how many troops at Harrisburg — where many persons lived — their politics — all about the roads — and then took a little map of York County out of his pocket which had everything on it. Mr. F. then said he wished to return to York; the General said he couldn’t, that he must remain with them, but Mr. F. plead with him and then gave his word of honor not to reveal anything, not to tell their numbers, and in case we should decide to make a resistance, promised to return to them and be hung as a spy.
Mr. F. rode back furiously — went first to Major H [Granville O. Haller] ……(who had command of our little force), but he was a stranger to him. The Major said Mr. F. must go with him to some reliable person, so they came to P.A. and S. Small, who had unbounded confidence in all that Mr. F. said. Their numbers were immense but Mr. F. said he could say nothing more. Then it was decided to withdraw all our little force (about 130 men in all) to the river and have several of our citizens go out to meet the advancing army.
The first we knew of it was at tea time, when we were all sitting quietly at the table. Pappa knew nothing of all this as he was in the country until we sat down, and Lat hadn’t come up — Lat and Mary have been staying here as all their servants fled. Suddenly we heard music, ran out, and here was our little force retreating — all whom we knew — some of the “87th” who came home after the late fight, and many of our pass men from the hospital. Oh, how do you think we felt — and they, too, for they were leaving us to the mercy of the Rebels, but of course it was all right.
About 6 o’clock our beautiful flag was raised in the Square; many objected, but others said, “let them come in seeing our colors flying,” and Lat helped to raise it. Oh, Lissie, imagine the whole excitement. Then Lat, Mr. Farquhar and two others — one our Chief Burgess — started out with a flag of truce, rode into their lines, and had a long, satisfactory conversation with the General. He told them the same thing he had told Mr. F. — said they didn’t intend pursuing the same system of warfare that our soldiers had, though they might retaliate, but they respected private property, and had spared some railroad stations and mills, because by burning them private residences would go too. General Gordon said he knew all about the Smalls, and their mills shouldn’t be touched. We can only suppose Ewell and Trimble must have spoken about them. When our citizens wished to leave, the General told them they couldn’t, but after some little talk, he allowed them to come back. They got home at 1:30 o’clock, saying an immense army was coming in on Sunday, but said any resistance would be madness and our town laid in ashes. We felt so relieved that all was settled.
Sunday morning Mother, Mary and I, dressed for church; all the rest expected to stay at home. Just as the bells rang, the cry was heard, “They are coming!” Oh, Lissy, what did we feel like? Humiliated! disgraced! Men who don’t often weep, wept then. They came with loud music, flags flying. First we saw a picket in front of our door. Where he came from or how he got there, no one knew, he came so suddenly and quietly (other pickets were all along the street). When we spoke to him, he said they were only to keep the men in line.
Then came General Gordon’s Division [brigade]; they halted in the Square and took down our flag, but gave it to the Chief Burgess and didn’t put one of their own up. Mr. F. begged them not to. The General said they wouldn’t at first, and would see, afterwards. (We didn’t have it up at all.) He also persuaded them to make our hospital buildings a camping place (they were so near residences they couldn’t be burnt). They actually took them. (We thought they would tear the buildings down, but we don’t know yet what they did, for it is raining so hard no one is out.) Then they came up the street; General Gordon stopped his horse at our door, came up to the pavement and said, “Ladies, I have a word to say. I suppose you think me a pretty rough looking man, but when I am shaved and dressed, my wife considers me a very good looking fellow. I want to say to you we have not come among you to pursue the same warfare your men did in our country. You need not have any fear of us, whilst we are in your midst. You are just as safe as though we were a thousand miles away. That is all I have to say.” He bowed and turning his horse rode away.
They continued to pass until dinner time, and after dinner came another Division [sic, brigade]. Between 25,000 and 30,000 men were in and around our town. George Latimer was with General Gordon’s Division [brigade]; happily we didn’t see him, as we should not have spoken to him. Some of his Copperhead friends shook hands with him, and he begged them not to tell us, but they couldn’t keep it to themselves. We all respect him a great deal more than we do them. There will now be a dividing line drawn here. Some ladies received them with waving handkerchiefs and red streamers, and some stopped them and got their buttons — they will never be recognized again. Such order and strict discipline as they were under; they all passed perfectly quiet — no noise at all — though they were not insulted or fired upon from the windows and had no flags waved in their faces, as our poor fellows had wherever they went.
General Gordon’s Division [brigade] passed right through to Wrightsville. General Early took possession of our Court House; General Smith (“Extra Billie”) with the Louisiana Tigers was a little out of town. No liquor was allowed them; guards were stationed at every drinking house and bar. Almost at once they handed in their requisitions. (They told the gentlemen who went out to meet them that if they were not given what they demanded it would be taken.) The requisitions were filled with the exception of the money, which they saw was an impossibility, but they were given sufficient to satisfy them.
Some men fled on Saturday, among them Mary’s Husband, and his two brothers and father. All thought their property would be destroyed, but our people bought it off. Isn’t it disgraceful? They destroyed some property but nothing like what was expected. Our miller, at Codorus, left. His house was ransacked, but the General put a guard around the mill. It is uninjured. A report came once that it was being torn down, but the General told Pappa after sending two orders down, that the men would be executed at once. Fortunately it was a mistake. They said, “Insult or injury offered to a female was punished with death and every man knew it.” Of course our people emptied their mills and opened their stores, but no soldier was allowed to go into the stores without a pass from General Early. They had plenty of confederate money and greenbacks, too — paid sometimes in one and sometimes in another. All stores were opened. Stockings were demanded. Such a looking set! Some were barefoot! Some had soles of shoes strapped on, no two dressed alike. All — officers and men the same. Mary Wilson recognized a number of her Baltimore beaux, but she turned her back upon all.
Yesterday afternoon, to our horror they came back from Wrightsville. The burning of the bridge entirely thwarted their plans. We dreaded the night, and directly after tea closed all of our shutters and bolted the doors. But all was quiet — no disturbance at all; and this morning the first word we heard was when Mother came into our room (we slept down next to her) and said that all had gone. Oh, what a happy people! How thankful we should be that our lives and property are spared. We are so thankful, too, we all stayed at home. Pappa and Uncle S., Lat, and Sam, were absolutely necessary here. Lat has now gone to Wrightsville to see the extent of the damage there. A considerable part of the town is destroyed.
It would take quires of paper to tell all — the state we were in — the terror — the different conversations the Generals had with our people — how our people acted — but you must be tired reading. Oh, how much I could tell! Well, they have gone — I hope never to return. May the Lord preserve us from such distress again. They came to our houses for something to eat; and fed their horses in the stable. I will stop, now, until I can send this off. Perhaps then something else will have transpired.
(After dinner.) Pappa has just told me that he is sending some letters and will forward this one. A great many stragglers and deserters are still here. We hear nothing of the outside world. I hope you can read this. I have written it very hurriedly.
Cassandra Morris Small later married Dr. Alexander Blair, the assistant surgeon of the York U.S. Army Hospital. He too had played a role in the story of the Confederate invasion of York County, having escorted scores of patients who had been transferred from the hospital to Columbia as a safety precaution.
Their graves are side by side in York’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.