Marylanders help defend York and Wrightsville
York has always had strong ties with neighboring Maryland. As I frequently drive down I-83 to the BWI airport, I am reminded of the economic and commercial relationships, and, here in my neightborhood, a number of the homes are owned by transplanted Marylanders.
Those economic and social relationships date to well before the Civil War. During that conflict, for more than a year, the largest military force defending York was a company of infantry from Maryland.
York was the site of a major U.S. Army hospital during the war years. At times during the conflict, the sprawling facility was garrisoned with the Patapsco Guards, an Independent
company of Maryland volunteer Infantry under the command of Capt. Thomas B. McGowan.
The unit was organized at Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland, on September 25, 1861, to serve an enlistment term of three years. Early in the war, the men performed guard and provost duty for the railroad in northern Maryland and near Harpers Ferry. When the immediate threat subsided, they were sent to Harrisburg and York to guard military outposts. While stationed in Pennsylvania, the regiment received new recruits, some of which were German immigrants from York County.
During the Gettysburg Campaign in June 1863, the Patapsco Guards were posted at the York army hospital. As the Confederates arrived in York County on June 27, the guards were withdrawn from the hospital (along with the most mobile of the remaining patients) and shipped by rail to Wrightsville, arriving in the early evening. They detrained, established a campsite, got their meals, and awaiting the Confederate advance that was sure to come the following day. Men spent an anxious night sleeping next to their loaded muskets. In the morning, the guards assisted in the drudgery and hard work of strengthening and deepening earthen fortifications that surrounded three sides of Wrightsville to delay Rebel access to the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
In the late afternoon, the Union defenders spotted the arrival of the Confederates — a strong column of infantry and cavalry supported by a battery of artillery. A brisk firefight ensued, with the Patapsco Guards exchanging fire with a Georgia regiment. Orders came to withdraw across the long bridge into Columbia, and the guards filed out of the entrenchments and marched eastward into Lancaster County, where they reestablished their battle line and watched with fascination in the night as the tunnel-like covered bridge burned.
For the next year, the Patapsco Guards served at York, Harrisburg, and Chambersburg. They again skirmished with the enemy during the McCausland Raid on Chambersburg on July 30, 1864.
On the expiration of their term of service, the original enlistees were mustered out in September 1864. The guards, composed of fresh recruits and those veterans with time remaining, retained in service until August 17, 1865. On that day, the Patapsco Guards were mustered out of the military by orders of the War Department.
The casualties from death in this independent company during its term of service
were four enlisted men, who died of disease or accident. No one was killed or injured in the two skirmishes with the Rebs, the only combat action the guards experienced during the war.
On January 7, 1864, Captain McGowan married a Pennsylvania woman in Harrisburg;; he and his bride later established a home in York. McGowan died August 7, 1872, and is buried in York’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.