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Militiaman describes the defense of Wrightsville & burning of the bridge

Flames 2

The above image by Bradley Schmehl shows the vanguard of the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia as they exit the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge on Sunday evening, June 28, 1863. The officer ahead of them on horseback is Col. Jacob G. Frick, the commander of the regiment and a recipient later of a Medal of Honor for his valor at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville when he commanded the 129th Pennsylvania. The bridge has been set on fire behind them on the Wrightsville side to prevent Confederates from crossing into Lancaster County during the Gettysburg Campaign.

J. B. W. Adams served in Company D of the hastily organized regiment, which had been recruited largely from the coal mining regions north and northeast of Harrisburg. Adams left an account of his brief time in York County defending the bridge.

Painting of the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. Scott Mingus photo. Painting at the Columbia Historical Society.
Painting of the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. Scott Mingus photo. Painting at the Columbia Historical Society.

Adams was being treated in the temporary hospital for the 27th P.V.M. in Columbia on June 30 when he wrote a letter to his hometown Pittston Gazette:

“Dear Gazette: Having enlisted in the United States service for the emergency, and now just off duty on account of a slight illness, I shall try to give you some account of our terrific exploits: Well, passing over the preliminaries, I will place your mental vision upon the beautiful town of Wrightsville, York county, Pa., where the 27th P.V.M., Col. Frick, has till recently been encamped.  At this point the river is a mile and a quarter wide, and crossed by a bridge of costly construction. On Friday night, the 26th of June, I was on picket on the Northern Central R.R.  at the outmost post, I made considerable use of my eyes and ears, but nothing molested me. In a few hours from this the enemy had possession of the place.

“On Sunday, we were attacked by the enemy, under Gen. Ewell, with a battery of shell guns, and a force estimated at 8,000 [in reality if was about 2,000]. The regiment held out well, till the Rebels were seen to be out flanking them with the intention of occupying the bridge, cutting off our retreat and capturing all hands. On this, Col. Frick led the Regiment over the bridge, amid the fire of the enemy’s cannon, and then set fire to the bridge. I myself, being on guard on this side of the river, was safe from the shells, but I could see them dropping into the river.


“The fire from the burning bridge was a splendid sight–rolling up the firey [sic] clouds toward the heavens. It was a sad necessity to destroy this magnificent structure, but it was our only course, to prevent the destruction of the Regiment.

“None killed, and all in good spirits, ready for them again. The boys said they were fired upon, during the retreat, by the copperheads of the town, and that one lady (or female, rather,) displayed a small Confederate flag.”

J.B. W. Adams

Co. D 27th P.V.M.

Pittston Gazette, July 9, 1863