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More stories from the Confederate invasion of York County

Confederate reenactors marching at Pennypacker Mills in 2012. Photo by Scott Mingus
Confederate reenactors marching at Pennypacker Mills in 2012. Photo by Scott Mingus

As many as 11,000 Confederate soldiers marched or rode through scenic York County, Pennsylvania, during the days preceding the battle of Gettysburg. They came in three distinct waves (and from different directions), starting with a small-scale incursion on June 27 from Cumberland County into northern York County by a battalion of Rebel cavalry under Major James W. Nounnon. They made it as far south as Dover before turning around. That same day, a much more serious movement took place asĀ  lead elements of Major General Jubal A. Early’s 6,600-man division arrived from the west via Franklin and Adams counties. Finally, on June 30, “Jeb” Stuart’s 4,500 mounted cavaliers rode into southern York County from Maryland, taking just about every horse they could find.

Stories abound from the Rebel occupation of York County, many of which have been previously included in local Civil War books by Jim McClure, Ron Hershner, John Krepps, Eric Wittenberg and J. D. Petruzzi, Jeff Bortner, Scott Mingus, and several others.

Here are a few additional stories from the pages of vintage York County newspapers, including the interesting tale of Georgia’s Attorney General during the start of the Roaring Twenties, who as a young boy in downtown York had met famed General John Gordon.

Reuben Becker Jr. painted this depiction of Jeb Stuart's narrow escape during the battle of Hanover. (Scott Mingus photo; painting is at Guthrie Library)
Reuben Becker Jr. painted this depiction of Jeb Stuart’s narrow escape during the battle of Hanover. (Scott Mingus photo; painting is at Guthrie Library)

On February 4, 1937, the York Gazette and Daily published a pair of anecdotes from prominent civic leader George Hay Kain, a direct descendant of Colonel George Hay, who commanded the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry during much of the Civil War until illness forced him to resign. Kain shared a pair of anecdotes, telling the reporter that his grandmother had authenticated them:

“…when Early and his troops marched up Market street there was a flag, United States of course, flying at the top of the steeple of the old Zion Reformed church. One of the soldiers was heard to remark, as he pointed toward it: ‘We’ll soon have that rag down.’ But, as it turned out, when they returned after being stopped at Wrightsville, they were in a great hurry to get to Gettysburg and the flag stayed where it was.”

“The other incident concerned an agent who appeared early in the spring of 1863 and went around the town and country selling Bibles, of which a great many were sold. The agent took careful notes of all the roads he travelled over, especially down toward Wrightsville. It turned out he was a Confederate spy and was getting information for his army when it should arrive here on its way, as they had planned, to Philadelphia. We wonder whether there are any old residents who have a copy of that edition of the Bible that the spy was selling. If so we shall be grateful to anyone who will report it.”

Major General Early’s top subordinate was Brigadier General John Brown Gordon, who commanded an 1,800-man brigade of Georgia infantry during the Gettysburg Campaign. After the war, he was the governor of Georgia and a U.S. senator. One of Gordon’s fellow state politicians, a younger lawyer named Richard Alden Denny, had surprisingly previously crossed paths with him back during the invasion of southern Pennsylvania during the War Between the States.

Image of Richard A. Denny, Sept. 27, 1919, issue of the Atlanta Constitution.
Image of Richard A. Denny, Sept. 27, 1919, issue of the Atlanta Constitution.

According to the November 24, 1886, issue of the York Daily, “Twenty-two years ago, Mr. Denny, of Floyd [Georgia], was a small boy residing at York, Pa. One day the confederate troops marched through the town to Gettysburg, eighteen [29] miles away. Mr. Denny’s mother held him up so that he might see the troops as they passed her house. He held in his hand a small confederate flag. General John B. Gordon caught sight of the flag and halted and spoke to Mr. Denny, at the same time patting the little fellow’s head. It is remarkable that the same little fellow, now a grown man, should be a member of the general assembly of Georgia, while at the same time General Gordon is governor.”

R. A. Denny had been raised in York but moved to northern Georgia shortly after graduating from York High School in 1873. At the age of 19, he passed the Georgia bar exam in 1875 and moved to Rome, Ga. where he established his practice. He married Theo V. Denney (1858-1893) and raised a family. He served in the state legislature in 1886-87 and again from 1893-99. He visited York in August-September 1899 to speak at the high school alumni association. Denny became a Georgia state senator in 1917. Two years later, he became the state’s attorney general and served until 1921. He died on July 18, 1929, in Rome, a long way from his birthplace of York and his initial encounter with John Gordon. Denny is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery.