More thoughts on POWs captured in York County
Confederate POWs taken at the Battle of Gettysburg
In my last entry, I briefly looked at an account of the first Confederate soldiers to be taken prisoner in York County during the Gettysburg Campaign – straggling cavalrymen seized by Hanover citizens and turned over to the military. During the subsequent week, dozens more Confederates would be rounded up by various Union cavalry patrols, or taken in battle in the fighting at Hanover on June 30, 1863. With the exception of the prisoners taken at the Battle of Hanover, the majority of these POWs were stragglers, deserters, or men who had otherwise become separated from their commands.
When Jubal’s Early’s division left York County on June 30 retracing its steps back to Adams County, they left behind scores of men who slipped out of the ranks. Some freely roamed the York area for days, while others headed north to Canada to escape the war. A few caused mischief or vandalism, such as the soldiers who broke into a locked house near Hanover Junction and ransacked it, including smashing a prized floor length mirror. Others stole liquor, horses, and food supplies.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, a patrol from the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry crossed the Susquehanna River from their temporary base in Columbia. They hauled their horses across in flatboats, mounted in Wrightsville, and swept the area between Wrightsville and York for Rebel stragglers. They rounded up more than a dozen and sending them back under escort to Columbia to the regional provost marshal, future United States Speaker of the House of Representatives and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Samuel J. Randall. The patrol then pressed onward through western York County into Adams County, picking up a few more deserters.
It is unclear exactly how many men deserted Early’s force prior to its arrival in Gettysburg for the impending battle. However, during the march from Chambersburg on June 26, Colonel Clement Evans of the 31st Georgia remarked in his diary how thankful he was for the occasional bushwhacker (civilians who took potshots at the Rebel column before melting away into cover), for they “keep the men in the ranks.” With no record of any ambushes in York County, perhaps the shirkers felt more emboldened to leave the ranks and try to slip into civilian life.