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Mount Olivet Cemetery was Confederate gun position during the Battle of Hanover

Mount Olivet Cemetery is at 725 S. Baltimore Street in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1859, the cemetery sits atop high ground southeast of downtown, and is a natural gun position from a military perspective. During the afternoon phase of the June 30, 1863, Battle of Hanover, horse-drawn Confederate horse artillery rumbled up the slope from the southwest and unlimbered. Gunners moved the cannon into position and sighted their distant targets, with a particular emphasis on a line of Union artillery on the heights immediately north of Hanover. Fuses were cut to the length appropriate for the distance, and the rounds loaded. Lieutenants sighted the target through field glasses, while crewmen prepared the guns for firing. The orders came, and the resulting detonation of the powder sent sound waves reverberating off houses, rattling windows and fraying nerves of the remaining citizens.

Mount Olivet Cemetery is in the foreground. Rebel guns placed there had to fire over the town of Hanover (note the church spire) to hit Yankee guns on the ridge north of town (the thin line of dark trees next to the spire and below the background Pigeon Hills). Some of the shells fell short and struck the town, or exploded over it. (Left click on the photo to enlarge it for better detail).

Today, the venerable cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of Hanover area citizens, including dozens of Civil War veterans. Some of them lie in a semicircle at the foot of Hanover’s impressive Civil War memorial. Small headstones mark their graves, but in many cases the inscriptions are badly weathered and nearly indecipherable. They face outward from the guns, and the view of half of them is blocked by a brick rostrum that obviously was installed long after the original circle of graves.

Hanover residents raised the money for this very nice memorial after the Civil War. The bronze statue is a very familiar pose often seen in small town court house lawns or traffic circles. The small cemetery in my hometown in Ohio where my father is buried has a simialr pose, but on a much less impressive base.

The Confederate artillery (under Captain James Breathed) was likely farther to the west up the slope on what would be termed the military crest (usually lower than the geographical crest to avoid having the guns and crewmen silhouetted against the sky when enemy gunners were siting them as targets). Some accounts say there were four guns astride the Baltimore Pike on this hillside, although I have also seen accounts that suggest there were only two in operation from this position. There were at least two other Confederate gun positions used earlier in the battle, one off the Littlestown-Frederick Road and one off the Westminster Road. Both sites were on high ground where the gunners could take advantage of the elevation for site lines.

The Rebel field guns were firing much of the early afternoon, dueling with distant Union guns of Judson Kilpatrick‘s division. They were located on the ridge north of town between the Abbottstown Road and the Carlisle Pike. Nearby the Confederate guns were elements of Wade Hampton‘s cavalry brigade.
The booming of the artillery could be heard for miles around. Prowell’s History of York County includes a small anecdote about Confederate Major General Jubal Early finishing his meal and stepping out of a tavern in Davidsburg, Pennsylvania, (several miles north of Hanover). Early, subordinate officers, and the innkeeper heard the cannons and remarked that a battle had started. However, Early did not investigate the source to any great degree. On a small ridge south of Early’s position along East Berlin Road, General John B. Gordon heard the firing as well, and he ordered his accompanying battery (Tanner’s Courtland Virginia Battery) to unlimber in case the enemy came into range. However, he soon ordered the guns to limber and the column resumed its westward march toward East Berlin.

Does this sign look familiar? The verse is part of a popular poem from Civil War days. SImilar plaques can be found at Gettysburg in the National Cemetery.