Newly released book includes accounts of the local 87th Pennsylvania Infantry at Second Winchester
The 87th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was primarily raised in York, Pennsylvania, with a few companies originating in neighboring Adams County. Many of its soldiers were farmers, mechanics, laborers, clerks, and other local patriotic men (and a few boys) who wanted to serve their country in its time of need.
Motivations varied, from a sense of adventure to a desire to preserve the Union. Few were abolitionists at the time of enlistment, although over time the emancipation of slaves grew in importance. Some men served out of a sense of duty; others for the steady money. For some, it was a matter of pride and self-respect as their family members, friends, and associates enlisted; how could they stay home?
After guarding the Northern Central Railway in Maryland, the 87th had a series of other assignments before being ordered to the Shenandoah Valley. Based near Winchester off of the Valley Turnpike, the men of the 87th could little dream of how their world would change in a short, but intense four-day period from June 12, 1863, where they saw their first hostile Rebels to June 15 when many of the Pennsylvanians would be hauled off a losing battlefield into the ignominy (and for some, ultimate death) of life penned up in Southern prison camps.
Their story is a key part of my latest book, co-authored with multiple award-winning author Eric J. Wittenberg. And, it is now in print and soon to be available to the public.
The 87th Pennsylvania was part of the Second Division, Eighth Corps, under the command of bushy-haired, strapping Major General Robert Huston Milroy, a political general from Indiana who owed his assignment partially to his ardent early support for his fellow Republican, President Abraham Lincoln. Milroy had previous combat experience as a brigadier in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 fighting against Stonewall Jackson. He had returned to the Valley and to Winchester in late December 1862 with his new, larger command, including the 87th.
Milroy proved to be a poor tactician as a division commander. His decision to ignore advice (and later orders) to abandon Winchester proved fateful for more than half of his 8,000 men. An entire Confederate corps marched into the Shenandoah Valley in mid-June 1863 and engaged Milroy’s men at Berryville, Bunker Hill, and Winchester.
Milroy consolidated his scattered forces into a series of forts that ringed Winchester in a last-ditch effort to protect the captured town and its vital army hospitals. He tried far too late to slip away with the bulk of his men on the night of June 15, only to be routed at Carter’s Woods. There, the 87th Pennsylvania, in effect, like most of Milroy’s division disintegrated. Hundreds of men were either missing in action or taken prisoner. For some, death awaited in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Others fled to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia; Cumberland, Maryland; or Bloody Run (now Everett, Pennsylvania). A handful made their way back to Gettysburg and York.
Now, the long-overlooked Second Battle of Winchester has a new, fresh interpretation, complete with hundreds of first-person accounts from the soldiers, Union and Confederate, who were there. Dozens of these stories are from the men of the 87th Pennsylvania. The publisher is Savas Beatie, LLC. The extensive maps are from the talented hand of cartographer Hal Jespersen.
Co-author and York Daily Record blogger Scott Mingus will be presenting a free PowerPoint talk on “The 87th Pennsylvania at Second Winchester” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust, 250 E. Market Street, York, Pennsylvania. There is no admission charge and on-street parking is free. Before and after the talk, he will be selling and signing copies of the new book. The public is welcome.