Part of the USA Today Network

Oral tradition: Civil War stories from York County, Pa: Part 2

1862 recruiting poster from York County, Pennsylvania. The county, despite having a strong Democratic leaning, furnished its full quota of soldiers for what some saw as a Republican war.

Throughout 2010, I will present a series of entries on the York Daily Record‘s Cannonball blog that feature Civil War-related oral traditions and stories passed down from eyewitnesses to their direct descendants. I want to capture these anecdotes for future generations to enjoy (who knows – maybe someday there is another human interest story book in the works from this fresh material).
Here is today’s installment… and I thank all of you who have shared your family lore with me recently. Keep the stories coming!

The location of the Civil War-era J. Bowman farm along today’s State Route 616 in southern York County, PA

LarueJohn and Caroline Bowman‘s grandson Russell Bowman years ago informed the Daily Record about his grandmother’s memories of the Gettysburg Campaign. Caroline told the story of how she entertained generals of both the Union and Rebel forces in her farm home at Larue between Seven Valleys and Hanover (see my previous blog entry on the Bowman farm for more details). She and her husband farmed a property owned by William Glatfelter for many years. Only one issue with Mrs. Bowman’s memory – no Confederate general officer is known to have been at Larue or Seven Valleys. On June 27, 1863, a portion of Lt. Col. Elijah V. White‘s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry did raid the area for horses en route to Glen Rock. Union militia camped in the area, and Union Brigadier General David McMurtie Gregg‘s division was there, but no Rebel generals. It just shows how memories fade and details blur over the years, so all oral tradition must be taken with a grain of salt.
Dover – A farmer named Samuel Aughenbaugh owned “a very fine horse.” He feared that the Rebels would take it, so he hid the horse (and himself!!!!) in a large pile of straw on his property. He prepared well for his ordeal, stashing several days provisions of food and water in the pile as well. It worked! The Rebels never discovered the hidden man or his steed. Tradition also says that once J.E.B. Stuart‘s Confederate cavalrymen had departed Dover on July 1, 1863, members of Sam’s family stumbled across a hidden Confederate uniform and a rifle along the banks of Fox Run. It is surmised that this may have been from a Rebel deserter, possibly an infantryman from Jubal Early’s column which passed through the area on June 30 en route to Heidlersburg. This and the next oral tradition were recorded by students from Dover High School a few years ago in the “Blood Roots” series.
Weigelstown – A group of Rebels rested on Peter Leib‘s prosperous farm along today’s Route 74 / Carlisle Road. They entered the springhouse and drank all the milk they could find, pumped the well empty to refill their canteens, and forced the women to bake hotcakes for their meal. An officer soon arrived to break up the party and get them moving again. According to the story, his horse reared and its front hooves thundered down onto the wooden porch, leaving distinct imprints of the horseshoes. The Rebels departed, but they took with them five of Leib’s horses, as well as his harnesses and all the corn they could carry off. They also went into Mrs. Leib’s garden and picked her currants off her bushes to make tea. That’s the tradition as related to the Dover students.
Here’s where the oral tradition can be supported by documented facts. After the war, Peter Leib filed a damage claim with the state of Pennsylvania for losses incurred to the invading Rebels. He asked for $765 in compensation for the theft of his 13-yr-old dark bay horse, 3-yr-old black horse, 2-yr-old brown horse, a dark brown mule, and a 7-yr-old dark bay mule. He did not mention the loss of his wife’s currents or the shelled corn. What to me as an historian is interesting is that Leib’s sworn deposition reveals who these Rebels were and the date of the incident. It occurred on Monday, June 29 when a foraging party from Colonel William H. French‘s 17th Virginia Cavalry passed through the neighborhood on a horse hunt.
Franklintown – A middle-aged farmer along the old Harrisburg Pike hid his draft horses in a dense thicket for several days. He made sure that at all times he or some of his sons were present to feed and care for the animals, and more importantly keep them quiet. When the boys spotted an oncoming dust cloud kicked up by a Rebel patrol, they muzzled the horses with their hands to keep them from betraying their position. Thus they avoided joining the more than 800 residents of York County who later filed official claims for lost horses.
Much more to come throughout this year! Please send your stories to and I will include them in upcoming blog entries.