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Oral tradition: Civil War stories from York County, Pa: Part 3

Old fashioned quadruped-powered farm machine; horses and mules were critical to the agricultural economy of south-central Pennsylvania during the Civil War. Lancaster County image is courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the summer of 1863, more than 11,000 Confederate soldiers invaded York County, Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign. Although local farmers and residents took more than 4,000 horses to safety in Lancaster County according to some period newspaper accounts, the Rebels found that pickings were not slim, as they are known to have taken at least 1,200 horses and almost 75 mules from York County before departing for Adams County and their eventual defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Stories abound in this region about the Confederate invasion, and how the populace responded to the visitors from Dixieland. Many of these are oral traditions handed down from the eyewitnesses to their descendants. Your Cannonball blog editor is trying to collect as many of these stories as possible before they are lost to future generations.
Here is batch #3 of York County’s Civil War oral traditions. As usual, please send your own family’s stories to

Weigelstown: Confederate soldiers paid a visit to Naylor’s general store, which was located on Carlisle Road (today’s Route 74) next door to the family’s Five Mile House hotel and tavern. Reports circulated that the Rebels were coming (likely Colonel William H. French’s 17th Virginia Cavalry which was in the vanguard of Jubal Early’s division as it approached Weigelstown after turning from Davidsburg Road). Unlike some other York County merchants, the store owners had not removed their inventory to a safe place. They scrambled to carry armloads of smaller merchandise upstairs into the living quarters. Not long afterward, the Southerners arrived and burst into the store. They rummaged through the remaining items and effectively cleaned Naylor out of whatever he had left on the shelves. One Rebel was sitting on the counter when he decided to stuff the contents of a box of lead shot into his pockets. When he jumped down, his pockets ripped open from the heavy weight and the roundshot rattled around the floor. Next door, Rebels cleaned out the hotel of its stock of whiskey. Several Rebels even filled their water-buckets with liquor. (Adapted from Dover High School’s Blood Roots oral tradition articles from the Dover library).
Dover: Rebels raided cupboards, pantries, spring houses, and other food storage locations. In one house, they climbed up into the attic where to their delight they found stacked crocks of apple butter. Nearby, several racks of ladies dresses hung from the rafters. The soldiers quickly took down the dresses and scattered them on the floor. Then, they bundled the apple butter in the dresses, scooped them up, and carried them away.
Springettsbury Township (then part of Spring Garden Township): Hearing the reports that the Rebels were approaching York, several residents raced into their fields and pastures and began bringing in their horses, mules, and livestock. Barns and stables were emptied, and a parade of residents headed toward the turnpike to Wrightsville. Late-goers knew they would never make it that far, so several headed for the high ground known as Rocky Ridge. The area was thickly wooded in places, dotted with iron ore banks and pits. Ravines and hollows provided places to pause and hide. Dozens of residents thus avoided losing their horses, although a few were not so fortunate. They later filed damage claims, citing that the Rebels discovered the hiding places in the northern hills.
Paradise Township: When the Confederate infantry (Brigadier General John B. Gordon’s Georgia brigade) marched along the Gettysburg Pike into western York County, they raised a massive cloud of white dust that was visible for miles. As a senior citizen, one eyewitness who had been a young girl at the time related to a descendant that she had climbed up on a hill behind her house to watch the distant Rebels as they trudged past her parents’ farm. She remembered seeing them enter the barn looking for horses, but her father had taken them to safety in Columbia. To her, the procession of marching soldiers seemed “endless.”
Hanover: One resident told me that his great-grandfather had been a teenager during the Civil War. The lad had taken some of the family’s horses and cows to safety before the first Rebels (Lt. Colonel Elijah V. White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) entered town on Saturday, June 27, 1863. He joined a large contingent of Hanoverians and farmers from the region in tramping eastward to the village of Cross Roads in southeastern York County. There, they met nearly a thousand other refugees who stopped there for the night.