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Oral tradition: Civil War stories from York County, Pa: Part 1

J.E.B. Stuart and staff, The Illustrated London News, October 4, 1862.

I have been fortunate this past year to speak at more than a dozen historical societies, Civil War interest groups, Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, etc. here in York County, Pennsylvania, as part of my book tour to promote sales of Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863 (Columbus, Ohio: Ironclad Publishing, 2009). These engagements have all been fantastic experiences as I have had a chance to share some of what I have learned about my adopted county’s Civil War history, meet and fellowship with some great people, and visit some places and locations I had not previous seen. Besides all of my new friends, my other pleasure from these events has been the willingness of audience members to bring or mail copies of old documents and photographs pertaining to the Civil War and to share their oral traditions and anecdotes handed down by their ancestors.
We are slowly losing the generation who physically knew and had contact with the eyewitnesses to the Civil War (my late father, for example, told me many wonderful Civil War stories passed down by his neighbors and relatives who fought in the war. He was born in 1914 and his life overlapped scores of elderly veterans that he knew as a youth). The same is true here in York County, which is why I treasure all those accounts people tell me of what their ancestors experienced when the Confederate army invaded this region in the summer of 1863.
I have captured many of these stories over the past year and will be sharing some of them throughout 2010 here on the Cannonball blog.
Here is the first batch, in no particular order:

York-New Salem: As J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry rode northward from Jefferson toward Dover, they created quite a stir. Rumors flew that they planned to physically impress men and boys into their ranks. Scores of residents took off for safety, often taking their livestock, horses, and mules with them (in reality the Rebels did not want more manpower, but they needed the draft animals). A farmer who lived along today’s State Route 616 near the village of York New-Salem had heard the rumors but had not left his premises. Late on the afternoon of June 30, when he and his wife spotted oncoming Rebel riders (likely the vanguard of Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade), he looked for a convenient hiding place — under his wife’s massive hoop skirt! The horsemen passed by, some tipping their hats to the lady while the farmer stayed as still as he could. When they were gone, he scrambled out, and he and his wife went home. Still concerned about being forced to become a Rebel soldier, he his in the woodpile out back of his house when the main body of Lee’s brigade rode past his property.
Spring Grove: The Coleman family had long been associated with the iron forge that gave the village its original name of Spring Forge. Some members of the clan lived just off of today’s State Route 116, the road to Hanover. On Saturday, June 27, when Elijah V. White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry (later to become famous as “White’s Comanches”) camped where the Kennie’s shopping center is now located, they raided the region for horses and livestock. The Colemans had a couple of cows that they did not wish to contribute to the Confederate cause. They went into their field, led the cattle to the house, and somehow managed to force the bovines into the stone cellar. When the Rebels came near the property, they did not discover the hidden cows.
Dillsburg: Concerned that his horses would be taken by Stuart’s men, a farmer took them to Round Top for safety, presuming that the Rebels would not find them. On July 1 he spotted a patrol nearing his hiding place. He muffled the horses as best as he could and peered through the timber as the cavalrymen rode past without spotting him or the horses. Nearby several of his neighbors were indeed accosted and forced to hand over their animals when one horse began loudly neighing, which revealed their location to the raiders.
Feel free to send me your stories and incidents – we at Cannonball appreciate the heritage of York County’s Civil War-era residents and want to share their experiences with a broader audience! Send the stories, photos, etc. to