Paul Revere’s Ride Had Rival in Hanover
“Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”
Millions of school children for more than 100 years have read famed poet Henry W. Longfellow’s stirring words, however historically inaccurate they may be, about his ride through the Massachusetts countryside to warn the residents that the British were coming.
Here in York County, a much less celebrated, though similar, event took place during the Civil War. The skilled Longfellow, unfortunately, did not commemorate “The Midday Ride of Reverend Kurtz.”
Luckily for us, historian George R. Prowell recorded the details in an article in the June 23, 1905, issue of the York Daily newspaper.
It’s prose, not poetry (well, OK, Prowell has some poetry at the end), but it’s an interesting story nonetheless.
“The ‘midday ride of Reverend Kurtz’ from Hanover to Sticks’ tavern in 1863, was as full of romance, if not patriotic fervor, as the ‘midnight ride of Paul Revere,’ from Boston to Concord in 1775.
“During the last days of June, 1863, there were frequent rumors of the Confederates approaching Hanover from the west or south.
“On June 26, Parson Kurtz mounted the horse which he often rode on his visits to country congregations to preach the gospel of peace and good will. But he was endeavoring to perform another duty this stormy morning of June, forty-two years ago. Clouds of war were lowering in the west, and peace and good will seemed to have taken wings and flown to another clime, almost to the uttermost parts of the earth. The young dominie of Hanovertown thought he would get correct information of the enemy’s movements; so he rode out toward McSherrystown, or perhaps even farther, until the advance of [Lt.] Colonel [Elijah V.] White’s detachment of confederate cavalry was in full view. It was then that the dutiful parson began to ‘retreat.’ He turned the head of his steed toward Hanover and soon galloped into town at a lively speed. When he halted to take a backward glance, he saw some cavalrymen in hot pursuit, flourishing their firearms and vociferating in tones that did not foretell peace and good will.
“White’s troopers, a few hundred only [about 240 in actuality], had been detached from [Major General Jubal A.] Early’s division to go to Hanover Junction and thereabouts to burn the bridges of the Northern Central railway, and then join Early at York. So there was nothing to deter these mounted soldiers from following close on the heels of the Hanover clergyman, whose zeal and patriotism had put him in the position of being taken for a Union scout of dispatch beared. They followed him down York street, and beyond the town. Bullets whizzed around him and the language of the pursuers smelled as much of sulphur as the burned powder from exploded cartridges.
“But the parson’s horse fresh from the stable where he had been well fed and well groomed, outran the jaded animals of the Confederates, who returned to their command on Centre square.
“White and his men were then keeping an eye on every nook and corner of the town and every house, for union soldiers who might be around. But there were none in town and Hanover surrendered herself to the enemy, without resistance, for there were none to resist. There was no official surrender by town authorities, for they had taken wings too, like the angels of peace.
“Parson Kurtz, determined to go to Hopewell township, kept up the pace of his gallant steed, as he had a just right to do, for the enemy outnumbered him two hundred to one. Over the hills and far away he went, not even venturing again to take a look toward Hanover; fearing the misfortune of Lot and his wife; so he rode to Stick’s postoffice and tavern in old Codorus without stopping. Upon approaching the hamlet he exclaimed in excited tones, ‘Die Rebels Kummt; die Rebels kummt.’
“It was stirring news for the husbandmen of the community.
“From the hilltops they looked toward Hanover, but could see no enemy approaching.
“Three days later fifteen men and boys rode up to Stick’s with fifty farm horses on their way to Baltimore, or across the Susquehanna, as circumstances might direct. They halted for water and rest. A few minutes later, a horseman, seemingly in Confederate grey, rode up at a gallop. Flourishing his carbine he commanded, ‘Let no man move away with his horses, except at the risk of his life.’ Then, with fire in his eye and in a martial manner, he repeated his command.
“‘There are fifteen of you and only one to oppose; up and get at him,’ grumbled an old man, leaning against a fence. But the farmers preferred not to fight, for they were without arms.
“Just then a man came up on horseback from the opposite direction that the soldier had come. He moved on a gallop.
“‘Halt!’ commanded the soldier. The citizen checked his ‘wooden horse.’ put both his hands, with projecting thumbs, hornlike to his forehead. The soldier, observing the sign, looked closely at him, and said, ‘Pass on.’ The citizen moved on unharmed and unimpeded, if the story be true. An eye-witness yet living testifies to its truth.
“The actions of the soldier are hard to explain for he was a Union cavalryman on his way to Manchester [Maryland] toward which General Gregg’s cavalry division was moving. Even Gregg, now living at Reading, Pa., is unable to reconcile the story, except that he received news through a courier while at Manchester on his way to Jefferson, Hanover and Gettysburg. But Rev. Kurtz should report what he knows of the story.
“For the parson is living and he can tell,
Of his midday ride toward old Hopewell;
When he stopped on his way, all out of fix.
With a tale of woe for the people of Sticks;
How this faithful steed, all covered with foam,
Was worth more to him than the city of Rome;
How he passed over a devious course;
Until he saw the man of the ‘wooden horse,’
And heard his fanciful tales so bold.
For the deluded souls in Jackson’s fold;
And how this horse, like the one at Troy.
Now tumbled to pieces; tell no more, my boy.
For Stuart came along next day, you know,
And dealt old Codorus a terrible blow;
His veteran ‘Rebs’ all tired and worn,
Looked on the ‘wooden horse’ with laughing and scorn:
‘We want your farm horses you left behind,
And will trade our nags for steeds of that kind.’
So the Southern chieftan, next day and that night,
Got many a horse for the Gettysburg fight.
Then he rode away from an innocent guide,
Toward Dover and Dillsburg, whence he hied
Toward Heidlersburg, Hunterstown and Gettysburg, too;
For Lee’s horsemen in that region thus far were few.
On the second day’s fight Lee sat on a bed,
Looked Longstreet in the face and said,
‘General, where’s my cavalry?’ and that’s all he could say,
For the Hanover fight had kept it away,
But Stuart got there on the following day,
When he joined in earnest battle array,
The hundreds of horses from York County farms,
Fell victim to war, and all that it harms,
But Parson Kurtz’s steed came out of the fray,
And still served his master many a day.”