Rebel doctor years later repaid York farmer for horse taken in Gettysburg Campaign
The Jacob Rudy farm is illustrated by the blue arrow in the above detail from an 1876 Atlas of York County. It was one of the few farms along the York-Gettysburg turnpike (now the Lincoln Highway, Route 462) in Hellam Township to be struck by the Rebels during Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s march from Wrightsville back to York on Monday afternoon, June 29, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign. Most of the area’s residents had taken their horses and livestock across the covered toll bridge to presumed safety in Lancaster County, but Rudy and a few others (the red boxes in the map) did not.
Confederate soldiers took horses from Rudy and some of his neighbors. Jacob Rudy later filed a border claim with the claims commission, seeking $300 in damages for his lost 8-year-old family horse. The state government, although the three commissioners approved Rudy’s claim, never paid any of them because of political in-fighting and budget cuts.
Thirty-five years later, long after Mr. Rudy’s death, his heirs received some unexpected good news in the mail.
Here is the story.
One of General Gordon’s former soldiers, perhaps feeling guilty about taking the horse, wanted to make it right.
Edwin Augustus Jelks, one of the early founders of Quitman, Georgia, had graduated in the late 1850s from Mercer College and then from the medical school in Charleston, S.C.. He also studied at Jefferson College in Philadelphia.
At the age of 25, Dr. Jelks enlisted as a private in Company I of the 26th Georgia Volunteers on July 23, 1861, in Brooks County (along Georgia’s southern border). Just a few months later, in September, he became the regiment’s assistant surgeon. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, he was the chief surgeon of Gordon’s brigade. Jelks surrendered with the surviving men of the brigade at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, received his parole, and returned home to his young wife Constance. She was the youngest daughter of the commander of the 26th Georgia, Col. Edmund N. Atkinson.
Jelks resumed his medical practice, raised three children with Constance, and became interested in the fledgling commercial orange industry in Florida (his father, Col. James O. Jelks, had moved to Hamilton County, FL) . He remarried after his wife’s death and was a prominent businessman and an elder in the Quitman Presbyterian Church. He and his brothers had an interest in a successful drug store and bookstore.
In the spring of 1898, Dr. E. A. Jelks sent a personal letter addressed to the York County farmer he had visited back during the summer campaign of 1863.
From the March 2, 1898, York Daily:
“During the rebel invasion of York 35 years ago, among the parties visited by rebel officers, was one of our sturdy farmers, residing about 7 miles from York, who had in his stable a very fine horse, which was much admired by one of the veterinary surgeons of Gordon’s brigade, who, after taking the horse, paid the farmer $250 in rebel money. The horse being such a fine animal sold him at Chambersburg for $300 in United States money.
“Last week this farmer received a letter from Dr. E. A. Jelks, of Quitman county, Georgia, inquiring of the farmer if he still had the money, or if the United States had paid him for the loss of his horse. From the tone of the letter it is possible that the writer wants to get back the rebel money and perhaps make restitution for the taking of the horse.”
By then, Lutheran farmer Jacob Rudy had been in the family graveyard of for 17 years, having expired on April 6, 1881, at the age of 83. His aged widow Catherine (Reisinger) and three of their adult children still lived in Hellam Township at the time Dr. Jelks’ letter arrived. She was now 95.
Imagine her surprise.
Here is the rest of the story, from the March 22, 1898, York Daily.
“The heirs of Jacob Rudy, deceased, received about March 16, a draft of $125, drawn on the bank of Quitman, Ga., in payment for a horse taken away from Mr. Rudy’s farm by Dr. E. A. Jilks [Jelks] during General Gordon’s raid and while part of the rebel army was on its return from Wrightsville to York. Dr. Jilks at the time paid Mr. Rudy $200 in confederate scrip, promising to redeem it if Mr. Rudy could not use it. Recently the Doctor set about to get information of the Rudy family, informed them of the transaction and offered to make good the loss Mr. Rudy sustained by reason of the sale.”
Mrs. Catherine Rudy at her death in November 1899 was the oldest woman in York County.
Dr. E. A. Jelks died in Quitman on July 28, 1909, and “was considered the most beloved and distinguished citizen of the town and county,” according to his biography. He was one of the last remaining former surgeons from Gordon’s brigade that had invaded York County.
Baggott, Rev. J. L. Biographies of Pulaski County Georgia, Daughters of American Revolution, 1935.
Henderson, Lillian, Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, 1861-1865, Vol. 3, Georgia State Division of Confederate Pensions and Records, 1960.
Reading Eagle, Nov. 24, 1899.
York Daily, March 2 and 22, 1898 (www.newspapers.com)