Part of the USA Today Network

Rebel invasion recalled 28 years later: Part 1 The Rebels are coming!

Lewis Miller sketch of the 31st Georgia as it marched into York (YCHC)

I am always interested in fresh accounts of the Confederate invasion of June 1863, a time when more than 11,000 Rebel soldiers in three columns marched or rode into York County, Pennsylvania. Some of these add more details or human interest stories to what I included in my book Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863 and subsequent other Civil War titles.

Here’s one such example, taken from the June 29, 1891, York Daily. It adds the story of John Peart and William U. Hess, two men who reportedly volunteered to scout the presence of oncoming Rebels marching from York to Wrightsville. Peart, a Lancaster County farmer who was home on furlough from the army, was an experienced soldier. Needing a companion for the ride westward, Hess volunteered to ride along. The two of them provided some of the earliest warnings that the Rebels were indeed approaching Wrightsville. They augmented Captain M. M. Strickler’s small company of local, non-uniformed volunteers that patrolled the area west of Wrightsville.

Here is part 1 of the story:

York Daily, June 29, 1891. This article is available on-line at the pay site or on microfilm at the York County History Center.

“Yesterday, just twenty-eight years ago, [Sunday, June 28, 1863]  instead of peacefully attending worship in the various churches or enjoying the Sabbath as they did yesterday, the inhabitants of the good old town of York were panic stricken and feared all the horrors of a siege by the rebels. Like yesterday, the weather was delightful, and the Sabbath was of a stillness as would characterize any old fashioned borough. The church bells were just ringing to call the worshippers together, when a rider dashed furiously through Main street [now  Market Street] shouting, “The Rebels are at Bottstown Gate!’ He vanished down the pike to carry the news to Wrightsville and Columbia, and a moment later the superbly mounted cavalry of General Gordon rode rapidly into town and halted in Centre Square under the flag which proclaimed a loyal community. The dreaded rebels, whose visited had been looked for, were at hand. The scenes and incidents that occurred during the two days’ stay are remembered well by many of our citizens, and they recall the great relief they felt when on Tuesday morning General Gordon and his staff passed through in great haste. The story of the burning of the bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia is reviewed at length by the Philadelphia Press, of yesterday, from which we quote.

“June 28. What a flood of recollections rushes upon one when this date is recalled. Just twenty-eight years ago today, on a bright Sunday morning, the advance guard of the rebel army came into Wrightsville, on the south bank of the Susquehanna, and made a dash for the old wooden bridge spanning that picturesque stream. To gain possession of this bridge would have been of great advantage to the Confederates in the way of forage among the splendid farmlands of Lancaster county on the north bank and the laying of ransom against the pretty town of Columbia at the other end of the bridge. Courage and coolness personified in the person of Robert Crane, president of the bridge company, blocked the way of the Confederate army and a successful destruction of the bridge by fire stayed the advance and perhaps saved Columbia from the torch.

Painting of the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. (Scott Mingus photo. Painting at the Columbia Historical Society.)

“To the stay-at-homes and ninety-day-fighters, the latter [including three Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia regiments] pressed into service as the ‘Johnnies’ came marching North, the incidents of Sunday, June 28, 1863, will always be a fruitful theme for tale-telling of hair  breadth escapes and personal daring.

“A monument has recently been erected on Gettysburg’s glorious battle-field, marking the extreme advance of [Confederate Maj. Gen. George] Pickett’s men, the spot being designated as the ‘high water mark’ of the Rebellion. While this spot was the most northern [blogger’s note: No, it wasn’t] reached by the mass of the Confederate army, it was like the breaking of the ocean wave upon the shore, the swell going far beyond the breaking up point. Thus the true ‘high water mark’ of the Rebellion is upon the Southern bank of the Susquehanna at the entrance to the old bridge. The advisability of a marker for this spot is self apparent. A substantial, inexpensive, properly engraved stone, would suffice. Although no blood was shed there [one black, non-uniformed home guardsman died and more than a dozen PA emergency militiamen were wounded], the day stands forth as an anxious one for the the residents of Eastern Pennsylvania.

Stay tuned for Part 2! An unnamed country physician in Wrightsville will have a close encounter with death.

Upcoming events:

Scott Mingus will be signing his Civil War and Underground Railroad books this Thursday evening, January 12, at 7 p.m. in the Lititz Public Library, 651 Kissel Hill Road, at the monthly meeting of the Lancaster Civil War Round Table. His topic will be Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith, one of the more colorful and engaging characters of the War Between the States. The meeting is free and open to the public. See you there?