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Rebels confronted Wrightsville souvenir seeker

1930s aerial view of Wrightsville showing the June 28, 1863, defensive positions of the motley force of Union defenders
1930s aerial view of Wrightsville, Pa., showing the approximate June 28, 1863, defensive positions of the motley force of Union troops defending the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River. (Scott Mingus graphic; base photo from

On a cloudy Sunday evening, June 28, 1863, more than 2,000 Confederates (including 1,800 veteran Georgia infantrymen) moved into position west of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, in an effort to outflank a lengthy, horseshoe-shaped Union defensive line. The Yankees in the rifle pits and behind earthen entrenchments were a motley collection of hastily organized state militia, discharged Union army veterans, convalescing patients from the U. S. Army General Hospital in York and their Maryland guard detail, almost five dozen local black men serving in a non-mustered home guard company, and several active-duty soldiers of the 87th Pennsylvania who had retreated after the Second Battle of Winchester two weeks before many of the same Rebels threatened Wrightsville.

As the Rebels pressed forward and their four artillery pieces boomed, almost all of the Union men managed to retreat across the long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River into Columbia in western Lancaster County, setting it on fire to prevent pursuit. Rebels cut off Lt. Col. William H. Sickles and less than two dozen men of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia and forced them to surrender. Georgia infantrymen and Virginia cavalrymen patrolled the streets, looking for any more Yankees who had lingered in Wrightsville.

The only armed man they encountered was an unsuspecting Wrightsville civilian named George W. Wilson.

He wasn’t there to kill Rebels. He was instead carrying off a souvenir of the war.

Here is Wilson’s story, as told in the May 30, 1916, edition of the York Daily.


Wilson Brothers Have Shell Hurled into Wrightsville by Rebels

“George W. Wilson and brother Tempest are the owners of probably the only remaining percussion shell which was thrown into this town by the rebels on June 28, 1863. The shell is about eight inches in length and weighs nearly eight pounds. There were 35 [Confederate official records say 40] of these shells thrown into town from a small knoll on the farm of Joseph Stoner in Hellam township, a distance of about two miles [exaggerated]. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches and the dwelling house of James P. Drenning and a warehouse were struck by shells.

“Mr. Wilson had a narrow escape, at that time when he unwittingly picked up a discarded musket and started toward his home with it. He had reached an intersection of the streets when he was suddenly confronted with four rebels [likely members of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry], three of whom immediately leveled their carbines at him, but the fourth seeing that he put forth no efforts to use his musket ordered the others not to shoot. After being assured by Mr. Wilson that he was not a soldier and finding no ammunition upon his person he was allowed to pass along taking the musket with him.”

Want to hear more about Wrightsville and its Civil War history? Join blogger/author Scott Mingus on one of three planned walking tours of the town this spring and summer! Reservations are required.

Saturday, April 30, 2016, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Sponsored by Shank’s Mare.  Includes a delicious home-cooked lunch prepared by Liz Winand and her staff in the private dining room upstairs at Shank’s Mare. Join Shank’s Mare and guest leader Scott Mingus Sr. to hike the streets of Wrightsville and trace the steps of the Civil War conflict as it comes to the Susquehanna.  You’ll venture into little known areas of the town and see where the Union and Confederate troops positioned themselves prior to the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.  You’ll hear interesting stories of the town’s people, local militia, and military troops.  This easy hike ends back at Shank’s Mare for a hearty hot lunch. Advance reservations required. Fee — including guided hike, shuttle & lunch — Members $34/Person, Non-members $38/Person. Contact Liz at 717-252-1616 or email

Sunday, June 26, 2016, afternoon; exact time TBD – Sponsored by Historic Wrightsville, Inc. Scott Mingus will be leading a walking tour of Wrightsville, with special emphasis on the events 153 years ago this weekend when John Gordon’s Rebels attacked Union troops protecting the river crossing. More details will be forthcoming. Limited to 25 people. Contact Historic Wrightsville at (717) 252-1169 as the date comes closer.

Saturday, July 9, 2016, 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Sponsored by Randy Drais of This special, in-depth tour will involve both walking and driving with minimal parking areas at certain locations, so car-pooling will be necessary. Reservations required. Tour Fee: $15.00 per person (includes tour handout, light refreshments, bottle of water, a prize drawing, and discount coupons from 19 Gettysburg businesses and attractions, and a “Meet and Greet” afterward at the John Wright Restaurant located at 234 North Front Street in Wrightsville). Signed copies of Scott’s popular book Flames Beyond Gettysburg will be available for $15. Optional side-trip after lunch to the unknown Confederate’s grave along the river, or to Columbia’s Zion View Cemetery, depending upon interest levels. Contact Randy at to reserve your spot.