Rebels visit Dover – part 1 of a series
The historic Salem Church near Dover, Pennsylvania, as seen in the summer of 2008. On the night of June 30 – July 1,1863, this prominent landmark was passed by thousands of Confederate cavalrymen, although most made the passage long after dark.
A reader has asked me to spend a little time exploring the Civil War history of Dover, Pennsylvania. Two of my adult children live near that community, as well as my grandsons, so the Dover area is of particular interest to me.
Dover has a rich history during the Gettysburg Campaign, and I wrote a well-received article a couple of years ago on “J.E.B. Stuart Visits Dover, Pennsylvania” which appeared in Gettysburg Magazine. Over the next few weeks, occasionally i will present some stories and anecdotes from this article, and from other sources.
This period map shows Dover’s streets, houses, and businesses during the Civil War era. On June 27, 1863, a small party of mounted Rebels rode into town from the northwest, having trotted down from their camp in eastern Cumberland County.
During the last two weeks of June 1863, Dover residents received frequent scares when travellers rode through the little town screaming, “The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming!” However, the reports always proved false, and the citizens went back to their work.
The incorrect news was a result of the mass hysteria that had spread throughout south-central Pennsylvania, and rumors were flying thick and fast in many communities as to exactly where the Confederate army was heading. However, the wild speculation and unfounded rumors turned to grim reality the last week of the month when the first Confederates entered York County.
On Saturday, June 27, a small patrol from Brig. Gen. Alfred G. Jenkins’ cavalry brigade departed Dillsburg in northwestern York County. The troopers followed the State Road down to Dover, where they seized some horses and supplies, paying with Confederate currency, before departing back to their brigade camp near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There are several damage claims filed after the war from residents of Clear Spring and other sites in Franklin Township, and these farmers were the first of nearly 700 York Countians to receive unwelcome visits from Rebel raiders.
The small raiding party certainly was annoying and worrisome for Dover residents, but, unknown to the residents at the time, a pair of much more dangerous threats loomed. The first threat was narrowing averted by the route selected by the Confederate strategists to reach the borough of York. The second threat, however, would bring the heart and soul of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia directly into town.
The morning after Jenkins’ West Virginia horsemen snatched horses in northwestern York County, on Sunday June 28, Jubal Early’s powerful 5,000-man infantry division marched directly towards Dover. Here was the fruition of all those rumors and wild tales. The Rebel army really was now marching through York County.
A frantic horseman arrived at Salem Church just as Dr. Henry Kehm was delivering his morning prayer. The rider dismounted, shouting that Rebels were coming. This time, it was not a rumor. The congregants, mostly farmers, left quickly to hide their horses. However, luckily for the residents of the immediate Dover vicinity, the lengthy Confederate column turned southeast on Davidsburg Road and took Carlisle Road south towards York.
A few horsemen from Colonel William H. French’s 17th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, detached from Early’s main body, stole horses from farmers in eastern Dover Township as they headed from Weigelstown to York Haven.
On June 30, Early’s infantrymen and French’s saddle soldiers again bypassed Dover, retracing their movement back up Davidsburg Road. However, some foragers or stragglers apparently did enter the town and secure supplies for the dusty march.
That evening, the real trouble arrived… Stuart’s cavalry.