Recollections of the near battle at Dillsburg
Background post: A Near-Miss at Dillsburg!
Quite some time ago I wrote about a near-miss during the Gettysburg Campaign at Dillsburg, Pa., where the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia deployed in ranks on a hillside near the village in an effort to resist an anticipated charge by the elements of former U.S. congressman Albert Jenkins’ Confederate cavalry. In scanning through some old material today, I found a first hand account of Private Dennis Bashore Shuey, a teenaged student and part-time teacher from Lebanon County. Nearly six decades after his brief visit to Dillsburg, he published his recollections in a family genealogy book. Here is D. B. Shuey’s account of the fight at Witmer Farm near Gettysburg, and the subsequent retreat to Dillsburg in northwestern York County.
“After school closed for the summer, the call for troops issued by President Lincoln, when General Lee’s army invaded Pennsylvania, again appealed to him, and he enlisted in Company A, 26th Regiment, P. V. I., on June 23, 1863, and on the following day they were transferred to Gettysburg, but the train being derailed by running over a cow, when but six miles from its destination, was delayed two nights and a day, did not reach Gettysburg until Friday morning, June 26. This regiment was under command of Col. W. W. Jennings, who had just returned from nine months’ service as colonel of the 127th regiment. He was an officer who was both brave and tactful. This 26th Regiment was the first to arrive at Gettysburg. It was not then known that any Confederate soldiers were anywhere near to that place, but this regiment was to be used as a guard in one of the mountain passes near Gettysburg.
Company A of this regiment was largely composed of students from the Lutheran College and Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. It was therefore a pleasure for them to come to Gettysburg, but their joy was of short duration. In one hour after their arrival, the colonel was ordered by Major [Granville O.] Haller of the U. S. Regular Army, to march his men out on the Chambersburg pike, with Company A, as customary, in the front. Although fifty-six years have since elapsed, he distinctly remembers seeing three men on horseback approaching the regiment, but as soon as they saw them they wheeled around and galloped off. These men were, no doubt, Confederate officers. The 26th Regiment was marched to the right into a field near the woods and tents were soon put up, but as it was very wet ground after raining several days, he, with others, found a pile of newly-made shingles in the woods, which were appropriated for floors in the tents, and just then the order was given hastily, “Strike tents and march.” One of his tent mates was detailed and had gone out on picket duty. He was likely captured as he never saw him afterwards.
The march was in a northeasterly direction across the fields, through mud, until about three o’clock in the afternoon, when many from fatigue could no longer march and straggled, and some climbed cherry trees to eat cherries, when the order was quickly given to form in line of battle, in the field to the right of the road. All was confusion and many men lost their places in their own company. He found himself in Company E, which was from Lebanon, White’s cavalry, a part of General Gordon’s division [actually French’s 17th Virginia of Early’s Division], came in sight in their rear. They turned and opened fire upon the Confederates, to which they quickly responded with their carbine firing. The U. S. line was behind a fence, lying down to escape the Confederate bullets. Two bullets struck the rail in front of his face. All the stragglers and cherry eaters were captured, and White’s [French’s] cavalry, after some loss, retreated with more than one hundred men  as prisoners, who were paroled the next day.
The march was resumed and after going a mile, he found Company A, and discovered roll call had been made to ascertain the number lost and he had been marked missing. He was glad to take his place in the ranks again. The following day, Saturday, this regiment was again drawn up in line for battle in Dillsburg, with Company A in the front, each man resting on one knee with bayonet set to meet the approach of cavalry, and each company to the rear was to successively fire over the heads of those in front to keep the enemy back. But it was a false alarm. The regiment reached Harrisburg on Sunday afternoon, having marched fifty-four hours out of sixty successive hours, without food and shelter, and appeared as if they might have been in hard service six months or a year, although they had but left Harrisburg the Wednesday before in their new uniforms. The nearest approach the Confederate army ever made to Harrisburg, some six miles out, was in their attempt to capture this whole regiment, and this they could easily have done had it not been for the tactful manoeuvering of Colonel Jennings. Later history informs us that Lee’s whole army was delayed one day because Lee could not find out where this branch of his troops were, who were in search of this regiment. This one day’s delay gave General Meade, with the army of the Potomac, a great opportunity to advance northward, to thwart the plans of Lee to sieze the northern cities and obtain supplies for his army. The 26th Regiment, therefore, was the cause of these two vast armies meeting at Gettysburg, and the greatest battle during the whole war was the result, which was the beginning of the end of the war.
On account of this strenuous march and exposure, he was not able to stand on his feet, the morning after reaching Harrisburg, and the surgeon sent him to the hospital, on account of articular rheumatism, which he had contracted and from which he has
suffered ever since. On July 10 he left the hospital and joined the regiment again for further service, though not well. After further hard service in the Cumberland valley, endeavoring to prevent the Confederate army from the crossing the Potomac back into Virginia, this regiment, by order of the War Department, was honorably discharged, July 30, 1863.
Shuey, D. B., History of the Shuey Family in America from 1732 to 1919. Galion, Ohio: self-published, 1919. pp. 106-108.