Stuart’s Ride through York County
The subject of a talk on May 21, 2008, by noted author J. David Petruzzi — famed Confederate cavalry general James E. B. “Jeb” Stuart, who was killed less than a year after his controversial ride around the Union army.
As a prelude to J. David Petruzzi’s presentation Wednesday night at the monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table (7:00 p.m., York County Heritage Trust, 250 East Market Street, York; FREE admission!!!), I offer a couple of anecdotes from famed Confederate cavalier J.E.B. Stuart’s torturous ride through western York County, which included a late night trek from the Battle of Hanover northward to Dover.
Of the nearly 10,000 Confederates that traversed York County in late June 1863, Stuart’s troopers developed a reputation (well deserved) as the most significant horse thieves in the Rebel army. There are more than 900 damage claims filed after the war by farmers and residents of the county, and at least 600 of these deal directly with the theft of horses or mules by Stuart’s passing column. It’s hard to imagine how much they may have taken had they been allowed the luxury of staying and resting a few days, like their cavalry counterparts under William H. French and Elijah V. White, who accompanied Jubal A. Early’s column into York and did their own fair share of horse trading.
Here is an entry from an article I wrote on Stuart’s Ride for The Gettysburg Magazine this past January. The Rebels began leaving Hanover late in the afternoon of June 30, and arrived in Dillsburg late on July 1, one of the more gruelling 24-hour rides of the Civil War as men and horses were exhausted and the country roas winding and very hilly.
Stuart related, “Our wagon train was now a subject of serious embarrassment, but I thought, by making a detour to the right by Jefferson, I could save it.” He detained three citizens as guides in the unfamiliar countryside. At dusk, Brigadier General William H. F. “Rooney” Lee’s brigade, commanded by Colonel John Chambliss since Lee’s wounding at Brandy Station, and the artillery departed. Well after dark, Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s brigade disengaged, with orders to hold off any pursuers. By 10:00 p.m., few Confederates remained in Hanover, except the dead, severely wounded, prisoners, and deserters. Meanwhile, Kilpatrick boasted to his commander, Major General Alfred Pleasonton, “We have plenty of forage, the men are in good spirits, and we don’t fear Stuart’s whole cavalry.” However, he decided not to aggressively pursue his foe.
Stuart detained a “fat Dutchman” who was suspiciously counting the Rebel horsemen. The man was too well informed to be left behind with the enemy, and Stuart requested him to “come along” on a nearby Conestoga draft horse. Captain John Esten Cooke, Stuart’s Chief of Ordnance, watched as the Pennsylvanian ignored the request. A cavalryman “made a tremendous blow,” and the corpulent civilian mounted the massive horse “in hot haste, with only a halter to guide the elephant.” Confederates roared with laughter when “the Conestoga ran off, descended the slope at full speed, bounded elephant-like over an enormous ditch—and it was only by clinging close with hands and knees that the Dutchman kept his seat. Altogether, the spectacle was one to tickle the ribs of death.” Cooke added, “The last I saw of the captive, he was in the very centre of the cavalry column, which was moving at a trot, and he was swept on with it; passing away for ever from the eyes of this historian, who knows not what became of him thereafter.”