Part of the USA Today Network

The cost of the Rebel invasion – Part 3

An early 20th century view of the replacement bridge and the immediate area where several railroad buildings had burned down in 1863 as an indirect result of the Rebel invasion. Out of view to the right of this scene would have been the vicinity of the old industrial complex and warehouses that were also destroyed on June 28, 1863.
While Columbia Bank officials lamented the loss of their cash cow, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, after a six-hour blaze that entirely destroyed it, many residents of Wrightsville watched in horror as embers from the burning bridge were carried by the wind into the buildings along the York County riverbank. Soon, several structures were on fire, and, in one of the Civil War’s more amazing acts of humanity and compassion, Confederate officers ordered their men to form a bucket bridge to dip water from the canal and river. Hand-over-hand, the Georgia infantrymen passed the heavy buckets to the end of the line, where the water was thrown onto the most threatened buildings, many of which were saved by this act of heroism from the Rebel invaders. The irony? Some of the Georgians hailed from Darien, Georgia, a town torched a few weeks before by Union troops, including black soldiers from Columbia, Pennsylvania, across the river from Wrightsville.

However, the weary Rebels could not save all the riverfront buildings, several of which were consumed by the growing conflagration. Among the losses were a millinery, the Wrightsville post office, some private homes, a large lumber mill and associated warehouses, some fully loaded railcars sitting waiting to cross the bridge, planing mill, iron foundry, and various other buildings.
The official estimate at the time was a total loss to the town of between $16,000 and $21,000 in 1863 dollars, a staggering sum that was for the most part uninsured. Several residents eventually hired a York legal firm to represent them in a futile attempt to force the U.S. government to compensate them for their losses, but no cash was forthcoming.
Another dozen or so buildings were damaged, but repairable. Work crews started the tedious work of restoring them to usable condition. Scores of men were now temporarily without work, although most of the lost industries eventually reopened.