The Preacher and the General
Tucked in a pleasant little valley not far from Spring Grove, this house was the home in 1863 of the Rev. Samuel L. Roth, a prominent area minister whose church was not far from his abode.
Background post: Confederate camp site – Jacob S. Altland House.
As an attorney, Civil War general, railroad executive, coal mine owner, U.S. Senator, and Governor of Georgia (as well as an early organizer of the KKK in Georgia by some accounts), John Brown Gordon met thousands of people during his busy lifetime. The vast majority were forgettable – common folks who elicited no special mention or recognition, consigned to be just another hand shaken by a veteran politician, or another nameless private saluting his commander.
However, a handful of York Countians received special recognition from Gordon in the years after the war during his popular speaking tours and his oft-quoted and somewhat controversial memoirs. And then there were his memorable encounters with Samuel Roth, a Jackson Township preacher whose persistence and never-give-up attitude stayed long in the memory of the Confederate general.
Here are some copyrighted excerpts taken from the upcoming book from Ironclad Publications, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863, featuring a forward by cavalry superstar Eric J. Wittenberg, the co-owner with J. David Petruzzi and others of the botique publishing company.
On June 27, Gordon camped at Farmers. He sent small parties around to collect horses and livestock. Here is how I described this human interest story in our book. “One of Gordon’s staff officers stopped at the home of Samuel L. Roth, who pastored a Mennonite church between the Confederate campsites at Farmers and Spring Forge. Soldiers had previously pilfered a pair of the preacher’s horses, but had left behind Fox, the family’s gentle gray mare. Claiming the mount in the name of General Gordon, the lieutenant informed the family that Pennsylvanians had to provide both food and horses for the Confederates. One of Roth’s daughters begged the Rebel not to take the last remaining horse of a minister, as he needed it to visit members of his congregation. The Reverend Roth informed the Georgian that he would personally see the general and get his horse back. Unconcerned, the Confederate seized the mare and presented it to Gordon…”
On June 30, the preacher and the general indeed met. It would not be the last time… “After paroling the Yankees captured at Wrightsville, John Gordon established his headquarters along the Carlisle Road. Samuel L. Roth, the persistent Mennonite pastor, finally located him and demanded that Gordon return his gentle mare, appropriated by a staff officer on Saturday evening. Gordon had already been informed that the horse in question belonged to a minister, and had sent it off to his adjutant for safekeeping. Gordon told the grateful pastor that he could indeed reclaim his horse. Roth, fearing that Rebel pickets might stop him and take the animal a second time, asked for a written pass. Much to Roth’s surprise, the general instructed his adjutant to escort the preacher back to his home personally. Upon the safe return of his mare to its stall, Roth invited the officer to join his jubilant family for dinner.”
Samuel Roth’s and John Gordon’s paths were to cross once more, when they were old men in the twilight of their own respective brilliant careers. “On March 6, 1894, the old general again visited York, presenting his popular ‘Last Days of the Confederacy’ speech at the Opera House. At the nearby Colonial Hotel, he encountered old Samuel L. Roth, the Mennonite pastor who had persuaded Gordon to return his stolen horse three decades before.”
The preacher and the general – two men who lives intersected for a few brief moments as a direct result of the Confederate War Department’s decision to invade Pennsylvania.