Part of the USA Today Network

The Rebel Entry into York, Pa. in Miniature – Part 2

The head of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s brigade of Confederate infantry filed four across into downtown York, Pa. about 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 28, 1863. York would be the largest Northern town to fall to the Rebels during the entire Civil War.
For part 1 of this entry, click here. Click on each photo to enlarge it for better viewing of the details.

Colonel Clement A. Evans of the 31st Georgia termed his regiment’s arrival a “triumphal entry” as Capt. W. H. “Tip” Harrison led the color guard and Company E into town. The band played a popular lively tune, Johnny Stole a Ham (also known as Out of the Wilderness, Down in Alabama, or The Old Gray Mare).

Cassandra Small and the ladies of her family had dressed for church, while the men stayed home. Just as the church bells rang, the Smalls heard shouts that the Rebels were coming. She later informed her cousin that she felt “humiliated and disgraced.”
Men who did not often cry now openly wept as Rebels marched into York with loud music and their flags fluttering in the morning breeze. Miss Small noticed a Confederate picket standing in front of the door of her home and wondered how he got there because he had arrived so suddenly and quietly. Soon other sentries lined Market Street. When she spoke to the guard, he informed her that they were only there to keep the infantrymen in line when they passed through town.

Private I. Gordon Bradwell of the 31st Georgia noted the strong contrast between their sullen hosts in Gettysburg and the more curious residents of York, who “seemed animated by a different spirit.” As this was Sunday, everyone, young and old, male and female, was “rigged out in his or her best.” The crowd was so thick that the regiment passed through the throng with great difficulty, marching two by two instead of the customary four by four. The townspeople exhibited “the greatest anxiety” to converse with the Confederate soldiers, but officers hurried their men along at the quickstep, determined that they should not pause or break ranks.

Arriving in town shortly afterward with his main force, General Gordon noticed the stark contrast between his marching infantrymen and the churchgoers in their Sunday best. His men, horses, and wagons were begrimed from “head to foot with the impalpable gray powder” from long days of marching on the turnpike. It was “no wonder that many of York’s inhabitants were terror-stricken as they looked upon us.” Jubal Early had left the brigade’s baggage wagons at Greenwood in order to speed its marches. There was now no possibility for the dirty soldiers to change their clothing nor did they have time to brush their uniforms or wash the dust from their faces, hair, and beards. All the Confederates were of the same hideous hue. “Barefooted men mounted double upon huge horses with shaggy manes and long fetlocks” speckled the grotesque-appearing column.

Gordon’s long column passed through York on three parallel streets before regrouping east of town and then following today’s State Route 462 (the old Lincoln Highway) to Wrightsville, where they hoped to capture the Columbia Bridge.
By 11:30 or so, the last of Gordon’s men had left York.
However, within an hour more Rebels poured into town from the north. They were Col. I. E. Avery’s North Carolina brigade, and to the chagrin of the residents, the Tar Heels occupied York for two days. They camped on the old fairgrounds and on Penn Common, home of the U.S. Army Hospital.

As they marched through York, the Rebels had time to form judgments about the townspeople. Not surprisingly, they paid close attention to the ladies lining the sidewalks and balconies. During the entire time that ordnance officer William Lyon was in Pennsylvania, he never encountered a single female who appeared delicate and refined. While he saw many well-dressed ones in York and other towns, even these women “showed unmistakable signs of lowness and vulgarity.”
In return, York residents drew mixed opinions about the dirty, foul-smelling Southern troops marching through their principal streets. In some cases, bareheaded Confederates lifted hats from the heads of bystanders, including 17-year-old David Landis. A few terrified inhabitants withdrew into their homes, shutters and curtains drawn tight. By contrast, some Copperheads openly demonstrated support for the invaders. Handkerchiefs waved from two leading hotels and a few nearby residences.
Text adapted from Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863 (Savas Beatie, 2011). Watch this Cannonball blog for information about this newly expanded and greatly improved book featuring all-new maps by cartographer Steven Stanley of Gettysburg!