The Rebels and the U.S. Post Office
During much of the Gettysburg Campaign, postmasters and mail carriers throughout south-central Pennsylvania feared they would be specifically targeted by oncoming Confederate forces. Paranoia swept the region, and there are dozens of stories about postmasters who hid their mail and parcels to avoid them being lost to the Rebs, and many Federal employees fled to avoid capture. Did they really have to fear the Confederates or was it merely mass hysteria?
The answer appears to be a resounding yes, in many cases, to both questions. As Richard Ewell’s Second Army Corps entered Pennsylvania in late June of 1863, they did target post offices and Federal installations. Chambersburg’s postmaster fled to Harrisburg, taking his mailbags with him, but the postmasters of Fairfield and Greencastle were not so fortunate. They were indeed captured and eventually taken into Virginia as prisoners of war, spending considerable time in Confederate jails. Postmaster David Beuhler of Gettysburg packed his most valuable government property into a valise and headed for Hanover in the train. One of his mail carriers, fleeing down Baltimore Pike, inadvertantly dropped a mail bag in Anna Garlach’s yard, but she secreted it so the Rebels would not take it. Harrisburg’s postmaster eventually fled, as did many other Federal employees.
What about York County’s post offices?
When word came that Rebels were approaching York County, Dover Postmaster Alexander Spangler handed the sacks of mail to 16-year-old Oliver M. Stough, who galloped off to Rohler’s Church to conceal them in a stone quarry. Spangler, fearful of being captured, spent hours hiding behind a partition in his house while his terrified wife anxiously watched for Rebels. He was not harmed when J.E.B. Stuart later occupied Dover.
In downtown York, Postmaster Alexander Frey grabbed sacks of mail and headed out of town. Two prominent businessmen, David E. Small and John Small, offered him a ride in their wagon. Together, they headed to Wrightsville, where, after a lengthy queue waiting to pay the toll, they crossed the Susquehanna to safety in Columbia. There, Gettysburg’s David Beuhler had also finally reached safety after leaving Hanover when Rebels approached that town.
As with most other rural post offices, Seven Valleys Postmaster Henry Bott was also a shopkeeper. Rebel cavalrymen entered his store on June 28 and appropriated clothing and supplies, paying for them with worthless Confederate currency. They did not kidnap Bott or his wife, and there is no record they disturbed the mail. In Jefferson Station, postmaster / merchant Jacob Rebert fled when news arrived of oncoming Rebel cavalry. Thirsty Southerners cracked open two barrels of fine whiskey left in the shop.
Wrightsville’s post office burned to the ground in the conflagration that engulfed parts of the river town when flaming embers from the burning bridge ignited a series of fires that spread through the town. The postmaster had previously removed much of the mail and valuables.
Are there Civil War stories of your local post office? If so, please post comments.