The Skirmish at Dover
Dover’s venerable Salem Church was the scene of a small skirmish in June 1863 during the Gettysburg Campaign.
York County had a major cavalry battle at Hanover, as well as a skirmish at Wrightsville that easily could have been a more significant fight had the opposing commanders made other decisions. There were dozens of smaller engagements, often no more than a few cavalry scouts shooting at each other such as in the case of the 17th Virginia’s brief exchange of potshots with the First City Troop west of York on June 27.
Here is a brief account of a short firefight on the ridges west of Dover on July 1.
On Sunday June 28, Jubal Early’s 5,000-man division had marched directly towards Dover before changing course. A horseman arrived at Salem Church (on Canal Road just west of the village) during Dr. Henry Kehm’s morning prayer. The rider dismounted, shouting that Rebels were coming. The congregants, mostly farmers, left quickly to hide their horses. However, the lengthy Confederate column Early turned southeast on Davidsburg Road and took Carlisle Road south towards York. Dover residents breathed a sigh of relief. However, their respite would be brief.
Two days later, Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s three brigades of cavalry had withdrawn from the Hanover area late on June 30 following the battle there and had marched through the night to Dover, where they camped. Union Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick (a direct ancestor of both CNN newsman Cooper Anderson and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt) ordered a patrol of cavalry to bird-dog the tail of Stuart’s miles-long column as it headed northward. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Alexander, the detachment had managed to avoid detection as it monitored the Rebel movements.
However, as they crested the rise at Salem Church where East Salem Church Road intersects with Canal Road, they were spotted by advance pickets of Confederate Brigadier General Wade Hampton III. A firefight ensued, as the Yankees dismounted and briefly advanced toward the distant Confederate line (which likely was on the ridge just west of today’s Dover High School). Alexander withdrew down Canal Road out of sight. Later, he resumed his reconnaissance mission, trailing Stuart’s column as far as Rossville before finally turning back to report to General Kilpatrick.
No one is known to have been shot during the exchange of gunfire at Dover, an event so obscure it did not make it into the official records of the Gettysburg Campaign. However, the gunfire was remembered by local residents, and details of Alexander’s patrol have been mentioned in a few published works.