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The Skirmish of Wrightsville, Part 2: The Comanches’ Line of Approach

The scenic Kreutz Creek in Hellam Township, York County, Pennsylvania. This creek roughly parallels the old rail bed of the Northern Central Railway and played a role in the June 28, 1863, Skirmish of Wrightsville. This was the line of approach used by a portion of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry to screen the movements of three regiments of Georgia infantry under Col. Clement A. Evans.
Cannonball reader Gerry Boehm is a history buff from Berks County, Pennsylvania. He has had a special interest in the June 28, 1863, Skirmish of Wrightsville, a subject that of course has special meaning to me. Gerry is working his way through my recent book, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863, which focuses on the expedition of part of Jubal A. Early’s Confederate division to seize the mile-and-a-quarter-long covered bridge spanning the Susquehanna River between Wrightsville and Columbia.

Copyright 2007, Scott Mingus and Tom Poston, all rights reserved. Map of the June 28, 1863 skirmish of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. No reproduction without written permission.

Gerry has been tramping the battlefield and taking photos of the southern portion, where the Virginia cavalry battalion later famed as “White’s Comanches” followed the railroad cut (the modern view is shown above) eastward toward the river until they encountered about fifty Union troopers under the command of Major Charles McL.Knox. An exchange of gunfire resulted in no casualties, although a bullet narrowly missed Knox, who soon took overall command of the small detachment of militia that was guarding the actual entrance to the bridge.

Following behind White’s troopers on the Northern Central Railroad bed (a crumbling remnant remains in several places) came three regiments of veteran Georgia infantry. No records have been found to properly identify which three regiments of the six in Gordon’s brigade that were in this southern flanking column. It is known that their commander, Colonel Evans’, own regiment, the 31st Georgia, was not with them, as Private Isaac G. Bradwell‘s post-war writings in Confederate Veteran have that regiment aligning along the York Turnpike and advancing directly toward Wrightsville from the west.

Gerry’s photo shows a field southwest of Wrightsville near Bair’s Mill Road and Cool Creek Golf Course. It is possible that some of White’s men emerged from the Kreutz Creek ravine near here, although I have placed them well to the east where the quarry is located today (that’s roughly where they encountered Knox’s First City Troopers). However, the left of the Georgia infantry likely was in the region shown in this photo.

Gerry’s keen interest in the Wrightsville battlefield stems from dozens of trips across the Susquehanna River from Berks County to take his kids to college down in Virginia. Knowing that Wrightsville was the “farthest east” that any organized units of the Army of Northern Virginia reached during the Gettysburg Campaign, Gerry began researching why the troops came to Wrightsville, what they were trying to accomplish, and their movements. He has been reading my book, as well as the Official Records and other accounts of that fateful Sunday evening so long ago that perhaps stopped a major Confederate incursion into Lancaster County.

The Confederate field of advance south of the railroad cut and along Kreutz Creek — the Rebel attack northward from this area would be slowed by volleys from the York Invalids (the patients from the U.S. Army Hospital in downtown York) and the remainder of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, men who had returned to their hometown after the debacle of the humiliating Union defeat at the Second Battle of Winchester on June 13-15 in the Shenandoah Valley.
As Union militia under the command of Colonel Jacob G. Frick retreated across the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, the Invalids covered the movement and held off Colonel Evans’ three regiments long enough to allow most of the defenders to reach Columbia before the bridge was set on fire to deny its use to General Gordon’s Rebels.
Concurrent the movements south of the turnpike, two Confederate regiments skirted the Hellam Heights (near today’s U.S. 30) and bore down on the river from the north. They captured twenty retreating Yankees from the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia (men who had unsuccessfully tried to defend Hanover Junction from White’s Comanches the previous afternoon).
Thank you Gerry for sharing your photographs of the southern approaches to the battlefield at Wrightsville! The positions of the opposing Union entrenchments and rifle pits has long ago been lost to a suburban housing development, but the creek and portion of the old railroad bed give a small glimpse of the 1863 terrain.