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The tanned Confederate colonel: Part 1

Col. William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, CSA (Library of Congress)
William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, CSA (Library of Congress)

W. H. F. Payne had been an attorney from Warrenton, Virginia, before the Civil War. The father of ten had enlisted as a private in a local military unit at the start of the war, but soon became a captain in the famed Black Horse Cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart and later the major of the 4th Virginia Cavalry. By the spring of 1863, Payne was the lieutenant colonel of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry in Stuart’s division, fighting in the Chancellorsville Campaign and then in the Gettysburg Campaign.

Payne was but one of more than 11,000 Confederate soldiers who visited York County, Pennsylvania, during the Gettysburg Campaign but his story certainly ranks among the most unique. Here is his personal reminiscence of the June 30, 1863, battle of Hanover, as taken from the May 10, 1901, edition of the York Daily.

He would emerge with his physical being, and his reputation, temporarily stained.

1860 map of Hanover, Pennsylvania (PHMC)
1860 map of downtown Hanover, Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Colonel Payne’s initial charge traveled up Frederick Street toward the town’s center square. (PHMC)

“We did not know there were so many Federal soldiers in front of us, when our advance attacked them in Hanover on June 30, 1863,” said General Payne. “Two or more of our regiments had made a charge on the Federal rear, and were driven back over the road to Littleton (Littlestown). Then General Stuart came riding up to me, and asked that I lead a second charge on the enemy and drive them out of town. With my own command and another we dashed forward through the streets, alleyways and byways, but soon met a stubborn resistance from the Federal force which came upon us with a rush. We had a hand to hand encounter on the Square, and behind a church (the Methodist) and were finally driven back, but we expected soon to rally our whole force, for FItz Hugh Lee and Wade Hampton in the meantime were coming up with their brigades and a long train of captured wagons. My regiment fell back, being followed in hot pursuit by the enemy.”

“Just as I got to the western edge of the town near a spring and some sheds as I thought they were, a Federal soldier, with whom I had an encounter, struck me with his saber across the back of my neck. At the same instance my horse was shot and fell. I crawled over a fence, intent on finding my way into the shed. In moving that way I fell into a tan vat and sank down into it over my head. My mouth and ears took in some of the tan bark liquid. My wound gave me great pain, but I had strength enough to climb up and when halfway out of the liquid I saw a Federal soldier coming out of the shed.

“Hello, Johnnie,” said he, “what are you doing in the tan vat?”

“Help me out,” I shouted.

“He pulled me out, and we both entered the shed where we engaged in a conversation while the contending forces were still clashing sabers and firing carbines out on the road.”

The Winebrenner tannery was along Frederick Street south of Hanover's square (YCHC).
The Winebrenner tannery was along Frederick Street south of Hanover’s square (YCHC).

The tanning vat into which Payne had stumbled and fell was owned by Henry Winebrenner, who lived not far from his business. Winebrenner shipped tanned hides from Hanover on the railroad to Hanover Junction and from there to markets in Baltimore and York. The old tannery has long since been torn down, but a historical marker has been erected in recent years at the location.

In my next post, we will return to Lieutenant Colonel Payne’s narrative as he and the Union trooper converse at the Winebrenner Tannery. To read much more on the battle of Hanover, the largest military engagement in York County’s history, pick up a copy of John T. Krepps’ A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover and/or Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi’s Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.