The temptations of York?
York during the American Civil War era was an attractive, prosperous town, one that almost universally brought compliments from the soldiers that passed through it. For at least one soldier, the charms of the town offered another opportunity that was too good to pass up – the chance to slip away from the Union army and desert.
John Joyner was an antebellum farmer in rural Ontario County in New York. Born in tiny Virgil, NY, he scratched out a living working the soil. When the Civil War erupted in 1861, he decided to stay home, at least initially. However, on August 9, he finally signed up for the army, enlisting in Company K of the 126th New York State Volunteer Infantry. The 27-year-old Joyner was appointed as a corporal.
He saw his first combat action in an engagement at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) later that fall during the Maryland Campaign. On September 15, he and his comrades in the regiment surrendered to Stonewall Jackson, who controlled the high ground that dominated the river town. Most of the regiment was sent to Chicago, where it stayed until the men were formally paroled. The men were rearmed and transported to Union Mills, Maryland, to rejoin the service.
Away from home, discouraged by the surrender, and perhaps lonely or bored with military life, Joyner’s military career came to an end a little more than short three months after he enlisted. His service record merely states: “Deserted at Little York, Pennsylvania, November 26th, 1862.”
Joyner missed the redemption of the so-called “Harper’s Ferry Cowards,” when the 126th NY served gallantly at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.