There’s no substitute for good customer service, even in wartime
Hanover, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War was a typical Pennsylvania town, with a town square marked by a public market shed where farmers could come to town once a week and sell their produce to townspeople and other shoppers. The sign for A. G. Schmidt’s drugstore is on the right of this photograph. Courtesy of the Hanover Historical Society. If I recall correctly, Schmidt’s wartime store was in a slightly different location.
June 27, 1863, was a day that the residents of Hanover would never forget. After days of persistent rain the skies brightened and the rain clouds went away. However, the day soon darkened in a different manner as a cloud of Confederate cavalry soon enveloped the regional commercial center. Lt. Col. Elijah V. White led his 200+ band of former partisans into downtown Hanover from Gettysburg, and troopers were soon busy destroying railroad track, severing telegraph wires, searching stables for fresh horses, and patrolling the streets. A handful of fleeing Hanoverians were chased out of town as bullets whizzed by. Several Rebels took the opportunity for a little shopping in downtown stores.
One thirsty officer entered A. G. Schmidt‘s drug store, hung his sword belt over a desk post, and demanded a pint of whiskey. Schmidt did not sell liquor, but he took an empty medicine bottle across the street to John Irving‘s hotel and purchased whiskey for the dumbfounded Rebel. Other cavalrymen came in later to buy soap, brushes, and combs for themselves, and several acquired fine-toothed ladies’ combs to send home. The officer, still sitting in a chair savoring his whiskey, told Schmidt that he should only accept greenbacks. Schmidt declared that the soldiers could take whatever they really needed and not worry about payment. He did accept a few Confederate bills, keeping them as souvenirs.
Detail of the 1860 map by Shearer & Lake as depicted on one of Hanover’s many Civil War wayside interpretive markers. A walking tour of Hanover and the Battle of Hanover is a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon if you are in the area.
Several Confederates traded their played-out horses for fresh mounts, at times using dire threats to get their way. Others exchanged Confederate currency for new horses. One staff officer wanted his lame horse re-shoed. Locating a blacksmith shop on Baltimore Street, he asked a group of townsmen standing across the street where the owner was. Blacksmith Peter Frank identified himself and told the Confederate that he wasn’t working. It was a holiday. When the Southerner asked why it was a day off, Frank replied, “The Johnnies are in town.” He was not open for business with Rebels, but he complied when the officer reached for his pistol. Entering his shop, Frank fanned the fire with his bellows and went to work. The Virginian pulled out a large wad of Federal bills and left $2 in greenbacks for Frank’s trouble and the new pair of horseshoes. Frank told him that if there were more Rebels with that kind of good money who also needed blacksmith services, the officer should send them his way.
After spending an hour in Hanover filling their saddlebags, pockets, and bellies, the Rebels left. White had not demanded a ransom from Hanover, nor had he demanded the formal surrender of the town. A bugle sounded and the 35th Battalion remounted, many on newly acquired horses. Cheering loudly, they headed out of town on York Street.
Excerpted from Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863, Ironclad Publishing, 2009.