To Surrender York or not?
Brig. Gen. John Brown Gordon, CSA
Author and newspaperman Jim McClure has recently posted a series of interesting articles on his excellent blog, York Town Square, regarding the controversy about whether or not York actually surrendered to the Confederates, or whether the occupation of York was merely of mutual consent. What if the city fathers and the Army had decided to stand and fight, presumably triggering a battle on the ridges west of town along Route 30 in the vicinity of the vital intersection with Berlin Road?
Let’s take a look at whether the decision to abandon York without a fight was a wise one.
* John B. Gordon’s brigade of ~2,000 men (Busey & Martin list them at 1,803 combatants at Gettysburg; they had a few more at York) – These men were experienced and well-trained combat veterans. The vast majority were mountain men from North Georgia and woodsmen / farmers / hunters from South Georgia. Most were crack shots, particularly the 26th Georgia. They had fought (and beaten) some of the best troops in the entire Union Army. They held their ground stubbornly at Antietam, slaughtered Yankees with impunity at Second Manassas, clobbered Milroy’s men at Winchester, and had rarely, it ever, tasted defeat. Gordon, newly in command of the brigade in late May, had suffered five wounds at Antietam while leading the 6th Alabama, and had been promoted (after recovering) to lead this brigade. They were among Lee’s “shock troops,” and most were equipped with English rifles from the Enfield Company, althrough captured Union Springfields were common as well.
* Elijah White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry – partisan rangers and guerrilla fighters from Loudoun County, Virginia and the Poolesville, Maryland area, these men were tough and ready for a tumble. They had engaged in their own regional civil war in the Leesburg vicinity, battlling their neighbors who had organized into a Union partisan force. They were used to killing and were not gunshy. They carried an assortment of pistols, with some scattered shotguns and cavalry carbines. Few, if any other than the officers, had swords or sabres.
* William Tanner’s Courtney Artillery – a well-trained and experienced Virginia artillery battery of four 3″ Rifles, they would fire nearly 1,000 rounds at Gettysburg, including participating in the bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge. They had plenty of ammunition captured at Winchester, and a reputation as a fighting unit.
* Company C, 17th Virginia Cavalry – A company of mountain men from West Virginia, Captain Thaddeus Waldo’s men were experienced scouts. They were also adept at burning bridges, and had torched a few along Route 30 on the Gettysburg Railroad as they trotted towards York County. A part of former U.S. Congressman Albert Jenkins’ brigade of mounted infantry, they carried infantry rifles and used infantry tactics after they rode to the battlefield.
Those were the troops steadily bearing down on York. Veteran killers with a cold, hard edge in combat, these men were in high spirits, with great morale, after whipping a lot of veteran Yankees in the Shenandoah Valley the previous week and scattering them to the winds. All in all, it was a formidable group of some of the finest soldiers yet seen in North America. Gordon’s men would remain among the Army of Northern Virginia’s elite throughout the war.
In the next installment, we will look at the motley crew that the state and Federal government had assembled to protect York against the oncoming gray tide, which may have totaled some 2,500 men, including the noncombatants.