Virginia soldier describes invading York PA during the Gettysburg Campaign
Downtown York, Pennsylvania, before the Civil War. York was the largest town in the North to fall to the Confederate army during the entire war. This illustration is a detail taken from an old book about York. (Author’s collection).
Jim Kincheloe was among the more than 11,000 Confederate soldiers who invaded York County, PA during the last weekend of June 1863. The 27-year-old second lieutenant of Company C of the 49th Virginia Infantry, he was an antebellum attorney and a graduate of the University of Virginia. His regiment, commanded by former Virginia governor William “Extra Billy” Smith, had fought the Yankees for two years, having been one of the original Confederate units at the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run to us Northerners). He had survived wounds, suffered through the imprisonment and death of his wounded younger brother Wickliffe, and endured thousands of miles of marching in all kinds of weather. He had fought at Bull Run, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, French’s Fields/King’s School House, Frazier’s Farm, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Second Winchester.
Lieutenant Kincheloe, an excellent violinist and a dancing instructor as well as a pre-war math teacher and lawyer, kept a detailed diary of his Civil War experiences. Of particular interest to those Civil War buffs here in York County are his brief notes penned while in camp for two days north of York along North George Street. Extra Billy’s boys arrived in York about 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 28, 1863, after marching through Weigelstown (which he misspells in his diary, a natural mistake for a non-native). He relates that Smith’s Brigade went into camp an hour later.
That night, the fun began when some of the boys discovered a large supply of York County rye whiskey…
Here are the young officer’s diary entries for Monday and Tuesday.
“June 29th: No orders this morning. Our whole camp is drunk on Dutch whiskey which is diffused profusely through camp. Capt. Randolph and myself go into York early this morning for the purpose of getting clothes. We see a frightened and astonished people… all Dutch and take our coming as their certain destruction. Gen’l. Early made requisition on them for a large amount of shoes, boots, hats, etc. say about 3,000 sets, which they were shelling out about as fast as anything I ever saw. They could not have evinced more energy and zeal if they had been selling at large profit. It is also said he made requisition on them for $100,000 in green backs–its truth cannot be vouched for. Their stores are closed to everyone except the authorized officials of the Gen’l. However, we succeeded in getting some shirts, etc. Orders to have three days rations on hand cooked and be ready to move at daylight in the morning.”
June 30th: Commence to march at daylight this morning. Take the same route we marched to York. The 49th Va. Is rearguard for the division today. The march is very hasty. Came through Berlin at 3 o’clock, leaving the Hampton Road ¾ of a mile from that place to the right. Camp about 5 miles from Berlin north of Hampton at dark, having gone 24 miles. Our men were more fatigued than any day of our march yet. Some of their feet almost skinned by the rubbing (of new shoes).”
Jim Kincheloe had less than a year to live when he raided the store in downtown York, likely paying for his purchases with worthless (to the shopkeeper) Confederate scrip. As he marched off to war back in 1861, he had been the featured speaker at a 4th of July rally in Warrenton, Virginia, where the ladies of the town presented the 49th Virginia with a handmade silk flag. To loud cheers, he had commented, “When we return to tell the story of victory, grant us this last boon: Decorate the graves of our slain with the flowers of spring, and their monuments with the mottoes of liberty.”
Ironically, William James Kincheloe would never return to Warrenton and would be among the slain.
On the morning of August 29, 1864, two divisions of Federal cavalry attacked and defeated Confederate cavalry near Smithfield, in Jefferson County, Virginia. A contemporary account reads, “The infantry was called out, and the skirmishers thrown forward drove the enemy back. Pegram’s brigade was ordered to halt and presently to face about. As Kincheloe gave the command ‘Right about, Company C!’ he was seen to fall, and upon examination was found to be shot in the back of the head, the ball penetrating the brain. The report of the gun was not heard. He was buried in the cemetery at Smithfield, whose ladies, we will hope, ‘decorate his grave with the flowers of spring.'”