Would the Rebels have burned down York???
Last night at York’s Patriot Days celebration panel discussion at the York County Heritage Trust, four authors with York ties along with author and newspapermen Jim McClure briefly discussed whether York should have surrendered to Maj. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. There was no military reason to defend York, and the army did what it felt was prudent tactically to withdraw to the Susquehanna River, which they had been ordered to defend. The key issue was the controversial decision of York’s leaders to seek out the Rebels and negotiate for the safety of the town, as act some Yorkers of that day felt was treasonous, while others strongly believed it saved the town from destruction.
One important point brought up by the panelists was that Jubal Early would likely have been court-martialled had he wantonly torched a Northern town against Robert E. Lee’s orders. Targets of military value such as warehouses, railroads, bridges, telegraphs, etc. were allowable, but private property was not to be touched. Lee has issued very stern (for him) orders regarding his men’s behavior, and it is incomprehensible to me that a major general, one of Lee’s personal acquaintances and most trusted fighters, would have taken such a daring risk. True, Early had burned Congressman Thaddeus Stevens’ Caledonia Iron Works, but Early had rationalized that this was fair game in retaliation for Stevens’ open encouragment of the destruction of property in the South.
Here is the text of Lee’s General Orders #72, which governed the behavior of his troops while in Pennsylvania. Read them, and you decide if Jubal Early would have been in trouble had he burned down York…
Headquarters Army Northern Virginia, June 21, 1863.
General Orders No. 72
While in the enemy’s country, the following regulation for procuring supplies will be strictly observed, and any violation of them promptly and vigorously punished.
No. I. No private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, except by the officers hereinafter designated.
No. II. The chiefs of the commissary, quartermaster, ordnance and medical departments of the army will make requisitions upon the local authorities or inhabitants for the necessary supplies for their respective departments, designating the places and times of delivery. All persons complying with such requisitions shall be paid the market price for the articles furnished, if they so desire, and the officer making such payments, shall take duplicate receipts for the same, specifying the name of the person paid, and the quantity, kind, and price of the property, one of which receipts shall be at once forwarded to the chief of the department to which such officer is attached.
No. III. Should the authorities or inhabitants neglect or refuse to comply to such requisitions, the supplies required will be taken from the nearest inhabitants so refusing,
by the order and under the directions of the respective chiefs of the departments named.
No. IV. When any command is detached from the main body, the chiefs of the several departments of such command will procure supplies for the same, and such other stores as they may be ordered to provide, in the manner and subject to the provisions herein prescribed, reporting their action to the heads of their respective departments, to which they will forward duplicates of all vouchers given or received.
No. V. All persons who shall decline to receive payment for property furnished on requisitions, and all from whom it shall be necessary to take stores and supplies, shall be
furnished by the officer receiving or taking the same with a receipt specifying the kind and quantity of the property received or taken, as the case may be, the name of the person from whom it was received or taken, the command for the use of which it was intended, and the market price. A duplicate of said receipt shall be at once forwarded to
the chief of the department to which the officer by whom it is executed is attached.
No. VI. If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers heretofore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized, and the officer seizing the same will forthwith report to the chief of this department the kind, quantity, and market price of the property so seized, and the name of the owner.
By command of GENERAL R. E. LEE
R. H. CHILTON, A. A. and I. O.