Part of the USA Today Network

York County Civil War Damage Claims

This was once Aaron Firestone’s barn in Carroll Township near Dillsburg, PA, in northern York County. This barn was razed in the past five years (Scott Mingus photo).

On July 1, 1863, a group of Confederate soldiers visited this barn that once stood alongside the York Road between Dover and Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. The Rebels were cavalrymen from J.E.B. Stuart’s command, and they were looking for fresh horses.

They found two of them, a 3-year-old bay and a 6-year-old bay.

The Southern saddle soldiers soon led the two horses away.

Aaron Firestone was left without his horses as the summer harvest approached.

He, and almost a thousand other York Countians, lost horses, supplies, and/or personal property to the three Confederate columns that invaded York County (Jubal Early from June 27-June 30; J.E.B. Stuart from June 30-July 2, and Major James Nounnan from June 27-28), or to the various Pennsylvania state militiamen or Army of the Potomac soldiers that camped in or marched through York County during the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the war, the government, bowing to public pressure, created a three-man commission to allow victims to file sworn statements as to what they lost, in the hopes providing recompense from state funds. This augmented other claims procedures from the Federal government or from other sources.

On April 9, 1868, the Pennsylvania assembly passed an act creating a formal process to collect claims, assess their validity, establish a fair market value for the lost goods, and then recommend the amount for compensation. John F. Hartranft, the auditor general of the commonwealth and a former Civil War general, oversaw the general process. D. W. Woods, A. S. Ely, and W. S. Woods were appointed by the governor as commissioners to supervise the claims.

Here in York County, victims could travel to see the commissioners at set dates in either Hanover, York, or Dillsburg and present their claims. They needed to bring proof of their loss (in the form of eyewitnesses or signed affidavits from witnesses) and fill out the appropriate paperwork. Hundreds of York Countians, including Aaron Firestone, showed up at the three sessions in the hope the commonwealth would soon pay them.

According to the Harrisburg Telegraph of April 12, 1869, the claims for York County totaled: “Damages by Union troops to real property $1,330.30; to personal, $19,631.28. Damages by rebels to real,$7,832.48; to personal $112,630.57. Total amount claimed, $127,668.55; allowed $124,728.50.” This was quite a bit lower than other counties (Franklin residents claimed $788,000, much of it from the burning of Chambersburg in 1864, and Adams Countians asked for almost $508,000, with Cumberland County citizens coming in at $216,000).

No one got a dime.

State budget cuts and political infighting halted the process. Eventually, the state allowed other claims to be filed from people who missed the original deadlines, and the Federal government had a similar process for claims from Union soldiers only. York borough passed an ordinance to repay its residents through a tax program (lists exist of these claims).

The good news as an author? The claims were legal documents, so they are true and accurate presumably. I can trace Confederate movements throughout York County by comparing notes on the claims with old road maps and farmsteads. This has formed the backbone of the human interest stories that I have included in several of my books.

If you add up all the claims from the various formats, more than 850 different York Countians filed claims or otherwise reported losses to the soldiers from both opposing sides.

The final tally?

More than $271,000 in damage to real or personal property, the loss of more than 1,100 horses and at least 59 mules.

A few residents had to file for bankruptcy.

At least one committed suicide.

To this day, many York Countians have stories of their ancestors’ interactions with the Rebels. A few fortunate residents still own the beautiful lithograph certificates the commonwealth commissioners issued. They are quite interesting as personal remembrances of Early’s, Stuart’s, and Nounnan’s respective visits (or their Yankee counterparts). Do you have one?

I have compiled many of these damage claims in a searchable database that is now online at the website of the York County History Center.