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Many of York County’s Civil War sites remain unmarked

Recently, the national Civil War Trails program has begun installing new wayside markers at various locations in Pennsylvania. Civic leaders and historians in Hanover and Wrightsville have led the charge to better interpret Civil War sites. Outside of York County, the CWT has recently installed new signage in Chambersburg and elsewhere.

Civil War Trails is a network of more than 1,400 signs and markers throughout much of middle America and continue to expand their coverage nationwide. Blending history with historical travel and tourism, the program aims to bring visitors into a community to view aspects of their Civil War history while also giving ideas on nearby restaurants, attractions, hotels, etc. I have frequently used their impressive website when I am out of state giving Civil War lectures and signing books that I have written.

Jim McClure and I have recently co-written a new book, “The Dogs of War in Our Midst”: Civil War Perspectives from York County, Pa. It is available from the gift shop of the York County History Center, the Civil War and More bookstore in Mechanicsburg, and other retail outlets, including Amazon. We chronicle several key events in York County’s Civil War-era history, and Jim offers several interesting perspectives as to their lasting impact.

Several of the sites we mention in the book are either not interpreted at all or have had their signage vandalized or removed over the years, ot the existing signs are dated or weather-beaten.

For example, one of the essays in the new book is about the U.S. Army General Hospital that once stood in Penn Park. Established in the summer of 1862, it served more than 14,000 patients until being closed three years later. Less than 200 of that number died, giving York one of the lowest mortality rates of any similar military facility in the entire country. Jim and I devote an entire chapter in the new book to this hospital, which during the Gettysburg Campaign filled most of its 1,600 beds with fresh patients from the battlefield some 30 miles to the west.

The park once had the above sign commemorating the hospital, but vandals destroyed it and the wreckage was taken down. I hope that sponsorship money can be found to erect a new Civil War Trails sign at the location in the next year or two, in time for the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign in 2023, if not sooner.

Many other Civil War sites have no markers at all, such as the locations of several Union and Confederate overnight campsites throughout the county. They include General John B. Gordon’s camp site near Farmer’s Post Office (now Farmers, PA) off of Jackson Square Road and his headquarters site (the house below) off of Locust Lane.

In the book, Jim and I discuss the Lincoln Funeral Train, which passed through York County on April 21, 1865. Yet, there is limited signage commemorating the passage of this historically significant event, which drew more than 3,000 visitors into downtown York during the train’s 10-minute stop for water. Six York women received permission to carry a large floral arrangement into the funeral car and lay it on the president’s ornate coffin. I am planning for a new Civil War Trails sign (or two or three) along the route of the train should sponsorship emerge.

What Civil War sites would you like to see included in the upcoming years as I and other historians/authors/researchers work with Civil War Trails organization to write the text for the new signs?

In the meantime, please pick up a copy of Jim’s and my new book and let us know your perspectives on York County’s Underground Railroad, Civil War, and Reconstruction history!


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