York native orders civilians to blockade vital South Mountain passes
G. O. Haller, courtesy of USAMHI.
My friend J. David Petruzzi of Ironclad Publishing passed along a newspaper article from the Gettysburg Star & Sentinel of July 29, 1883. Written by an Adams County, Pennsylvania, man named Daniel D. Gitt, it adds some color and depth to my new book’s study of the operations of militia cavalry in the week before the Battle of Gettysburg.
York native Granville O. Haller was a Regular Army veteran, serving as a major in the 7th U.S. Infantry during the Civil War. A pre-war Indian fighter in the Washington Territory, Haller received an assignment to organize the defenses of Adams and York counties during the Confederate invasion of 1863. He called out the local militia and asked for volunteers to join emergency companies. Obtaining Springfield rifles from the state arsenal, he armed the civilians and ordered them to blockade various mountain passes. In York, this effort met with little response, and the vital passes on South Mountain near Dillsburg were never blockaded. However, in Adams County, he had a little more success.
Daniel Gitt was among those thousands of private citizens who formed themselves into loosely organized and totally untrained volunteer companies to do their part to defend Pennsylvania during the Confederate invasion of 1863. He and 24 other men in Arendtsville, a village in northern Adams County, formed a company under the command of Captain Elias Spangler and Lieutenant Hiram Lady. Composed of old men, men not healthy enough for regular military duty, and those with physical limitations, the company wore no uniforms, but they did carry state-issued rifles. However, they had no ammunition, so Gitt bought powder and lead, and the women of the town made improvised cartridges, enough for three rounds per man.
Major Granville O. Haller of the Regular Army was in charge of the defense of Adams and York counties. He ordered Captain Spangler’s company to blockade a pass on South Mountain along the Gettysburg and Chambersburg turnpike. Spangler and Lady marched their men to the designated place and sent forward pickets to watch for the Rebels. Soon, a patrol of Bell’s Adams County Cavalry passed by and headed farther west to watch for the enemy.
Spotting Confederate Major General Jubal Early‘s lengthy column approaching, the cavalrymen retired to Gettysburg to inform Haller, and of course notified Captain Spangler as they rode past the civilian company. Spangler ordered his volunteers to hide in the dense thickets on the slopes beside the road. Some of the men who were constructing the barricades had left their guns lying in the road, so, just as the Rebels came into range, a few men raced out into the pike to retrieve the weapons. Seeing the commotion and the barriers, Early’s cavalry vanguard halted. Some troopers cautiously rode forward, dismounted, and deployed on either side of the densely packed gravel roadway. They captured the Arendtsville pickets, who hid their guns and denied being connected to a military force.
Early’s troops resumed the march to Gettysburg. Not long afterward, a bushwhacker named Henry Hahn (who was not a member of Spangler’s volunteer company) fired from ambush and mortally wounded one of the Rebels. Angry Confederates threatened to hang their prisoners if they were connected with the shooter, but the civilians managed to persuade their guards that they had no knowledge of the ambush. The Rebels fell back, taking the wounded man with them.
Spangler’s men retired to Cashtown, where there was a strong picket post of Bell’s Cavalry and the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry.