York Town Square

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Susquehanna River bridge before the flames: “One old negro … sat very coolly on the edge of the pier, smoking a cigar’

Flames shoot from a grill atop a pier from the bridge that the Union Army burned in 1863 to stop the Confederate advance. Two subsequent bridges used those same now-empty piers. In recent years, re-enactors have simulated the burning of the bridge as an observance of this milestone in local history. Scott Mingus has penned a history, ‘Flames Beyond Gettysburg’ that tells about that moment when Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon’s raid reached the west bank of the Susquehanna. Background posts: New Lincoln blog category introduced to honor Abe’s 200th birthday and History-making evening on rebel occupation of York could turn into daylong symposium and Mayor of York, Pa.: ‘We are no longer unprotected’.



“One old negro to whom was entrusted the duty of igniting the fuse sat very coolly on the edge of the pier, smoking a cigar.”
So wrote Yorkblogger Scott Mingus in his book “Flames Beyond Gettysburg,” in giving a Union cavalryman’s account of the scene.
Now, some old bank records have revealed the name of the black man who was among the last four civilians working to stop the Confederate advance eastward in the days before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Jacob Miller was the man behind the cigar… .

One black man had it in his power to stop an entire rebel brigade – perhaps a whole division – by touching that cigar to a fuse.
He had been recruited to mine a span of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge over the Susquehanna River.
Dropping one span to stop the invading rebels was preferable to torching the entire mile-long bridge.
But the blast did not undermine the span, and Miller and other civilians set fire to the bridge to keep the Confederates from securing the structure and gain access to the east side of the Susquehanna and the back side of Harrisburg.
Scott Mingus tells more about Miller and the bridge burning in his blog posts: 1863 Columbia Bridge Burner Led a Colorful Life and Another of the new articles from CHPS on the burning of the Columbia Bridge!
And here is a new story on the identification of Jacob Miller, from the Intelligencer Journal/New Era in Lancaster: ‘Treasure trove’ reveals name of Columbia-Wrightsville bridge burner.
Next task for researchers: What is the identity of the black militiaman who died in the trenches defending Wrightsville against the rebel rush to the bridge? Only two known fighting men died in the Battle of Wrightsville.
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