Ex-slave of Confederate officer died in Hanover in 1910

hanover slave

In the years following the Civil War, hundreds of former Southern slaves seeking a fresh start settled in the Susquehanna Valley. Among them was George Keyes, a Virginia-born slave who was present at the 1861  battle of Ball’s Bluff near Leesburg VA. His master was a Confederate captain. After being freed two years later and moving to Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, Keyes moved to Hanover in southwestern York County PA after the war. He lived there for 40 years, raising a family.

Source: Gettysburg Times, February 26, 1910.

Click here to view several photos of the Ball’s Bluff battlefield taken during a private tour by Jim Morgan III for the York Civil War Round Table. Here are parts 2 and 3 of the virtual tour of Ball’s Bluff.

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The Runaway Balloon

Union Army Balloon Corps crew filling the Intrepid during the Civil War (LoC photo).

Union Army Balloon Corps crew filling the Intrepid during the Civil War (LoC photo).

When the Union army headed north in June 1863 for the summer campaign, it left behind its observation balloon which had been floating high enough for riders to observe the distant Confederate lines. Hence, there were no balloons at the ensuing Battle of Gettysburg.

However, a Gettysburg man a few years before the war got a bird’s-eye view of what would become the battlefield. He also drifted into adjacent York County before he decided enough was enough.

Here is his story, adapted from the October 12, 1842, edition of the Lancaster Examiner and Herald newspaper, repeating a story printed in the York Gazette of a few days earlier.

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York CWRT: “From Round Ball to Minnie Ball” topic on February 18

Minie balls found at the site of the June 1863 skirmish of Wrightsville.

Confederate Gardner bullets and a likely Union Minie ball found at the site of the June 1863 skirmish of Wrightsville.

The York Civil War Round Table invites the public to its monthly meeting on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. at the York County Heritage Trust’s Historical Society Museum, 250 E. Market St., York, PA.

This month’s speaker is York resident Chaplain Ron Bupp who will present “From Round Ball to Minnie Ball.” Bupp will trace the continuous challenge of both armies to supply the correct small arms ammunition to their diversely equipped combatants. Examples of carbine, rifle, musket, rifled musket and pistol ammunition will be presented through a PowerPoint and surviving specimens will be on display.

During the American Civil War, billions of bullets were produced by arsenals, laboratories and private contractors, all of which added to the over 1,000 varieties of small arms munitions utilized during America’s baptism of fire. Reliable sources indicate that over 5 million rounds of small ammunition were expended, destroyed or abandoned at Gettysburg alone.

This presentation will acquaint the Civil War student more fully about the destructive power of the Civil War Minnie Ball and dispel some myths still being promulgated to this day. We invite you to come and learn some differences between the ammunition of the two warring armies.

The meeting is free and open to the public. For more information, readers may call 717-848-1587.

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Black History Month: Events at the Gorsuch Tavern helped spark the 1851 Christiana Riots

Gorsuch tavern 2Long before the construction of Interstate 83, the York Road was the main thoroughfare between York, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, Maryland. The well traveled road predates colonial times. Hungry and thirsty travelers could find rest and refreshment at roadside  inns, including the Gorsuch Tavern which still stands at 15911 York Road near Sparks, MD. Soon after the road was upgraded to an inter-state turnpike in 1810, Dickinson Gorsuch planned to build a tavern/country store on a piece of the “Retirement” estate of his kinsman, John Gorsuch. It was to be located at the 19th mile marker on the east side of the York Road. Construction began in 1813 according to period records (the wayside marker is incorrect).

In 1817 another relative, a Baltimore-based sea captain named Joshua Gorsuch, acquired the house and associated 27-acre parcel of ground. He sold dry goods and liquor in the facility. Various family members held title to the tavern for the next few decades.

In the autumn of 1851, Edward Gorsuch and others of his clan met inside the tavern to plan a lengthy journey into southern Pennsylvania to reclaim several escaped slaves.

That ill-fated conference was the genesis of the raid in Lancaster County which resulted in the so-called “Christiana Riot.”

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One of the Rebels buried in York PA likely identified

CSAstoneFive Confederate soldiers are buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery along N. George Street in York, Pennsylvania. According to local information, all were prisoners of war who were wounded in battle, taken to York for treatment, and then perished from their injuries. They were buried in the local cemetery, but the exact location of their graves has been lost to history, as well as their names. A Confederate interest group installed this memorial marker a number of years ago to their memory. Three soldiers are buried near the marker, with two others elsewhere in the cemetery.

One of the long-dead Rebels’ names is now known.

He was a Georgian, a victim of the battle of Gettysburg who later died of his wounds in York.

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Black History Month: Corporal Henry Bear, 127th USCT

Dennis Brandt photograph

Dennis Brandt photograph

York Civil War researcher and author Dennis W. Brandt is perhaps best known for his award-winning book on the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry (From Home Guards to Heroes). He has also spent countless hours collecting information on Civil War soldiers from York County and the surrounding regions. He graciously donated an extensive Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to the York County Heritage Trust for use by the public on their website. This database contains muster information, marriage and family information, burial sites, service highlights, key dates, etc. for thousands of soldiers from this area.

Among them is Henry Bear.

At the start of the Civil War, Bear was not someone who would have been accepted in the newly formed volunteer infantry regiments. He was not a white man, and at the time, governors across the North as well as the War Department in Washington were loathe to enlist non-Caucasians into the ranks. Over time, the government began forming military units from free blacks (in the North) and former slaves (primarily in South Carolina and Louisiana) in areas occupied by the Union army. Locally, a company of black men formed a home guard company in the Wrightsville and Columbia region, but the state did not accept them as mustered troops. Nevertheless, they fought with distinction in the defense of the strategically important covered bridge over the Susquehanna River.

The success later that summer of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts in proving that black men under white officers could be viable combat troops led to the government forming large numbers of regiments and even entire brigades and divisions of black soldiers.

Enter Henry Bear and scores of other young black men from the Susquehanna Valley.

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Black history month: Eli Grey, Civil War-era barber in York

Harrisburg Patriot, September 12, 1910

Harrisburg Patriot, September 12, 1910; courtesy of Norman Gasbarro’s Civil War blog, used with written permission.

Eli Grey (also spelled Gray in some accounts) was a fixture in downtown York, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War years (1861-1865). Since medieval times, surgeons and physicians often also doubled as barbers (hence the red stripes for blood on traditional barber poles), as well as practicing dentistry and other medical crafts in addition to cutting hair and trimming beards. By the time of the Civil War, dedicated stand-alone barber shops were much more common, and barbering was a vocation listed in the US Census reports of the mid-19th century.

Fellow Civil War blogger Norm Gasbarro has been researching a variety of black men with ties to the war and kindly gave me permission to reproduce some of his findings about Eli Grey, which I have added to my own research on the war-time barber.

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 4

RD ChapmanConfederate Captain R. D. Chapman, a prisoner of war being transported from Ohio to Maryland, leaped from a train just south of York, Pa. and escaped into the night. He planned to travel southwesterly to Emmitsburg, Md., but unknowingly he has been wandering for two nights through southern York County toward Manchester, Md., well east of his intended destination. He needs directions, food, and a warm place to stay.

To start with Part 1, click here.

Let’s pick up his fascinating story.

Late in the night, Chapman passed through a countryside finally devoid of farm dogs. It was a relief not to be challenged by barking canines as he pushed forward in the icy cold night of February 12, 1864. The road was rough and rocky, and the night dark and bitter. By now, the fugitive soldier was suffering greatly from blistered feet, physical exhaustion, and hunger, having not eaten anything since his train stopped in Harrisburg two days ago.

Dawn would only compound his problems. The daylight “would soon expose me to the criticism of an unfriendly people, but I could no longer wander in darkness or hide during the day in secret places without food,” he wrote. “…I had no knowledge of when or how I would get relief. I had been wandering all night in darkness among crossroads and forked roads, through a rough, hilly country; lost and misled from any desired course…”

He sought rest in a secluded place beneath the frost-covered boughs of some fallen trees a short distance from the road. There he could recover some of his strength as he made plans for the day’s travel. For the first time since leaping from the train’s window, he examined his injuries and bruised. They were “healing up nicely but I was a little disfigured.”

He soon made up his mind on a course of action.

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 3

RD ChapmanConfederate Captain Robert D. Chapman was a determined young man. Taken prisoner at Cumberland Gap when his regiment surrendered to General Burnside’s Yankees, the young Georgian managed to escape only to be captured by the Sizemore gang of thieving mountain men. Escaping from them, he soon turned himself in to Federal troops and wound up in a prison camp on an island in Lake Erie. After digging a tunnel for a few days, he learned he was being transferred to a notorious prison camp in southern Maryland. Chapman daringly leaped off a train near York, Pennsylvania, hid from search parties on Webb’s Hill, and then painfully wandered through the dark, cold February night toward the Mason-Dixon Line. With dawn approaching, he began looking for a barn in which to hide.

Here is the continuation of his fascinating story, as told in his own postwar words…

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 2

RD ChapmanPart 1 of this brief series introduced Confederate Captain Robert D. Chapman, a daredevil who was not contented with the prospects of passive captivity as a prisoner of war. He escaped from the Union army at Cumberland Gap, ran off from the notorious Sizemore clan of killer hillbillies, and later tried to tunnel his way out of Johnson’s Island prison on Lake Erie. He is now on his way to the dreaded Point Lookout prison camp in southern Maryland. Realizing his last chance to escape from a prison train is fast approaching, he is planning to leap from a window and race off in the night through rural York County, Pennsylvania, in the hope of finding temporary asylum some 35 miles away in Emmitsburg, Maryland, with an acquaintance of one of his fellow prisoners.

“My escape had to be made through the window of the car while in motion,” Captain Chapman later related. Otherwise, he had no chance. Every time the train stopped, the Union guards on the platform would step down and surround the railcars to prevent anyone from escaping until the train steamed away. He had to get out of the car without being noticed; hence he resolved to leap from the moving train in some remote area. Making it more perilous was the dark night; he had no choice of how or where he would land after the dangerous leap.

Now he was somewhere north of York. It was 10:00 p.m. and most of the prisoners were fast asleep, other than Chapman’s circle of close friends who were aware of his planned escape. As the train slowed to approach York, he put his plan into action. The Union guard was wide awake and alert, so Chapman needed a distraction. His friends would take out their blankets and exaggerate their motions as they shook out the folds and prepared to lay them on the floor. As the whistle blew and the train slowed as it passed through York. Chapman took advantage of the confusion and sudden commotion to open a window and deftly slip his left leg and body out of the wooden car. Holding onto the window will, he prepared for the perilous leap of faith into the dark, cold night air.

It was time for yet another daring escape.

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