155 years ago today – York County regiment “saw the elephant”

The monument to the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry at Antietam. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Bullets flew hot and thick on the morning of September 17, 1862, in the fields outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. All across the acrid, smoky battlefield, many men — including scores from York County, Pennsylvania — shrieked in pain, cried out in terror, or screamed at the enemy. War, until then only something to be imagined, became real that day for the boys of the 130th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The regiment had been formed in Harrisburg in August under the command of Colonel Henry I. Zinn, a 26-year-old who taught school in Monroe Township, Cumberland County.  For the native of Dover in York County, 1862 would prove to be a horrible year. Two of his three children died of disease. He would be killed in December during the battle of Fredericksburg.

Zinn’s new regiment consisted of six companies from Cumberland County and vicinity and four from York County. After initial training, the men went by a Northern Central Railway down to Baltimore (receiving a hero’s welcome during a brief stop in York) and then on to Washington, DC. They performed guard duty for a couple of weeks before marching to Rockville, Maryland, staying there from September 7 until the 12th. Then, they headed toward Sharpsburg as Major General George B. McClellan concentrated his army after some of his men discovered Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s secret orders to his commanders wrapped around some cigars in a field near Frederick. On the 17th, the new soldiers of the 130th “saw the elephant,” a colorful phrase for seeing combat for the first time.

It was a sobering, and for many, a life-changing event.

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York CWRT to feature Dr. Charlie Fennell discussing Gen. Farnsworth’s Fatal Charge on Sept. 20

Dr. Charles Fennell, Licensed Battlefield Guide (Submitted)

Press Release from the York Civil War Round Table:

On September 20, 2017, please join the York Civil War Round Table, in its 20th Anniversary Year, in welcoming the always entertaining Dr. Charles C. Fennell, Jr. as he returns for his annual Battlefield Talk and Walk Program. Dr. Fennell’s presentation topic will be the “Final Confederate Victory at Gettysburg: Farnsworth’s Ill-Fated Charge on July 3rd.”

The monthly meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening in the auditorium of the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street in downtown York, PA.  Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

Battlefield Tour at Gettysburg National Military Park on Sunday, September 24, 2017 of South Cavalry Field including Devil’s Kitchen.

Time – 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 Noon.  Cost is $10.00 payable at walk. Meet at the Alabama State monument on South Confederate Avenue.

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“Inferior in every particular”: Newsman visited Camp Scott in York

Camp Scott, adapted from Harper’s Weekly, May 1861

Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. Training camps soon sprang up across the North, including Camp Scott at the York Fairgrounds (at the intersection of King and Queen streets). In recent Cannonball blog posts, we looked at impressions of York from a few soldiers from the Altoona, Pa., area. Today, we have a story about the camp itself from a Baltimore-based correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, taken from its May 25, 1861, edition. He spent some time at Camp Scott in the previous week, meeting the commanding generals and their staffs, as well as touring the grounds.

The camp certainly did not impress the reporter, who had toured several others in recent days. He deemed Camp Scott “inferior in every particular” compared with his other visits.

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“Charming in every degree”: York impressed Altoona soldiers — Part 2

Camp Scott, adapted from Harper’s Weekly, May 1861

In my last post, we looked at a description of York from a soldier, A.J.G., in the 3rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He and his comrades from Altoona, Pa., occupied various homes and hotels in York before being congregated at Camp Scott on the old York Fairgrounds (at the intersection of King and Queen streets).  A.J.G. [likely Adam J. Greer of Company B] and a fellow soldier, “Ben Bolt.”, sent letters back to their hometown newspaper talking about their experiences. The Altoona Tribune published them both in its May 30, 1861, issue.

Here are excerpts from Ben Bolt’s letter, dated May 26 from Camp Scott.

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“Charming in every degree”: York impressed Altoona soldiers — Part 1

Camp Scott in York PA (New York Illustrated news, May 25, 1861)

Within weeks of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in mid-April 1861, the U. S. army established a military training camp in York, Pennsylvania, calling it Camp Scott in honor of the army’s commanding general-in-chief, Winfield Scott. Situated on the York fairgrounds, the camp soon became a major staging point for troops headed to Maryland and Virginia. Thousands of new volunteers, having responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms, spent time in Camp Scott before moving southward.

They included several men of the 3rd Pennsylvania Infantry from Altoona, Pennsylvania, a couple of which sent home letters to the editor of the Altoona Tribune. The paper published the letters in its May 30, 1861, edition. The soldiers, “A.J.G.” and Ben Bolt, included descriptions of routine life in Camp Scott and how they were adjusting to being Union soldiers. They also commented on the town and its people.

Here are some of their observations, as printed in the Tribune.

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York soldier deserted after being reported as killed in railroad accident

Vintage train cars at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA. (Scott Mingus photo)

Railroad travel in the 19th century at times could be risky at times. Poor track conditions such as broken or loose rails could cause a train to derail. Excessive speed, poor weather conditions, two trains on the same track headed in opposite directions, bridge collapses–all are known to have caused serious mishaps on railroads in the Mid-Atlantic region. Occasionally, couplings between cars failed, sending them hurtling on their own down grades. Fortunately, accidents were not common and most people arrived safely at their intended destinations.

Perhaps the most tragic situations were those involving human error–someone rushing to board a moving train, standing on top of an overcrowded rail car while entering a bridge, sticking arms or feet out of a window, trying to move from car to car while they were careening from side to side, and similar circumstances. In several documented instances, the victims were Union soldiers.

They included Benjamin Franklin Snyder of York, a father with a young family.

Except, he was not a victim as reported in the press.

Here is his story, as derived from the December 2, 1861, edition of the Baltimore Sun.

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“Wounded Houses, Shattered Lives” at Gettysburg is topic of York CWRT on August 16

Press Release from Kathy Friel of the York Civil War Round Table:

On August 16, 2017, please join the York Civil War Round Table in its 20th Anniversary Year, welcoming author Linda Clark to our meeting for her PowerPoint presentation based on her book “Wounded Houses, Shattered Lives: What Was it Like For the Citizens of 1863?”  The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market Street in downtown York, PA. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

Linda Clark will speak on Gettysburg buildings that still exhibit battle damage and the inspiring stories of the resilient citizens who survived the horrors of battle.

The book truly connects the actual residents of Gettysburg with the surrounding military action of July 1863. “Wounded Houses, Shattered Lives” features many original buildings, including ten that still carry the scars of war in the form of protruding cannon shells or holes created by cannon balls. Photographs of people and places illustrate the narrative that is based on extensive research, including first-hand accounts and newspaper articles. Some of the actual citizens include Jennie Wade (whose story is quite famous), Elizabeth Thorn, Amelia Harmon, Edward McPherson, David Wills and Nicholas Codori. Buildings featured include the Tyson Brothers Photography Studio, the Eyster Female Seminary, Oak Ridge Seminary, and the Trostle Barn. If the walls of these buildings could talk, they could share the pain and suffering of a summer when wounded soldiers sought refuge within these dwellings.

Travel back in time 154 years to meet some of the citizens who experienced the battle, as well as the aftermath. May these heroic stories of people from the past serve to inspire people of the present.

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New book covers the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad in the Civil War

Railroad travelers from Harrisburg or York, Pennsylvania, to Baltimore typically took the Northern Central Railway. From Baltimore, there were convenient connections to Washington, Hagerstown and points west using the Baltimore & Ohio. Once finished with business in Baltimore, the traveler could also take a train northeasterly to Wilmington, Delaware, and on to Philadelphia before returning to York through Lancaster and Columbia. The Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad formed the backbone of the very popular (and lucrative for the owners) New York-to-Washington route.

When Abraham Lincoln was traveling to Washington for his inauguration, his planned route was on the Northern Central through York to Baltimore. Rumors circulated that the president-elect would be assassinated in Baltimore at the NCRY’s depot, likely via a knife attack (the validity of those rumors remains controversial to this day). The president of the PW&BRR, Samuel Morse Felton, had hired famed detective Allan Pinkerton in early 1861 to learn if rumors that pro-secessionists were going to disrupt or destroy his tracks, depots, and trains. Pinkerton dispersed his agents throughout Baltimore and nearby towns along the PW&B. They reported that not only were there threats against the railroad, but that a group of conspirators led by a Baltimore barber was indeed planned to kill Lincoln.

Felton and Pinkerton soon met with government and railroad officials to discuss options to protect the president-elect. A new book details what happened next, as well as during the next four years as Lincoln made it successfully to Washington, was inaugurated, and led the Union through the Civil War.

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The list

The market shed in the downtown square in Hanover PA (Scott Mingus postcard)

Throughout the Civil War, in towns both large and small, North and South, people gathered in the town squares or near newspaper or telegraph offices to get the latest news from the front lines. Of particular interest were the reports of battles, especially if hometown units were known to have been involved.

Perhaps nothing brought more anxiety, consternation, and pain than the occasional posting of casualty lists, often in a letter home to the newspaper from the commander of the local boys. Parents, wives, siblings, friends, all read through the lists with an anxious heart.

For some, the news was not good.

In the sultry summer of 1863, the residents of Hanover learned the sad toll from their hometown soldiers, Company D of the 76th Pennsylvania, at the recent battle at Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. On July 11, Captain Cyrus Diller penned the casualty list and mailed it to Maria Leader, the editor/owner of the Hanover Spectator. It was one of the few female-owned newspapers in the country at the time. The Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser reprinted Diller’s list on August 4, 1863.

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New Osprey book on Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War

Osprey Publishing has for several decades been a major resource for military wargamers, dioramists, miniaturists, and other hobbyists with its battle overviews, guides to uniforms, maps, and other useful information. Over time, the company has expanded its lineup to appeal to a broad range of history buffs with a wide series of different books covering a similar theme. Among these is their Weapon series, which focuses on specific categories of military arms — their development, use, and historical impact.

Weapon #56, written by Martin Pegler, covers Sharpshooting Rifles of the Civil War: Colt, Spencer, and Whitworth. Pegler is the Senior Curator of Firearms at the Roral Armories Museum in Leeds, UK, and the author of several other works on military small arms.

As with nearly all Osprey books, this one features a profusion of colorful illustrations, including line drawings, vintage photographs, modern artwork and renditions of soldiers in uniform using their weapons, and concise text.

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