For more than 150 years, residents and writers have debated whether the civic leaders of York, Pennsylvania, should have surrendered their town to a Confederate general during the Gettysburg Campaign.
On Saturday, June 27, 1863, Chief Burgess David Small, two councilmen, a Union colonel on medical leave, and a young businessman with strong ties to the South rode out to Farmers Post Office to negotiate with Brigadier General John B. Gordon, whose Georgia infantry was poised to march on York the following day. They asked for protection for the women and children, as well as for the town. In exchange, the Rebels asked that there be no resistance from state militia known to be in the area, and they demanded large quantities of food, supplies, clothing, and shoes.
The businessman, A. B. Farquhar, had earlier in the day met with General Gordon at Abbottstown to initiate discussions. He returned to York and informed the council that an immense force of Rebels was approaching, and the terms by which York could be assured of a peaceful occupation. He then took Small and the others back out to speak with Gordon more formally.
Farquhar and Small almost immediately met with questioning as to the wisdom of the decision. Republican papers, no friend of the Democrat chief burgess, quickly ridiculed him for riding out to find the Rebels and surrendering meekly. Other towns had also surrendered peacefully to the enemy, but in no other known case, did the mayor deliberately seek out the oncoming column. Farquhar, although a supporter of President Lincoln, received suspicion of being a Confederate sympathizer. He had been educated at the same private Quaker school in Alexandria, Virginia, as had Robert E. Lee, and Farquhar was friends with members of the Lee family.
Others believed that Farquhar’s impetuous action, one that mirrored a similar trek in 1862 to seek out W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee (Robert E. Lee’s son) as the Rebels invaded Maryland, played a role in saving York from the torch. Gordon’s commander, Major General Jubal Early, had been quick with the torch on several occasions during the march into Pennsylvania and fears arose that he planned to destroy a town to teach the Yankees a lesson. A year later, he would do so when he ordered his cavalry to burn Chambersburg.
A newly transcribed letter adds a contemporary voice to the argument.
And, it’s not friendly to Farquhar or the hasty decision to surrender York. Continue reading