Lincoln’s Last Speech is subject of new book

Masur book

It was a rainy, misty mid-April night in the capital city. Crowds throughout Washington DC were celebrating the recent surrender of the leading Confederate army and its legendary leader Robert E. Lee, an event which finally signaled the impending end of the long, bitter Civil War. Thousands of citizens gathered outside the White House hoping to hear a triumphant message from the president. Torches blazed. Hearts quickened with anticipation as Abraham Lincoln appeared and began to speak.

Instead of a message of martial victory and the triumph of Northern will over the secessionists, the spectators heard something different, in fact much different than they expected. The president spoke not of the current events, but instead discussed his vision of the future and how to reconstruct the vanquished South. In the audience, a vindictive and angry John Wilkes Booth supposedly muttered that this was the last speech Lincoln would ever make.

He was right.

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Pennsylvania soldier’s Civil War letters come to light


Oney Foster Sweet was a native of rural Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While still a teenager, he enrolled in the Union army in the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery (43rd Pennsylvania Volunteers), Battery F. Popularly known as “Ricketts’ Battery” for its commander Capt. Bruce Ricketts, the battery helped defend East Cemetery Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg, hurling shells at the oncoming men of Jubal Early’s Confederate division and then engaging in hand-to-hand combat with some of the famed Louisiana Tigers. Sweet survived that harrowing night and served his guns the rest of his term of enlistment.

Sweet was a prolific writer, sending letters back home to family members, keeping a diary, and then later after the war writing various remembrances. California-based writer and historical reenactor Larry M. Edwards has compiled Sweet’s documents, annotated them, and memorialized them for the future in a new book released by Wigeon Publishing in early April 2015 entitled What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

This is a fascinating look at the life of a young artilleryman; his thoughts, fears, opinions, travels, and travails. Sweet’s writings give the reading a good idea of his evolution from a raw recruit into a combat-hardened veteran of many fierce battles.

“The unwritten part of our war is greater than all that has been written. Two soldiers side by side in a hot place in our battles did not see the same things. The generals did not see what the privates saw.” – O. F. Sweet.

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The Madman and the Assassin: The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man who Killed John Wilkes Booth


April 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. As such, several new books are now in print remembering various aspects of the tragedy. Among them is The Madman and the Assassin: The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man who Killed John Wilkes Booth, a new work from LA Times journalist and historian Scott Martelle.

John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor and Southern ultra-nationalist, murdered President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on Good Friday, 1865. He and a cohort, Davey Herold, fled through Maryland and after several misadventures, crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. After Union cavalry caught up with them at the Garrett farm, Booth and Herold holed up in a tobacco barn. Herold surrendered, but Booth remained behind as the soldiers torched the structure. Boston Corbett took aim through a hole in the wall and slowly squeezed the trigger. Lincoln’s infamous killer pitched to the barn floor, his life soon ebbing away.

Corbett came to be known in the national press as somewhat of an odd duck. Various reports deemed him as a “madman,” “eccentric,” and “a peculiar man.” Over the years, he has often been relegated to a single sentence or two as the man who shot John Wilkes Booth. Now, Martelle has brought Boston Corbett, a man of many paradoxes, back to the mainstream of Civil War characters with his new book.

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York County soldier was at Appomattox; saw General Lee

Generals Grant and Lee shake hands inside the McLean house at Appomattox CH (National Park Service)

Generals Grant and Lee shake hands inside the McLean house at Appomattox CH (National Park Service)

Thousands of men from York County served in the Union army (and a handful in the Confederate army) during the American Civil War. Only a handful, however, ever recorded seeing legendary Confederate General Robert E. Lee in person. One hundred and fifty years ago on April 9, 1865, his main pathways to rendezvousing with the army of Joseph Johnston blocked by powerful Union forces, Lee decided to surrender rather than risk further futile bloodshed.

According to the National Park Service, a Confederate general with a strong connection to York County sent word to Lee that he could not break loose from the cordon of Federal forces. “At dawn on April 9, General John B. Gordon’s Corps attacked the Union cavalry blocking the stage road, but after an initial success, Gordon sent word to Lee around 8:30 a.m. ‘… my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I cannot go forward.’ Receiving the message, Lee replied, ‘There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.'”

(John Gordon, of course, was the charismatic, talented Rebel general whose men marched from York to Wrightsville back in June 1863 in an attempt to seize the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River.)

Lee met with Union General Ulysses Grant inside the parlor of the Wilmer McLean house near Appomattox Courthouse to discuss the terms of the surrender. After a brief meeting, he emerged, mounted his horse Traveler, and slowly rode back to his beloved men.

The next day, April 10, Lee met Grant on horseback for further conversation. Gordon would officially surrender the honor to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Gettysburg hero who Grant selected as his representative.

A young soldier from York County was there.

His name was Henry Shultz.

A corporal in the 87th Pennsylvania, Shultz watched as the great Rebel chieftain, adorned in his best uniform, rode past him, along with U. S. Grant.

Here is Shultz’ brief account…

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New booklet on JEB Stuart’s Ride through York County


A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts (the “In the Footsteps of J.E.B. Stuart” series) on the damage claims York County farmers filed after the Civil War for horses, supplies, and personal goods taken by J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalrymen. Since that time, I have planned to combine some of those blog posts with a well-received article I wrote for Gettysburg Magazine, throwing in some fresh material for good measure. This would be a small booklet which would be a quick and easy read, but would hopefully give the reader a small glimpse into the chaos and calamity Stuart’s men caused for the locals as they headed from Hanover to Carlisle via Dover and Dillsburg.

Over the Easter holiday break, I finally did just that. Taking a break from my manuscript on the Underground Railroad book, I developed a small 48-page booklet on Stuart’s visit to York County which I hope will be of some interest to my readership. If nothing else, I wanted to memorialize this material for future generations.

It is digitally printed, 48 pages, annotated with footnotes, a few maps, and lots of photographs of barns and farms which Stuart’s men are known to have visited in their quest for fresh horses and mules.

“Confederate Calamity: J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry Ride Through York County, Pa.”

Like the cover art??? The nice photo is of a typical rural farm located in southern York County.

Here is a link on how to order the new booklet from



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New booklet from author Cooper Wingert

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAPopular Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, author Cooper H. Wingert has self-published a small, but interesting booklet with several never-before-published letters from Civil War soldiers from the Cumberland Valley region of Pennsylvania. He has also included a few scarcely known newspaper clippings which have likely not been seen since their publication more than 150 years ago. Several are transcripts of letters from his own personal collection.

Entitled Rare and Unseen: Original Documents of Harrisburg and the Cumberland Valley in the Civil War, this booklet includes a fascinating account of the Confederate occupation of Carlisle, including a description of a boisterous major who sits on his horse in the town square with a whiskey bottle protruding from his pocket while he makes demands on the townspeople. Another entry is the last known letter from a soldier written before his death. Yet another is an early account from a soldier from the oil fields who is off to do his duty as the Confederates threaten his state. Continue reading “New booklet from author Cooper Wingert” »

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26th Annual Civil War Reenactment at Neshaminy State Park

CW 2010 Battle pic lrg

The 26th annual Civil War Re-enactment will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26, 2015 at Neshaminy State Park, located on 3401 State Road in Bensalem, PA, from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, rain or shine. Admission is free.

This event is the largest Civil War re-enactment on the East Coast outside of Gettysburg. The theme for this year’s re-enactment is “1865 Actions Around Petersburg—White Oak Road & Five Forks”.  Over 1,000 reenactors will converge on the park for this event featuring:  

·      Authentic battle re-enactments

·      Camp life scenarios

·      Military and civilian life demonstrations

The Petersburg, Virginia campaign is a series of military actions that took place between June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1865 and lead to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. The Battle of White Oak Road took place on March 31, 1865. Union forces lead by Major General Gouvernor K. Warren set out to trap the Confederate Army and force its surrender. After a day of fighting, Union forces crossed White Oak Road trapped Confederate forces and broke the connection between Confederate Generals Pickett and Lee. The Battle of Five Forks took place on April 1, 1865. While communication within both forces was difficult, Union troops were well placed to trap the Confederate Army and force its destruction.  Late in the afternoon, Union forces overwhelmed the weaken Confederates and cut off their northward retreat.*

While admission is free, a voluntary collection will be taken each day of the re-enactment and all proceeds will go toward Civil War preservation efforts. The Neshaminy Civil War Re-enactment has raised over $50,000 during its 26-year history for various Civil War organizations. 

This event is a joint project sponsored by Parx Casino, Neshaminy State Park, the Bensalem Historical Society, the 28th Pennsylvania Historical Association, the Army of Northern Virginia Re-enacting Organization, the Delaware Valley Civil War Roundtable, The G.A.R. Museum and Library, and Waste Management, Inc. 

For more information, go to, like the Neshaminy Civil War Reenactment on Facebook or contact Chuck Gilson, Event Executive Chairman at


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“Kindly Friend Willis” was conductor on the Underground Railroad

South and east view of the Willis House, 190 Willis Road, York PA. Library of Congress image 1933.

South and east view of the Willis House, 190 Willis Road, York PA. Library of Congress image; taken by Paul Galbreath in January 1963

According to the Library of Congress, the Willis House is the most pretentious and academically correct example of eighteenth century English domestic architecture in York County. The builder, William Willis, was a Quaker farmer and mason who built the York courthouse (demolished in 1841) in which the Continental Congress met, 1777-78, and the Quaker meeting house of 1766.

His son, Samuel Willis, was an active participant in the anti-slavery movement in central York County and was a ringleader of the illegal, but morally correct actions of the Underground Railroad. He and a group of fellow Quakers would escort fugitive slaves through York County. A typical route would begin in the Shrewsbury area, with slaves taken to the Springwood farm of Quaker Jonathan Jessop (now Apple Hill Medical Center off the Susquehanna Trail south of York). Jessop or his friend James Chalfant would take the slaves into York to Amos Griest or north of York to Samuel Willis. He in turn would either turn them over to a black businessman in York named William C. Goodridge or would send them north toward the Quakers in Lewisberry and Newberry Township. From there they would often end up across the river in Dauphin County and Harrisburg.

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150th Anniversary Events at Appomattox Courthouse


Actors portraying Lee and Grant in the McLean House during the making of the park’s new film (to be released for the 150th in April, 2015).

Aperture Films

The sesquicentennial at the Park will be centered around real time commemorative events. Listed below are the calender of events from April 8 to April 12, 2015. Those events organized by the Appomattox 1865 Foundation, the Park’s friends group, are also be listed below.

There are no tickets or advanced registrations required for any events in the park. Some events by our friends group and other organizations around Appomattox may require tickets or reservation, but none of the events in the park do.

Complete list of Events in the Park and County

** Also, this March 13-15, will be the 16th Annual Free Civil War Seminar put on by Appomattox Court House NHP and Longwood University, at Longwood University’s Jarman Auditorium. This is a special 3-day event featuring topics related to the 150th anniversary of the ending of the war. Check out a complete schedule of the seminar here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

9:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Tibbs) Chris Bingham
10:00 The Fall of Richmond / Petersburg (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
11:00 The Surrender Meeting (Tibbs) Joe Williams
12:00 The Battle of Five Forks (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
1:00 The Village of Appomattox Court House (Tibbs) Warren Taylor
2:00 The Battles of Sailor’s Creek (Triangle) Jim Godburn
3:00 The Battles of Appomattox (Tibbs) Joe Williams
3:30 Battle of Appomattox Station, Phase 1- (Lib. Baptist Ch.) Chris Calkins
4:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Triangle) Chris Bingham
5:00 Battle of App. Station, Phase 2- (Battlefield Property) Patrick Schroeder/Chris Calkins
6:30 Battle of Appomattox Station, Phase 3- (Tibbs) Patrick Schroeder

Thursday, April 9, 2015

7:30-10:30 Battle Demonstration (field west of village)
7:45 Battle of Appomattox Court House (Tibbs) Patrick Schroeder / Chris Calkins
8:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
9:00 Battle of Appomattox Court House (Tibbs) Patrick Schroeder / Chris Calkins
9:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Triangle) Ron Wilson
10:00 The Surrender Meeting (Triangle) Ron Wilson
11-12:30 A Nation Remembers: Appomattox (Main Stage)
1:00 The Stacking of Arms (Talk) (Triangle) Chris Calkins
1:00 United States Postal Service, First Day of Issue Ceremony
1:30-3:05 A Parlor Meeting: Setting a Nation’s Course (McLean House)
3:10 Bells Across the Land Ceremony (McLean House)
4:00 The Surrender Meeting (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
4:00 Ely Parker, A Warrior in Two Camps (Tibbs) Al Parker
5:00 N.C. Monument Ceremony
(NC Monument)
5:00 U.S. Colored Troops at Appomattox (Triangle) Chris Bingham
5:00 The Confederate Cemetery (Conf. Cemetery) Patrick Schroeder
6:30-9 Lantern Tours
(Tours Begin at Flagpole)

Friday, April 10, 2015

9:00 Paroling Confederates (Triangle) Candace Hart
9:00 The Village of Appomattox Court House (Tibbs) Warren Taylor
Lee and Grant’s April 10th Meeting(Triangle) Patrick Schroeder
10:00 The Commissioners Meeting (Tibbs) Joe Williams
10:30-11:00 Confederate Rifle Demo-
(Demo. Field)
11:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
11:00 War &Emancipation: The African American Experience
In the Civil War(Tibbs)Roger Davidson
11:30-12:00 U.S. Artillery Demo-
(near Confederate Cemetery)
12:00 Paroling Confederates (Triangle) David Wooldridge
12:00 Caring for the Wounded at Appomattox (Tibbs) Jim Godburn
1:00 Grant and Lee as Peacemakers (Triangle) Jack Davis
1:00 The Surrender Meeting (Tibbs) James Drass
1:30-2:00 Confederate Artillery Demo
(Demo. Field)
2:00 The Stacking of Arms (Talk) (Triangle) Patrick Schroeder
2:00 Confederates Going Home (Tibbs) Ernie Price
2:30-3:00 Cavalry Surrender Demo
(Demo Field)
3-3:30 Stacking of Arms Ceremony (Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
3:45-4:15 Confederate Artillery Horse Drawn Maneuver
(Demo Field)
4:00 Local Units and Impact of the War (Triangle) Chris Bingham
4:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Tibbs) Brandon Chamberlain
4:30-5:00 Cavalry Surrender Demo
(Demo Field)
5:00 Slavery and Memory of an African American Descendant (Triangle)Roger Davidson
5:00 Paroling Confederates (Tibbs) Candace Hart

6:30 Footsteps to Freedom/ Luminary (Rain date 4/11) (Main Stage/Village)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

9:00 Paroling Confederates (Triangle) David Wooldridge
9:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Tibbs) Tracy Chernault
10:30-11:00 U.S. Rifle Demo
(Demo Field)
10:00 U.S. Colored Troops at Appomattox (Triangle) Chris Bingham
10:00 The Surrender Meeting (Tibbs) Alyssa Holland
11:30-12:00 Artillery Surrender Demo
(Demo Field)
11:00 Johnston’s Surrender at the Bennett Place (Tibbs) John Guss
11:00 Battles of Appomattox (Triangle) Joe Williams
12:00 Paroling the Confederates (Triangle) Candace Hart
12:00 The Village of Appomattox Court House (Tibbs) Warren Taylor
12:30-1:00 Cavalry Demo-
(Demo Field)
1:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Triangle) Tracy Chernault
1:00 Confederados to Brazil (Tibbs) Casey Clabough
1:30-2:00 U.S. Artillery Demo
(near Conf. Cemetery)
2:00 The Stacking of Arms (Talk) (Triangle) Joe Williams
2:00 Joel Sweeney, Indeed a Wonder (Tibbs) Corbin Hayslett
3-3:30 Stacking of Arms Ceremony (Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
4:00 The Power of Appomattox (Triangle) Patrick Schroeder
4:00 Ely Parker, A Warrior in Two Camps (Tibbs) David Wooldridge
4:30-5:00 Artillery Surrender Demo
(Demo Field)
5:00 The Village of Appomattox Court House (Triangle) Warren Taylor
5:00 Why Appomattox/ The Campaign (Tibbs) Chris Bingham

Sunday, April 12, 2015

7:00 – 8:00 The First Act in Healing a Nation (Village) (Happens before park opens)
9:00 – 9:30 Stacking of Arms Ceremony (Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
10:00 The Stacking of Arms (Talk) (Triangle) Patrick Schroeder
10:00 Grant After the War (Tibbs) Frank O’Reilly
11:00 – 11:30 Stacking of Arms Ceremony (Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
12:00 The Stacking of Arms (Talk) (Triangle) Joe Williams
12:00 Lee After the War (Tibbs) Warren Taylor
1:00 – 1:30 Stacking of Arms Ceremony (Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
2:00 After Appomattox (Main Stage) David Blight
3:00 Stacking of Arms Ceremony, (Open Invitation Reenactment)
(Stage Road)
4:00 Confederates Going Home (Triangle) Ernie Price
4:00 Johnston’s Surrender at the Bennett Place (Tibbs) John Guss

Those looking for overnight accommodations for the Sesquicentennial should note that space in Appomattox County is limited. The outlying area might serve as a better resource for finding hotel rooms.

Join the National Park Service as it commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War with events across the nation.

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Railroad traveler liked York, but not Wrightsville

Barlett print, 1840.

Bartlett print, 1840

A traveler calling himself “P.M.” visiting Baltimore in the early winter of 1850 sent back a letter to the editor, Ephraim Cowan, of the Warren (Pa.) Mail. He took a train most of the way, including the Pennsylvania Railroad from Harrisburg to Columbia and the Northern Central Railway from Wrightsville through York to Baltimore. He compared the railroads as well as the towns through which he passed.

Here is the part of his story concerning York County, as published in the Warren Mail on December 26, 1850.

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