New book remembers Commander Will Cushing, Civil War naval officer and hero

cushingMuch media attention had focused this year on the Medal of Honor being awarded to an artillery officer, Alonzo Cushing, who heroically died defending his guns at the 1863 battle of Gettysburg during what became known as Pickett’s Charge. The president presented the medal to one of Cushing’s distant relative.

While Alonzo has garnered the news headlines in recent years, he was one of four brothers who served in the Union army during the Civil War. Milton was a paymaster in the U.S. Navy and Howard, like his younger brother Alonzo, served in the light artillery. Perhaps the most dashing and charismatic was William Barker Cushing, a year younger than Alonzo.

Long-time author Jamie Malanowski has written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. His popular book And the War Came deals with the six month period between Abraham Lincoln’s election and Fort Sumter. In his latest work, Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War, Malanowski neatly and effectively reintroduces this sibling to the modern reader.

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Campaign to save the Hoke House, which was a Confederate campsite

WiestThe Hoke House is a familiar sight to the thousands of people who travel on PA Route 116 through Spring Grove, Pa. each day. Situated at the traffic circle, it has served as a tavern (dating back to the American Revolution era), a private home, the Spring Grove library, and other commercial uses.  It dates from at least 1750. (photo by Scott Mingus in 2008.)

Back in June 1863, a wealthy farmer named Wiest owned it. On Saturday, June 27, 1863, more than 275 Confederate cavalrymen camped on the property, which then was a sprawling farm. Their commander was a Poolesville, Maryland, planter named Lt. Col. Elijah V. White. The men of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry hailed from both Virginia and Maryland, and they arrived in the late afternoon after raiding Hanover and then Hanover Junction earlier in the day. White’s men used the Wiest farm as a base, traversing the region for fresh horses, which they procured (either by theft or through the expenditure of worthless Confederate currency) and then pastured in Wiest’s meadows along with their own steeds. White’s brother, the battalion’s quartermaster, paid Wiest for a large supply of oats to help feed the hungry animals. The Rebels rode off to York after their overnight stay.

Now the house is in sad shape and has been the object of a campaign to save it. Owned by the Rutter’s corporation, a deal has been reached to bring the structure back to required code and to but time for a buyer to emerge. Otherwise, Rutter’s will raze it in the future. I salute both the tireless members of the committee who have worked to save the structure, as well as the officials of Rutter’s who are willing to negotiate. Rutter’s, you just picked up more of my business with this decision!

Here are the details on how you can help save the structure, including a special offer from me when you purchase one of my popular local history books.

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Union cavalry general recalls his visit to York County during the Gettysburg Campaign

David_McMurtrie_GreggDavid McMurtrie Gregg (shown above in this photo from the Library of Congress) commanded a division of Union cavalry in the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863. He was a first cousin of the governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Gregg Curtin, and a native of Huntingdon, Pa. The West Point graduate is remembered with an impressive equestrian statue in Centre Park in his adopted hometown of Reading, Pa., where he and his wife are buried.

In mid-June of 1863, he led his three-brigade division north through Maryland toward Pennsylvania. Years later, in 1916, he gave a lengthy interview to a reporter for the Reading Eagle.

Here is the part of that narrative which involve his visit to York County…

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Finale

Squibb 1860 censusThe 1860 Census of Warrington Township shows Quaker farmer George Squibb, his wife Mary, one of their daughters (Maria Jane) and their granddaughters Sarah Seifert and Mary Jane Myers (the daughters of Caroline Emma Squibb). The old Quaker couple and little Sarah became known in York County, PA as “The Murdered Family” as they were brutally slaughtered in June 1866.

To read this serial true crime story from the beginning, click here for Part 1.

William “Irish Bill” Donovan had been convicted, although his three-man team of lawyers had quickly filed a motion for a new trial. He continued to drop hints that Edward Boyle was the true killer, but he never offered any proof.

In January, York County Judge Robert J. Fisher tried Boyle, his father John, and Harrisburg resident John McGranigan for the triple murders. The jury found Edward Boyle and McGranigan not guilty on all three charges, as well as acquitting John Boyle on charges of killing George Squibb. His trial on the other two indictments was delayed until the next court session in April 1867.

At that time, John Boyle acquitted of the remaining two indictments. However, because of new evidence introduced at the elder Boyle’s trial, the Court ruled that William Donovan should receive a new trial, although he would still be held in custody.

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 5

grave 1Sarah Emma Seifert, Mary (Bell) Squibb, and George Squibb lie side by side in the cemetery of Warrington Friends Meeting House. They are known in local history as “The Murdered Family.” But who killed them? (Photo by Scott Mingus, 12/6/14).

To read this serial true crime story from the beginning, click here for Part 1.

William “Irish Bill” Donovan was incarcerated in downtown York. Itinerant beggars Charles Wilkins and Martha Ann Pontel were being held in the Lancaster prison. Yet suspicions lingered that perhaps there was someone else. Both Donovan and Wilkins had proclaimed their innocence; at least there was some circumstantial evidence against Irish Bill. Wilkins was being held only on the word of the beggar woman.

Anxious to collect the $300 reward offered by the York County commissioners, several locals still kept an eye for any suspicious characters roaming the region and kept their ears open at the inns and taverns in case someone under the influence began bragging or talking too much about the slaughter.

By early July, at least ten different men had been arrested and interrogated.  Most were vagrants or travelers passing through the county who were held until they could produce a viable explanation of their reasons for being in the area. By late in the month, only four people (including Irish Bill) were still in custody awaiting the convening of the August session of the York County Court. Martha Ann Pontel and Charles Wilkins had been sent to the York jail, but she was eventually released; her name disappeared from the historical record, and it presumed she resumed her begging.

Public opinion was sharply divided on the issue as to the true killer.

And then yet another new set of suspects appeared on the scene.

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 4

George and Mary Squibb - J EastonThe weathered gravestone of Mary (Bell) and George S. Squibb is shown in this  photograph courtesy of York Countian Jeremy Easton. It is in the southwestern section of the cemetery of the Warrington Friends Meeting House along PA Route 74 near Wellsville, Pa. Note the inscription “The Murdered Family,” which is how the Squibbs unfortunately came to be known.

To read this serial true crime story from the beginning, click here for Part 1.

As news spread throughout the region of the shockingly brutal assaults on George and Mary Squibb and their young granddaughter, residents began casting wary eyes on every stranger which passed through York County, and especially on those bent on crossing the Susquehanna River into Lancaster County or to Harrisburg. While one suspect, William “Irish Bill” Donovan, was safely behind bars, many people believed he could not have committed the hideous crimes without assistance. Mary Squibb had, after all, indicated that two persons were involved in the crime.

The commissioners of York County offered a reward of $300 for the arrest of the murderer or murderers. They soon had plenty of candidates, including a pair of traveling beggars who were arrested in the village of Manheim in Lancaster County on Wednesday afternoon, June 2o, 1866, and interrogated about the slayings.

Did the authorities now have all of the killers in custody?

If so, the community could rest easier knowing they were off the street.

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 3

Squibb homesteadFor parts 1 and 2 of this true crime story, click here and here.

On the morning of Monday, June 18, 1866, George Snelbaker needed an auger for some chores. The 24-year-old man lived near his namesake grandfather, George S. Squibb, off of Rosstown Road in northwestern York County, Pennsylvania, in rural Warrington Township. He knew his grandfather had an auger, so he decided to borrow it.

Arriving at his grandparents’ modest homestead  about 10:00 a.m., Snelbaker spotted a figure lying on the front porch. In anguish he rushed forward to find his grandfather prostrated face down in a pool of coagulated blood. He had suffered multiple severe injuries to his head and body, and was almost unrecognizable. Old George Squibb was still alive, but just barely. The Quaker farmer was insensible and unresponsive.

Inside the one-story house lay his wife Mary Squibb, also in desperate condition. She had been horribly beaten and was also insensible. Nearby in the kitchen lay the body of 11-year-old Sarah Emma Seifert (named as Emma Jane Seifert in some accounts), already cold to the touch. She too had been stabbed, beaten, and bruised. The back of the little girl’s head had been crushed; she must have died almost immediately from the traumatic injury which was initially believed to have been caused by some sort of heavy hammer. However, no probable weapon was found discarded on the premises.

George raced home and fetched his parents, and soon they and several neighbors had assembled at the house. It was a gory, ugly scene.

All of the victims were shoeless, indicating that the assaults had likely taken place the previous evening shortly before bedtime. Mr. Squibb had removed his hat, coat, shoes, and stockings which were found laying next to his arm-chair where he was accustomed to placing them in the evenings. His wife had also removed her shoes and stockings, and the little girl had only taken off one shoe and sock before the killers arrived. Because of the differing weapons used and the apparent suddenness of the attack which precluded anyone from sounding the alarm, it was clear that more than one perpetrator was involved in the slayings.

The last people to see the Squibbs hale and hearty had been their brother-in-law Harvey Bell, who was married to Mary’s sister. He had departed about 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon before the thunderstorm hit.

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 2

Quaker MtgTo read part one of this true crime story, click here.

George and Mary Squibb had worshiped at the Warrington Meeting House (shown above in this Scott Mingus photograph) near Wellsville, Pennsylvania, for many years. George was a son Robert Squibb and Joanna Speakman, and the grandson of William Squibb and Sarah Griest, all of whom had been part of the Friends community in York Springs over in Adams County. His parents had been married in the Warrington Church, as had George and Mary Bell.

George’s father Robert Squibb was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Robert had served in the York County Militia, 5th and 6th Battalions (from 1781 to 1786) with his brother William. Robert died in 1823 and was buried in York Springs.

In 1825 George and Mary had welcomed their first child, a daughter they named Caroline. Little Rebecca Ann came along three years later (the same year that George’s mother died), but she perished at the tender age of three. Another little girl, Maria Jane, was born in 1835 followed a year by their only son, John M. Squibb. By the time of the Civil War they had a granddaughter named Emma living with them. They were considered a “industrious” people who followed “strict economy” with their money, yet they were always willing to lend it out.

As the war ended and 1866 began, the Squibbs were still living their modest, unassuming lives on a somewhat run-down farm on Stone Jug Road. George was now 71 years old; Mary was 67. Their land was relatively unproductive, with its thin topsoil and rocky ground. Yet, they had managed to carve out a good life for themselves, and were known in the community for their generous spirit.

They had recovered from the loss of their work horse to Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate foragers during the Civil War, but unfortunately, another issue with one of their animals still was unresolved.

A dead cow would spark one of the most sordid incidents in Warrington Township history.

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First JEB Stuart strikes; then a triple murder near Round Top: Part 1

Squibb homesteadThis seemingly bucolic illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for July 14, 1886, shows the modest, somewhat ramshackle homestead of George and Mary (Bell) Squibb in Warrington Township in northwestern York County, Pennsylvania. The Squibbs were modest people, by all accounts thrifty but at the same time generous to others in need. As Quakers, they lived unpretentiously on this 87-acre farm off of Stone Jug Road, even today a rather remote and rarely traveled route other than the locals. It was a dirt lane connecting the public road from Rossville to Lewisberry northward to the public road to Lisbon.

Nestled in the shadow of Round Top (today a local ski resort), the Squibb property abutted one of the wooded foothills, Dare’s Hill (now called Ramsey Hill). George and Mary enjoyed a scenic and expansive view from their porch. Their nearest neighbor’s house was some 500-600 feet away. It was, as it was later described, a “lonely and isolated place.”

By the summer of 1863, the Squibbs were grandparents. However, they had made an enemy of a neighbor, an often drunk poor Irishman named William Donovan. “Irish Bill” held a longstanding grudge against George Squibb, one that festered for years.

However, quarrels among neighbors took a backseat in late June and early July when tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers invaded the region in a two-pronged movement. Two divisions of Richard Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia marched on Carlisle and a battalion of their vanguard cavalry dipped south through northwestern York County, while another division under Jubal Early farther to the south occupied York. Farmers scrambled to move their horses to safety, often taking them in between the Rebel forces and hiding the steeds on Round Top and its foothills.

No one could have known that more Rebels were on their way.

J.E.B. Stuart and more than 4,500 cavalrymen, to be specific.

For George Squibb and scores of his neighbors, that meant unexpected trouble.

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The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps

ACW with mapsHarrisburg, Pennsylvania, author and researcher M. David Detweiler is perhaps best known for his interesting book Gettysburg: The Story of the Battle with Maps which came out in 2013. Now, a year later, he is back with a similar effort covering the entire Civil War. He uses the same style of maps and text to tell the key events of the war, beginning with “Bloody Kansas” and continuing through the final days of the Appomattox Campaign and the assassination of Lincoln. It does not cover the surrender of Johnston or the western armies.

The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps (Stackpole Books, 2014; ISBN 978-0-8117-1449-5) checks in at 158 pages, nearly all of which feature one large overview map or two or more smaller battle detail maps. Chapters are arranged chronologically by year, following a brief introduction and prelude.

Detweiler’s book has received endorsements from several Civil War luminaries, including James McPherson, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, the long-time editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, William C. Davis, and best-selling novelist Ralph Peters — an impressive lineup indeed!

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