Anti-Lincoln sentiment swept 1863 local elections in York County

Abraham Lincoln, though widely beloved and admired today, was controversial, to say the least, during his time in office as president of the United States during the American Civil War. Many Democrats strongly opposed his prosecution of the war; some openly called for peace negotiations with the Confederates to stop the hostilities. Others vehemently opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Some hated his extensive use of presidential war powers to suspend the writ of habeus corpus to keep Maryland in the Union by military and political force. Lincoln’s calling of 75,000 volunteers to join the Union army to suppress the rebellion led to additional states joining the Confederacy.

On the other hand, some in his own Republican Party felt that Lincoln was too moderate and too centrist with his policies. The so-called Radical Republicans favored a harsher prosecution of the war and demanded an unsparing attitude toward punishing the “Southern traitors.” Strict abolitionists wanted Lincoln to take a more aggressive stance toward ending slavery nationwide, not just in the Confederate states (the Emancipation Proclamation did not cover slaves in border or pro-Union states such as Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, West Virginia, and Kentucky).

Here in York County, the local elections in the spring of 1863 reflected growing anti-Lincoln sentiment, even in areas such as Carroll Township and Wrightsville, which had strongly supported Lincoln in the election of 1860. Then, the county had strongly supported a “fusion ticket,” headlined by the Democratic vice-president of the U. S., John C. Breckinridge (later a prominent Confederate general).

An article in the pro-Democratic Gettysburg Compiler from March 30, 1863, boasted of the recent local results.

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The 87th Pennsylvania’s baptism of fire 155 years ago at Second Winchester

One of the two churches at Bunker Hill, WV, that the 87th PA defended during the 2nd Battle of Winchester. (Scott Mingus photo)

On Friday, June 12, 1863, elements of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, raised primarily in York County, engaged in a sharp firefight with Confederate Maryland cavalry under Maj. Harry Gilmor along today’s Route 11 south of Winchester, Virginia. This skirmish marked the opening shots of what became known as the Second Battle of Winchester, culminating in the early morning hours of June 15 with the surrender of almost half of the regiment at Carter’s Woods after Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy desperately tried to get most of his 8,000-man division of the Eighth Army Corps out of the growing encirclement at Winchester. He failed miserably. In total, Milroy, who abandoned the field with his staff and cavalry escort during the ill-fated fighting, lost more than 4,000 prisoners.

On Sunday, June 14, Milroy had stayed put in Winchester, against the orders of the War Department in Washington, D. C. “All day Sunday Milroy was up on a look-out forty feet above the works with a field glass in hand watching Lee’s veterans closing around our brave and devoted little army,” the 87th Pennsylvania’s Lt. Col. James A. Stahle later penned. “What an uncomfortable time we had,” he lamented. “No sleep, nor rest, for two days, rations getting short, everybody wet to the skin, all ready for immediate action, with the outlook anything but assuring. We knew we were being surrounded on all sides,” Stahle continued, “that rebel pickets were out on every road, is it any wonder that men became despondent and lost heart.”

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York CWRT to host author James McClure on June 20

Jim McClure (YDR photo)

On June 20, 2018, please join the York Civil War Round Table as it commemorates the 155th Anniversary of the Confederate Invasion of York, in welcoming editor Jim McClure of the York Daily Record as the scheduled speaker. Mr. McClure will be presenting a PowerPoint program based on his master’s research: “Who was Chief Burgess David Small, at York’s helm when the Confederates came to town in 1863?” The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market Street, York, Pennsylvania. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public. Bring a friend.

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One-tank trips: Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum

The historic courthouse (20 N. Loudoun Street) on the pedestrian mall in downtown Winchester, Virginia, has been nicely restored and is open as a Civil War museum. It commemorates the soldiers from local communities and the many battles that were fought up and down the Valley.

Among the highlights are dozens of autographs of Civil War soldiers scrawled onto the original walls that were rediscovered during the renovation and subsequently preserved. They include several Union officers who were taken prisoner during the pursuit of Lee’s retreating Confederate army following the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. They were held captive on the second floor of the courthouse.

During the war, thousands of captives (Union and CSA at various times) were kept under guard in the courthouse or on its grounds. The stories of the six of the Gettysburg officers are remembered in display panels near the names inscribed on the walls.

Winchester is a little more than a two-hour drive from York (take Route 74 north to Carlisle and then take I-81 south into Virginia. Here are some photos from the museum, which I visited following a series of battlefield tours that I gave on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Much of the items on display are from the personal collection of Harry Ridgeway, “RelicMan,” who was on hand to discuss them with visitors before and after his wife, Trish, gave a talk on the soldiers’ signatures.

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Civil War Field Hospital Programs at Gettysburg

The George Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital Programs

Summer Season Opens June 8, 2018

Gettysburg, Pa. May 31, 2018 – The Gettysburg Foundation will open the historic George Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital site to visitors on weekends, June 8 through August 12. Visitors will be transported back to July and August of 1863 as they walk in the footsteps of those who experienced the carnage left from the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. The George Spangler Farm is one of the best examples of a Civil War field hospital site on the battlefield today, where upwards of 1,900 men, including Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, were treated for wounds both minor and fatal.

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A Soldier’s Dream of Home

James E. Gordon’s poem home to his loved ones (submitted by Janet Anderson).

It was March 1863 near Falmouth, Virginia. America had been at war with itself for almost two full years since the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The 130th Pennsylvania, one of the first regiments from York County, had fought in September 1862 at Antietam, where the men first saw comrades fall in combat. Their beloved colonel, Henry I. Zinn, had perished in the carnage at Fredericksburg that December. Levi Maish of Conewago Township had replaced him.

Now, the regiment was stationed near Falmouth in Stafford County, Virginia, helping keep an eye on the Confederate lines across the Rappahannock River. The men only had two months left to serve on their 9-months term of enlistment.

Many soldiers dreamed of returning home.

On St. Patrick’s Day, one of the the homesick men, 30-year-old Private James Edie Gordon, sat down and penned a poignant poem. He was a patient in the army hospital, with plenty of time on his hands to consider how much he missed his young wife, Malinda (Olewiler), and his four small children.

I have reproduced Gordon’s poem here, courtesy of his great-great-granddaughter, Janet Anderson.

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York CWRT to host Cavalry Historian Eric Wittenberg on May 16

Fanciful depiction of the Confederate cavalry at Trevilian Station (Library of Congress)

Press Release from the York Civil War Round Table:

On May 16, 2018, please join the York Civil War Round Table in its 21st Year in welcoming American Civil War cavalry historian and author, Eric J. Wittenberg, to our meeting for his presentation “The Battle of Trevilian Station.” The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market Street, York, Pennsylvania. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

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More from the 87th Pennsylvania living historians

Donavan Warner portrays a Confederate soldier at Hanover Junction, PA (submitted).

Today, we continue our series of interviews with various members of one of York County’s Civil War reenacting groups, Company C of the 87th Pennsylvania. Our contributor is Donovan Warner, whose father is also a living historian.

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York County Civil War Damage Claims

This was once Aaron Firestone’s barn in Carroll Township near Dillsburg, PA, in northern York County. This barn was razed in the past five years (Scott Mingus photo).

On July 1, 1863, a group of Confederate soldiers visited this barn that once stood alongside the York Road between Dover and Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. The Rebels were cavalrymen from J.E.B. Stuart’s command, and they were looking for fresh horses.

They found two of them, a 3-year-old bay and a 6-year-old bay.

The Southern saddle soldiers soon led the two horses away.

Aaron Firestone was left without his horses as the summer harvest approached.

He, and almost a thousand other York Countians, lost horses, supplies, and/or personal property to the three Confederate columns that invaded York County (Jubal Early from June 27-June 30; J.E.B. Stuart from June 30-July 2, and Major James Nounnan from June 27-28), or to the various Pennsylvania state militiamen or Army of the Potomac soldiers that camped in or marched through York County during the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the war, the government, bowing to public pressure, created a three-man commission to allow victims to file sworn statements as to what they lost, in the hopes providing recompense from state funds. This augmented other claims procedures from the Federal government or from other sources.

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New book recounts creation of Gettysburg Civil War mural

On the cloudy morning of Monday, June 29, 1863, Confederate Colonel Isaac E. Avery awoke in the U. S. Army General Hospital on the south side of York, PA.

He was not a patient.

He was an enemy soldier, occupying the facility in a time of war.

Avery and his North Carolina brigade of infantrymen had marched into downtown York the previous day and had taken quarters in the hospital (opposite today’s William Penn High School), the nearby buildings of the York fairgrounds (then near King and Queen streets), and the twin market sheds in the town’s center square. They were part of Major General Jubal A. Early’s division which had marched to York after leaving Gettysburg on Saturday morning, June 27.

Little did Colonel Avery know as he stirred on Monday morning and prepared himself for the day, that he only had a few days to live. He and his men would march back to Gettysburg, a town they had abandoned to come to York, and have to fight the Yankees there.

On July 1, Avery’s Tar Heels, along with Brigadier General Harry T. Hays’ famed Louisiana Tigers, attacked three regiments of Union Colonel Charles Coster’s outmanned brigade near John Kuhn’s brickyard north of Gettysburg and drove them back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. The following day, Colonel Avery was mortally wounded in an ill-fated attack on the new Federal position on Cemetery Hill. He famously scrawled a last message, “Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.”

More than 100 years later, artist Mark Dunkelman, a descendant of one of Coster’s New York soldiers, created a vibrant, colorful mural depicting Coster’s July 1 defense against Avery’s attack. Recently, Gettysburg Publishing has released a new version of Dunkelman’s book about the fighting and the subsequent creation of the mural.

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