Fire destroyed Wrightsville’s riverfront a year before the bridge burning repeated it

Painting of the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. (Scott Mingus photo. Painting at the Columbia Historical Society.)

Many Cannonball readers are well aware of the June 28, 1863, destruction of the Columbia-Wrightsville covered bridge. The winds shifted and lumberyards and houses along the riverfront also caught on fire. Confederate soldiers formed a bucket brigade and passed water up from the Susquehanna River and the nearby canal. They doused flaming embers on rooftops that threatened more of the town of 1,000 people. I document this in great detail in my book, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863. Other authors have also dealt with the topic to various degrees.

But, did you know that much of the riverfront area, particularly the vulnerable lumberyards, had been rebuilt and restocked with inventory after a disastrous fire on the night of August 28-29, 1862, that swept through much of the same area? In that case, the winds were favorable and spared the old bridge, granting it almost a year’s more usage before a team of Columbia citizens applied the torch (under army orders) during the Rebel invasion of York County.

Here is the story of the widespread destruction caused by the earlier conflagration, as taken from the August 30, 1862, Baltimore Sun.

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California poet/preacher toured York County’s Civil War sites in 1903

Vintage postcard of Wrightsville’s monument to commemorate the town as the farthest east Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia reached during the Gettysburg Campaign. (Scott Mingus collection)

Since 1978, Debi and I have been members of the Church of the Nazarene, first in Painesville, Ohio, and for the past decade and a half in York, Pennsylvania. The holiness denomination traces its roots to John Wesley and the Wesleyan Arminian tradition, the forerunner of Methodism. In October 1895, in Los Angeles, Methodist pastors Phineas Bresee and Ohio native Joseph P. Widney co-founded the Church of the Nazarene. Widney, a medical corpsman on Union boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the Civil War, soon returned to the Methodist Church. He pastored a church along with his younger brother Samuel, who led the Sunday School and played an instrument.

The Reverend Samuel A. Widney, besides being a noted preacher and Christian educator, was also an accomplished poet and writer. In the fall of 1903, after a visit to his hometown of Piqua, Ohio, he toured the Mid-Atlantic region, with a focus on local history. In late October, he visited York County while on his way to Baltimore before heading to the South.

Here is that portion of his travelogue that appeared in the Piqua Daily Call, on October 27, 1903. In it, Widney relays a humorous story about a good Pennsylvania Dutchman who deeply prized his horse.

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10,000+ attended dedication of Hanover’s Civil War monument, “The Picket”

At one time, an impressive equestrian statue of a Union cavalry trooper from the Civil War stood in the middle of the town square/traffic roundabout in downtown Hanover, Pennsylvania, in southwestern York County. Shunted off to one side during a reconstruction/re-envisioning of the square, “The Picket” now silently stands guard in front of a storefront. Other Civil War remembrances now line the various corners of the square, including vintage artillery gun tubes on replica carriages, wayside markers and tablets, the “Custer Maple” horseshoes and star, and several other displays of interest.

But the dominant thing on the square, other than the heavy automobile traffic, is The Picket, even from the sidelines.

Thousands of people celebrated the dedication of the statue in late September 1905. It was one of the largest turn-of-the-century events in Hanover, and indeed in all of York County. The governor, former Civil War soldier Samuel W. Pennypacker, was on hand to deliver a few remarks. He had been a member of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia that had come through Hanover via train on their way to guard Gettysburg against Jubal Early’s division, a task they failed to do on June 26, 1863, in inter-connected skirmishes at Marsh Creek, Rock Creek, and the Witmer Farm. The regiment contained a company of men from Hanover; many had been captured.

Just four days later, their fellow Hanoverians witnessed fighting in the streets of the town and surrounding hills and fields. More than 300 soldiers fell wounded or dead in the Battle of Hanover, the largest military engagement in York County’s long history. The Picket was meant to commemorate that battle for future generations.

Here is a newspaper report from the York Daily of September 28, 1905, outlining the dedication ceremony that was planned for later that same day.

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28th Annual Civil War Reenactment at Neshaminy State Park Set for April 29-30

A past Neshaminy Civil War reenactment (Ilena Di Toro submission)

The 28th annual Civil War Re-enactment will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30, 2017 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 and is coordinated by the Neshaminy Living History Association, a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization. The theme for this year’s re-enactment is “The Battle of Antietam”.  More than 1,000 reenactors will converge on the park for this event featuring:

·      Authentic battle re-enactments

·      Camp life scenarios

·      Military and civilian life demonstrations

·      April 30 only at 11:00 AM: 1860’s Exhibition Baseball Game by the Monmouth Furnace Baseball Club at the Drill Field

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York County saw several small Civil War skirmishes

Rossville, in northwestern York County, saw a small skormish in its streets when Union cavalry briefly clashed with J.E.B. Stuart’s rear guard on July 1, 1863, the same day as the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg in the next county to the west. (Scott Mingus photo).

I recently posted a blog entry about a small engagement during the Gettysburg Campaign in Dover Township between Jeb Stuart’s rear guard and a Union reconnaissance patrol that was shadowing his movements through York County. That posting prompted an inquiry about other largely unknown skirmishes or engagements within the county during the Civil War.

It appears that many readers may not be aware that there was hostile gunfire in so many different places across York County, although, other than the battle of Hanover and the skirmish at Wrightsville, casualties were almost non-existent.

I have covered many of these encounters in my various Civil War books that I have written, but I don’t believe I have ever assembled them in one place previously.

So, here goes!

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Confederates paroled Wrightsville Yankee prisoners in York

Pvt. Samuel Morrow’s parole document (National Civil War Museum collection, photo by Barry Larkin)

On Sunday evening, June 28, 1863, more than 2,000 Confederate infantry, cavalry, and artillery under Brigadier General John B. Gordon attacked a motley force of Union troops defending the mile-and-a-quarter-long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River crossing at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Gordon’s goal was to cross the river, secure Columbia, threaten Lancaster, and hold the bridge open for another 4,600 Rebels under Major General Jubal Early who were then camped in and around York.

The Wrightsville defenders included hastily trained Pennsylvania state militia; armed black civilian home guards from the Columbia-Wrightsville-Marietta region; convalescent patients from the U. S. Army Hospital in York; a hospital guard detachment from Ellicott Mills, Maryland; and a scattering of Eighth Corps soldiers from the 87th Pennsylvania infantry. After a brief engagement that included a 40-round artillery bombardment, the Yankees all retreated across the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River to safety in Columbia.

Well, almost all of the Yankees made it to Lancaster County.

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Dover church’s 1907 sesquicentennial recalled Civil War events

Salem Church (also called Strayer’s Church and Salem Union Church) celebrated its sesquicentennial in May 1907 at the same time the congregation honored its pastor for his 20 years of continuous service at the church. The church building, located on the north side of Canal Road near its intersection with S. Salem Church Road, has been rebuilt, remodeled, and expanded over the years. It started humbly as a log structure on a slight eminence about 3/4 mile southwest of what became the village of Dover. That site is now in the present-day cemetery. The antebellum church building, built in 1854, forms the superstructure of today’s house of worship, which is still in use.

The York Daily of April 20, 1907, examined the history of the church and its impact on the Dover community and surrounding environs. The article also briefly touched upon Salem Church’s role in the Civil War.

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Civil War submarine Hunley to be topic at York CWRT meeting

Conrad Wise Chapman – Submarine Torpedo Boat H.L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863. (Library of Congress)

On March 15, 2017, please join the York Civil War Round Table in its 20th Anniversary Year, welcoming historical reenactor and lecturer Michael Jesberger to our meeting for his presentation on “The H.L. Hunley – Confederate Submarine.” The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street in York. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

Mr. Jesberger will be discussing the saga, loss and recovery of the H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful attack submarine. On February 17, 1864, during the Civil War, the Confederate sub left the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, attacked and sank a blockading Union warship. Soon after sending the USS Housatonic to the bottom, the submarine also sank. All eight of her crew were lost, along with the Hunley.

The sunken sub’s location was a mystery until 1995 when a team of divers sponsored by writer Clive Cussler discovered the nearly intact Hunley. It was raised and carefully excavated. The skeletons of all eight crew members were removed and studied. On April 17, 2004 the remains of the crew were laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. Tens of thousands attended the internment including some 6,000 reenactors and 4,000 civilians wearing period clothing.

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Hanover women watched Civil War battle unfold

Modern view of the Henry Winebrenner house on Frederick Street in Hanover PA (Scott Mingus photo).

The Winebrenners were a prominent family living on Frederick Street on the southwestern side of Hanover, Pennsylvania. The father, Henry, was born in Heidelberg Township on June 29, 1809. As an adult, he owned a farm in that township, as well as a profitable tannery near Hanover. He and his wife Sarah “Sallie” (Forney) had six children.

Two of them, Sarah and Martha, were eyewitnesses to some of the opening fighting of the June 30, 1863, battle of Hanover, the day after their father’s 54th birthday. The girls were in their early twenties and still lived at home at the time of the engagement, the largest military battle ever fought in York County. A woman who peddled berries around town brought them the early news of the arrival of the Rebels.

Soon, they saw the Southern saddle soldiers for themselves.

Here are their remembrances of that day, as told by a reporter for the January 28, 1904, York Daily.

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87th Pennsylvania Living Historians Release 2017 Schedule of Events

87th PA reenactors

The 87th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry is looking for a few good men (and women!) to join their ranks. They are accepting new members to portray infantrymen, civilians, sutlers, doctors, and other historical impressions. The original regiment was raised in September 1861 through the efforts of several leading York businessmen, most notably Dr. Alexander Small. Most of the men were recruited from York County, with a few companies coming from Adams County (Gettysburg and New Oxford in particular).

Even if you have no interest in becoming a reenactor or living historian, perhaps you might enjoy attending one of the 87th’s many public appearances in 2017, most of which are free or accessible for a modest entry fee!

Here are the major events scheduled for this calendar year:

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