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.”