Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 4

RD ChapmanConfederate Captain R. D. Chapman, a prisoner of war being transported from Ohio to Maryland, leaped from a train just south of York, Pa. and escaped into the night. He planned to travel southwesterly to Emmitsburg, Md., but unknowingly he has been wandering for two nights through southern York County toward Manchester, Md., well east of his intended destination. He needs directions, food, and a warm place to stay.

To start with Part 1, click here.

Let’s pick up his fascinating story.

Late in the night, Chapman passed through a countryside finally devoid of farm dogs. It was a relief not to be challenged by barking canines as he pushed forward in the icy cold night of February 12, 1864. The road was rough and rocky, and the night dark and bitter. By now, the fugitive soldier was suffering greatly from blistered feet, physical exhaustion, and hunger, having not eaten anything since his train stopped in Harrisburg two days ago.

Dawn would only compound his problems. The daylight “would soon expose me to the criticism of an unfriendly people, but I could no longer wander in darkness or hide during the day in secret places without food,” he wrote. “…I had no knowledge of when or how I would get relief. I had been wandering all night in darkness among crossroads and forked roads, through a rough, hilly country; lost and misled from any desired course…”

He sought rest in a secluded place beneath the frost-covered boughs of some fallen trees a short distance from the road. There he could recover some of his strength as he made plans for the day’s travel. For the first time since leaping from the train’s window, he examined his injuries and bruised. They were “healing up nicely but I was a little disfigured.”

He soon made up his mind on a course of action.

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 3

RD ChapmanConfederate Captain Robert D. Chapman was a determined young man. Taken prisoner at Cumberland Gap when his regiment surrendered to General Burnside’s Yankees, the young Georgian managed to escape only to be captured by the Sizemore gang of thieving mountain men. Escaping from them, he soon turned himself in to Federal troops and wound up in a prison camp on an island in Lake Erie. After digging a tunnel for a few days, he learned he was being transferred to a notorious prison camp in southern Maryland. Chapman daringly leaped off a train near York, Pennsylvania, hid from search parties on Webb’s Hill, and then painfully wandered through the dark, cold February night toward the Mason-Dixon Line. With dawn approaching, he began looking for a barn in which to hide.

Here is the continuation of his fascinating story, as told in his own postwar words…

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 2

RD ChapmanPart 1 of this brief series introduced Confederate Captain Robert D. Chapman, a daredevil who was not contented with the prospects of passive captivity as a prisoner of war. He escaped from the Union army at Cumberland Gap, ran off from the notorious Sizemore clan of killer hillbillies, and later tried to tunnel his way out of Johnson’s Island prison on Lake Erie. He is now on his way to the dreaded Point Lookout prison camp in southern Maryland. Realizing his last chance to escape from a prison train is fast approaching, he is planning to leap from a window and race off in the night through rural York County, Pennsylvania, in the hope of finding temporary asylum some 35 miles away in Emmitsburg, Maryland, with an acquaintance of one of his fellow prisoners.

“My escape had to be made through the window of the car while in motion,” Captain Chapman later related. Otherwise, he had no chance. Every time the train stopped, the Union guards on the platform would step down and surround the railcars to prevent anyone from escaping until the train steamed away. He had to get out of the car without being noticed; hence he resolved to leap from the moving train in some remote area. Making it more perilous was the dark night; he had no choice of how or where he would land after the dangerous leap.

Now he was somewhere north of York. It was 10:00 p.m. and most of the prisoners were fast asleep, other than Chapman’s circle of close friends who were aware of his planned escape. As the train slowed to approach York, he put his plan into action. The Union guard was wide awake and alert, so Chapman needed a distraction. His friends would take out their blankets and exaggerate their motions as they shook out the folds and prepared to lay them on the floor. As the whistle blew and the train slowed as it passed through York. Chapman took advantage of the confusion and sudden commotion to open a window and deftly slip his left leg and body out of the wooden car. Holding onto the window will, he prepared for the perilous leap of faith into the dark, cold night air.

It was time for yet another daring escape.

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Escape! Rebel POW slips across rural York County into Maryland: Part 1

RD ChapmanAt the start of the Civil War in 1861, a 21-year-old Georgia man named Robert D. Chapman was swept up in the patriotic fervor. With several friends, he enlisted in the 112-man “Miller County Wild Cats,” which soon became Company E of the 1st Georgia State Troops, a six-month state regiment. Promoted quickly from private to sergeant major, Chapman and his comrades received their training, battle flag, and arms in Savannah. Upon the completion of their service most of the men re-enrolled in Company E of the 55th Georgia Volunteers, a three-year regiment in the Confederate States Army.

He served initially in the Kentucky Campaign and was promoted to captain. Chapman was captured when his regiment surrendered in September 1863 to Union General Ambrose Burnside at Cumberland Gap in Tennessee. Destined for the Camp Douglas prison in Illinois, he and his lieutenant later that same day slipped away from the throng of prisoners under the pretext of finding a private place to bathe in a nearby creek. They hid through the night and headed for safety, only to be captured  by a gang of eight mountain men and notorious robbers/murderers, who had no loyalty to Rebels or Yankees.

“Their long hair and beard, old flopped hats, ragged clothes, bare feet, filthy, savage appearance, all indicated the lowest type of humanity,” Chapman later recalled. He and his comrade assumed fake identities, distracted their menacing hillbilly captors, and managed to escape. Taken in during their perilous flight by a sympathetic farmer, they eventually turned themselves in to Union authorities in Booneville, Kentucky. The pair of Confederate officers ended up in the Johnson’s Island prison in Lake Erie in northern Ohio.

However, Robert Chapman’s adventures, with his penchant for escaping captivity, were far from finished.

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Connecticut soldiers played “cowboy”; returned stolen cows to Yorkers

023-Probable Field of Advance of 35th VA Cavalry BattalionA young Connecticut lad named William Caruthers had quite the experience as a Civil War soldier. His ancestors had immigrated to British North America in the early 1700s, but being loyalists fled the colonies during the American Revolution. Caruthers, born in England in 1844, moved with his family to Norwich, Connecticut, in the 1850s. He received a public education, worked as a dry goods clerk, and then in the spring of 1861 enlisted in the 3rd Connecticut, a three-months’ regiment, at the start of the Civil War. He “saw the elephant” at the battle of Bull Run in July before mustering out and returning home.

A year later, in July 1862, he re-enlisted, this time in the 18th Connecticut as a quartermaster sergeant before being promoted to second lieutenant. At the Second Battle of Winchester in June 1863, he led his company on a daring charge which captured 19 Confederates holed up in a brick farmhouse. On his way back to his regimental line, he suffered a hideous wound to his liver, back, and stomach. A surgeon gave him less than 30 minutes to live; he was placed in an ambulance and taken to the rear. A Confederate shell exploded in front of the ambulance, mangling and killing several other soldiers. Somehow Caruthers held on for several days, being taken prisoner by the Rebels after his division retreated from Winchester.

His adventures were only beginning…

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York County guitarist set ancestor’s Civil War diary to music

GJeff Stike is a country singer/songwriter/guitarist from the scenic Peach Bottom area in southern York County, Pennsylvania.He grew up in northern Maryland and had a strong interest in military history and country music. He played with various bands, was a studio musician, and began writing his own songs. He merged his two passions into an album of original songs based on the battle of Gettysburg, including a catchy song on the June 28, 1863, burning of the Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge. More on that album later…

One of Jeff’s ancestors, a great-great-granduncle named John A. Stikeleather, served in the Civil War in the 4th North Carolina Infantry. That regiment served in the Gettysburg Campaign in Ramseur’s Brigade of Rodes’ Division, and was among the forces which occupied Carlisle in the week before the battle of Gettysburg.  Stike (whose great-great-grandfather dropped the “leather” from his surname) located his ancestor’s war remembrances in the archives of the University of North Carolina.

He decided to narrate the most interesting accounts and set them to music, strumming his guitar as he retold his Confederate soldier ancestor’s tale.

And thus was born Jeff Stike’s “Color Bearer: The Memories of John A. Stikeleather, 4th North Carolina Infantry.”

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Rebels passed by Sultzbach’s Tannery en route to Wrightsville

SultzbachOn a cool Sunday afternoon, June 28, 1863, as rainclouds threatened, more than 2,000 well armed, veteran Confederate soldiers marched or rode past the sprawling Sultzbach tannery in Hellam Township in eastern York County, Pa. Consisting of 1,800 Georgia infantrymen, more than 200 Virginia cavalrymen, and 100 Virginia artillerists, the force consisted of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s infantry brigade, augmented with the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, Captain Thaddeus Waldo’s scouting company of the 17th Virginia Cavalry, and Capt. William Tanner’s Courtney Artillery.

The long column must have been quite a sight as it stretched out along the Gettysburg-York-Wrightsville-Lancaster turnpike, with the men, horses, and mules all caked from head to foot in thick layers of limestone dust and road grime. Several rode horses procured in recent days from Pennsylvania farmers. Some had bleeding feet because the weeks of marching on hard macadamized roads in Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania had eroded the soles of their brogans to the point where their exposed feet suffered the consequences of sharp limestone pebbles.

Perhaps Waldo’s forward cavalry patrol, well out in advance of the main column, paused to raid the tannery; perhaps General Gordon placed a guard over it. No record exists that the Sultzbach family ever filed a postwar damage claim to recover any money for their loss; perhaps they indeed were robbed blind but cared not for the hassle of filing the necessary paperwork.

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York residents flocked to local photographers during the Civil War

Couples 1Photography originated in Europe in the early 1800s, with a variety of techniques of using light-sensitive chemicals spread onto a substrate such as paper, leather, pewter, or a glass plate. The resultant image often took hours to develop, so most of the earliest remaining photos are of landscapes or other static subjects. In October 1839 a Philadelphia photographer and chemist named Robert Cornelius took what is generally regarded as the first image of a human being in America when he posed in front of his family’s gas and lighting store. Within two years, he had opened a studio to take photos of others.

It proved to be a growth industry, although Cornelius lost interest and returned his focus to the family business. However, scores of men learned the techniques and began taking commercial photos. In March 1842, itinerant photographers John C. Stinson and Blanchard P. Paige rented rooms above Cook’s Jewelry on South George Street and took what are credited as the first photos in York, Pa. In 1845 William Wagner opened York’s first studio. In April 1847, Richmond-based Joseph Reinhart traveled into York County to take daguerreotype images (produced on a silver-coated copper plate) of the locals for a fee. Renting a room on the third floor of the China Hall, the Virginian also advertised that he would instruct people in the art of “Daguerrotyping at reasonable prices.” He departed in June 1847 for other venues.

In the 1850s, photography became more affordable and readily available, and hundreds of studios dotted the business directories of American cities and towns. In York County, the two main towns, York and Hanover, each boasted photographers during the war years. The largest concentration was in York, where Glenalvin J. Goodridge, the son of a free black barber and reported Underground Railroad conductor William C. Goodridge, was among the earliest photographers. He took over the space vacated by Reinhart when the latter moved on and established a studio in York. He later moved his business to his father’s house on E. Philadelphia Street and later to a dedicated room in his father’s emporium in “Centre Hall” on the town square at the intersection of Market and George streets. He became noted for his well composed ambrotypes (positive photographs on glass made by a variant of the wet plate collodion process; these were usually less expensive than daguerreotypes).

Goodridge’s early competition included J. Thomas Williams who moved up from Baltimore and advertised himself as the only full time photographer in York (a dig at Goodridge’s second vocation as a school teacher). He moved away in 1857 during the national economic crisis which also threatened the Goodridge family’s prosperity.

By the time of the Civil War several full-time photographic studios operated within a block or two of Centre Square.

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York CWRT meeting for 1/21 postponed

Pickett Drais


The York CWRT meeting on Wednesday, January 21,2015 has been postponed due to the forecast of a Winter Weather Advisory with 1 to 3 inches of possible snow. We are rescheduling the speaker, Randy Drais, to a Saturday date, hopefully in June but not yet confirmed.

Please pass the word!

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New York soldier described York’s Civil War hospital

Penn Common 001From the summer of 1862 until the end of the Civil War, the Union army maintained a military hospital on Penn Common just south of what was then downtown York, Pa. Peaking at more than 2,000 patients at its fullest, the hospital staff over the course of the war treated more than 14,000 different men. Many had suffered battle wounds; others were ill or injured. A bronze plaque along the northern edge of the park (along W. College Avenue) shows the general layout of the war-time hospital buildings. Shortly after the conflict ended and the last patients left for more permanent hospitals elsewhere, the government dismantled all of the structures and sold the wood to private buyers.

Hundreds of letters survive in private and public collections from patients in the York U.S. Army Hospital. Some are poignant or melancholy in their tone; others are routine discussions with information that might be of interest to loved ones back home.

Private James Mills Smith of Company G of the 149th New York Infantry was a patient in the 4th Ward in the summer of 1863. He had been wounded in the battle of Gettysburg while serving in Brig. Gen. George Greene’s hard pressed Twelfth Corps brigade on Culp’s Hill on July 3, 1863. On July 25, he sent a wonderful description of the layout of the York hospital and how it was organized to his widower father back home in Skaneateles, NY.

Here are some highlights from that letter, courtesy of the New York State Education Department.

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