Bullets flew hot and thick on the morning of September 17, 1862, in the fields outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. All across the acrid, smoky battlefield, many men — including scores from York County, Pennsylvania — shrieked in pain, cried out in terror, or screamed at the enemy. War, until then only something to be imagined, became real that day for the boys of the 130th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
The regiment had been formed in Harrisburg in August under the command of Colonel Henry I. Zinn, a 26-year-old who taught school in Monroe Township, Cumberland County. For the native of Dover in York County, 1862 would prove to be a horrible year. Two of his three children died of disease. He would be killed in December during the battle of Fredericksburg.
Zinn’s new regiment consisted of six companies from Cumberland County and vicinity and four from York County. After initial training, the men went by a Northern Central Railway down to Baltimore (receiving a hero’s welcome during a brief stop in York) and then on to Washington, DC. They performed guard duty for a couple of weeks before marching to Rockville, Maryland, staying there from September 7 until the 12th. Then, they headed toward Sharpsburg as Major General George B. McClellan concentrated his army after some of his men discovered Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s secret orders to his commanders wrapped around some cigars in a field near Frederick. On the 17th, the new soldiers of the 130th “saw the elephant,” a colorful phrase for seeing combat for the first time.
It was a sobering, and for many, a life-changing event.