York CWRT presents “ A Civil War Captain and His Lady” on January 17, 2018

Press Release from Kathy Friel of the York (PA) Civil War Round Table:

On January 17, 2018, please join the York Civil War Round Table as it kicks off its 21st campaign year, welcoming local author Gene Barr as the featured guest speaker. Mr. Barr will present a PowerPoint talk based on his book “A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign.”

The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market Street in downtown, York, PA. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

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York Civil War Round Table Releases 2018 Schedule of Speakers

Logo designed by Jared Frederick; used by written permission.

The York Civil War Round Table has released its 2018 schedule of speakers for the 21st campaign, which runs from January to November. The presenters will be offering a diverse group of topics this year, ranging from talks on President Abraham Lincoln to the love letters between an officer and his lady friend in the Western Theater. There are also talks specific to south-central Pennsylvania, including ones on the abolitionist movement, York’s controversial chief burgess during the war years, the local Hanover Branch Railroad, and, of course, the battle of Gettysburg. Dr. Charlie Fennell will return with his popular annual battlefield walk.

All meetings are free and open to the public. They are held the third Wednesday evening of each month, except December, at 7:00 p.m. in the presentation hall of the York County History Center’s museum at 250 E. Market Street, York, Pennsylvania. There is plenty of free street parking in front of and near the museum. There are no dues or membership fees, and everyone is welcome to attend. Bring a friend (or two or three!).

Kathy Friel did her usual yeoman work in contacting prospective speakers, screening many incoming requests to appear in York, and coming up with an outstanding, diverse slate of programs. Kudos!

Here is the schedule, including yours truly in October.

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Virginia’s waterways were paths to freedom for escaped slaves

South-central Pennsylvania, including York and Adams counties, were often the first place that escaped slaves from Maryland and Virginia headed in their quest for freedom. Several books, including those by Cooper Wingert and David G. Smith, cover the topic across the entire region. Scott Mingus wrote a detailed book specifically on the Underground Railroad in York County, while Matthew Pinkster and others have looked at the Keystone State in total.

A good number of freedom seekers that entered Pennsylvania originated from Virginia. For many of them, the Old Dominion’s myriad of rivers, creeks, and bays provided geographic guidance, as well as a direct pathway away from the plantations and places of industry where slaves were employed. Many of those watercourses drained into the Atlantic Ocean, making the coastal areas a specific target for freedom seekers and slave hunters alike.

Now, an accomplished Virginia academic has, for the first time, brought many of these stories to life in a new book titled Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad, part of a series of books on the Underground Railroad from The History Press division of Arcadia Publishing.

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Got maps? Phil Laino does!

Phil Laino’s Gettysburg Campaign Atlas has long been considered as one of the finest and most detailed sets of maps on the Gettysburg Campaign. There are several other books that offer maps on the campaign, some of which are in full color, but no book to date contains as many maps of as many actions and tactical segments as does Laino’s classic work.

I have found it to be indispensable as a resource to understand battlefield movements by time segments (particularly on the often-confusing second day of the battle of Gettysburg). Phil’s maps help the reader visualize who moved where at what time. In fact, Dave Shultz made extensive use of Phil’s maps, including several custom ones, in his book The Second Day at Gettysburg: The Attack and Defense of Cemetery Ridge.

The Gettysburg Campaign Atlas is a useful reference to take to Gettysburg for field studies, battle walks, monument hikes, and similar activities where maps of the opposing regiments, terrain, and obstacles/cover can help deepen the experience. Phil Laino and his publisher, Kevin Drake of Gettysburg Publishing, are to be commended for this excellent work, which in recent years has been revised and expanded to include several more maps.

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Park Service releases 2018 calendar of Gettysburg and Ike events

East Cemetery Hill (submitted by the National Park Service)

Catherine Lawhorn of the National Park Service has released the 2018 schedule of events for the Gettysburg National Military Park and the nearby Eisenhower National Historic Site. All events, unless otherwise designated in the calendar, are free and open to the public.

See you on the battlefield this year?

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Entertaining the Yorkers: Extra Billy Smith’s Sunday parade

Confederate Brig. Gen. Wm. “Extra Billy” Smith (USAHEC)

More than 11,000 Confederate soldiers passed through York County, Pennsylvania, in the last days of June 1863 during the Gettysburg Campaign. Days later, most of the men, other than 100 or so deserters picked up locally by Federal authorities, fought at the battle of Gettysburg.

None of the Southern soldiers was as colorful, or controversial, as Brigadier General William Smith of Virginia. He was widely known in the U. S. as “Extra Billy,” a sobriquet given to him by a political enemy on the floor of Congress back in the 1830s. Smith, at the time, was a young postal contractor who owned the main interstate routes from Virginia down to Georgia. Always aggressive in business and politics, he took advantage of a loophole in the law that enabled him to charge extra for mileage, excess baggage, and other services. Detractors deemed him “Surplus William” or “Extra Billy.”

The latter nickname stuck for all time.

Before the Civil War, Smith was a powerful attorney, state legislator, governor of Virginia during the Mexican War, the 49ers’ lawyer in California during the Gold Rush, and a five-term pro-slavery U. S. congressman. He had since become a Confederate congressman and had taken up arms against the government that he had so long represented.

At 65 years old, Extra Billy Smith was the oldest general at the battle of Gettysburg. He delivered a less-than-memorable martial performance.

However, on Sunday, June 28, 1863, he reportedly delivered a quite memorable speech during a military parade through York, Pennsylvania. At least, that is according to an eyewitness account by Confederate artillerymen Major Robert Stiles.

Here are the circumstances of that long-ago display of entertaining oratory.

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Living historians honor York’s 87th Pennsylvania: Part 2

Ty Dasher, 87th Pennsylvania (submitted)

Recently, I began a brief series of posts with interviews with some of the Civil War reenactment community here in York County, Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 soldiers from this county served in the Civil War. Perhaps the most famous regiment raised in York County was the 87th Pennsylvania, which served from 1861 until the end of the war. A few companies were from Adams County, but the majority of companies represented York County.

The 87th saw its baptism of fire at the Second Battle of Winchester during the Gettysburg Campaign from June 12-15, 1863. The regiment later served in the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, and fought with distinction at the July 1864 battle of Monocacy near Frederick, Maryland.

In modern times, an active reenactment/living history organization based in York County keeps alive the memory of the 87th Pennsylvania. The members attend various Civil War encampments in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as marching in parades, performing re-dedication ceremonies for monuments and graves, attending balls and social events, and giving living history demonstrations at Gettysburg, Monocacy, Cedar Creek, and other battlefields.

Here are the thoughts of Ty Dasher, a long-time member of 87th Pennsylvania living history group. He participates along with his wife and son, Thompson.

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Hanover’s “peculiar man:” Big Bill Otter

In the years before the Civil War, the Baltimore Sun frequently ran paid advertisements from slave owners seeking the recovery of runaways. Often the escaped slaves would try to reach Pennsylvania, where the Underground Railroad could assist them.

In 1885, a McSherrystown, PA, newspaper editor deemed William Arter (as he misspelled Otter) as “a peculiar man” who did “some very foolish things.” Otter, who lived in nearby Hanover from 1809 until 1821, was certainly one of the most unique individuals of his day, a man whose strange exploits were still being discussed seven decades later in the media.

The predominantly German-speaking residents of Hanover called him “der gross Bill der plasterer,” or, in English, “Big Bill the plasterer.” At the time, everyone seemingly knew him, or at least knew of him and his reputation as a practical joker, entrepreneur, and as a master craftsman.

I briefly re-introduced York Countians to Big Bill Otter last night during the York Daily Record’s 3rd Annual Unraveling York County’s History event at the DreamWrights venue center.

Here’s the scoop on this colorful character.

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Living historians honor York’s 87th Pennsylvania

87th PA reenactors

I have long enjoyed speaking with living historians of various periods, those hobbyists who like to dress in recreations of historical uniforms or clothing and, most importantly, share a glimpse of what life might have been like for long ago soldiers and civilians. As a kid, I remember watching a National Park Service volunteer at Gettysburg go through a drill on loading a rifle-musket, and I was fascinated.

York County has a few active groups that give an impression of Civil War soldiers and townspeople. Perhaps the largest group portrays the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment that was raised in York and Adams County in 1861 and fought at several battles, including Monocacy, the Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg, and many others.

Over the next few weeks, I will periodically share a few answers to a series of questions that I asked various reenactors.

Allow me to introduce my friend Don Warner. The long-time Cannonball reader suggested this upcoming series of posts.

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Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Alfred Waud sketch, November 28, 1861. Library of Congress.

As the chill winds of late November swept across the northern United States in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln looked back on a momentous year, one that had likely changed the fortunes of the Union forces in the American Civil War. He was thankful, of course, for the important victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, but there were no signs that peace was on the horizon. He was also grateful that, despite lots of rumbling and saber rattling, France and Great Britain had not recognized the Confederacy nor had they offered military aid. Despite the war, the population was expanding, as were industry and job opportunities. He set aside the last Thursday of November as a special day of thanks and praise to God.

That tradition would years later be signed into law by future generations, but, for now, many people in the Union heeded the president’s call and held Thanksgiving celebrations in their homes.

Here are the wise words of Abraham Lincoln, a passage that bears renewed consideration given the challenges we face in modern America.

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