Confederate camp sites in the York County region

When not on campaign, Civil War troops (particularly the Federals) had semi-permanent camps with tents and log structures. While on the road, they made do without these luxuries. For the Rebels on the march to Pennsylvania, the camp was usually a piece of grass, an old blanket, and the starry sky. (Library of Congress)
Recently I posted a message and photograph of the John Wiest house / tavern in Spring Grove, which was used as a Confederate camp site during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign. Some of you have inquired as to the locations of other CSA camps and headquarters during the Confederate invasion, so I will begin a series of occasional articles on the topic. First, some basic information to help set the table for this new series…

A typical infantry column, walking on improved roads that were not muddy or excessively steep or uneven, could generally average about 2 miles per hour of marching. Officers often would call 10 minute halts every 2-3 hours, plus a lunch break, depending upon the circumstances and the presence (if any) of enemy troops nearby. A normal day on the road might see a hike of more than 20 miles, but seldom more than 25 miles unless there were extreme necessities.
The typical campsite on the march would have been in open pastureland or light groves of trees (preferable), with a source of fresh water nearby (a stream or creek, typically). The Rebels rarely had tents, especially on this march when General Early had ordered all camp wagons and extraneous supply wagons to be left behind in Chambersburg. Hence, few officers or men had tents. Most simply bedded down in the grass or crop fields, destroying them for the summer harvest and of course angering the farmers (most of whom never received compensation). Nearby fence rails were often torn down for fuel, or small trees would be chopped up for firewood. Foraging parties might go out to collect food from local farms and houses.
The camp alignment was by brigade, subdivided into separate sites for each regiment and company therein. By then, regiments (and camp sites) were much smaller than earlier in the war, as disease and attrition had generally far outstripped the number of replacement soldiers.
Each “mess” of four soldiers usually would maintain their own campfire for warmth, although at times one per company was sufficient for cooking. Soldiers would cook their dinners, boil water for coffee, inspect their equipment, and relax before turning in for the night. Usually, at first light, they would break camp and be back on the wearisome road within an hour or two past dawn.
The Confederate advance guard — Jubal Early’s Division — camped June 25 in Greenwood, a village near Fayetteville (between Cashtown and Chambersburg just west of Black Gap in South Mountain). They hiked to Gettysburg and Mummasburg, and camped in that vicinity on June 26. The following day saw the approach though eastern Adams County toward York County, and individual camp sites were established at Spring Grove (the forementioned White’s Battalion of cavalry, screening the right or southern flank), John B. Gordon’s column of infantry, artillery, and a company of cavalry at Farmers (along today’s Route 30), and the bulk of Early’s division around Big Mount.
Early’s camp site was, of course, the largest in terms of area and the number of troops (more than 4,500 men). Most of the fields west of Big Mount were filled with tired Confederates. Their exact dispostion is unknown, but is is probable that the 17th Virginia Cavalry camped the farthest east, perhaps as much as a half-mile east of the village itself. Early had been directly riding with the cavalry that day instead of back with the infantry column, and it is known he slept that night at the Widow Zinn house.
The three infantry brigades (Hays’ Louisiana Tigers, Avery’s North Carolinians, and Smith’s Virginia brigade) rested west of town, centered around the creek for water. Given time, I will take some photos of what I believe to be the most likely spots for this large encampment. Keep in mind that it is private property, and metal detecting for Rebel relics is strictly forbidden without written permission from the landowners.

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13 Responses to Confederate camp sites in the York County region

  1. Charles K. Steele says:

    Just wondering if you might know where thier are areas to go metal detecting for civil war relics here in PA along creeks or streams that are open to the public. I’m new to this hobbie and I am doing it for the big interest in civil war history and to hopefully create my own shadow box of relics.

    • Scott Mingus says:

      Hello Charles!

      Most Civil War sites in south-central PA are either Federal land (Gettysburg National Military Park, where it is strictly illegal to metal detect) or private property which would require the land owner’s permission to hunt for any relics. Your best bet would be to join a local metal detecting club, if one exists in your area, and go with them on organized hunts.

  2. Laura says:

    Hi Scott,
    I was wondering if you know who big a typical Civil War Cavalry campsite would be, acreage wise?

  3. David Black says:

    I was wondering if you could give me some insight on confederate camps around Fayetteville, PA.

    • Scott Mingus says:

      I have never checked in detail as to exactly where they were. We know one was along Black Gap Road. I found the locations of the camps here in York County by scouring the Border Claims files at the State Archives in Harrisburg, looking for farmers who reported large bodies of troops camped on their lands. I then matched these to an 1860 map of York County. You might want to do the same for the Cumberland County records (also at the State Archives) to find where the camps were. It’s a painstaking task which takes time and a little detective work, and you might also need to consult tax records (they would likely be in Chambersburg) to pinpoint exactly where a farmer’s land was located in 1863. Good luck!

      • David Black says:

        Thanks for the infomation, much appreciated.

        • jeff miner says:

          David I hunted around the fayettville pa area for years and found 2 campsites. But I am looking for the big one of Jubal Early’s. If you are ever interested we can get together and do some hunting. I live in mcconnellsburg now but I know of a few camps. These are hunted hard but I always find something. I have been doing a lot of research and I think I’m closing in. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks jeff

          • Brad Ramos says:

            I am from Shippensburg, pa. I just upgraded to a Fisher F2 metal detector and have had permission to dig at Dykeman pond in Shippensburg and have found both musket balls and mini balls 2 rings of the Confederate type. I would be interested in going with you Jeff

          • David Black says:


            Would like to make contact and discuss the area sometime. I just started detecting last year and love history (civil war) and live in Fayetteville. 717-860-0272

            Thank You Dave Black

  4. Scott Mingus says:

    As the historian of Early’s division, I would be very interested in documenting whatever is found in his old campsite, and in particularly trying to understand which brigade camped where. He had four brigades, one each from Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana, as well as four artillery batteries (Virginia and Louisiana) and two cavalry units from Virginia as well as his supply trains.

  5. scott wodicka says:

    I am interested in taking my children ages 4,7,8, and 10 metal detecting to look for some musket balls and minie balls. I live in NY and was hoping that perhaps some one can either provide some direction for options, or perhaps consider a guided hunt for a day, preferably the week of august 26-30. My kids keep asking to go look for some minie balls. Any help making their wish come true would be greatly appreciated.

    • Scott Mingus says:

      There aren’t many places in York County to go look for balls. It would be best to find a battlefield on private land and search there. However most of Adams County’s sites around Gettysburg have been picked over. You might try contacting the South Mountain Coin and Relic Club down in Williamsport, MD. They seem to have several good locations in their area.

  6. alan beaverson says:

    my building in n. York is on a confederate encampment site. I would like to go metal detecting here and other places with other interested parties. 717-848-6612

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