During the week before the Battle of Gettysburg, the attention of the Union Department of the Susquehanna’s commander, Major General Darius N. Couch, was on protecting vital railroad bridges and other transport and communications routes in south-central Pennsylvania between Harrisburg and the Mason-Dixon Line. Among his particular areas of interest were the bridges on the Northern Central Railway in York County.
Couch dispatched the newly raised 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia under Colonel William B. Thomas to protect the NCR. Thomas, one of the earliest backers of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, was a political ally of President Lincoln and through patronage had received the coveted and influential post or Port Collector of Philadelphia, in charge of the Customs House and the tax revenue collection. He raised a regiment of nearly 1,000 emergency militiamen in mid-June 1863 and obtained arms and uniforms from the state at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg before entraining for York County.
Colonel Thomas made his headquarters in a hotel in downtown York and scattered his men in an 18-mile line on several farms from York Haven in northern York County down past Seitzville well to the south. Their positions can be determined from a study of York County Border Claims in Harrisburg and from the records of known troop movements.
Several companies were assigned to patrol the railroads south of York, including protecting bridges near Reynolds Mill, Hanover Junction, and Glen Rock, as well as the Howard Tunnel. Lt. Colonel William H. Sickles set up a campsite on the sprawling Jacob Bowman farm along today’s state route 616 south of Hanover Junction at a place later known as Larue.
Here are some photos of the general area, as well as a description of the damage claim of farmer Bowman…
The J. Bowman farm was located along today’s Pennsylvania Route 616 and Larue Road, as shown in this map taken from the 1876 Atlas of York County, Pennsylvania. One of the vital bridges on the Northern Central Railway (the South Road Bridge) was located on the Bowman farm and it was natural for the troops to encamp near this spot, which offered relatively easy access to bridges at Seitzville and Glen Rock should Rebels approach that area.
Jacob Bowman was born in York County on October 20, 1800, making him 62 at the time of the Gettysburg Campaign. He was married to Sarah Gantz and they had at least two children, a daughter Eliza Jane Bowman and a son John Bowman, a 17-year-old teenager at the time of the encampment; he owned the farm by the publication of the 1876 map shown above.
Jacob Bowman died on January 7, 1872 and was buried in Codorus Township.
Among the important consideration for a campsite for Civil War soldiers was ready access to a good supply of water. The south branch of the Codorus Creek provided such a source, and the prosperous and well located Bowman farm also was crossed by a small stream known as Cherry Run.
Another consideration was fuel for campfires, as well as available food. The Bowman farm offered livestock, chickens, hams, and other consumables, and the seasoned fence rails were convenient for firewood. A distraught Jacob Bowman later filed a Federal damage claim for the loss of 600 fine chestnut fence rails taken by Lt. Colonel Sickles’ defenders of the commonwealth.
His claim read “600 chestnut rails taken and burned as fuel @ $6 per/100 rails – $36.” To his dismay, the border claim was rejected by a Federal agent because “… the taking was the unauthorized, depredatory acts of soldiers in the State and not in the United States service.” For some reason, perhaps frustration with government red tape, Jacob Bowman did not go to York and subsequently file the necessary paperwork with the Pennsylvania officials who were taking claims submissions from locals for damages inflicted by Rebels or by state militia.
The 616 corridor from U.S. Route 30 down to Glen Rock is full of Civil War history. On Saturday June 27, 1863, Elijah V. White‘s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry raided Hanover Junction and burned the railroad bridge there, as well as the turntable and several railcars and the ash pit. Nearby Seven Valleys was hit hard, and merchants such as Henry Bott were victimized (Bott took a double whammy, as his farm was one of the 20th Militia’s quartet of known campsites. Captain Edgar G. Sheble‘s Co. C, 20th PVM took 600 ft boards, 152 ft of planking, 8 lbs. of nails, lumber, hand saw, and a hatchet which they used to erect temporary fortifications on a hilltop near Hanover Junction).
Several farms along 616 were raided by the 35th Battalion for horses (including the unfortunate Jacob Bowman!) as a patrol rode down toward Glen Rock with the aim of burning a bridge there. However, that bridge was not fired. One can only speculate that the small patrol of White’s Comanches sent to accomplish that task turned back when they spotted the Federals at the Bowman farm????
A full company of Union troops at the farm would have been 90-100 men with long range Springfield rifles; something that 30 or so Rebels with pistols may not have wanted to challenge???
On June 30, J.E.B. Stuart‘s 5000+ cavalrymen rode up 616 from the Seven Valleys region to Route 30 en route to Dover, passing through York-New Salem. On July 1, the part of 616 south of Hanover Junction to Glen Rock was the route of David McM. Gregg‘s cavalry division of the Army of the Potomac, and several farmers in Springfield and Codorus townships filed claims for horses lost, forage taken, and food consumed by the Union saddle soldiers.
In the late 1800s, several sturdy homes were built along the rail stop at what became Larue. Some, particularly those east of the tracks, have ornate Victorian-era gingerbread wooden trim.
Today, the old Northern Central Railway right-of-way is part of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park. The South Road Bridge on the old Bowman farm is only one of two masonry arch bridges on the road to incorporate both the use of stone and brick in its construction. The current bridge was built in 1871 by the Northern Central Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad and replaced the old wooden bridge that was Elijah White’s target. The stone and brick bridge was built as a result of the widening of the railroad in order to lay a second set of tracks between York Pennsylvania, and Baltimore Maryland.
The historic bridge, albeit post-Civil War, is listed on the U.S. Register of National Historic Places.
By the way, just a reminder that metal detecting on private property without permission is illegal. The exact location of the 20th PVM’s campsite is not known, as the Bowman farm was quite large. Please do not approach the locals requesting permission to go looking for it!