Rebel raiders devastate Codorus Valley farm

The summer of 1863 witnessed two major Confederate raids into the North, the largest of course being Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The clock shown above graced the Mingus household in southeastern Ohio in July when John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry rode through the region in a desperate attempt to escape from pursuing Yankees.

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was under strict orders to prevent looting and damage to private property when in the Keystone State. While in the majority of cases the officers kept tight rein on their men, the biggest problem for the residents came from deserters, stragglers, and “bummers” who would slip away from their regiments and go off on their own.

Such a party of ne’er-do-wells visited the isolated farmhouse of Jacob and Catherine Smeich near Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, in rural North Codorus Township. These raiders were infantrymen from one of Jubal Early’s regiments which had occupied York borough from June 28-30.

Here is the account of the subsequent vandalism and thievery, taken from George Prowell’s History of York County and from Jacob Smeich’s post-war damage claim he filed with the state.

Jacob Smeich was born on the 4th of July in 1811. As a young man he married Catherine Sechrist, who was a year older than Jacob, and took up farming, his father’s occupation. They raised a family of several children, including Jacob, Jr. They attended Shaffer’s Zion Lutheran Church in Codorus Township.

During the Confederate occupation of York, the Smeich family fled their home and took their livestock and horses to safety. They locked their house against intruders and likely either headed across the Susquehanna River to Columbia or headed through Cross Keys to southeastern York County (two places frequently by the refugees that late June of 1863).

Upon their return, they discovered to their shock that the Rebels had broken into their house and vandalized it. Windows were broken, Catherine’s prized looking glass was in pieces on the floor, and other possessions were strewn about the damaged house.

A lot of personal property was missing, never to be seen again and likely taken back to the South by the thieves.

This despite the fact that a hired hand, Levi Hale, was present when the Rebels visited between 9 and 10 a.m. on June 30, 1863.

Jacob Smeich testified after the war in his damage claim deposition that the Rebels had broken windows with their guns to enter his locked house. Among the list of stolen property was his accordion, two of Catherine’s bonnets and her woolen shawl, four coverlets, two of Jacob’s cotton shirts, and a silk handkerchief. They Confederates had ransacked the house “in a violent manner,” destroyed furniture and smashed glassware and pottery.

They stole 150 bushels oats, 150 bushels corn, 50 2-bushel grain bags, horse gears, and fly nets from his barn and took them to their nearby camp.

Rebels even forced Levi Hale to thresh the oats and shell the corn!

Smeich never received a dime in compensation for his damage claim.

He did recover financially and even bought another farm in 1869 which had been foreclosed for tax reasons (he was involved in a lawsuit over that property when the original owner disputed the forfeiture).

Jacob Smeich died on July 9, 1892, just five days after his 81st birthday.

This entry was posted in Civilians, Confederates, Gettysburg Campaign, Hanover Junction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Rebel raiders devastate Codorus Valley farm

  1. I enjoy seeing the nice clock! A wonderful heirloom from the war years.

  2. Bryan Parkhurst says:

    I read the article posted. I definitely have a different take on the story. 1st, they were not thieves, we were at war, the yankees invaded the South, destroyed our property and stole our food and livestock, destroyed our infrastructure and committed cultural genocide on an entire generation of southerners. 2nd, Gen R. E. Lee invaded the north to alleviate the sufferings of our people at the hands of the yankees. So when it is described as theft I don’t see it that way, these boys were in a foreign land, they had to live off the land because their supply trains didn’t extend back to Virginia. Why shouldn’t they exact a little revenge upon the very people that were waging a war against them that they didn’t want. Let me remind the author of the march to the sea by Sherman, not many books describe what they did as “theft”. Last but not least, had those residents stayed put, they would have stood a better chance of not being “robbed” and they probably would have been paid for their fodder and supplies, it would have been confederate script but they would have been paid. This is just another example of “to the victors go the spoils” and ” the winner writes the history”. Remember, if you yankees had let us go in peace, as written in the Constitution, then this story would never have been written.

    • Scott Mingus says:

      Hello Bryan!

      Thanks so very much for your thought-provoking post. The locals here in York County certainly used the term thievery and robbery, not to put down the degradations of the Union soldiers all across the South. I am writing a book on the Second Battle of Winchester, and indeed the residents of Winchester used the same terms. In fact, General Milroy was called a “bombastic cow-stealer.” So, the proven facts, backed by contemporary letters, journals, and newspaper entries, are that BOTH sides committed crimes. Here in York County, there are more than 800 sworn court cases/damage claims from residents, some of whom had their houses broken into and ransacked. Likewise, I have read through the hundreds of damage claims from the Southerners (all are available for a fee at Fold3.com). Again, I submit kindly that both sides were guilty of not honoring the civilians in a time of war. Have a look a the claims from Clarke and Frederick counties in Virginia as a example of civilians who use the same terms as the civilians in York County.

      And yes, three of my ancestors on Dad’s side fought at Gettysburg in the 7th West Virginia Infantry and my great-great-grandfather on Mom’s side was a drummer in the 51st Ohio (he was in Georgia before heading north in Thomas’s army to fight John Bell Hood in Tennessee). I grew up in southern Ohio 10 miles from Sheridan’s home and 19 miles from Sherman; 22 miles from Custer. So yes, my heritage is certainly Yankee and politics are certainly conservative, evangelical Christian Republican, but I so try to write in an unbiased manner.

      In fact my latest book won the Nathan Bedford Forrest Southern History Award!!! Have you read it? It’s a balanced and very fair biography entitled Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith: From Virginia’s Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat.”

      Take care, and please stay in touch. I appreciate and respect your point of view, but recognize that I find both armies guilty, even in the Gettysburg Campaign. I should also add that more than 100 of the damage claims here in York County PA where I now live (I work at a paper mill here) are from YANKEES who stole horses and supplies and never paid for them, further evidence that both armies were in the wrong.

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