Big Mount Alpacas is a popular spot along Canal Road in Big Mount, Pennsylvania, a hamlet in western York County’s Paradise Township. During the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign 148 years ago, more than 4,000 Confederate infantry under Major General Jubal A. Early camped on this farm and several neighboring properties on the evening of Saturday, June 27, 1863, just four days before the Battle of Gettysburg raged to the southwest of this tranquil location.
George Jacob Altland owned this property during the mid-1800s. The 55-year-old farmer filed a damage claim with the state after the war, claiming the Rebels stole a 7-yr-old black horse, a black mare, a bay horse, a bay colt, several harness gears, 3 bridles, 3 collars, 4 halters / chains, saddle, and a leather line from this farm. He estimated his net loss as $648, a rather hefty sum for that era. G. J. Altland died in 1878.
Click below to see a map of the Big Mount area in 1876 and to view other photos and stories from the Gettysburg Campaign.
The G. J. Altland farm is prominently shown in this image from the 1860 Shearer and Lake Map of York County, Pennsylvania. It’s right under the Big Mount label. Jubal Early’s men occupied nearly every farm in the area, with a heavy concentration on the Trimmer property southeast of town along the creek.
J. Lentz owned this beautiful farm in 1863; it’s currently for sale if any readers want to live on an old Civil War Confederate campsite! Somewhere in the Big Mount area, a farmer shot and killed Pvt. Charles Brown of the Louisiana Tigers who was prowling around the region looking for food or supplies. Brown’s service record reads “murdered by the citizens of York County, Pa.”
On March 5 and June 4, 1885, two decades after the war, from his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, an elderly Early penned a pair of letters to York County historian George Prowell relating his encounter with one of the local ladies of German extraction – an old woman from Big Mount who showed him some old-fashioned York County hospitality.
“The night before my force reached the town of York, the place where I stayed, was at the house of a German widow (Mrs. Zinn, the house is now owned by George W. Trimmer), about three and a half miles east of East Berlin. I had reached there on the afternoon of June 27, on my way across the South Mountains on the road from Mummasburg, via Hunterstown, Newchester, Hampton and East Berlin. I moved on that road with my main force, while Gen. Gordon with his brigade had moved east on the pike from Gettysburg to York. He camped four miles south of me along the pike.
When I had placed the different parts of my command in the positions they were to occupy for the night, having no camp equipage or baggage wagons, I looked out for a place for myself and staff to stay. Near the road was a cornfield into which I directed my detachment of cavalry to turn their horses. Not far distant, I saw a large barn, but failed to observe a correspondingly large farm house. My troops were not a little astonished at the large Pennsylvania barns of your prosperous farmers. I did not stay with that farmer over night. He could not speak a word of English, at least he would not for me, possibly he was scared so badly that he could not speak. I therefore gave up the idea of quartering with him, and rode on a little farther, where I found quite a decent looking brick house with a porch in front, and several rooms to the house.
As I rode up, the woman who owned the house came out to the gate in great trepidation, exclaiming in broken English, “Are you goin’ to destroy us, are you goin’ to take all that we’ve got?” I told her, “No madam, and to give you the best protection possible I will stay with you, with my staff and no one shall trouble you.” I directed my staff to take possession, stating that the porch would do for sleeping. I then rode southeast four miles with a small escort to give Gordon final instructions about entering York the next day, and did not return until 9 o’clock P.M. My staff had eaten supper. The old lady who was now calmed of all her fears, had reserved supper for me, and I found it a very plentiful one, with about fifteen varieties of food – meats, vegetables, coffee and milk. While I was eating the old lady was very talkative. A good and clean bed was given me, and I rested for the night.”
A mid-20th century view of the old Zinn-Trimmer property at the intersection of Canal Road and Big Mount Road. Courtesy of the York Daily Record and fellow blogger Jim McClure’s entry on the York Town Blog.
The red boxes show the farmers in the Big Mount area who filed damage claims with the state following the Civil War. Almost all lost horses, as well as other goods. Jonas Trimmer reported that Rebels broke into his house and stole a trunk of clothing as well as other household goods, as well as his horse.
Just because a farm does not have a red box (for example the J. Lentz farm and the Widow Hime place) does not mean that the Rebels left them alone. The farmers may not have taken the time (and expense) to travel to downtown York to file a formal claim, or perhaps they had taken their horses away to hiding places before the Rebels arrived. Some may have went all the way to Lancaster County, crossing the toll bridge over the Susquehanna River.
The Confederate units known to have camped in Big Mount are as follows: Brig. Gen. Harry Hays’ Brigade (the famed “Louisiana Tigers:” 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Louisiana); Col. I. E. Avery’s brigade (6th, 21st, and 57th North Carolina); Brig. Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade (31st, 49th, 52th Virginia); 17th Virginia Cavalry, Carrington’s Battery (Charlottesville, Va. Artillery), Green’s Battery (Louisiana Guard Artillery); and Garber’s Battery (Staunton, Va. Artillery), as well as the supply trains, medical corps, headquarters staff, and cattle drovers of Early’s Division, as well as several black servants / slaves.
For much more on the subject of the Confederate invasion of York County during the Gettysburg Campaign, see my recent books The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign (LSU Press, 2009) and Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River (Savas Beatie, 2011).
Please note that all of the farms in the Big Mount area are private property, and no metal detecting or relic hunting is allowed without the consent of the current residents.