Long lines of soldiers wearing gray and butternut stretch out for miles along what is today Maryland Route 64, the Smithsburg Pike. They are headed apparently for Waynesboro, a small village only a few miles into southern Pennsylvania. Civilian scouts are monitoring the Confederate column’s approach, and a rider quickly heads into town with the alarming cry, “The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming!
About noon, Waynesboro residents spot the first Rebels off in the distance. Soon, the soldiers fill the town, camping in nearby fields and meadows. They are more than 4,000 strong – veterans from Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina. General Early quickly puts the town under martial law; some of his men find whiskey and begin to celebrate their first afternoon and evening “back in the Union.”
An invasion was not what most residents had in mind with the desire to see the Confederacy come back into the Union.
And, some 55 miles away via what is now US Route 30, residents of York County could not imagine that within a week, they would meet the famed Jubal Early face to face.
In downtown York, an anonymous writer (thought to be Union Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, at home in York awaiting a new military assignment) appealed to the citizens to rise up and defend their homes and the Commonwealth.
From his headquarters in the Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg, Union Maj. Granville O. Haller telegraphed York’s Committee of Safety, authorizing the remnants of the 87th Pennsylvania to obstruct the roads in northwestern York County leading to Carlisle.The 87th had been part of the debacle at Carter’s Woods near Winchester, Va. back on June 15, an embarrassing defeat for Milroy’s division of the Eighth Corps. Most of their men were still at Bloody Run, Pa., but one party had made it all the way home to York.
Now, Major Haller, the Union officer charged with the defense of Adams and York counties, urged them to chop down trees and block the roads (in particular what is today’s Old York Road leading through Dillsburg to Carlisle). However, this plan was denied because Eighth Corps commander Maj. Gen. Robert Schenk had previously ordered Milroy’s scattered men to regroup in Baltimore, Maryland.The men of the 87th stayed put, for now at least, in downtown York, or went home to visit their families. The roads remained open to Confederate passage.
Handbills distributed throughout the county proclaimed an order from General Couch “directing that all horses, except those for cavalry or scouting purposes, and all cattle, be sent north or east of Harrisburg.” However, many citizens ignored the directive, supposing that the Rebels were still far off. Some believed that the rumors of an invasion were a useless fright stirred up by overly nervous railroad executives concerned about a Rebel raid on the Cumberland Valley RR and/or the Northern Central Railway.
By and large, most residents went about their daily lives, assuming (or hoping) the invasion would not reach as far as York County.
No one quite knew what the Rebels intended to do in Pennsylvania.
Some claimed the Rebels had horns like the devil himself. Others thought that the soldiers would massacre the women and children, and set fire to the towns. Some accounts suggested the Rebels were giants.
Few York Countians had ever seen an enemy soldier in the flesh. Few wished to do so.
Upcoming Civil War events this week:
— June 25, Hanover (7:00 p.m., Guthrie Memorial Library, presentation on “First to Fall in York County: E. V. White’s Raid on Hanover” and book signing)
— June 26, York (7:00 p.m., York Civil War Round Table talk on the Civil War in York County and book signing with Jim McClure, York County Heritage Trust, 250 E. Market St.)
— June 27, York (12:00 p.m. at Central Market; Confederate “flash mob” invades York)
— June 27, Hanover (5:30 p.m. book signing at Guthrie Memorial Library, 6:00 p.m., Civil War Round Table Panel Discussion)
— June 27, York; famed author Jeff Shaara speaks at the County Club of York. Tickets are sold out.
— June 28, Burning of the Bridge in Wrightsville (7:00 p.m. music, vendors, and a book signing on the grounds of the John Wright Restaurant, 234 N. Front St.;)
— June 29, Dover — Reenactors and events all day at park; talk on Jeb Stuart’s Ride at 3 p.m.)