The 87th Pennsylvania remained arguably the best-known regiment raised in York County during the Civil War. Assigned to guard bridges in Maryland early in the war, the infantry regiment spent the winter and spring of 1863 on mundane garrison duty at Winchester, Virginia. In its first major battle, the 87th lost almost half its strength in the disaster at Carter’s Woods during the Second Battle of Winchester on June 15, 1863. The regiment disintegrated into small bands of survivors who eventually regrouped in Harper’s Ferry, WV, or Bloody Run (now Everett), PA. Some of the desperate escapees made it all the way back home to Gettysburg or York, where they awaited orders. After finally reconstituting the regiment and adding new recruits, the 87th spent much of 1864 in the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, highlighted by a significant role in the battle of Monocacy near Frederick, Maryland.
After the war, the former officers of the 87th Pennsylvania began to hold reunions to maintain their friendships, share old war stories, and pay tribute to fallen comrades. They chose to meet on September 25 each year, the anniversary of the date the regiment had been formally mustered into service back in the fall of 1861.
One such reunion took place at one of Gettysburg’s finest hotels in the fall of 1866. Here is the account taken from the October 2, 1866, issue of the Adams Sentinel, a popular Gettysburg newspaper.
“Tuesday last, being the anniversary date of the muster-in of the gallant 87th Pa. regiment, commanded by Col. Hay, of York, the annual re-union of the officers was held in this place on that day, a large number of the officers being present. The afternoon was spent in visiting the battlefield, and in the evening they sat down to a splendid supper at the Eagle Hotel. A number of invited guests were present, among whom were the representatives of the press. The supper was gotten up in magnificent style, the table and large dining room being beautifully decorated with flags, wreaths, and evergreens. The Gettysburg String Band was present and added to the general enjoyment by their soul-stirring music. After several speeches, and the transaction of some business, the halls were cleared, and the re-union closed with a grand “hop” which was kept up until a late hour. Everything passed off pleasantly, and these noble veterans next morning separated for their homes, to meet again on the 25th of September , in York.”
Vintage postcard showing the Eagle Hotel late in the 19th century. This landmark hotel during the Gettysburg Campaign had served as the headquarters of York native Maj. Granville O. Haller, who commanded the state emergency militia troops defending Adams and York counties before the arrival of the Union Army of the Potomac.
To read much more on the 87th Pennsylvania at the Second Battle of Winchester, pick up a copy of Eric Wittenberg’s and Cannonball blogger Scott Mingus’s new book on the battle. It is available from several area bookstores, as well as on the Internet or signed directly from Scott or from the publisher, Savas Beatie, via their website.