Stuart’s two-day ride through York County caused calamity for the citizenry. His division’s horses were exhausted from the long ride from Salem, Virginia, through Maryland and then the mounted fighting at Hanover, Pennsylvania, on June 30, 1863. Then, the weary columns rode north in an effort to locate Jubal Early’s infantry division near York. Hundreds of horses played out. Roving patrols of Rebels appropriated nearly every fresh horse they could find in farm fields, barns and stables, or hidden in woods and thickets. Other cavalrymen took food and supplies, and, at times, personal property.
More than four decades later, on November 23, 1907, Dover erected a metal tablet commemorating Stuart’s ride as a perpetual reminder of local history. More than 4,000 people attended the parade and unveiling ceremony. A York Daily reporter covered the events, focusing on a lengthy speech given by the president of the Historical Society of York County, Robert C. Bair, in which he opened with a discourse on why it is important to remember historic places and events.
Now, in part 3 of this series, we present Mr. Bair’s initial comments on the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and York County in particular, as taken from the November 25, 1907, York Daily. After setting up the historical context for the invasion, he relates an interesting story related to a group of professional spies sent into York County well in advance of the Confederate army.
“Briefly then, let us examine the merit of this tablet and find our own answer to the question, what does it mean? We retell the story to the listening young that a wider range ma[y] be opened to their historic vision. What happened here on July 1, 1863, by itself alone means little, but it had grave and vitally important relation to larger events occurring at the moment elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
“The War of the Rebellion had been raging for two years and three months. The sword of the Great Judgement was over the north and the south. Battles at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had resulted in defeat of the Army of the Potomac by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
“The Union army, though grim in determination, was surrounded by great discouragements. The Confederate army was in a state of supreme confidence and elation. They were possessed with an old-time belief among them that one southerner could whip five Yankees.
“The battle of Chancellorsville had been fought early in May, 1863. During the balance of May and early part of June a lull had come upon hostilities. It was an ominous lull, as the quiet that hangs over earth though high in the black heavens clouds roll and boil in storm. During this period the Confederate government at Richmond and General Robert E. Lee, commander of the army of Northern Virginia, were forming bold designs and working out vast plans. General Lee resolved to transfer bodily his battles of the next campaign from the impoverished state of Virginia into the fertile fields of Pennsylvania and thus give the north a taste too of bitter devastation and desolation. The resolve was followed by secret, skillful and rapid execution. Among their other plans one of the most subtle and dangerous design of Jefferson Davis in the movement was this: it was hoped that a defeat of the Union Army in northern territory, near the great cities, would send gold to such a premium as would cause panic in commercial centres and induce business interests in America and throughout the world to demand that the war should cease. Indeed, there were many in the north at that time [including here in York County] who equaled their loud denunciation of Abraham Lincoln only by their declaration that the war was a failure and should cease.
General Lee’s Trick
“That Lee’s plans had a wide range may be clearly seen in the following incident: In May, just after the battle of Chancellorsville, there appeared in different parts of York County strangers, most excellent and even-tempered gentlemen, new to the neighborhood, but of such frank natures and straightforward words they made friends.
“Long after the occurrence I cite, Daniel Rupp, a loyal man of York, related to me this incident, ‘There came to York at that time and to me,’ he said, ‘a most urbane, clerical, gentle man, interested in good deeds and bent on the sale of religious books. He established a most favorable impression and acquaintance. This man desired particularly to secure the aid of a proper person, a Union man, versed as to the best roads and people in the lower end of the county.’ A well-known Abolitionist or Black Republican, as they were then called (I cannot recall his name), was engaged. During the ten days’ drive through the county a profitable business was done, the driver reporting finally to Mr. Rupp that he was well paid, having never traveled with a more delightful companion or Christian scholar. The matter passed out of mind, but Mr. Rupp’s surprise was great that Sunday morning in June when General Gordon entered York to behold riding at the head of Gordon’s column the Bible agent as a Confederate guide.
“Yes, the deep plans of invasion into York county included carefully drawn maps and a through knowledge of all roads and approaches to our ferries in the Susquehanna river.”
In Part 4 of this series of Cannonball posts, we will present Robert Bair’s comments on Jeb Stuart’s ride into Dover.