Confederates paroled Wrightsville Yankee prisoners in York

Pvt. Samuel Morrow’s parole document (National Civil War Museum collection, photo by Barry Larkin)

On Sunday evening, June 28, 1863, more than 2,000 Confederate infantry, cavalry, and artillery under Brigadier General John B. Gordon attacked a motley force of Union troops defending the mile-and-a-quarter-long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River crossing at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Gordon’s goal was to cross the river, secure Columbia, threaten Lancaster, and hold the bridge open for another 4,600 Rebels under Major General Jubal Early who were then camped in and around York.

The Wrightsville defenders included hastily trained Pennsylvania state militia; armed black civilian home guards from the Columbia-Wrightsville-Marietta region; convalescent patients from the U. S. Army Hospital in York; a hospital guard detachment from Ellicott Mills, Maryland; and a scattering of Eighth Corps soldiers from the 87th Pennsylvania infantry. After a brief engagement that included a 40-round artillery bombardment, the Yankees all retreated across the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River to safety in Columbia.

Well, almost all of the Yankees made it to Lancaster County.

1930s aerial view of Wrightsville showing the June 28, 1863, defensive positions of the motley force of Union defenders

Lieutenant Colonel William H. Sickles of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, a unit raised in Philadelphia largely from Federal government workers) manned the northern arm of the horseshoe-shaped entrenchments. They had come to Wrightsville after failing to defend the Hanover Junction railroad interchange the previous day. For some reason, Sickles dawdled in withdrawing his forces in a timely manner as a strong line of Gordon’s Georgia infantry cut off his route of retreat to the bridge. Sickles and 20 of his men, face with no other viable option, surrendered.

The main body of retreating militia had already passed over the bridge, which was set on fire by a small team of Columbia citizens under army orders. With the crossing gone and the river too deep to ford, General Gordon on Monday morning, June 29, withdrew his forces westward to York.

There, he turned the prisoners over to Major Samuel Hale, the division’s assistant adjutant general. Orders arrived later that day for General Early to take his force west to Heidlersburg, where the Second Army Corps was concentrating. General Robert E. Lee was pulling his Army of Northern Virginia back together in anticipation of battle, which would occur July 1-3 at Gettysburg.

Not wanting to be encumbered by prisoners, Hale prepared formal parole documents for Lieutenant Colonel Sickles and his men. He did not parole the head of York’s Army Hospital, Dr. Henry Palmer, who had been captured earlier on Sunday when Gordon marched through town and secured the hospital complex. Palmer would be forced to accompany the Rebels to Gettysburg, where he would escape and make his way back to York. Sickles, after being paroled, used a hand cart on the railroad to head back home to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he hit a section where the Rebels had lifted the rails, and the cart derailed, breaking his leg.

York’s twin market sheds in Centre Square, with the courthouse spire visible in the upper left along E. Market Street. (YCHC)

Among the prisoners paroled at the courthouse in downtown York was Private Samuel Morrow of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia. His parole document is now part of the collection of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.

Sam Morrow was 18 years old when he enlisted on June 18 in Company I. He received a bounty of $25 for signing up for a 100-day period in the emergency regiment. Little did he know that in only ten days, he would be a prisoner of war.

Samuel Morrow’s card in the card files of Pennsylvania soldiers (State Archives)

Morrow mustered out on August 10 in Philadelphia. His military service was far from finished, however.

On November 12, he enrolled as a corporal in Company C of the 183rd Pennsylvania Infantry in the Army of the Potomac. Sam Morrow survived the regiment’s hard fighting in numerous key battles, including the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg and associated battles, Sayler’s Creek, and the Appomattox Campaign. He marched in the Grand Review of the Armies after Lee’s surrender and was mustered out of the army on July 13, 1865, in Washington, D.C. He took a train home to Philadelphia, still a young man but now a battle-hardened combat veteran.

Little is known of Morrow’s post-war life. His name appears a few times in the Philadelphia newspapers for various activities and events.

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