RR workers in 1907 found parts of bridges Jubal Early’s cavalry burned

Early 20th-century aerial view of the two railroad bridges across Conewago Creek near the intersection of Board Road and Wago Road south of York Haven (www.PennPilot.psu.edu).

During the Confederate occupation of York County, Pennsylvania, from June 28 – 30, 1863, Major General Jubal A. Early’s primary goals (besides ransoming York for an exorbitant amount of cash and supplies) was to break up the Northern Central Railway that ran between Baltimore and Harrisburg. His horse soldiers (the 17th Virginia Cavalry and the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) burned 31 bridges along the line from York Haven down to Hanover Junction, eventually forcing the U. S. Military Railroad to send crews into Pennsylvania to repair the damage after the battle of Gettysburg.

The 17th Virginia cavalrymen that burned the bridges north of York up to York Haven were under the command of Colonel William Henderson French, an officer that did not inspire the confidence of General Early. Earlier in the campaign, Early had rode with French and instructed him on his expectations. On Sunday afternoon, June 28, the colonel was on his own, deep in enemy territory and facing a much larger number of state militia who were reportedly guarding the bridges between Mount Wolf and York Haven. He was outnumbered two to one, and the militia certainly would have rifle-muskets, much longer in range than his 200+ men’s carbines and shotguns.

It turned that French had nothing to fear from the long-range weapons of the emergency militiamen. In the service for less than a week, they fired a few desultory shots as French’s Rebels approached and then fled across the Susquehanna River on flatboats to Bainbridge. The Confederates then poured coal oil on a pair of bridges ( bridges numbers 115 and 116 in the NCRY’s parlance) over the Conewago Creek near its confluence with the river. They applied the torch and soon the two bridges were ablaze.

Two weeks later, the army repaired the bridges and traffic rolled again between Baltimore and Harrisburg. The NCRY was back in business, despite the efforts of the Rebel raiders.

Years later, in July 1907, railroad workers crews uncovered the remains of the wooden bridges that Jubal Early’s saddle soldiers had torched that long ago Sunday.Two years later, a reporter recalled the discovery when another work gang was preparing to erect modern bridges in the same spots.

Here is the story, taken in August 25, 1909, edition of the York Daily.

Detail from the 1860 Sheaer & Lake map of York County showing the two bridges over Conewago creek, guarded by the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia. The Union soldiers had earlier established a camp on the farm of Colonel John Hough. Along the way to burn the bridges, the Rebels raided a few farms, including those marked on the map, for fresh horses.

To Replace Bridges

Steam Derricks Will be Used in Work near Mt. Wolf on N. C. R. R.

Northern Central railway workmen will, Thursday next, replace bridges Nos. 115 and 116, located about a mile north of Mt. Wolf, with new structures. Two large steam derricks will be used in the work, one of which will be sent from Baltimore. There will be a force of men engaged in operating the machines and another squad to repair the tracks, which will have to be torn up for a considerable distance. The improvements will be made under the supervision of the master carpenter and supervisors.

The bridges to be replaced are located within a short distance of each other and span the same stream. At the same point on June 28, 1863, similar structures were burned by the confederate cavalry under General Early. In July of 1907, while railway employees were working at that place, several of the ties and rails of the original bridges were dug out of the stream, where they had fallen after being demolished by Early’s men. Pieces of these ties and rails are now on exhibit in the museum of the York County Historical Society.

The improvements will be made in record time by the derricks being used to remove the present structures and putting the new ones in place. The work will be begun about 10:06 p.m. or soon after train No. 20 passes the point. The next train is due at 12:36 a.m. and the work will have to be completed before that time. The bridges will have a span of about 46 feet and are double tracked.

 

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