1906 Sons of Veterans encampment ended in grand ball

In my previous Cannonball blog post, I presented the transcript from an article that appeared in the York Daily on June 13, 1906, covering the sham battle on the fairgrounds held the previous day. More than 10,000 people watched this Civil War reenactment, which, according to veterans present for the event, did an accurate job in recreating the tactics used during the war.

The mock battle highlighted the three-day encampment of Pennsylvania’s various camps of the Sons of Veterans (now known as the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War). I am a member of the current Captain Edgar M. Ruhl Post #33 of that organization. The predecessor group did not wear Civil War uniforms, but rather a hybrid of the uniforms of the post-Spanish-American war era. Continue reading

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10,000 Saw Civil War Reenactment on York’s Fairgrounds in 1906

Vintage postcard showing the June 12, 1906, sham battle on York’s Fairgrounds (submitted by Dillon Young)

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as Civil War veterans aged and reflected on their service in the early 1860s, they erected monuments at leading battlefields, gathered at veterans organization events, marched proudly in popular Memorial Day and Independence Day parades, and recorded their reminiscences for posterity. With the horrors of actual battle behind them by a generation or two, the public wanted some idea of the grand pageantry of tactical military maneuvers, but not the danger.

Enter the concept of Civil War reenactments.

Then known as “sham battles,” the craze swept the country. Reenactments of varying scopes were held on actual Civil War battlefields such as Chickamauga and others. Here in Pennsylvania, sham battles were held in various locations, including  in Lancaster in October 1895, on the York Fairgrounds (hosted by a visiting West Virginia military unit) in October 1898, in Wilkes-Barre in 1902, and in Mount Gretna in 1903. There were several others, as well.

The 1898 York sham battle had been popular, but small in scope. For several years, local officials thought of repeating or expanding it. Enter the local E. M. Ruhl Camp of the Sons of Veterans (now known as the Sons of Union Veterans). Its leadership, in conjunction with York civil officials, decided to host a grand, multi-day event to commemorate the Civil War. Plans included a reunion encampment of veterans, a massive parade through downtown York, various speeches, dinners, and a massive sham battle on the fairgrounds. Heavily advertised, the S.O.V. reenactment on June 12, 1906, attracted more than 10,000 enthusiastic visitors.

A reporter for the York Daily covered the mock battle and filed this report in the June 13 edition.

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Hospital patient accused of thievery at York bar

Detail from the 1860 Shearer & Lake Map of York County, Pa. (Library of Congress)

During the first winter of Civil War (1861-82), the Union Army operated a training camp for the 6th New York Cavalry on Penn Commons (now Penn Park) on the south side of York, Pennsylvania. Colonel Thomas Devin, later to lead a brigade of cavalry under John Buford at the battle of Gettysburg, commanded the Empire State troopers. After the cavalrymen left for the front in March 1862, the army sent an inspector to determine the value of the lumber once the abandoned barracks and stables were razed. Instead, the inspector deemed the buildings to be of sturdy enough construction to warrant saving them for possible future use.

The need came to fruition that summer when massive casualties in the Valley Campaign and Peninsula Campaign caused a shortage of hospital beds. Army officials decided to transform the cavalry barracks into a hospital (at first with about 1,000 beds; later expanded to 1,600 plus tents capable of housing hundreds more). The new United States Army General Hospital in York opened in late June 1862, and soon it was almost full.

The influx of convalescing soldiers into York, a community of some 8,600 people, brought the need for large quantities of hardware, food, flour, and supplies from the town’s merchants. Local butchers received lucrative contracts for beef and mutton; hardware dealers for stoves; laundries for cleaning bedding; and so forth.

The soldiers’ personal needs also brought a seedier side to town.

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Confederates camped around York before the battle of Gettysburg

In giving frequent talks and presentations on Civil War topics related to York County, one of the most frequent questions I receive is the location of the various Confederate campsites in and around the city of York. Sometimes, the person wants to metal detect (almost impossible today because most of these old campsites are now covered with asphalt and/or buildings). Other times, the questioner is interested in why York so readily surrendered or why the town forked over more than $28,000 in hard cash to the invaders, and want to know how was the Rebel grip on the town. Others live near these sites, or have other reasons.

So, here is a quick summary of Confederate Major General Jubal Anderson Early’s main campsites during the occupation of York, the largest Northern town to fall to the Rebels during the entire Civil War.

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A virtual tour of Joanna Furnace near Reading, PA: Part 2

This is a back view of the old furnace stack at the Joanna Furnace near Reading, Pennsylvania. As mentioned in part 1 of this 2-part short series, Joanna Furnace was one a vibrant, profitable producer of cannonballs, door hinges, kettles, and other iron materials, and later, of pig iron sold to foundries until the furnace blew out in 1898. Over the 20th century, the site fell into disuse and the mansion, barn, and carriage house were razed. owner Bethlehem Steel sold the grounds and remaining buildings to the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association, which today still manages the site.

Here are additional photographs I took on a visit to Joanna Furnace on March 18, 2018.

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A virtual tour of Joanna Furnace near Reading, PA: Part 1

On Sunday evening, March 18, 2018, I presented a PowerPoint talk on the defense of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge during the Civil War to a packed house in the old Mule Stable of the restored Joanna Furnace complex in southern Berks County, Pennsylvania. Before the talk, I had a chance to wander around the grounds and learn more about this old industrial site, which is just off of Route 10 between Morgantown and Reading  in a narrow valley along the banks of Hay Creek.

Four entrepreneurs founded Joanna Furnace in heavily wooded Robeson Township in 1791, naming the facility after the wife of Samuel Potts, one of the quartet of investors. The owners over the years included Thomas Bull Smith, an operator in the Underground Railroad who hid fugitive slaves in the nearby woods until it was safe to move them northward to other conductors closer to Reading.

The furnace was a water-powered using a mill race from Hay Creek until the late 1850s when steam power was employed. The furnace stopped operation in 1898 following the death of ironmaster L. Heber Smith, who had built a large mansion on the property for his family. Bethlehem Steel later obtained the property, and in 1975 transferred ownership to the private Hay Creek Valley Historical Association, which maintains and interprets the furnace buildings and grounds.

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“The 1863 New York City Draft Riots” is topic of York CWRT on March 21

Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Joseph Mieczkowski (submitted)

Press Release from the York Civil War Round Table:

On March 21, 2018, please join the York Civil War Round Table as they welcome author Joe Mieczkowski as their featured guest speaker. Mr. Mieczkowski will present a PowerPoint talk on “The 1863 New York City Draft Riots.”

The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum of the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street in downtown York, PA.  Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

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29th Annual Civil War Reenactment at Neshaminy State Park – CANCELLED 4/13

Union re-enactors explain the working of a cannon to visitors at the Civil War Re-Enactment at Neshaminy State Park.  (submitted by Ilena Di Toro)


Press Release from Ilena Di Toro:

The 29th annual Civil War Re-enactment will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29, 2018 at Neshaminy State Park, located on 3401 State Road in Bensalem, PA, from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, rain or shine. Admission is free.

This event is the largest Civil War re-enactment on the East Coast outside of Gettysburg, it is featured in the Top 21 Re-enactments List on The History List.Com and is coordinated by the Neshaminy Living History Association, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. The theme for this year’s re-enactment is “The Battle of Chickamauga”.  Over 1,000 re-enactors will converge on the park for this event featuring:

  • Authentic battle re-enactments
  • Camp life scenarios
  • Military and civilian life demonstrations
  • April 29 only at 11:00 AM: 1860’s Exhibition Baseball Game featuring the Monmouth Furnace vs the New York Mutuals at the Drill Field

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Rally Set to Preserve Wrightsville’s Underground Railroad Station

The Mifflin House (Hybla) was an Underground Railroad station and a key artillery position during the June 28, 1863, Civil War fight at Wrightsville during the Gettysburg Campaign (submitted).

Press Release from Preservation Pennsylvania:

Threatened Underground Railroad station focus of public meeting on March 21

The future of the historic Mifflin House and farm in Hellam Township, York County, a well-documented safe house of the Underground Railroad, will be the focus of a community meeting on Wednesday, March 21 at John Wright Restaurant, 234 North Front Street, Wrightsville, York County, PA.  The public is invited to attend this free event from 6 until 8 PM.  Light food fare and beverages will be served.

Speakers will include:
Julia Chain is the Program Director at Preservation Pennsylvania, the private, statewide, non-profit advocacy and education organization based in Harrisburg. She will provide a brief overview of the zoning decision being defended by Hellam Township and supported by Preservation Pennsylvania and the Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society of Hellam Township, where the Mifflin House property is located.
Area business owner Louis Bond of the Charles Bond Company, Manheim and Christiana, Lancaster County, will share his personal and professional experiences of leading successful industrial enterprises that are housed in historic buildings.

Kathleen Anderson of Lancaster, whose ancestor, Robert Loney of Columbia, was an Underground Railroad agent who worked for many years with the Mifflin Family and other Abolitionists along the Susquehanna River, assisting many formerly enslaved Africans move safely across the river in their quest for freedom.

Community historian Randolph Harris of Lancaster will present an illustrated history of the Mifflin House and explain how this site, if preserved as an historic attraction, could become a key property in a regional area along both sides of the Susquehanna River where some of the earliest and most significant episodes in the historic of the Underground Railroad occurred. Harris’ presentation will highlight the educational impact and the economic development opportunities that could be realized if such a regional plan were created with community involvement and carried out.

Harris explained, “The history of the Underground Railroad continues to unfold at places like the Mifflin House, helping us to better understand our nation’s first civil rights movement, born in the wake the American Revolution. At the same time, it’s a story that is often difficult to tell and not easy to grasp. But in our area and in neighboring counties to the south in Maryland, and in surrounding Pennsylvania counties, the Underground Railroad’s origin, growth and function can be clearly and plainly understood like no other area of the United States.”

To help raise funds to preserve the Mifflin House, representatives of KCVPS and Historic Wrightsville, Inc. will offer items for sale featuring the Mifflin House. Donations are welcome.

Please join us for an enlightening presentation, networking with neighbors and rallying to preserve this significant historic place and its Underground Railroad history.

March 21, 6:00–8pm
John Wright Restaurant
234 North Front Street
York County

For more information visit Help Save Mifflin House on Facebook or visit preservationpa.org

The owners of the Mifflin House property, the Blessing Family of Hellam Township and their developer, Kinsley Equities LLC of York, filed for a demolition permit in 2017 which was denied by the municipality. Their appeal to the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board also was denied and they have since filed an appeal in York County Court of Common Pleas. Either side could appeal a decision by county court to Commonwealth Court.

The challenge to the appeal was filed by Hellam Township and is supported jointly by Preservation Pennsylvania and the Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society, a Hellam Township-based private non-profit organization. KCVPS is the group that acts as an official advisor to the Township when property owners or their agents file municipal applications for permits that will affect historic properties in the community. In 2017, the Mifflin House was added to Preservation Pennsylvania’s list of the most endangered historic resources in the state.


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Different paths; different dreams

Amanda Berry was born a slave near Long Green in Baltimore County, Maryland. She and her mother Mariam and her siblings lived on the farm of their owner, Shadrach Green, while her father, Samuel Berry, lived on the adjoining farm of his master, Darby Ensor. After Ensor’s death, his widow and their son, Luke (a childhood friend and playmate of Sam’s) allowed him to purchase his freedom and, later, that of his wife and children.

In those days, free blacks could not leave Maryland for more than 10 days lest their freedom be revoked. Samuel Berry eventually moved to Shrewsbury in southern York County, where he rented land and a house from John Lowe, a prominent farmer and the owner of the local Methodist campground. Amanda was five years old when Samuel purchased her freedom and she moved to Pennsylvania. In the 1850s, Sam became a leading conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping to shepherd numerous freedom seekers from Baltimore County and points south to York, where other conductors escorted them to the Susquehanna River crossings.

Amanda, at the age of 13 in 1850, went to work for a Mrs. Mary Latimer, a Southern lady who lived nearby. Latimer was a widow from Savannah, Georgia, with five children. Amanda helped care for the kids, took care of household duties, and other chores. “It was a good place,” she later wrote, “Mrs. Latimer was very kind to me and I got on nicely.”

Amanda, a convert to Methodism, dreamed of becoming an evangelist. The Latimer boys had other dreams and aspirations that would be diametrically opposed to the free black girl’s. Here are their divergent stories.

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