York County Civil War Damage Claims

This was once Aaron Firestone’s barn in Carroll Township near Dillsburg, PA, in northern York County. This barn was razed in the past five years (Scott Mingus photo).

On July 1, 1863, a group of Confederate soldiers visited this barn that once stood alongside the York Road between Dover and Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. The Rebels were cavalrymen from J.E.B. Stuart’s command, and they were looking for fresh horses.

They found two of them, a 3-year-old bay and a 6-year-old bay.

The Southern saddle soldiers soon led the two horses away.

Aaron Firestone was left without his horses as the summer harvest approached.

He, and almost a thousand other York Countians, lost horses, supplies, and/or personal property to the three Confederate columns that invaded York County (Jubal Early from June 27-June 30; J.E.B. Stuart from June 30-July 2, and Major James Nounnan from June 27-28), or to the various Pennsylvania state militiamen or Army of the Potomac soldiers that camped in or marched through York County during the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the war, the government, bowing to public pressure, created a three-man commission to allow victims to file sworn statements as to what they lost, in the hopes providing recompense from state funds. This augmented other claims procedures from the Federal government or from other sources.

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New book recounts creation of Gettysburg Civil War mural

On the cloudy morning of Monday, June 29, 1863, Confederate Colonel Isaac E. Avery awoke in the U. S. Army General Hospital on the south side of York, PA.

He was not a patient.

He was an enemy soldier, occupying the facility in a time of war.

Avery and his North Carolina brigade of infantrymen had marched into downtown York the previous day and had taken quarters in the hospital (opposite today’s William Penn High School), the nearby buildings of the York fairgrounds (then near King and Queen streets), and the twin market sheds in the town’s center square. They were part of Major General Jubal A. Early’s division which had marched to York after leaving Gettysburg on Saturday morning, June 27.

Little did Colonel Avery know as he stirred on Monday morning and prepared himself for the day, that he only had a few days to live. He and his men would march back to Gettysburg, a town they had abandoned to come to York, and have to fight the Yankees there.

On July 1, Avery’s Tar Heels, along with Brigadier General Harry T. Hays’ famed Louisiana Tigers, attacked three regiments of Union Colonel Charles Coster’s outmanned brigade near John Kuhn’s brickyard north of Gettysburg and drove them back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. The following day, Colonel Avery was mortally wounded in an ill-fated attack on the new Federal position on Cemetery Hill. He famously scrawled a last message, “Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.”

More than 100 years later, artist Mark Dunkelman, a descendant of one of Coster’s New York soldiers, created a vibrant, colorful mural depicting Coster’s July 1 defense against Avery’s attack. Recently, Gettysburg Publishing has released a new version of Dunkelman’s book about the fighting and the subsequent creation of the mural.

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Pickpocket victims at Hanover Junction included York businessman P. A. Small

One of a group of photos long believed to have been taken at Hanover Junction, PA, on or about November 18, 1863 (Library of Congress).

Abraham Lincoln’s northbound train chugged into Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, on the late afternoon of Wednesday, November 18, 1863. The president was on his way to Gettysburg to deliver the dedicatory remarks at the ceremonies to dedicate the new Soldiers National Cemetery, where thousands of soldiers who “gave their last full measure of devotion” now lay.

For several days before the ceremony, trainloads of spectators or participants arrived at Hanover Junction to await west-bound trains through Hanover and New Oxford to Gettysburg. The quantity, and length, of trains increased before peaking on the 18th and the morning of the 19th. At various points in the day, large crowds waited at the countryside depot or the nearby Junction Hotel.

The crowds attracted several pickpockets.

The victims included prominent York miller and hardware store owner Philip A. Small.

Here are a few period newspaper clippings detailing that long-ago rash of slight-of-hand thievery at the junction.

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Painter Horace Bonham was accused of disloyalty during the Civil War

A group of Civil War reenactors pause on the steps of Horace Bonham’s post-war house in York PA (Scott Mingus photo)

Horace Bonham is a well-known name in 19th-century art circles. Born November 25, 1835, in York, PA, he studied abroad after the Civil War and became noted as a prolific painter of portraits, group or crowd scenes, and scenery before his death in 1892. His artwork hangs in several galleries and collections, including the National Gallery of Art. During his lifetime, he was also an attorney and a newspaperman, editing the York Republican from 1860-1862.

His increasingly vocal support of President Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party garnered him a coveted political appointment as the assessor of internal revenue for the 15th district of Pennsylvania.

In other words, he was the Federal tax collector for this region.

Apparently, he made some enemies along the way, as evidenced by a letter I recently found in the Dr. St. John Mintzer Papers of the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, housed on the upper floor of the Mutter Museum (which granted permission for me to cite this letter). Despite his political post, someone accused Bonham of disloyalty to the U. S. government, a charge at times had serious consequences in the Civil War years. A York-born Regular Army major, Granville O. Haller, saw his career ruined by similar charges.

Horace Bonham’s April 24, 1865 letter to Dr. Mintzer (the surgeon in charge of the U. S. Army hospital in York) is in response to a previous series of letters, the whereabouts of which is currently unknown. By the time Bonham wrote his reply, President Lincoln was dead, having expired nine days earlier from a gunshot wound to the head. Emotions ran high in the weeks after the assassination, and numerous people across the country faced disloyalty accusations, many if which were unfounded or misinterpreted in the passion of the post-assassination chaos.

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York County Civil War reenactors’ mascot bear

Private Farbie Bear, 87th PA (submitted)

The 87th Pennsylvania was the largest regiment raised in the Civil War in York County. Today, an active group of reenactors and living historians keep alive the memory of the men of the 87th by portraying them in parades, living history events, encampments, and battle reenactments.

I have periodically interviewed some of their members. Here’s a chat with perhaps the most unusual member of the 87th! Continue reading

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Famed Civil War submarine to be topic of York CWRT on April 18

Conrad Wise Chapman painting of Submarine Torpedo Boat H.L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863. (Library of Congress)

Press Release – York CWRT: (Note: This program was rescheduled from March 15, 2017, because of inclement weather on that date)

On Wednesday evening, April 18, 2018, please join the York Civil War Round Table in welcoming historical reenactor and lecturer Michael Jesberger to our meeting for his presentation on “The H. L. Hunley – Confederate Submarine.” The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street in York. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

Mr. Jesberger will be discussing the saga, loss and recovery of the H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful attack submarine. On February 17, 1864, during the Civil War, the Confederate sub left the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, attacked and sank a blockading Union warship. Soon after sending the USS Housatonic to the bottom, the submarine also sank. All eight of her crew were lost, along with the Hunley.

The sunken sub’s location was a mystery until 1995 when a team of divers sponsored by writer Clive Cussler discovered the nearly intact Hunley. It was raised and carefully excavated. The skeletons of all eight crew members were removed and studied. On April 17, 2004, the remains of the crew were laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. Tens of thousands attended the interrment including some 6,000 reenactors and 4,000 civilians wearing period clothing.

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Army hospital administrator preferred York-made cast iron stoves

CDV image of one of the buildings of the U. S. Army General Hospital in York, PA (Photo by Charles E. Wallin, author’s collection)

In the late spring of 1862, the United States Army established a 1,000-bed hospital on the grounds of what is now Penn Park on the south side of York, Pennsylvania. Over time, the hospital expanded to 1,600 beds and finally to 2,000. During the course of the Civil War, more than 14,000 patients received treatment in the fourteen-ward facility; less than 200 died, giving it one of the lowest mortality rates of any army hospital in the entire war.

Philadelphia-born Dr. St. John W. Mintzer assumed command of the hospital on August 24, 1864, replacing Dr. Henry Palmer, who took a furlough for health reasons. Mintzer immediately began upgrading the grounds, wards, and general appearance of the facility, which had been somewhat neglected for some time as Palmer’s health deteriorated. Mintzer had previously operated army hospitals in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and was an experienced, talented administrator. He would lead the York facility the rest of the Civil War and then be transferred to an army hospital in Texas to continue his career before eventually mustering out and returning to Philadelphia.

In one of his early letters, he praised a local York company for the quality of their work. Here is the transcript of that letter, courtesy of the Medical Historical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, located in the Mutter Museum.

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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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