Is it honestly Abe?

The vast public holdings of the U. S. government include thousands of vintage photographs from the Civil War. At least six of them show Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, and are credited to the Mathew Brady studio in Washington, D.C. They were misidentified for years as being Hanover Junction, Virginia, but a York Countian, Russell Bowman, notified a clerk in the archives of the mistake and she agreed.

The government obtain the six images from various sources, including the Mathew Brady collection. Others were a gift of Colonel Godwin S. Ordway, Jr. in 1948. The negatives are held in the National Archives; the prints are in the collection of the Library of Congress. Some of the prints are in the form of stereo cards, with twin images that are slightly offset as captured by side-by-side lenses. Four of the images show trains and people at Hanover Junction, one shows just a crowd of people on the porch, and the final one shows a few men standing on the temporary bridge over the Codorus Creek. Confederate cavalrymen from Virginia and Maryland burned the bridge and 30 others in York County during the Gettysburg Campaign; the U. S, Military Railroad rebuilt them.

Since the mid-1950s, Civil War, railroad, and presidential buffs and historians have debated if this series shows President Abraham Lincoln and his travel party on their way to Gettysburg on November 18, 1863, to attend the dedication of the new National Cemetery. There, Lincoln was to deliver a few remarks that have come down in history to us as the Gettysburg Address.

Do the photos show Lincoln as he waited to change trains that long-ago afternoon?

Here are the known facts:

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The surrender: did York really have a choice?

Lewis Miller sketch of the 31st Georgia as it marched into York (YCHC)

For more than 150 years, residents and writers have debated whether the civic leaders of York, Pennsylvania, should have surrendered their town to a Confederate general during the Gettysburg Campaign.

On Saturday, June 27, 1863, Chief Burgess David Small, two councilmen, a Union colonel on medical leave, and a young businessman with strong ties to the South rode out to Farmers Post Office to negotiate with Brigadier General John B. Gordon, whose Georgia infantry was poised to march on York the following day. They asked for protection for the women and children, as well as for the town. In exchange, the Rebels asked that there be no resistance from state militia known to be in the area, and they demanded large quantities of food, supplies, clothing, and shoes.

The businessman, A. B. Farquhar, had earlier in the day met with General Gordon at Abbottstown to initiate discussions. He returned to York and informed the council that an immense force of Rebels was approaching, and the terms by which York could be assured of a peaceful occupation. He then took Small and the others back out to speak with Gordon more formally.

Farquhar and Small almost immediately met with questioning as to the wisdom of the decision. Republican papers, no friend of the Democrat chief burgess, quickly ridiculed him for riding out to find the Rebels and surrendering meekly. Other towns had also surrendered peacefully to the enemy, but in no other known case, did the mayor deliberately seek out the oncoming column. Farquhar, although a supporter of President Lincoln, received suspicion of being a Confederate sympathizer. He had been educated at the same private Quaker school in Alexandria, Virginia, as had Robert E. Lee, and Farquhar was friends with members of the Lee family.

Others believed that Farquhar’s impetuous action, one that mirrored a similar trek in 1862 to seek out W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee (Robert E. Lee’s son) as the Rebels invaded Maryland, played a role in saving York from the torch. Gordon’s commander, Major General Jubal Early, had been quick with the torch on several occasions during the march into Pennsylvania and fears arose that he planned to destroy a town to teach the Yankees a lesson. A year later, he would do so when he ordered his cavalry to burn Chambersburg.

A newly transcribed letter adds a contemporary voice to the argument.

And, it’s not friendly to Farquhar or the hasty decision to surrender York. Continue reading

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York CWRT Presents the Thomas Nast Patriotic Civil War Santa Claus on November 15

Press Release – York Civil War Round Table, York PA

On November 15, 2017, please join the York Civil War Round Table in its 20th Anniversary Year, welcoming Civil War living historian Kevin Rawlings portraying the Thomas Nast Patriotic Civil War Santa Claus. The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market Street in downtown York, PA, 17403. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

Kevin Rawlings portrays the Patriotic Civil War Santa each Christmas season, based on the illustration by Thomas Nast that appeared on the front page of Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863. Rawlings’ presentation enchants the young and the young at heart. Using numerous illustrations, he explains some of the lore and evolution of Santa, beginning with his birth 1,739 years ago in ancient Lycia. He continues with Santa’s evolution from early Christian Turkish clergyman Saint Nicholas with lean, angular features in his bishop’s robe and miter to the jolly, red-cheeked, grandfatherly Santa we know today. This version in the familiar red suit with white fur trim was painted by Haddon Sundblom for Coca Cola. Starting in 1931, Sundblom painted annual canvases for Coca Cola advertisements which appeared in prominent publications such as National Geographic, Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post, and is the basis for the shopping mall Santas of today.

Rawlings has been portraying Civil War Santa for over twenty nine years at historic sites, Civil War Roundtables and Historical Societies. He is a Civil War living historian, actor, professional researcher, including a film researcher on several program series on the History Channel which include “World War II in HD” and the Vietnam War in HD.” He is the author of “We Were Marching on Christmas Day: A History and Chronicle of Christmas During the Civil War,” published by Toomey Press in 1995. A second edition of the first printing has recently been published and is available for purchase. Kevin Rawlings resides in Frederick, Maryland.


Upcoming local events of interest!

3rd Annual An Evening to Unravel York History, Weird York County; sponsored by the York Daily Record. December 6, 2017. 7 to 9:30 PM. DreamWrights Center for the Performing Arts, Route 74/Carlisle Street, York PA. Tickets are on sale now, and they are only $10. Book signing precedes and follows the event. All proceeds from the sale of Scott Mingus’s Underground Railroad book go back to the York County History Center for preservation. Other books will be available from the various speakers.

Remembrance Weekend at Gettysburg — Scott Mingus will be signing several of his Civil War books at the Visitors Center Museum Bookstore on Sunday, November 19, 2017, from 1 pm until 5 pm.

Special talk on the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge — Thursday, December 6, 6:30 PM at the Columbia Crossings River Trails Center in Columbia PA.  For tickets and more information, click here. Books will be available.


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Flower power, Gettysburg style

Each year, hundreds of thousands of travelers from all over the world come to Gettysburg National Military Park in south-central Pennsylvania. Most come to learn more about the Civil War’s most famous battle, to visit such well known places as Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill, and the Peach Orchard. For many, it’s a chance to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps; to retrace the movements of a particular regiment or artillery battery. For others, Gettysburg is a place to examine world-class sculptures and monuments, and contemplate the events and people they memorialize. For some visitors, the park is a safe and scenic place to job, hike, or take a bike ride. And, for some, the charm of Gettysburg is the scenery and abundant fauna and flora, especially the many varieties of colorful flowers that dot the almost 4,000 acres and the birds that inhabit the woodlands and fields.

For Patricia Rich, it is all of the above, and more.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate Pat’s photography skills and her keen eye for detail through her frequent posts on Facebook. Perhaps her crown jewels, however, are the photos that grade her popular book, Gettysburg: The Nature of a Battlefield. A Guide to the Birds and Flowers in the Gettysburg National Military Park.

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Army Hospital ramped up in the summer of 1862

Scott Mingus photo of a diorama of the York U.S. Army General Hospital

The spring and summer of 1862 were the bloodiest (to that date) in the history of the now-divided United States. Heretofore obscure places such as Shiloh, Kernstown, Front Royal, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Fair Oaks, and dozens more were now on the public consciousness as battlegrounds of the American Civil War. The conflict had escalated dramatically, and casualty counts were now at record levels. Yet, the worst was yet to come.

In order to treat the growing number of wounded and sick soldiers, the Union Army established a formal military hospital on the grounds of Penn Common (now Penn Park) on the south side of York, Pennsylvania. Capable of housing 2,000 patients at a time, the new facility incorporated the buildings of the previous training camp for Colonel Thomas Devin’s 6th New York Cavalry. By the end of the war, more than 14,000 men would receive medical care and comfort at the U. S. Army General Hospital. At times, overflow patients were housed on the two upper floors of the Odd Fellows Hall (Washington Hall) on S. George Street not far from the hospital complex.

Here’s a review of the early progress of the hospital, as taken from the September 23, 1862, issue of the Gazette, York’s leading Democratic-oriented newspaper.

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Mourning Customs during the Civil War period

More than 500 soldiers from York County, Pennsylvania, died in the Civil War, according to researcher Dennis W. Brandt, whose detailed database of local soldiers is available on line at the website of the York County History Center. The first battle casualties occurred in the 130th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers at the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Not all the fatalities from York County fell in battle; many died of disease and a few from accidents.

They left behind grieving family members to mourn their passing.

So, what were some of the common mourning customs of the day?

Gettysburg-area author Bernadette Loeffel-Atkins answers this question in her fascinating booklet, Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils: Mourning Rituals in 19th Century America.

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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 (

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.

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Eyewitness accounts from Texans who fought at Antietam

“Known as the Battle of Antietam by the Union and the Battle of Sharpsburg by the Confederates, the day-long battle near Antietam Creek on September 17 [1862] is widely recognized as the single bloodiest day in American history. On that one day, 3,911 American soldiers died in battle… As horrific as all those death numbers are, this author is compelled to note that Civil War deaths were caused by Americans engaged in war with other Americans. In 1862, we did not need a European army opposing us,  a suicidal terrorist enemy, or modern weaponry to inflict the single most horrendous death toll in our nation’s history. We did it to ourselves.”

Authors Joe Owen (a park ranger at the Lyndon B. Johnson ranch in Texas), Philip McBride, and Joe Allport have scoured old Texas newspapers (and some from other states) to assemble what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive collection of first-person accounts of the tragedy at Antietam written by Texans who participated in the fighting on the tidy farms near the meandering creek.

In Texans at Antietam: A Terrible Clash of Arms, September 16-17, 1862, the trio present hundreds of newspaper articles by and about the men of the Texas Brigade concerning their service at Sharpsburg. These are unfiltered and unchanged from their original publication, and are offered without annotation. The authors include short biographies of leading personalities and letter writers, as well as offering background setting and commentary.

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“Extra Billy” Smith is the subject at the York CWRT on Oct. 18

More than 11,000 Confederate soldiers marched or rode through York County, Pennsylvania, during the week before the battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps none was as colorful, or controversial, as Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith. Today, few Civil War buffs know much about him but, in his day, Smith was one of the most famous men in the entire South. He was the governor of Virginia during the Mexican War, then the leading lawyer in California for the 49ers during the Gold Rush, and later a five-term U. S. congressman. During the Civil War, he was the oldest general at Gettysburg and then the governor of Virginia again during the final two years of the war. He feuded constantly with Jubal Early and then skipped out of Richmond with $21,000 in gold from the Virginia state treasury the day Robert E. Lee’s army abandoned the surrounding earthworks.

Extra Billy was an avowed racist, wanting free black people thrown out of the Old Dominion. Abolitionist firebrand William Lloyd Garrison called out Smith’s viewpoints in his Liberator newspaper. Governor Smith, late in the war, advocated arming the slaves and putting them on the battlefield.

I am occasionally asked why I wrote a biography of such a person. Frankly, despite my absolute objection to his overtly racist views and the fact that all of my Civil War ancestors fought against his Confederate cause, Smith remains perhaps “the most interesting man in the Confederacy,” despite his many character flaws. He was the most famous Rebel at Gettysburg who did not previously have a formal book-length modern biography. I will be speaking about his life and signing my Underground Railroad in York County and more than a dozen different Civil War books at the monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, at 7 p.m. at the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street, York PA.

And, why was he called “Extra Billy?” Come find out!

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155 years ago today – York County regiment “saw the elephant”

The monument to the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry at Antietam. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Bullets flew hot and thick on the morning of September 17, 1862, in the fields outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. All across the acrid, smoky battlefield, many men — including scores from York County, Pennsylvania — shrieked in pain, cried out in terror, or screamed at the enemy. War, until then only something to be imagined, became real that day for the boys of the 130th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The regiment had been formed in Harrisburg in August under the command of Colonel Henry I. Zinn, a 26-year-old who taught school in Monroe Township, Cumberland County.  For the native of Dover in York County, 1862 would prove to be a horrible year. Two of his three children died of disease. He would be killed in December during the battle of Fredericksburg.

Zinn’s new regiment consisted of six companies from Cumberland County and vicinity and four from York County. After initial training, the men went by a Northern Central Railway down to Baltimore (receiving a hero’s welcome during a brief stop in York) and then on to Washington, DC. They performed guard duty for a couple of weeks before marching to Rockville, Maryland, staying there from September 7 until the 12th. Then, they headed toward Sharpsburg as Major General George B. McClellan concentrated his army after some of his men discovered Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s secret orders to his commanders wrapped around some cigars in a field near Frederick. On the 17th, the new soldiers of the 130th “saw the elephant,” a colorful phrase for seeing combat for the first time.

It was a sobering, and for many, a life-changing event.

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