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.

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Dover church’s 1907 sesquicentennial recalled Civil War events

Salem Church (also called Strayer’s Church and Salem Union Church) celebrated its sesquicentennial in May 1907 at the same time the congregation honored its pastor for his 20 years of continuous service at the church. The church building, located on the north side of Canal Road near its intersection with S. Salem Church Road, has been rebuilt, remodeled, and expanded over the years. It started humbly as a log structure on a slight eminence about 3/4 mile southwest of what became the village of Dover. That site is now in the present-day cemetery. The antebellum church building, built in 1854, forms the superstructure of today’s house of worship, which is still in use.

The York Daily of April 20, 1907, examined the history of the church and its impact on the Dover community and surrounding environs. The article also briefly touched upon Salem Church’s role in the Civil War.

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Civil War submarine Hunley to be topic at York CWRT meeting

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

On March 15, 2017, please join the York Civil War Round Table in its 20th Anniversary Year, 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 internment including some 6,000 reenactors and 4,000 civilians wearing period clothing.

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Hanover women watched Civil War battle unfold

Modern view of the Henry Winebrenner house on Frederick Street in Hanover PA (Scott Mingus photo).

The Winebrenners were a prominent family living on Frederick Street on the southwestern side of Hanover, Pennsylvania. The father, Henry, was born in Heidelberg Township on June 29, 1809. As an adult, he owned a farm in that township, as well as a profitable tannery near Hanover. He and his wife Sarah “Sallie” (Forney) had six children.

Two of them, Sarah and Martha, were eyewitnesses to some of the opening fighting of the June 30, 1863, battle of Hanover, the day after their father’s 54th birthday. The girls were in their early twenties and still lived at home at the time of the engagement, the largest military battle ever fought in York County. A woman who peddled berries around town brought them the early news of the arrival of the Rebels.

Soon, they saw the Southern saddle soldiers for themselves.

Here are their remembrances of that day, as told by a reporter for the January 28, 1904, York Daily.

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87th Pennsylvania Living Historians Release 2017 Schedule of Events

87th PA reenactors

The 87th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry is looking for a few good men (and women!) to join their ranks. They are accepting new members to portray infantrymen, civilians, sutlers, doctors, and other historical impressions. The original regiment was raised in September 1861 through the efforts of several leading York businessmen, most notably Dr. Alexander Small. Most of the men were recruited from York County, with a few companies coming from Adams County (Gettysburg and New Oxford in particular).

Even if you have no interest in becoming a reenactor or living historian, perhaps you might enjoy attending one of the 87th’s many public appearances in 2017, most of which are free or accessible for a modest entry fee!

Here are the major events scheduled for this calendar year:

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York’s Underground Railroad Heroes: Joseph Wickersham

Famed publisher and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (above) was a friend of York County activist and school teacher Joseph Wickersham (National Archives)

In the early 1800s, York County, Pennsylvania, played an important role in the growing movement to abolish slavery. Many people in southern York County were ambivalent to slavery or tolerated it; others actively supported the trade by hiring slaves from their Maryland masters for temporary work. Along the Susquehanna River, people were more tolerant of former slaves, often taking in runaways into the growing black population of the southeastern townships such as Fawn and Lower Chanceford.

To the north, where a belt of thriving Quaker meetings stretched at intervals across the county and into Adams County, abolitionists and civil rights activists fought to assist runaway slaves and improve the lot of free blacks in Pennsylvania. Over time, York County attract the attention of some nationally known abolitionists and freedom workers, including Lucretia Mott, George Woodward, Harriet Tubman, and others, including Boston-based publisher William Lloyd Garrison.

He was friends with a number of leading Quakers in the Newberry-Lewisberry area, including Joseph Wickersham.

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York’s Underground Railroad Heroes: Joseph Garretson

Detail from a PowerPoint slide by Scott Mingus. Map is from the 1860 Shearer & Lake Map of York County (YCHC)

Jim McClure and I will be co-presenting a talk on the Underground Railroad in York County, Pennsylvania, at the February 15 monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table (250 E. Market Street, York; free admission and parking). I will discuss 10 sites/people who were conductors/stops on the secretive Underground Railroad network to freedom here in this county.

One of the people I will discuss is Joseph Garretson, a peaceful Quaker farmer turned activist in Newberry Township in northeastern York County. His modest farm saw one of the most tragic events in the history of assisting fugitive slaves/freedom seekers in this county.

Come on out to the YCWRT meeting and hear much more on Garretson and other brave conductors, for whom blindly obeying the federal Fugitive Slave Law meant far less than human compassion and basic morality. They were willing to risk their own freedom and finances to help fellow human beings in time of need.

Here’s Garretson’s story.

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Yankees and Rebels both camped on Wrightsville farm

Detail from a 1931 aerial photo (Hagley Library Digital Collection, Wilmington, DE)

The last of June 1863 were momentous times for the citizens of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Situated on the western bank of the Susquehanna River, the town was the western terminus of what was then the world’s longest covered bridge. The Northern Central Railway’s spur from York ran into Wrightsville and across the bridge to Columbia in Lancaster County. A busy turnpike ran through town, connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and a host of small towns in between. The remnants of the defunct Tide Water and Susquehanna Canal ran south from the town toward Havre de Grace, Maryland. Lumberyards and ironworks lined the riverbank.

Wrightsville was a bustling, prosperous town of a little more than 1,000 residents in 1863. The routine had been broken by news of a possible Confederate raid into Pennsylvania, and Governor Andrew G. Curtin had called for 50,000 volunteers to join the state’s emergency militia to serve until the Rebels left the commonwealth.

Colonel Jacob G. Frick led the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia into Wrightsville, having traveled by train from Harrisburg south to Columbia. Most of the men crossed the long bridge into Wrightsville and camped on the Joseph Detweiler farm (shown in the above photograph to the right center) for several days.

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Save the Mifflin House: why we all should care.

A few months ago, I was among a small group of fellow history buffs who were invited on a personal tour of the historic Mifflin House, known to its Quaker founders as “Hybla,” just outside of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. A generation later, the property, then known as the Huber farm, was a part of the Civil War battlefield for the skirmish of Wrightsville as state militia denied the Confederate army a key river crossing.

I documented the potential threat to the property in two Cannonball blog posts (click here, and then here to read them as background material).

In recent days, the Mifflin House has been back in the news as the threat of its destruction appears to have increased. Preservation Pennsylvania has named it as one of the most threatened properties in the commonwealth that deserve to be kept for posterity.

I asked several area historians and preservation-minded residents to weight in on why Hybla must be saved. Here are some of the initial responses. More to come in future posts.

#NotMyWreckingBall #SaveHyblaNow

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York CWRT Feb. 15: Jim McClure & Scott Mingus discuss the Underground Railroad

On February 15, 2017, please join the York Civil War Roundtable in its 20th Anniversary Year, welcoming authors Scott Mingus and James McClure to our meeting for their combined presentation on the  Underground Railroad in York County, Pennsylvania. 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.

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