A Personal Connection to the Burning of The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge 150-Years-Ago

Bridge Burning from Upper Part of a Civil War era B&W Illustration (Colorization and Text added by S. H. Smith, 2013)

Bridge Burning from Upper Part of a Civil War era B&W Illustration (Colorization and Text added by S. H. Smith, 2013)

My post on Wednesday included the June 29th 1863 report by Robert Crane detailing the destruction of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge to halt the eastward invasion of the Rebels through Pennsylvania.  This report is from The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 27, Part 3 (Gettysburg Campaign), Pages 410 & 411, Published in 1889 by the United States War Department.

One name is highlighted in the last paragraph of Crane’s report; John Gilbert.  He is my Great-Grandfather and will be the subject of this post on Friday June 28th 2013; the 150th Anniversary of the Burning of the Bridge.

This post ties in with my series on Letters to LINCOLN during the Invasion of Pennsylvania by Rebel forces for the period of June and July of 1863:

 

 

John David Gilbert is my Great Grandfather.  In 1863, when John Gilbert was nearly 14 years old, he assisted in boring holes so that charges could be to set in a span of the Bridge between Wrightsville & Columbia; to prevent rebels from crossing the Susquehanna River during the Civil War.  The June 29th 1863 report by Robert Crane detailing the destruction of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge noted in the closing paragraph:

The following gentlemen–E. K. Smith, esq., civil engineer; William Fasick, Isaac Ruel, Henry Burgen, John Gilbert, Fred Bush, A. P. Moore, George W. Green, Michael Luphart, John B. Bachman, Davis Murphy, Westly Up, Michael Shuman, Henry Duck, and S. W. Finney, who assisted me in this responsible and dangerous work–will please receive my own as well as the most heartfelt thanks of the community, for effecting the object that prevented the rebels from crossing the Susquehanna at this point.

I’ll detail how I learned about these exploits of John Gilbert during the Civil War following this short biography of John David Gilbert [1849-1933].

John D. Gilbert was born August 2nd 1849 and lived the early part of his life in Lower Windsor Township, York County.  He is the son of Samuel C. Gilbert and Rebecca (Keller) Gilbert.  John Gilbert is the grandson of the John Gilbert [1772-1846]; that I wrote about in a previous post.

In summer of 1863, John Gilbert began a carpentry apprenticeship in Columbia, Lancaster County.  I am unsure how long he stuck with the apprenticeship before taking a few courses at the State Normal School in Millersville; although there is the possibility he continued the apprenticeship while taking these courses.  There are conflicting accounts concerning if John Gilbert ever graduated from the State Normal School before returning to the carpentry apprenticeship in Columbia.  However, upon completion of the carpentry apprenticeship, he instead became a teacher and taught in the public schools of Lower Windsor Township.

1872 Marriage Photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (left side) and their attendants Esther Knisely & George Heim (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

1872 Marriage Photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (left side) and their attendants Esther Knisely & George Heim (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

John Gilbert married Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hoke on June 6th 1872.  This 1872 marriage photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (left side) includes their attendants Esther Knisely & George Heim.  George Heim is 3 years younger than John Gilbert.  Esther married George Heim in 1874.  George Heim followed John Gilbert into the carpentry trade, however eventually moved from East Prospect to Columbia, Lancaster County and worked as a railroad switchman.  I’m still researching if John Gilbert and George Heim might have apprenticed to the same carpenter in Columbia.

Family of Mr. & Mrs. John D. Gilbert taken in 1899 (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

Family of Mr. & Mrs. John D. Gilbert taken in 1899 (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

Mr. & Mrs. John D. Gilbert had ten children while living in Lower Windsor Township . . . one of them is my Grandmother Iva Mae (Gilbert) Smith.  By 1873 the Village of Prospect in Lower Windsor Township contained 30 dwellings plus several stores, factories, the church and a school (just east of the church; which may have been the school where John Gilbert taught).

In April of 1873 the 30 property owners petitioned the York County Court of Quarter Sessions to incorporate their village as the Borough of East Prospect (original copy of signatures in this post).  Two of my Great-Grandfathers signed this petition; John D. Gilbert & Jacob H. Smith.  The Village of Prospect was granted approval to incorporate into the Borough of East Prospect on August 13th 1873.  John Gilbert eventually added farmer to his list of occupations when he took over the farm of his father in Lower Windsor Township.

In 1897, at the age of 48, John Gilbert moved to the City of York (516 Prospect Street), where his occupation now solely was in the carpentry trade.  The final occupation for John Gilbert was as a chain factory laborer just before retiring in his 70s.

1932 Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary Photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (right side) and their attendants George & Esther Heim (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

1932 Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary Photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (right side) and their attendants George & Esther Heim (Photo from Collection of Shirley Keeports)

This sixtieth wedding anniversary photo of John & Lizzie Gilbert (right side) also includes their attendants George & Esther Heim to the Gilbert wedding 60 years earlier.  The photo was taken during an outing to Margaretta Furnace in Lower Windsor Township

Mr. & Mrs. John D. Gilbert lived out their old age in the household of son-in-law Luther S. Smith at 332 East Locust Street in the City of York.  John Gilbert died July 19th 1933 at 332 East Locust Street in the City of York; he was 83 years old.

Learning about the Exploits of John Gilbert during the Civil War.

In 1863, when John Gilbert was nearly 14 years old, he assisted in boring holes so that charges could be to set in a span of the Bridge between Wrightsville & Columbia; to prevent rebels from crossing the Susquehanna River during the Civil War.

John Gilbert told this to his grandson Harold L. Smith when John was living with the Smith family at 332 East Locust Street in the City of York.  Harold L. Smith was 18 years old when John Gilbert died in 1933.  Harold L. Smith is my father.

After Dad retired, he started taking walks after his heart-bypass surgery.  One day in 1987 when he walked the Route 462 Bridge between Columbia & Wrightsville, he walked across the roadway several times to reflect upon the railway bridge piers just up-river.

Dad was looking through a Village Mill booklet that I had loaned him during this time period and when he returned the booklet, he told me about his walk across the bridge and some memories.  I found it interesting and wrote on the back of the booklet:

After walk across bridge today, Dad remembered two things about the piers of bridge that stood just upstream: when he painted the whole rail bridge and a story his grandpa told him about boring holes to set charges to blow up the bridge at the time he apprenticed to a carpenter in Columbia.

I remember Dad elaborated most on his comment about painting the whole rail bridge that once stood on the abandoned piers.  I previously did a whole post on that memory.  When Dad was in his late 20s, while worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, just two men (another man and Dad) painted all the steelwork, end to end, on the railroad bridge; it took them several months to do this, working 8 hours a day, and six days a week.  Besides the paint, they were armed with little more then some paintbrushes, some rope and planks of wood.

While painting the bridge, Dad recalled telling the other guy about how his Grandpa was once involved with blowing up a bridge that once existed on the same piers.  Dad indicated that his Grandpa’s story stuck out because he thought it curious that Grandpa was involved in blowing up a bridge, whereas his father Luther S. Smith was a Foreman Carpenter for the Pennsylvania Railroad involved in Bridge building.

After Dad died in 1992, I discovered his Pennsylvania Railroad Time Log Book (he worked for the P.R.R. from July 5, 1934 to February 1, 1943).  It showed that from April 22nd 1941 to June 30th 1941, working 8 hours a day, and six days a week, Dad’s sole job was at the Wrightsville Railroad Bridge; I now had some details when they painted the bridge.

I wondered if I would ever be able to get additional details for the story about his Grandpa.  I lucked out over ten years later when I was doing research for a family history book on the Descendants of John D. (Johannes) Gilbert [1772-1846].  That is when I discovered “Data Concerning The Destroying Of The Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge, June, 1863” in the Library of the York County Heritage Trust.  John Gilbert was among the gentlemen that Robert Crane thanked in his official report that he made the day after the bridge burning.

Robert Crane’s report in the files at the York County Heritage Trust came from an article in the Wrightsville Star; a local newspaper.  Last year I discovered Robert Crane’s report in the Official Records.  It appears that the newspaper article is an edited version of Robert Crane’s report in The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 27, Part 3 (Gettysburg Campaign), Pages 410 & 411, Published in 1889 by the United States War Department.  I delve into a comparison of  slight differences between these accounts in a series of posts under the broad title “Why the Discrepancies in Civil War Records?”

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America." Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.
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6 Responses to A Personal Connection to the Burning of The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge 150-Years-Ago

  1. Jennifer Robinson says:

    Fantastic story!!

  2. Brenda Neff says:

    Loved reading this article. My husband has Barshingers in his family.

  3. Mary Ellen says:

    What a sweet photo story of John & Lizzie (also George & Esther) Obviously sturdy stock, too. How close you were to losing your Dad’s story about John! Good work….

    • Stephen H. Smith says:

      Jennifer, Brenda & Mary Ellen … Glad that you all enjoyed this post! I’m lucky that Dad shared these types of memories with me over the years. The photos (with persons identified!) from the collection of Shirley Keeports brought this post to life; Shirley is another Great-Grandchild of John Gilbert.

  4. Karl Berger says:

    This event is described in detail in “The Great Invasion of 1863″ by Jacob Hoke on pages 135-138. http://tinyurl.com/pj5xcyz

    “The duty of superintending this work was laid upon Mr. Robert Crane, who was assisted by Messrs. E. K. Smith, William Faesig, Isaac Real, Henry Berger, John Gilbert, Frederick Bost, H. P. Moore, W. Green, Michael Libhart, J. B. Bachman, Davis Murphy, W. W. Upp, Michael Shuman, Henry Duck, and I. C. Turner. These men cut the roof of the bridge, removed some of the timbers, and bored all the arches, charging them with powder and attaching fuses. ”

    Henry Berger was my great grandfather from Chambersburg, PA. He was enlisted as blacksmith in Company I of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry. I believe your relative mispelled Berger as Burgen.

    • Stephen H. Smith says:

      Karl … On and off over several years I’ve attempted to create a short biography on all the individuals in this list, unfortunately I’ve run into many dead ends. Hopefully other great-grandchildren of these individuals will see this blog and be as helpful as you have been. Next week I’ll be posting and comparing several variations of this list where many of the names are spelled several different ways.

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