CIVIL WAR VOICES FROM YORK COUNTY
Scott Mingus was guest speaker for our meeting on February 2011. Scott has been researching and writing books about the Civil War and has been focusing on the human interest stories from that time.
Using maps and quotes from a variety of sources – Scott set the background for the invasion of York by the Southern army. In 1860, York had a population around 68,000 people. The three largest towns in York County were York, Hanover and Wrightsville. Farming was the number one industry in the area; followed by the lime industry. The county voted primarily Democratic – but it was divided into two sides – those supporting the war and those who felt that war was a sin. African Americans who came to York, seeking safety from slave catchers, were advised to move across the Susquehanna River to Columbia – an area known for its anti-slavery sentiments.
By 1863, the Southern army was in need of food and horses. The Southern government had signed a contract with Florida to have beef cattle shipped north to supply the army. General Lee wanted to take the pressure off Virginia to give it time to recover from being a battlefield. He also knew that south central Pennsylvania farmers were in the midst of harvesting a good crop and that there were plenty of horses in the area. He had to other goals – (1) to capture and destroy the railroad at Hanover Junction – an important junction for several railroad lines and (2) to destroy the bridges across the Susquehanna river. Destruction of these sites would disrupt Northern supply lines. Lee also wanted to fight his main battle at Dillsburg.
For the most part, the local feeling was that rumors of an invasion were just that – rumors. Local newspapers were urging people to prepare for an invasion. President Lincoln feeling that an invasion was imminent called for 100,000 volunteers. Only 116 men from Hanover and 5 from York responded.
By June 18th, the Southern army had seized Chambersburg. Refugees from West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland were flooding the roads – all heading towards safety in Philadelphia. Conmen from New York were also active in the area – selling protection cards to local farmers. The New Yorkers claimed that all the farmers had to do was hold up their cards, proclaiming them as member of the “Knights of the Golden Cards”, shout “peace” and the Southern soldiers would spare their food, crops, and horses. Southern soldiers recorded that this action by the farmers, had them quite puzzled – and it didn’t spare the farmers. The markets in York were active with farmers selling their harvest. The 20th PA Militia was in charge of guarding the 15 mile stretch of railroad between Hanover Junction and Harrisburg.
On June 28th, York surrendered. A ransom of $100,000 dollars was paid and the Columbia bridge was burned. The Rebel army returned to Gettysburg and Yorkers had to feed the invading army.
On July 1st, General Stuart occupied Dillsburg and the Battle of Gettysburg began.
Scott’s presentation gave us a picture of Yorkers and their feelings and reactions to the events during this time. He has tracked down letters, diaries and newspapers accounts that show a side that is not covered in the history classes that we took in school. Scott has a blog which discusses this time period that can be found at yorkblog.com under the heading of Cannonball. Scott also has his own website: scottmingus.com that discusses his history interests and the various books that he has written.
Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863 written by Scott Mingus gives more detailed explanation of these events. East of Gettysburg by James McClure focuses more specifically on York during this time period. Scott and James McClure have a new book coming out called: Civil War Voices of York County, Pennsylvania: Remembering the Rebellion and the Gettysburg Campaign which will give an even better idea of his interesting presentation to our meeting.