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Chapter 23: at York and Wrightsville.

I remained in Winchester until the afternoon of the 18th, General Ewell having moved in the meantime to Shepherdstown on the Potomac, to which place Johnson's division, and Gordon's brigade, Hays' brigade and three regiments of Smith's brigade of my own division had also moved. The 54th North Carolina Regiment of Hoke's brigade, and the 58th Virginia of Smith's brigade had been sent to Staunton in charge of the prisoners, and leaving the 13th Virginia Regiment in Winchester, I proceeded on the afternoon of the 18th with the residue of Hoke's brigade, and Jones' battalion of artillery, to Shepherdstown, which place I reached on the 19th.

By this time Longstreet's corps had begun to arrive in the valley, and Hill's was following. The crossing of the river at Fredericksburg by a portion of Hooker's army had been for the purpose of ascertaining whether our army had left the vicinity of that place, and when ascertained that we were concentrating near Culpeper Court-House, he withdrew his force from across the river and moved his army north to defend Washington.

I remained at Shepherdstown until the 22nd. The field return of my division at this place on the 20th showed 487 officers and 5,124 men present for duty, making a total of 5,611, and the brigade inspection reports for the same day showed the number of efficient present to be about the same number, the reduction since the last reports being caused by the absence of the three regiments before mentioned and which did not rejoin until the campaign was over, the permanent detaching of Wharton's battalion of Hoke's brigade as a provost guard for the corps, the loss sustained at Winchester, and the sick and exhausted men left behind.

It is as well to state here that we had no hired men [254] for teamsters, or in any other capacity, but all the duties usually assigned to such men with an army had to be performed by men detailed from the ranks, as were all our pioneer and engineer parties.

On the 22nd of June I crossed the Potomac with my division and Jones' battalion of artillery at Boteler's Ford below Shepherdstown and marched through Sharpsburg and Boonsboro, camping three miles beyond Boonsboro on the pike to Hagerstown. The 17th Virginia Regiment of cavalry, under Colonel French, from Jenkins' brigade, joined me on the march this day to accompany my division by orders of General Ewell. Bodes had moved through Hagerstown towards Chambersburg, and Johnson's division, which had crossed the Potomac ahead of me, moved in the same direction. I was ordered to proceed along the western base of the South Mountain. Maryland Heights and Harper's Ferry were both strongly fortified, and were occupied by a heavy force of the enemy, which we left behind us, without making any effort to dislodge it, as it would have been attended with a loss disproportionate to any good to be obtained. Our movements through and from Sharpsburg were in full view of the enemy from the heights.

On the 23rd, I moved through Cavetown, Smithtown, and Ringgold (or Ridgeville as it is now usually called) to Waynesboro in Pennsylvania. On the 24th I moved through Quincy and Altodale to Greenwood, at the western base of the South Mountain, on the pike from Chambersburg to Gettysburg. There were no indications of any enemy near us and the march was entirely without molestation. We were now in the enemy's country, and were getting our supplies entirely from the country people. These supplies were taken from mills, storehouses, and the farmers, under a regular system ordered by General Lee, and with a due regard to the wants of the inhabitants themselves, certificates being given in all cases. There was no marauding, or indiscriminate plundering, [255] but all such acts were expressly forbidden and prohibited effectually. On the 25th my command remained stationary at Greenwood, and I visited General Ewell, by his request, at Chambersburg, where Rodes' and Johnson's divisions had concentrated.

In accordance with instructions received from General Lee, General Ewell ordered me to move with my command across the South Mountain, and through Gettysburg to York, for the purpose of cutting the Northern Central Railroad (running from Baltimore to Harrisburg), and destroying the bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville and Columbia on the branch railroad from York to Philadelphia. Lieutenant Colonel Elijah White's battalion of cavalry was ordered to report to me for the expedition in addition to French's regiment, and I was ordered to leave the greater portion of my trains behind to accompany the reserve ordnance and subsistence trains of the camps. I was also ordered to rejoin the other divisions at Carlisle by the way of Dillstown from York, after I had accomplished the task assigned me.

I returned to Greenwood on the afternoon of the 25th, and directed all my trains-except the ambulances, one medical wagon, one ordnance wagon, and one wagon with cooking utensils, for each regiment, and fifteen empty wagons for getting supplies,--to be sent to Chambersburg. No baggage whatever was allowed for officers, except what they could carry on their backs or horses, not excepting division headquarters, and with my command and the trains thus reduced, I moved across South Mountain on the morning of the 26th, and we saw no more of our trains until we crossed the Potomac three weeks later.

As we were leaving, I caused the iron works of Mr. Thaddeus Stevens near Greenwood, consisting of a furnace, a forge, a rolling mill — with a saw mill and storehouse attached,--to be burnt by my pioneer party. The enemy had destroyed a number of similar works, [256] as well as manufacturing establishments of different kinds, in those parts of the Southern States to which he had been able to penetrate, upon the plea that they furnished us the means of carrying on the war, besides burning many private houses and destroying a vast deal of private property which could be employed in no way in supporting the war on our part; and finding in my way these works of Mr. Stevens, who — as a member of the Federal Congress-had been advocating the most vindictive measures of confiscation and devastation, I determined to destroy them. This I did on my own responsibility, as neither General Lee nor General Ewell knew I would encounter these works. A quantity of provisions found in store at the furnace was appropriated to the use of my command, but the houses and private property of the employees were not molested.

On getting to the eastern slope of the South Mountain, where the road forks about one and a half miles from Cashtown, I heard that there was probably a force in Gettysburg, and the pike leading through Cashtown was found to be slightly obstructed by trees felled across the road. I determined, therefore, to move a portion of my force along the pike, which was the direct road to Gettysburg, in order to skirmish with and amuse the enemy in front, while I moved with the rest on the road to the left, by the way of Hilltown and Mummasburg, so as to cut off the retreat of such force as might be at Gettysburg. Accordingly, Gordon was sent on the pike directly towards the town with his brigade and White's battalion of cavalry, and I moved with the rest of the command on the other road. There had been a heavy rain the night before, and it was now raining slightly but constantly, in consequence of which the dirt road, over which the left column moved, was very muddy.

Gordon moving along the pike, with about forty men of White's cavalry in front, as an advance guard, encountered [257] a militia regiment a mile or two from Gettysburg, which fled across the fields at the first sight of White's advance party without waiting to see what was in the rear, and Gordon moved on without resistance into the town.

On reaching Mummasburg with French's cavalry in advance of the infantry, I was informed that there was but a comparatively small force at Gettysburg, and I halted to wait for the infantry, whose march was impeded by the mud, sending out one of French's companies towards the latter place to reconnoitre. In a short time this company encountered some of the fleeing militia and captured a few prisoners, and being informed of this fact and that the command to which they belonged was retreating through the fields between Mummasburg and Gettysburg, I sent the rest of French's cavalry in pursuit. Hays' brigade, arriving soon after, was ordered to move towards Gettysburg, while the rest of this column was ordered into the camp near Mummasburg.

I then rode to Gettysburg, and finding Gordon in possession of the town, Hays was halted and encamped within a mile of it, and two of his regiments were sent to help French in catching the frightened militia, but could not get up with it. French caught about two hundred, but the rest succeeded in getting off through enclosed fields and the woods. The regiment proved to be the 26th Pennsylvania Militia, eight or nine hundred strong. It was newly clad with the regular United States uniform, and was well armed and equipped. It had arrived in Gettysburg the night before and moved out that morning on the Cashtown road. This was a part of Governor Curtin's contingent for the defence of the State, and seemed to belong to that class of men who regard “discretion as the better part of valor.” It was well that the regiment took to its heels so quickly, or some of its members might have been hurt, and all [258] would have been captured. The men and officers taken were paroled next day and sent about their business, rejoicing at this termination of their campaign.

On entering Gettysburg myself I called for the town authorities in order to make a requisition on them for a sum of money and some supplies. The principal municipal officer was absent, but I saw one of the authorities, who informed me that the town could furnish no supplies, as they were not there, and the people were too poor to afford them. I caused the stores in town to be searched and succeeded in finding only a small quantity of articles suited for commissary supplies, which were taken. It was then late and I had to move early in the morning towards York, so that I did not have time to enforce my demands. Two thousand rations were found in a train of cars which had been brought with the militia, and these were taken and issued to Gordon's brigade. The cars, ten or twelve in number, and also a railroad bridge near the place were burnt, there being no railroad buildings of any consequence. I then ordered Colonel White to proceed with his battalion early the next morning along the railroad from Gettysburg to Hanover Junction on the Northern Central road, and to burn all the bridges on the former road, also the railroad buildings at the Junction and a bridge or two south of it on the Northern Central, and then move along that road to York, burning all the bridges. Gordon was ordered to move at the same time along the macadamized road to York, and during the night I sent him a company of French's cavalry and Tanner's battery of artillery to accompany him.

With the rest of the command I moved at light next day (the 27th) from Mummasburg towards York by the way of Hunterstown, New Chester, Hampton, and East Berlin, halting and bivouacking for the night after passing the latter place a few miles. I then rode across to the York pike to Gordon's camp to arrange with him the means of moving against the town next day in the [259] event that it should be defended. The information which Gordon had received was that there were no troops in York, and I directed him, in the event the town should be unoccupied, to move on through to the Wrightsville and Columbia bridge and get possession of it at both ends and hold it until I came up.

On the next day (the 28th) both columns moved at daylight, and a deputation consisting of the Mayor and other citizens of York came out to meet Gordon and surrender the town, which he entered early in the day without opposition. Moving by the way of Weiglestown into the Harrisburg and York road with the other column, I entered the town shortly afterwards, and repeated my instructions to Gordon about the bridge over the Susquehanna, cautioning him to prevent the bridge from being burned if possible. At Weiglestown French had been sent with the greater part of his cavalry to the mouth of the Conewago to burn two railroad bridges at that point and all others between there and York. Before reaching town Hays' and Smith's brigades were ordered into camp about two miles on the north of it at some mills near the railroad. Hoke's brigade under Colonel Avery was moved into town to occupy it, and preserve order, being quartered in some extensive hospital buildings erected by the United States Government. I then levied a contribution on the town for 100,000 dollars in money, 2,000 pairs of shoes, 1,000 hats, 1,000 pairs of socks, and three days rations of all kinds for my troops, for which a requisition was made on the authorities.

Gordon moved promptly towards Wrightsville, and on reaching the vicinity of that place found the western end of the bridge defended by a force, which proved to be twelve or fifteen hundred Pennsylvania militia, entrenched around Wrightsville. He immediately took measures to dislodge the enemy, and, finding it impracticable to turn the works so as to cut off the retreat of the enemy, opened with his artillery and advanced in [260] front, the militia taking to its heels after a few shots from the artillery and outrunning Gordon's men, who had then marched a little over twenty miles. Gordon pursued as rapidly as possible, but, on getting half way across the bridge, he found it on fire, inflammable materials having previously been prepared for the purpose. He endeavored to extinguish the flames, but his men had nothing but their muskets, and before buckets, which were sent for, could be procured, the fire had progressed so far as to render the effort hopeless, as the superstructure of the bridge was of wood, it being a covered one of more than a mile in length with a track for the railroad, another for wagons, and a third as a tow-path for the canal which here crossed the river. He had therefore to desist, and retire to Wrightsville with his men.

The bridge was entirely consumed, and as one or two houses were adjoining it, at the Wrightsville end, they were also consumed. When these houses caught fire Gordon formed his brigade around them and by the exertions of his men, then much exhausted, arrested the flames and saved the town of Wrightsville from a conflagration, though the houses immediately adjoining the bridge could not be saved. The brigade which did this, and thus saved from a disastrous fire, kindled by their own defenders, one of the enemy's towns, was composed of Georgians, in whose State, just a short time before, the town of Darien had been fired and entirely destroyed by a regular expedition of Federal troops.

As soon as I had made the necessary arrangements for establishing order in the town of York, and preventing any molestation of the citizens, and had made the requisitions on the authorities for what I had determined to levy on the town, I rode in the direction of Wrightsville. By the time I got outside of the town I saw the smoke arising from the burning bridge, and when I reached Wrightsville I found the bridge entirely destroyed. I regretted this very much, [261] as, notwithstanding my orders to destroy the bridge, I had found the country so defenceless, and the militia which Curtin had called into service so utterly inefficient, that I determined to cross the Susquehanna, levy a contribution on the rich town of Lancaster, cut the Central Railroad, and then move up in rear of Harrisburg while General Ewell was advancing against that city from the other side, relying upon being able, in any event that might happen, to mount my division on the horses which had been accumulated in large numbers on the east side of the river, by the farmers who had fled before us, and make my escape by moving to the west of the army, after damaging the railroads and canals on my route as much as possible.

This scheme, in which I think I could have been successful, was, however, thwarted by the destruction of the bridge, as there was no other means of crossing the river. Gordon was therefore ordered to return to York early the next day, and I rode back that night. The affair at Wrightsville had been almost bloodless; Gordon had one man wounded, and he found one dead militiaman, and captured twenty prisoners.

Colonel White succeeded in reaching Hanover Junction and destroying the depot at that place and one or two bridges in the vicinity, but he did not destroy all the bridges between there and York, as one or two of them, as reported by him, were defended by a force of infantry. Colonel French succeeded in destroying the bridges over the Conewago at its mouth, and all between there and York, and on the 29th he was sent to complete the destruction of the bridges south of the town, over the Codorus, which he succeeded in doing, as the force defending them had retired.

In compliance with my requisition some twelve or fifteen hundred pairs of shoes, all the hats, socks, and rations called for, and $28,600 in money were furnished by the town authorities. The number of shoes required could not be found in the place, and the Mayor assured [262] me that the money paid over was all that could be raised, as the banks and moneyed men had run off their funds to Philadelphia. I believed that he had made an honest effort to raise the money, and I did not, therefore, take any stringent measures to enforce the demand, but left the town indebted to me for the remainder. The shoes, hats, and socks were issued to the men, who stood very much in need of them. A portion of the money was subsequently used in buying beef cattle, which could be found much more readily when they were to be paid for than when certificates were to be given, and the residue was paid into the hands of the quartermaster of the army, to be used for public purposes. No public stores were found.

A few prisoners taken in the hospitals and those captured at Wrightsville by Gordon were paroled. Some cars found in the town were burned. There were two large car factories, and two depots and other railroad buildings which I would have destroyed but for the fact that the burning of them would set fire to some private dwellings and perhaps consume a large part of the town, and I therefore determined not to run the risk of entailing so much mischief on non-combatants, notwithstanding the barbarous policy that had been pursued by the enemy in numerous similar cases. Neither were the hospitals burned or injured in any way. I think the people of York were very well satisfied and much surprised to get out of my hands as well as they did.1 Certainly any Southern town into which the enemy went would have considered itself exceedingly fortunate to [263] have got off so well. Our forbearance, however, was not at all appreciated by the enemy generally, for not only did they not follow the example set them, but some of the presses actually charged Gordon's brigade with firing the town of Wrightsville.

During my movement to York, General Ewell had moved towards Harrisburg and reached Carlisle with Rodes' division and Jenkins' cavalry, Johnson's division going to Shippensburg;--Longstreet's and Hill's corps had also moved into Pennsylvania and reached the vicinity of Chambersburg, while the Federal Army had moved north on the East side of South Mountain, interposing between ours and Washington.

Late on the afternoon of the 29th, Captain Elliot Johnson, aide to General Ewell, came to me with a copy of a note from General Lee to General Ewell stating the enemy's army was moving north and directing a concentration of the corps on the west side of the South Mountain; and also verbal instructions from General Ewell to move back so as to rejoin the rest of the corps, and information of his purpose to move back to unite with Johnson.

In accordance with these instructions, I put my whole command in motion at daylight on the morning of the 30th, taking the route by the way of Weiglestown and East Berlin towards Heidlersburg, so as to be able to move from that point to Shippensburg or Greenwood by the way of Aaronsburg, as circumstances might require, Colonel White being directed to move his battalion of [264] cavalry on the pike from York towards Gettysburg, to ascertain if any force of the enemy was on that road. At East Berlin, a small squad of the enemy's cavalry was seen and pursued by my cavalry advance, and I received at that place information, by a courier from Colonel White, that a cavalry and infantry force had been at Abbotstown on the York and Gettysburg road, but had moved south towards Hanover Junction. A courier also reached me here with a dispatch from General Ewell, informing me that he was moving with Rodes' division by the way of Petersburg to Heidlersburg, and directing me to march for the same place.

I marched to within three miles of Heidlersburg and bivouacked my command, and then rode to see General Ewell at Heidlersburg, where I found him with Rodes' division. I was informed by him that the object was to concentrate the corps at or near Cashtown at the eastern base of the mountain, and I was directed to move to that point the next day by the way of Hunterstown and Mummasburg, while Rodes would take the route by Middletown and Arendtsville.

My march so far, to the bank of the Susquehanna and back, had been without resistance, the performances of the militia force at Gettysburg and Wrightsville amounting in fact to no resistance at all, but being merely a source of amusement to my troops. The country maps were so thorough and accurate that I had no necessity for a guide in any direction. There had been no depredations upon the people, except the taking of such supplies as were needed in an orderly and regular manner as allowed by the most liberal and intelligent rules of war. No houses had been burned or pillaged, no indignities offered to the inhabitants, who were themselves amazed at the forbearance of our troops; not even a rail had been taken from the fences for firewood. I had returned over a large portion of the route taken in going to York, and I was myself surprised to see so little evidence of the march of an invading army. It [265] furnished a most striking contrast to the track of the Federal army, as I had witnessed the latter on many occasions in my own state.

What was the case with my command, was the case with all the rest of our army, and I venture to say that the invasion of Pennsylvania by General Lee's army, for the forbearance shown to the invaded country, is without a parallel in the history of war in any age. Yet this invasion was made by an army composed of men many of whose own houses had been destroyed by a most ruthless enemy, into the country of that very enemy, and many of the houses thus spared were those of the very men who had applied the torch to and ransacked the houses of the men now so forbearing: yet those who have left their mark indelibly all over the South charge the invaders of Pennsylvania and their countrymen with being barbarous, and with maltreating prisoners.

As we moved through the country, a number of people made mysterious signs to us, and on inquiring we ascertained that some enterprising Yankees had passed along a short time before, initiating the people into certain signs, for a consideration, which they were told would prevent the “rebels” from molesting them or their property, when they appeared. These things were all new to us, and the purchasers of the mysteries had been badly sold.2


To the citizens of York:

I have abstained from burning the railroad buildings and car shops in your town, because, after examination, I am satisfied the safety of the town would be endangered; and, acting in the spirit of humanity which has ever characterized my government and its military authorities, I do not desire to involve the innocent in the same punishment with the guilty. Hlad I applied the torch without regard to consequences, I would have pursued a course that would have been fully vindicated as an act of just retaliation for the many authorized acts of barbarity perpetrated by your own army upon our soil. But we do not war upon women and children, and I trust the treatment you have met with at the hands of my soldiers will open your eyes to the monstrous iniquity of the war waged by your government upon the people of the Confederate States, and that you will make an effort to shake off the revolting tyranny under which it is apparent to all you are yourselves groaning.

J. A. Early, Major General, C. S. A.

2 The “mysterious signs” referred to were supposed by the Confederates to be made by Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret organization said to sympathize with the South, but of which our soldiers knew nothing.

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