Persons of Color
The Bridge (continued)
First Hot Breath of War
the situation in Harrisburg had deteriorated significantly
from the weekend, when the papers had reported little of interest
in invasion news. Even the New York Times reporter in town
had been lulled into a false sense of security by the inactivity
coming from the areas south of Chambersburg, closing his Sunday evening
report with the observation, “The story of 40,000 rebels between
Williamsport and Hagerstown is believed to be a gross exaggeration.”
the twenty-second began as a normal day in Harrisburg, if normal included
significant military activity. A large train of newly arrived government
horses tied up Third Street in the morning as they were driven north
to Camp Curtin. At other periods throughout the day, large numbers
of army wagons slowed traffic to a crawl along the city’s main
streets. Very often, the military wagons were simply transporting squads
of soldiers from one side of town to the other.
Soldier’s Retreat building, near the railroad depot, prepared
to re-open its doors to troops. Managers John B. Simon and Eby Byers,
who was one of the rescuers of James Phillips more than ten year earlier,
boasted to the newspaper that with their expanded on-site kitchen and
dining facilities, the Retreat could now feed an entire regiment at
interest was generated by the appearance of four ten-inch columbiad
cannon tubes seen lying at the railroad depot on heavy-duty dollies,
marked for delivery to the fortifications in New York Harbor. They
attracted a crowd of amateur inspectors, both military and civilian,
to measure their bore and guess at their weight.176
Monday, Harrisburgers felt that the city had dodged a minie ball. Traffic
jams of troop-filled wagons, large-scale soldier lodges, herds of fresh
army horses, and huge seacoast guns made the city feel impregnable.
They began to put considerably stock in the opinions of those who called
the Confederate movement to Chambersburg nothing more than a feint
to draw Hooker out of Virginia.
eleven p.m., the telegraph wires gave a hint that not all was as secure
as hoped. General Couch received a dispatch that put Rebel scouts in
Greencastle once more. The news was not particularly alarming at the
time, as Confederate cavalry had been foraging in the southern tier
counties all along. On Monday, Couch had sent a dispatch to his advance
forces in Chambersburg, under Brigadier General Joseph F. Knipe, alerting
the commander that “fifty rebel cavalry were stealing horses
near Maria Furnace, Caledonia Springs, and Millerstown.”177
Furnace, once owned by Thaddeus Stevens, had been abandoned since 1837
in favor of his newer furnace at Caledonia, which employed a considerable
number of African American workers who lived in a nearby village then
known as Africa, or Little Africa. Most of those persons had probably
fled the advancing Confederate soldiers by this time, with some of
them very possibly ending up in Harrisburg where they helped dig trenches
on Hummel Hill. The raiders, probably men of Jenkins’ Fourteenth
Virginia Cavalry, Company D, apparently were scouring the lonely countryside
around Maria Furnace looking for horses believed to be hidden in the
thickly forested hills that surrounded the old furnace.178
telegram did not bring news to General Knipe that he did not already
know. Some of his cavalry troopers had already engaged in a skirmish
with men of Company I of the same Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry, at the
William Fleming farm south of Chambersburg near Greencastle. The cavalry
unit, under the command of Captain William H. Boyd, was the same unit
that had shepherded Milroy’s wagon train to Harrisburg.
before the skirmish with the Confederate cavalry troopers, Boyd had
observed infantrymen from the division of General Robert E. Rodes going
into position on the distant ridge. Before Boyd could decide what to
do his men received a volley of fire from dismounted Confederate cavalrymen
hidden in the tall wheat that was growing down the road from the farm.
The bullets immediately killed one man and severely wounded another.
Boyd’s troopers retreated to Chambersburg, leaving their casualties.
With Boyd’s report of the deadly skirmish confirming that large
numbers of enemy troops were indeed moving closer, Knipe loaded his
brigade on a train and fell back to Carlisle.179
Farmer Knipe was a native of Lancaster County who, as a young man,
left an apprenticeship in shoemaking to join the army. After service
in the Mexican War, he settled in Harrisburg, where he eventually ended
up working with the Pennsylvania Railroad and raising a family. In
April 1861, he had been the center of attention at the opening of Camp
Curtin when, standing on the roof of one of the camp buildings, he
raised the national flag over the newly established camp for the first
time. As the assembled crowd of civilians and military men cheered,
Knipe loudly proposed that they name the camp after Pennsylvania’s
popular war governor, Andrew G. Curtin.180
was a day to remember, full of hope and patriotic fervor. Now, a little
more than two years later, he found himself with a small brigade of
New York and Pennsylvania troops in the Cumberland Valley attempting
to defend his adopted hometown and native state from what might very
well be the entire Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. On
top of that, he was not in good physical condition, having returned
to Harrisburg just before the present crisis to recover from battle
wounds and a nasty case of malaria.181
he reached Carlisle, Knipe directed his tired and disorganized soldiers
to camp in the borough fairgrounds for the night. After Knipe had looked
after his troops, Borough officials came to him and informed him that
they had raised two companies of local men for the defense. They also
told him about a line of fortifications they had prepared a mile west
of town along a north to south limestone outcropping known as Rocky
Ridge. The defensive works consisted of lines of rifle pits dug on
either side of the Chambersburg turnpike and the Walnut Bottom Road.
in Harrisburg, the white men of the town would not dig entrenchments
in the rocky soil, and local officials ended up recruiting, or impressing,
dozens of local African American men to dig the lines of rifle pits.
Knipe was hesitant about posting his men in static entrenchments that
could be easily flanked by a mobile enemy force, and he allowed them
to remain in the campgrounds all day Tuesday.
Jenkins had entered Chambersburg and was advancing on Shippensburg,
which he reached on Wednesday, the twenty-fourth. That day, Captain
Boyd’s cavalry troopers ranged along the Newville and Chambersburg
roads, attempting to monitor and slow the enemy advance, and Knipe
finally moved his men into the fortifications that Carlisle’s
blacks had labored so hard to construct. As the two regiments of New
York troops were occupying the rifle pits, General Rodes’ division
marched into Chambersburg. The situation on Wednesday remained tense
but relatively quiet for the entire day.182
the while, the Confederate forces crept closer. General Edward Johnson’s
Division of Ewell’s Corps advanced to Shippensburg on Wednesday,
while Jenkins reached Stoughstown about four-thirty p.m. Constant skirmishing
between the rebel scouts and Captain Boyd’s troopers occupied
the entire day Thursday, the twenty-fifth, with telegraph reports keeping
the Union commanders apprised of the situation.
military telegraph operators working for Thomas Scott used portable
machines that they could easily hook up to a line from any point, enabling
them to keep one town ahead of the slow moving Confederates. One of
the last dispatches that General Knipe received while in Carlisle was
from a tenacious telegraph operator working for Scott known only as
W. Johnson. This operator had been tracking the enemy troop movements
from Newville, but on Thursday morning moved his operation to Greason,
just a few miles from Carlisle. He sent the quiet news, “Enemy
have not moved this a.m.; are as reported last night.”183
suddenly heated up in the afternoon when Union cavalry had another
bloody dust-up with Jenkins’ cavalry at a place called Stone
Tavern, along Walnut Bottom Road. By four o’clock p.m. Knipe
was preparing to fall back from the entrenchments west of Carlisle.
He telegraphed to General Couch, “I have the most positive info.
of the enemy’s advance. I shall fall back to Kingstown tonight.
They are on the Pike and Walnut Bottom Rds.”184
twenty minutes past nine that night, he had his men preparing to pull
out of Carlisle for new delaying positions in New Kingston, and he
sent his artillery pieces by railcar to Bridgeport. It was getting
too dangerous to risk having the cannons fall into the hands of the
Rebels, should they flank him on one of the parallel roads.185
Harrisburg, the crowd that constantly hung around the telegraph office
waiting for news learned at noon on Tuesday that the Confederates had
retaken Chambersburg. No additional news reached Harrisburg after that,
and rumors multiplied as fast as the refugees who again began arriving
in town on the last train out of Chambersburg. On Wednesday, news of
the Rebel advance to Shippensburg and General Knipe’s retreat
to Carlisle arrived, as did three hundred African American refugees
from that town, among others, fleeing the invading forces.
in the day, the newspapers reported that enemy forces had advanced
to within twelve miles of Carlisle. This may have been a reference
to the cavalry skirmishing that was occurring on the roads between
Shippensburg and Carlisle, but it had a sobering effect on Harrisburgers.
It now seemed certain that the on and off invasion was finally coming.
The New York Times added dread to the general anxiety by reporting, “General
Jenkins told a lady in Chambersburgh that they intended to come to
Harrisburgh and stay.”186
alarming statement again aroused the surviving soldiers of the War
of 1812, who once more formed ranks and marched to the Capitol, where
they offered their service to Governor Curtin. The captain said that
they were prepared to carry their flintlock muskets across the bridge
into the entrenchments of Fort Washington.187
distressing as the news was to the aged veterans, it was doubly upsetting
to Harrisburg’s African American community. The Evening Telegraph that
day reported, “Ewell has six brigades, and intends marching on
Harrisburg.” Any incursion by Southern troops was of concern,
but the threat of a prolonged occupation of the town was almost unimaginable.
growing anxiety was being fed by the steadily increasing supply of “contrabands,” as
the newspapers insisted on categorizing all arriving blacks, who flocked
across the bridge into town. George Bergner wrote of the hordes of “small
children and women huddled together in wagons as they arrive here,
with the little household property that they have gathered together
in a lifetime. Many of them are carrying everything they possess on
their backs or in small bundles.”188 For
many Harrisburg blacks, Wednesday night was one of sleeplessness and
the twenty-fifth was the day that everything broke apart in Harrisburg.
With Rebel troops just a few miles from Carlisle, there was not doubt
that a battle was brewing, and most people expected it to occur in
front of the fortifications on the other side of the Susquehanna. Unlike
previous invasion scares, the chaos and panic was mostly confined to
the refugees arriving in town from the Cumberland Valley. Harrisburgers,
having finally awoken to the reality of the situation, acted with grim
determination to defend the city. The Daily Telegraph reported:
Long before the sun
rose in splendor this morning, a scene of bustle, excitement and
confusion commenced, such as has never before been witnessed in
the capital of Pennsylvania. During the night, troops were hurried
over the river. Regiment followed regiment, until this morning,
when our streets were comparatively cleared of soldiers, except
those which reached the city by the regular morning and noon trains.
But the excitement, apart from the movement of troops, was that
which attended the ingress and egress of people who came from the
Cumberland side of the river, and who passed through the city,
hurrying to a place of safety with all that was dear and valuable
to them. Every machine on wheels capable of hauling a load was
brought into requisition. These came wheeling and trundling along,
each laden to the top—some with grain, household effects
and household goods—others with store goods, machinery, tools,
and, in fact, all that was valuable and movable. Following these
came other vehicles, filled with women and children—then
came men and boys mounted on horses driving before them cows and
sheep. The scene was at once exciting and pitiful. It came to us
as the first hot breath of war. It admonished us that the foe was
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Telegraph, 22 June 1863.
177. Pangburn, “Tracking
Jenkins,” pt. 1, 13.
14. The community of Africa, or "Little Africa," was located
near the town of Greenwood, in Green Township, Franklin County. Although
not an officially recognized town, it was known to local citizens as
a "settlement" of free blacks, and was the largest concentration
of African American families in the township. It was also the third
largest African American community in the county, with only Mercersburg
and the South Ward of Chambersburg having a larger number of families
in 1850. Africa did not experience a long life. It probably began about
1837, the year that Thaddeus Stevens established his iron furnace at
Caledonia. The furnace employed many African American laborers, and
was a refuge for fugitive slaves escaping bondage on the Underground
Railroad. Today the area once called Africa is known as Brownsville
and Pond Bank. George F. Nagle, “Pennsylvania’s Underground
Railroad—Africa Settlement,” Afrolumens Project, http://www.afrolumens.org/ugrr/whoswho/africa.html (accessed
3 May 2010.
179. Nye, Here
Come the Rebels!, 239-247.
180. Miller, Training
of an Army, 4, 8.
Knipe, Hometown Hero,” Bugle 17, no. 2 (Summer 2007):
182. Pangburn, “Tracking
Jenkins,” pt. 2, 12; Nye, Here Come the Rebels!, 298-299.
183. Pangburn, “Tracking
Jenkins,” pt. 2, 12.
185. Nye, Here
Come the Rebels!, 299-301.
Harrisburgh Correspondence,” New York Times, 26 June
1863; Daily Telegraph, 23 June 1863; “The Rebels in
Pennsylvania,” New York Times, 25 June 1863.
York Times, 26 June 1863.
Situation,” Evening Telegraph, 24 June 1863.
Situation,” Daily Telegraph, 25 June 1863.