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Confederates in Pennsylvania

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Chattahooch33, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. Chattahooch33

    Chattahooch33 Sergeant Forum Host

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    I was using Google Maps and just playing around following the Appalachian Trail north. In doing so I veered off and looked at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. I just happen to read where PA Militia made a stand there to block Confederates under Gordon from crossing the river. Apparently the militia fired the bridge when the retreated and the Confederates worked all night on a bucket brigade to save the town from burning down.
    I'm not trying to start anything coming off the heels of the ill-tempers in the "Yankees behaving badly" thread but this did strike me as interesting.

    http://www.visitpa.com/pa-civil-war-heritage/wrightsville

    Thoughts?
     

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  3. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Absolutely true. Flames Beyond Gettysburg by Scott Mingus goes into some depth about Early's division moving through York County in the week or so before Gettysburg. John B. Gordon's Georgia brigade was the Confederate unit involved at Columbia.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2013
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  4. Chattahooch33

    Chattahooch33 Sergeant Forum Host

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    That was another thing that ran through my head. If the Georgia fellows had know what was in store for their state one year later I wonder what would have been different.
     
  5. Chattahooch33

    Chattahooch33 Sergeant Forum Host

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    Plus, how did the Confederates not raging through and burning everything in Penn help them get the charitable terms of surrender at the end?
     
  6. trice

    trice Major

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    If you look around, you can find similar events in various spots during the war, with either Yankees or Rebels helping out. Even the fire that burned Columbia, SC in 1865 seems to have been started by retreating Rebels burning bales of cotton in the streets -- and arriving Yankee troops (eventually) helped put the fires out.

    Maybe yes, maybe no -- but there isn't really all that much difference between what Lee and Sherman were doing overall if you were a Pennsylvania civilian. Lee was more organized and formal about it, with less burning -- but he was stripping the countryside of everything he found useful just the same. Horses, food, grain, cattle, pigs, leather and harness, wagons, mules, shoes, hats, even people. Burning and destruction was much less; efficiency at stripping the area may have been higher.

    These are very different situations.

    When Sherman moved through Georgia and the Carolinas, he really didn't care much about the feelings of the locals. His goal was to make the civilians understand how bad things could get, to convince the average Confederate they could not win and they should surrender. He faced no serious military opposition (Hood had taken himself out of the picture, putting himself 300 miles behind; no reasonable opposition existed in front of Sherman's path). Sherman was essentially unthreatened and could do as he wished.

    Lee was in a different place. He had immediate opposition within striking distance. He needed to keep his forces under control, able to concentrate quickly if necessary -- and when Meade appeared suddenly that is exactly what Lee did. Lee also understood that the Confederacy could not conquer the Union, could not beat it into submission as "the North" could do to "the South". A Confederate army rampaging through Pennsylvania burning and looting would have been a bad thing for the Confederacy. It might increase rage and motivate a Union desire to retaliate in kind -- and there was a lot more of "the South" occupied by or vulnerable to incursion by Union troops than there ever was going to be parts of "the North" vulnerable to Confederates. It might fire up Union recruiting (and extra Yankees in uniform wasn't good for the Confederacy). It would win no friends or influence abroad -- which "the South" needed.

    I do think that Sherman would be more inclined to give his troops free rein than Lee would in any circumstances -- but that just makes Lee more of a disciplined and organized sort. By world standards of the day, what Sherman did in Georgia and the Carolinas was on the mild side when repressing a rebellion. It could easily have become very bad, and it did not, which is a credit to the restraint shown. I am sure it did not look that way to Southerners at the time, or their descendants, just as it would not have looked that way to me if I had to live through it; it remains true.

    Tim
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
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  7. Carronade

    Carronade Sergeant Major

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    A good friend of mine lives in Columbia, on the other side of the bridge, so I've visited Wrightsville. Local legend has it that when Gordon's men looked for buckets to try to save the bridge, there were none to be found, but when the flames threatened to spread to houses, buckets magically appeared!

    Side note, Columbia, like in District of, is so named because it was suggested as a potential site for the national capital. I wonder how having the capital there in 1861-64 might have affected Union strategy?
     
  8. whitworth

    whitworth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Hey, jawja. Victory is just around the corner. Even if it was 150 years ago.

    Burning the bridge, by the way, was a defensive move by PA militia in face of superior Confederate forces.
     
  9. Chattahooch33

    Chattahooch33 Sergeant Forum Host

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    Not sure I follow you.


    Yes I know, in my original post I said, "The militia fired the bridge when they retreated."
     
  10. Rebforever

    Rebforever 2nd Lieutenant

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    General Early got really upset with Gordon for letting them burn that bridge!
    He grabbed Gordon's arm and almost jerked him off his horse for it. It was just
    a misunderstanding but that happened. Everything was straightened out finally. :smile:

    I also understand that not only was that the longest covered bridge but one of the most stinking est from all the horse travel. There were two covered walkways also. The bridge pilings are still there.
     
  11. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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  12. Carronade

    Carronade Sergeant Major

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    There were a couple of other bridges on those same pilings before they built the modern concrete highway bridge, around the 1930s.
     
  13. Scott Mingus

    Scott Mingus Private

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    Thanks for the comments! My book on the burning of the bridge was a finalist back in 2011 for one of the U.S. Army Heritage Foundation's Distinguished Writing Awards. A group of civilians from Columbia, Pa., set fire to the bridge under the orders of Col. Jacob G. Frick, 27th Pa. Volunteer Militia, and Maj. Granville O. Haller, 7th U.S. Infantry (he was an aide-de-camp for the regional commander up in Harrisburg, Maj. Gen. Darius Couch). This was to prevent the Confederates from entering Lancaster County and possibly destroying the Pennsylvania Railroad while marching up to Harrisburg. It took about 6 hours for the bridge to burn completely; the original hope was that only a portion would burn, enough to keep the Rebels on the York County side. However, high winds coupled with the age of the seasoned oak timbers doomed the entire bridge to loss. It was rebuilt after the war and destroyed again in a windstorm late in the 19th century. Another bridge, a steel truss one, spanned the river using the same piers until the early 1960s when the Pennsylvania Railroad disassembled the bridge after discontinuing train travel across the river between Columbia and Wrightsville.
     
  14. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Captain Forum Host

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    It's a great book, but I've said that before.

    I'm not so sure the citizens of Chambersburg would agree the Confederate Army had been all that circumspect about respecting property on the grounds they could look bad, or on any other grounds. I remember the first time I bumped into those photos, I thought it must be Richmond. I showed them to my mother, who went to school at Wilson, in Chambersburg in the early 50's. She said the whole era was still a kind of bad subject all those years later- no big deal made of the occupations, no mention of the Civil War history- not a thing, and she was pretty involved in the life there.

    cw bank chambersbg house franklin county.jpg cw chambersbg main and east king st.jpg cw chambersbg view.jpg cw chambrsbg courthouse.jpg
     

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  15. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Captain Forum Host

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    The Wrightsville Bridge must have been ' something '. One of the victims of the war, you wish there'd been photos of, or more paintings- must have been an amazing structure. That section of ' Flames Beyond Gettysburg ' is a super read- could be a short story in itself!

    cw wrightsville bridge columbia.png cw wrightsville bridge burning.jpg
     

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